Anderson police chief hopes nunchuk will revolutionize how police detain suspects, and promises officers won’t be ‘running around like Bruce Lee’
An ancient martial arts weapon will arrive on the streets of a small California town, in the hands of police officers adopting the way of the paddy wagon – to protect and serve with nunchakus in hand.
The police department in Anderson, north of Sacramento, announced this week that it plans to equip and train its force of 20 officers with the weapon, also called nunchuks, as a new means to detain uncooperative suspects while “limiting injuries”.
“They work really good as an impact weapon, but we try to emphasis [sic] a control tool over impact,” Sergeant Casey Day told local KRCR news. He added that the specialized nunchaku, which has nylon rather than metal links, lets police pacify suspects by wrapping them up, rather than simply acting as a tool to land and block blows, like a baton.
“The nunchaku can be deployed to more compassionately gain compliance from a suspect through pain application [as] opposed to striking,” Chief Michael Johnson told NBC News.
Johnson said that he hoped the careful application of the nunchuks could “offset some of the more aggressive perceptions the public has about police intervention”, an allusion to the rising outrage over instances of excessive force by police.
Although the adoption of the weapon – hundreds of years old and most associated with Bruce Lee, kung fu and a cartoon mutant turtle named after a Renaissance sculptor – may seem novel to northern Californians, American police around the country have used nunchakus at least since the 1970s.
“People think I’m training cops to be Bruce Lees running around, but that’s not what I’m doing,” Kevin Orcutt, a retired Colorado police officer and the inventor of the Orcutt Police Nunchaku, told the Guardian.
Orcutt said he came to the nunchaku in the late 1970s, when, inspired by kung fu movies, he got his black belt while going to school for law enforcement.
“On the street I saw confrontations where officers would try to restrain and control resisting parties with their hands,” Orcutt said.
“It was a struggle: you’d have one guy pulling one arm one way, one guy pulling the other, it would all end up on the ground, eventually with the guy cuffed and everyone would have scrapes and bruises and maybe a more serious injury.”
In the early 1990s San Diego police briefly adopted his training and nunchakus, and Denver police still teach use of the weapon. At the Denver sheriff’s department, Orcutt said, training is mandatory. Police departments from Missouri to Montana also seem to use the tool.
At the height of his business in the 1990s, he had trained and equipped more than 200 departments. Then came the Taser, “and all of sudden departments thought they had the be-all end-all, now we have our Star Trek device,” Orcutt said.
Now that police are realizing the limitations of Tasers, Orcutt said he hopes that with proper training the nunchaku could revolutionize how police detain unruly suspects.
“With all this use of force scrutiny and I really believe I can have an effect,” he said, comparing the weapon favorably to Tasers and batons. “You’re much less likely to cause any fractures or bone injury.”
Nunchakus have caused trouble for their bearers in the last 20 years – police included – for similar use-of-force and training concerns that have prompted recent outcry. In 1991 the weapons were used at an anti-abortion rally in Los Angeles, prompting federal lawsuits, and the LAPD agreed to stop using them before the cases were eventually settled. The weapons are banned in New York, and current supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor, when she was a federal judge, upheld the law that prohibits them.