How to Deal With Aggression: Restraint, Responsibility, and Risks

Updated on March 12, 2018

Don't Be the Tough Guy

It's safe to say that we've all seen the movies, in which a fight breaks out in the bar, and a hero steps in and puts the angry drunk into a hold to restrain them and keep them from hurting someone. The hero calmly talks the drunk down, and de-escalates the situation. The restrainee often stomps off angrily, and the hero is given a free round of drinks for his courage.

Unfortunately, the real world isn't Hollywood. Restraining people almost never calms them down, and in fact can be blamed for most situations becoming even more violent and dangerous. The longer people are held against their will, the more likely they are to become increasingly violent. Also, in most cases it is illegal to restrict someone's right to movement and mobility, and is even frowned upon and considered a last resort in the medical and criminal justice fields. If a scuffle breaks out at your friend's birthday party, regardless of how many western films you watched in your youth, you must seriously consider and weigh the consequences and potential outcomes before you interfere and try to restrain someone.

It is almost never legally acceptable to physically restrain someone. In Washington state, unnecessary restraint of an individual is against the law, and in some cases, can even be a class C felony called Unlawful Imprisonment. RCW 9Q.40.040 states simply that "A person is guilty of unlawful imprisonment if he or she knowingly restrains another person." This such law is only likely to be enforced in extreme cases, such as use of physical implements to restrain an individual for a long period of time. Such as wrapping them up in duct tape, or tying them to an immobile object. Grabbing someone and holding them is not likely to be convicted as a felony, but it is still only legal under specific circumstances, otherwise it is technically assault in the 4th degree, a misdemeanor. (1)

Criminaldefenselawer.com has an extensive database of legitimate legal advise, and will even set you up with an attorney in your area if you are dealing with a legal issue. This website describes physical restraint or imprisonment as only legal "if you have the legal authority to confine the person. However, it is up to a court to determine lawfulness. So, if you restrain someone believing that you had the legal authority to do so, and a court later determines you did not have that authority, you can be convicted of unlawful restraint." And continues to elaborate on this charge by explaining that there is no minimum amount of time required for this action to be considered Unlawful Restraint. "If a victim is confined even for a few moments, this is enough to qualify as an unlawful restraint." (2)

Risks and Better Options

According to Right Response, an organization built around response training for behavioral issues, situations which call for the physical restraint of an individual, are as follows:

"Physical Intervention Techniques can be effective when you:

  • Use Physical Interventions only for the purpose of maintaining safety.
  • Use only techniques which lessen physical dangers by using safer positions.
  • Use only the least intrusive intervention needed to maintain safety.
  • Discontinue the intervention as soon as possible when the risk to safety subsides.
  • Only use Physical Interventions in accordance to applicable laws, policies, individualized support plans and personal/professional expectations.
  • Do not use for behavior management because research has shown it ineffective as a behavior management strategy.
  • Do not use for compliance with rules or expectations because research has shown it increases the violence.
  • Do not use for punishment or revenge because this is no way to demonstrate respect nor maintain safety.
  • When you do use Physical Intervention, document the specific technique and placement on the body.
  • Perform Physical Interventions only according to an authorized training program." (3)

Though, it is important to remember that even this information is intended for those who are professionally trained to deal with these situations, including medical professionals and police officers. While these don't necessarily reflect specific laws, they do also apply to any citizens who may find themselves in a situation where they feel they need to make a decision whether or not to restrain someone.

If a regular citizen is to take it upon themselves to physically restrain another, aside from the risks of being charged for unlawful restraint, they are also risking the escalation of the situation. It has been proven that restraining someone, even if they weren't originally being violent, significantly increases their aggression and the risk of harm or injury for all parties involved. Being held against one's will almost always results in aggressive or violent reaction from the one being held. For this reason, the method of physical restraint should be only used as a last resort. Even in the case of medical or mental patients in the care of professionals.

To reference the organization Right Response again, the reasons why restraint should be a last resort, and why it is such a subject of debate are as follows:

  • "Restraint is often abused as a way to control someone's behavior instead of managing safety.
  • Restraint is often used to punish someone in retaliation for their behavior.
  • Restraint often escalates the situation paradoxically creating a more unsafe situation.
  • Restraint techniques have injured and even killed children and adults for petty issues.
  • Restraint techniques increase the risk of injury to yourself and everyone involved.
  • Restraint techniques increase the likelihood of the person becoming violent again.
  • Restraint techniques threaten your relationship with the person.
  • Restraint techniques are prohibited in many settings.
  • Restraint techniques increase your civil and criminal liabilities.
  • Restraint techniques do not de-escalate the violent person nor solve the reason for their escalation."

