Female officers learn skills to survive violent encounters



Margaret Moore was in the worst possible situation for a police officer.

Flat on her back, Moore was struggling with an attacker who was on top and already had a hand on her gun. The fight was on.

Moore rolled left and then right, using her legs to throw the other woman off. The gun came out of her holster, but now Moore was on top and wrenched the weapon free. Stepping away from her attacker, she chambered a round and leveled the pistol at her assailant. The other police officers cheered.

The weapon was fake, but the tussle over it was about as real as training can get.

“As a police officer, anytime there is training available, you should go,” said Moore, an investigator for the Aiken Department of Public Safety. “But this is training you can use on a daily basis.”

Moore was among nine female officers from Aiken Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office who underwent two days of specialized training sponsored by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association.

The Female Officer Survival Course is specially designed to teach women how to use their strengths to defend themselves and survive the type of violent encounter that could occur at any time, said Lt. Teena Gooding, an instructor and officer for the University of South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement and Safety.

Gooding said the course, which was held at the University of South Carolina Aiken, gives female officers a better environment to learn than most other mixed-gender training.

“We learn differently, and we aren’t as strong as most men,” said Gooding, explaining that in mixed classes, female officers might hold back and feel uncomfortable asking questions. “In this class they really start to soak it up.”

In the course, officers receive training in weapons-handling and in hand-to-hand combat. The course is designed to teach women techniques that don’t require brute strength to help them escape from or control a larger opponent, said Sgt. Melissa MacPhee, an instructor and 12-year veteran for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

“These are not 200-pound men.” MacPhee said. “Most of us are about a buck 10 (110 pounds) soaking wet.”

In many of the hand-to-hand drills, the officers are urged to play a little rough.

The wrestling matches over control of weapons resulted in more than a few bruises, which can be a good thing, Gooding said.

Male officers tend to hold back with female opponents out of fear they might hurt or touch them inappropriately.

“They treat you with light hands,” Gooding said.

Staff Sgt. Rachel Flowers, another instructor, said most women don’t grow up handling weapons or wrestling with friends like their male counterparts: “I joined the force 16 years ago, and I had never touched gun in my life.”

The class is a more relaxed environment where women can learn, make mistakes and ask questions without feeling they will be criticized.

“It’s a about building confidence,” Flowers said.

SLIDESHOW: Female officer self defense training