Police officers train for dangerous underwater combat

David Ono Image
Friday, November 13, 2015
Police officers train for dangerous underwater combat
EMBED <>More Videos

Police officers constantly find themselves in life-or-death confrontations, but one area that very few officers are prepared for is a fight in water.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Police officers constantly find themselves in life-or-death confrontations. That's why they're always training and preparing for almost every type of situation. But one area that very few officers are prepared for is a fight in water.

Training for water combat takes a unique skill set - one that many police officers, who spend nearly all of their time on land, are not prepared for.

I was given the rare opportunity to dive in and train with real officers underwater at one of their training facilities in Long Beach, where I learned how to survive submerged.

Few people know what it's like to be locked in hand-to-hand combat, but for a police officer, it's an everyday possibility. Now imagine how much more frightening that fight would be underwater.

"The suspect is one threat, the water is the other threat. So you always want to keep both threats in front of you," described Officer Mark Pagliuca.

Pagliuca is an instructor in a one-of-a-kind program put on by the Maritime Law Enforcement Training Center. He teaches officers how to deal with a life-or-death struggle in water.

"So you can take the best fighter in the world, you can put them in the water, and all their skill is pretty much gone," Pagliuca explained.

He started with basic techniques meant to keep officers on dry ground.

"All you do is blade your hand, swim to the outside, chop down, step back, reassess what you need to do," Pagliuca said.

During training, our scenarios grew increasingly aggressive. Ultimately leading to getting thrown into the water.

"The threat level for an officer rises very quick as soon as you enter the water," Pagliuca explained. "Because if you have all your equipment on, your uniform, your gun belt, your boots, you can't be treading water forever like maybe you'd normally do with shorts and a T-shirt or something."

We practiced that. Once you are in, you have seconds to get your vest off and pull your weapon. We did it in five seconds, then three seconds.

But what if that suspect is right on top of you? In one scenario, I was locked with a suspect. I failed dramatically, losing containment, and he basically smashed me.

A second try worked better, as I learned to control him and then used a kick to get away.

"You are trying to keep yourself afloat. At the same time you are trying to deal with the suspect that could be trying to hold you under water, choke you out, do some type of serious bodily injury to you. So that threat level goes straight up," Pagliuca said.

It's a horrible thought being choked underwater, but it's a reality they have to prepare for.

The more these officers train, the more capable they are of making the split second decisions necessary to survive hand-to-hand combat in water.

This class is just one part of an intense two-week maritime course that trains officers from around the world. It's giving participants invaluable confidence and knowledge that will get them through a life-or-death fight in water.