Cutting Edge Training

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OFFICER SAFETY: The "Prison Crouch"

by George on January 11, 2010 06:08

The situation is familiar to patrol officers:  a parolee “hanging” on the street, sitting on one heel, leaning back against a wall, forearms resting on his knees, talking to his associates.  Every officer has seen this.  Is this simply a “comfy” way to relax while talking to friends rather than standing or sitting on the concrete?  Or could there be something more.

While there are individuals in whose cultures this is a common way to relax, the possibility that this is a parolee or gangster requires officers to be cautious and appreciate the threat this position can pose to safety.  Officers must take precautions during any subject contact with an individual who is in or assumes this position.  Even though “it feels” like the officer standing has the advantage, the person in the “prison crouch” or squat (the term, “prison squat” seems to be perceived by jurors as more vulgar in court, although that is more accurate) has many tactical advantages.

All State Corrections Officers can tell you that parolees assume this position for two reasons:

  1. Prisons are made of concrete.  Concrete is cold.  Sitting on cold concrete for years, according to convicts, will give the person hemorrhoids. 
  2. Sitting flat on your butt in prison prevents effective response to sudden attack.  Sitting on your butt on the floor or ground is an invitation to attack.

This “prison crouch”—sitting on one heel with the other foot flat and forward—is an indicator of a subject who may be a threat to an officer.  Even when the individual has not been to prison, this behavior is often seen in youngsters emulating the “OGs” who have. 

Sitting or squatting in this position is not the sole indicator of any individual having spent time in prison.  This position is seen, too, in Latin American immigrants, especially farm workers or those of the peasant class in their home countries.  These cultures continue to work the fields as they have for centuries.  When in the fields, there is no place to sit but on the dirt.  Instead, these immigrants (legal and illegal) will squat or crouch down like this as an alternative to standing.  However, when combined with other threat-cues, the prison crouch is a position an officer should approach with caution, being aware of the position’s capabilities.


While to the lay-person the Prison Crouch seems to be a “submissive” position, it actually has inherent offensive and defensive capabilities that must be addressed in the field if an officer is to safely handle the situation.  The lay person often believes that since the individual is lower than the officer and sitting back, that the subject is therefore at a disadvantage. 

Not true: 

Lower than the officer.  With the officer standing over him while the subject is sitting on his heel, it appears the officer has an advantage of being “bigger” and “higher.”  However, the closer the officer gets to the subject, the more vulnerable his legs are to the suspect suddenly springing at the officer for a leg takedown.  Any wrestler or jujitsu-player will see this relative positioning as an opportunity to “shoot” for the leg(s) and take the officer down.  Even with extensive wrestling/jujitsu training, once someone is in the officer’s legs, it is very difficult to prevent that party from taking the officer down.  The subject’s being lower does not prevent his springing at the officer, and is therefore a danger signal that may result in serious assault.

Sitting back.  The lay person sees an individual “sitting” with his back against a wall.  This, they wrongly reason, will make it more difficult to move suddenly and attack anyone by surprise—especially an officer who is paying attention.  While opposing attorney’s may characterize the standard Prison Crouch as “a guy sitting ‘back’ on his heels,” the reality is that this position is defensive as well as offensive, and used by individuals in a predatory environment (prison) to prevent their being attacked without defense by other predators (fellow prisoners).  Kicks are easily deflected, punches to the head are extremely difficult, and tackling the individual results in an opponent who has all of his physical weapons (hands, feet, and head) available for groundfighting.  He’s low to the ground, and less likely to be injured when tackled, negating much of the value the tackle provides against a standing opponent.  And as officers who have experienced combative or resistive suspects in position know, individuals can stand up surprisingly fast when they want to. 

Submissive.  The lay person will see this prison crouch as a submissive position, and will often judge the situation to be one of dominance by the officer who is standing over the subject.  Actually, this is a position where one can lure the unwary individual easily into range for an almost indefensible takedown (without extensive and current training) on to a hard surface (concrete or asphalt) where elbows, wrists, and heads are vulnerable to possibly severe injury from striking the ground. 

There is a temptation to use the standing position and a louder, harsher voice from a closer position to attempt to convince the subject to comply.  Remember:  this position is designed as a defensive position.  An officer wandering into the subject’s range because of a natural perception that standing is advantageous and dominant can be a mistake that can cost an officer his health and possibly his life.


Is there a foolproof way to predict whether any individual is simply sitting versus a threat from a “prison crouch?”  No.  Are there indicators that should alert the officer to the threat of an individual who takes this position either as a defensive posture or as an attempt to lure the officer into range?  Of course. 

Failure to comply with orders to get on the ground or on his knees.  All non-compliance is, of course, a key threat indicator.  Taking a position contrary to that ordered, or remaining in a position after being told to move calls for caution and distance solutions (Taser or OC spray) rather than hands-on efforts or getting closer to exert one’s will.  By giving orders in Spanish (“Boca abajo,” literally, “mouth down,” but translated as “Get face down,” or “A tierra se,” or “Get on the ground”), future Criminal Defense and Plaintiffs attempts to portray the subject as unable to understand the officer’s intentions will be short circuited.

Changing orientation.  An individual who changes his orientation to the officer’s latest position is clearly maneuvering to engage the officer.  As the officer moves laterally, he rotates to remain oriented to the officer’s position, thereby protecting his flank.

Eyes remain on the officer.  The subject maintains eye-contact with the officer, tracking his or her movement.  Cultural indicators are submissive, and not looking authorities in the eye.  In their country of origin, the police are not someone whom a citizen safely confronts—even with sustained direct eye contact.  Anyone visually tracking the officer from the crouch or squat position and remaining alert to the officer’s position or actions should be treated as a threat to officer safety. 

Indicia of gang association.   Knowledge of gang involvement, gang-style clothing, and identifying tattoos transform this seated position into a “prison-crouch,” with all of the safety ramifications that entails.

Identifying and remaining aware of the threat-cues that a “prison crouch” or squat signifies will permit a safer contact.  This position alone may not justify a higher profile response.  However, its inherent strengths combined with one or more threat indicators call for a moderate distance response.  The first non-compliance indicator, failure to respond to legal commands, routinely justifies a distance response (the threat or use, as justified, of OC spray or Taser).  As the threat-cues compound and multiply, a higher profile response to someone in the prison crouch is needed. 


Be safe.  Wear your vest.  Know your policies, especially your force response, deadly force response, and pursuit policies by heart.  And thank you for taking care of me and mine, and us all.