It is not uncommon for non-violent crisis intervention to turn aggressive because it forces the recipient to comply against their will. If it is a matter of life or death - you or them - you can probably defend the harm you inflict on the other person. But at what cost? Even if the rules allow it under certain circumstances, you will have to defend your actions. Your ethics will be reviewed. It may damage your reputation. It will certainly alter the relationship you have with the other person and probably not for the better.

A physical intervention actually increases the risk that someone will get hurt. A physical response usually plugs in the power struggle - justified or not. If you have to protect yourself or physically intervene, it should not be for the purpose of behavior management, compliance, punishment or even to vent your own frustrations. Physical intervention should only be used for the purpose of safety protection." (4)

Once again, information from Right Response is used for training professionals who may encounter the physically or mentally ill, and need to respond in dangerous situations because of their line of work. This information should be taken to heart in a very real way for regular citizens who have either not received real training, or are simply not dealing with a patient or criminal under arrest.

FULL NELSON!
FULL NELSON!

When, Why, and How?

A few situations in which it would generally be legally acceptable to restrain a fellow citizen are:
1. They have a weapon, and restraint is necessary to disarm them
2. They are physically attacking someone, and restraint is the only way to separate them so that the victim can escape to safety
3. They are physically violent, the police are on the way, and restraint is necessary to keep them from fleeing so that the police can make an arrest.
4. All other methods of de-escalation have been tried, and have failed.
Examples of safer de-escalation methods:

  • A. Third party intervention (mediation)
  • B. Distraction (deflect their attention from the situation or person)
  • C. Discussion (The attempt to calm or dissuade them through communication efforts)
  • D. Removal from the situation. (If someone can physically pull them away from the situation and take them to a different room, or outside of the house and away from their victim, this should be done before restraint is implemented. While this is also not ideal, it is actually a great deal safer than prolonged restraint of an individual.)

It may very from state to state, but according to a lawyer from Pennsylvania, whose opinion doesn't constitute legal advice, but does hold merit, due to her credentials, "...A civilian really cannot physically restrain another person without risking a charge for assault and battery or some sort of false imprisonment. Most Good Samaritan laws are there to protect people who help someone who is injured." She goes on to describe that suspecting that someone may be charged with a DUI does not constitute reason to physically restrain them. The suspicion of potential injury is not enough to warrant physically laying your hands upon someone else, or physically preventing them from moving or going as they please. This statement was posted on a public forum in response to a question about one's right to restrain a potential drunk driver. (5)


Probably many times throughout peoples' lives, they will end up in situations that are either violent, or may become violent. People get angry, and people get in fights. It's an ugly and unfortunate truth about the world and the society that we live in. A lot of the time, people may think that they should step in, and try to stop others from getting hurt. Your drunk friend may want to run out of the house and be alone after a breakup, but you're worried that they may hurt themselves. A friend may get angry and start screaming at someone, even grab onto their shirt as they yell, and you think they may physically hurt this person. You may think the best thing to do in these situations is to hold them back. To keep them from hurting anyone, or themselves. It's noble, and you really just care about their well-being.

But it is rare that this is the right thing to do. Not only does it make even otherwise complacent individuals become violent, increasing the severity of the situation, it is also illegal in most situations. If your are not a professional, with training in dealing with such situations, you should not get physically involved. Even striking someone to calm them down is likely to be safer and more legally acceptable than restraining someone.

Weigh the consequences when making decisions like this, and keep in mind that there are almost always more, and much better options.

Bibliography

  • (1) http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9A.40.040
  • (2) https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/crime-penalties/federal/Unlawful-Restraint.htm
  • (3) http://rightresponse.org/restraint-safety
  • (4) http://rightresponse.org/restraint-safety
  • (5) https://www.quora.com/What-would-be-the-legal-implications-of-physical-restraint-with-the-intent-of-preventing-one-or-more-casualties-due-to-DWI-DUI

© 2018 Yamuna Hrodvitnir

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