Throttle Control

What is the principle of Throttle Control as Humilitas First teaches it? Throttle control involves knowing when to advance aggressively, hold, or withdraw to a better defensive position. That’s the first part. The second part involves doing the least expected things and learning to go against social norms.  

I’ll share my introduction to the concept of Throttle Control with you.  As a rookie police officer, I was blessed to get a short temporary rotation with a field training officer (we’ll call him Vic), also a member of our department’s Neighborhood Team Police unit (NTP).  NTP was a small six-man unit dedicated to working in public housing.  Later, NTP took on a more proactive role in dealing with hot spot locations targeting gang and drug-related violence surrounding the early 1990s onset of crack cocaine.  This unit was a precursor to our department’s Gang Mobile Unit (GMU) and later Street Crimes Unit (SCU).   Vic was experienced working in high crime, dangerous areas around dangerous men and was also a member of our department’s SWAT team, called the Emergency Response Team (ERT).  

Vic tells me, “John Jones has a warrant for his arrest.  He’s standing on the corner of 14th and Mason, talking to a female.  See him?  The guy with the white sweatshirt.”   

“Yes, I see him,” I responded.

“Here’s the deal: We’re going to walk near Mr. Jones, and at the last possible moment, you’re going to turn and grab hold of his arm so he can’t run. Do you understand?”  Vic asks.  

“Yes, I understand.”  

Vic goes on, “Whatever you do, don’t say one word before grabbing hold of Mr. Jones. If you say one word, he’ll turn and run. Do you understand?” 

“Yes, I got it – no talking.”  

Vic made me repeat it all back to him.  These were straightforward instructions.  I knew exactly what I needed to do, but when the moment came to my shock, I found myself saying to John Jones, “Turn around and place your hands on the car.”  John Jones immediately turned and ran westbound through the public housing complex.  Fortunately, for my sake, I had just graduated from the police academy and, at twenty-four years old, was in the best cardiovascular shape of my life.  I was able to run John Jones down, tackle him, and, after a brief struggle, secure him in handcuffs.  Later, Vic asks me why I didn’t just do what he told me.

I didn’t understand it then, but I’ve realized it primarily concerned an inability to go against the social norms.  It’s not normal to pretend to be disinterested in a person and then suddenly turn and grab hold of them using surprise, speed, and domination.  That is not how I was raised.  You might imagine this is all about being polite, but it wasn’t that.  I was raised in a blue-collar hilljack town that valued fair fights highly.  To do what he told me to do felt odd, awkward, and just wrong.  I didn’t yet understand how important it was to be cunning in violent encounters with bad guys.  

Looking back, the best answer I could have given Vic is that I was still a civilian.  Sure, I had the uniform, the gear, and all that went with the responsibility of being a police officer, but my nature hadn’t yet changed.  I had not transitioned to any degree of comfort in doing odd and awkward things against my social norms, ie, my upbringing.  

This second part involves learning to throttle back when social norms insist you should throttle forward.  Likewise, it consists of learning to throttle forward when social norms say you should throttle back.  Sometimes, stopping short and holding, say when everyone else pulls up to the crosswalk at an intersection.  Doing the least expected things creates uncertainty, doubt, and often hesitation in your adversary’s mind.  This confuses a bad guy as he wonders what he is seeing here.  Is he looking at a wolf just like himself, or is he looking at a police officer who’s figured him out?    

Despite this embarrassing failure several months later, this same field training officer was instrumental in helping me join the Neighborhood Team Policing unit.  I spent the next two years working this forerunner unit to our modern-day Street Crimes Unit.  The experiences gained were part of my formation as a police officer, for which I am grateful.  I learned a lot about small-unit tactics as they relate to dealing with homegrown criminals.  Bad guys who already understand how to use surprise, speed, domination, or violence of action to stack odds in their favor.  Police officers have to learn to throw off the social norms of their upbringing to effectively and efficiently deal with or stop unjust, threats to innocent citizens, their brothers and sisters in arms, and themselves.