Professional mixed martial arts fighting is brutal, and often, so is policing. But a leading figure in the MMA world now seems on the verge of convincing top law enforcement officials in New Mexico that the state's cops can use MMA training to arrest people with minimal force.
The highest law enforcement agency in the state announced Tuesday morning its support for police in New Mexico to undergo training for techniques perfected by mixed martial arts fighters. The moves are meant to enable cops to deliver people to the courts in one piece.
At an Albuquerque meeting of the Law Enforcement Academy board, which designs and implements curriculum for New Mexico police in training, local resident and top MMA coach Greg Jackson pitched an update to the academy's defensive tactics curriculum to include maneuvers that he has taught to world champion fighters and hundreds of others who've trained at his Jackson Wink MMA Academy gym in Albuquerque.
"How, as a team, can we gain control of a subject without striking them or hurting them?" Jackson said to the eight-member board during his presentation. The goal of police, he claimed, should be protecting officers and the public, and police "should use the most efficient way as possible to do that."
Jackson's gym has been a hangout for Albuquerque police for years, and he has long had a close relationship to the department. Jackson and APD Officer Chris Luttrell, for example, devised the belt-ranking system for Jackson's own brew of martial arts, Gaidojutsu, and Luttrell was the first person to receive a black belt in the techniques.
Jackson says he has worked with Albuquerque law enforcement agencies since 1995, and most recently trained the city's SWAT police on how to physically control people during home raids. He says he also demonstrated to members of former President Obama's Department of Justice some of the techniques last year, though the US Attorney's Office in New Mexico had not confirmed this by publication time.
Tuesday's meeting formalized the working relationship between Jackson and New Mexico's police, and will potentially expand it to law enforcement agencies outside of APD. Santa Fe officers, for example, are trained based on academy curriculum, and if the academy's board approves the updates proposed by Jackson, they'll receive the same kind of training that cops in Albuquerque have informally undergone for decades.
In his presentation, Jackson described a difference between "subject control" and "defensive" techniques, though the two can be used in conjunction. The former, he said, relies on grappling, and could reduce officers' reliance on more overtly violent techniques such as distraction strikes, while the latter operates in a tiered system to deter perceived attacks with escalating force.
Although Jackson brought a thumb drive loaded with videos demonstrating the moves to supplement his presentation, the board declined to review it. One board member, Las Cruces Police Department Sgt. Jaime Quezada, asked if the MMA trainer thought the new tactics should be available for public review. Jackson said no.
"If you put up techniques that [officers use] on a website, there are people in this world that will look at those techniques and train against them, that's just what they do," Jackson argued, warning of an "arms race" taking place in prisons where "prisoners [are] trying to come up with counters to what officers are going to do." He did not any present evidence for these claims.
Attorney General Hector Balderas and State Police Chief Pete Kassetas flanked Jackson in a press conference that followed the academy's board meeting. Balderas told reporters he was "excited" about the curriculum updates proposed by the MMA legend because they would give officers greater ability to "de-escalate" confrontations with members of the public. He said there was no timeline for when the changes would be rolled out, but it seems likely they would be approved.
"This board does have the authority and control over the curriculum, we've directed [LEA Director Stephan Marshall] to already study this curriculum, and we believe we are supportive of it," said Balderas, who is the chairman of the board.
The attorney general also seemed to support greater public disclosure about the techniques than Jackson had proposed in the meeting, declaring that the academy would be "transparent" in discussing the MMA-based curriculum with the public.
"It only makes sense that we have a world-class facility that has the best type of training, and it only makes sense because Greg is from our community, that he partner with law enforcement. So we're going to be transparent, demonstrate the viability of these techniques, and then also be very specific with the community when we can start seeing improvements to officers and community safety issues," he said.
Asked whether Balderas agreed with Jackson's argument for secrecy and whether the curriculum would be disclosable under state sunshine laws, attorney general spokesman James Hallinan reiterated Balderas' stated commitment to transparency but said it would be "inappropriate to comment any further given that the curriculum was just proposed to the board today and will require thorough review."
Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify some of Greg Jackson's statements to the Law Enforcement Academy board.