Vargas: It’s not easy to handcuff someone who doesn’t want to be arrested


On Friday, I saw a cell phone video apparently taken at San Diego State University showing two officers struggling to take a male suspect into custody for being under the influence of drugs.

There was a struggle as the two officers tried to detain him. It wasn’t pretty as they all fell to the ground and sat on him. They tried to get him handcuffed but it wasn’t going so well.

The suspect, of course, is screaming bloody murder.

The suspect was eventually arrested and apparently was uninjured.

Within hours of the Sept. 16 incident, there were students protesting the alleged police brutality. A sit-in was staged at the administration building. The campus police chief responded to address the crowd.

All over social media, people commented about the out-of-control campus cops. They called the incident an obvious example of out-of-control police brutality.

I don’t know all the circumstances of the arrest. According to a news release, the officers were responding to calls received about a guy acting strangely.

Based upon the video, we have no idea what happened before the contact with the officers, what they said to him, or why they made the decision to arrest him.

Here is something the critics need to wrap their heads around: There is absolutely no pretty way to handcuff someone who doesn’t want to be handcuffed.

Despite practice, training and all the tools at the officer’s disposal, if someone doesn’t want to go to jail it isn’t going to look pretty.

Take my word for it: I would go to extreme measures to avoid a physical confrontation of any sort. But over three decades of police work it just can’t be avoided.

Years ago, my partner and I were on foot outside a dive bar. It was after midnight and we all know nothing good ever happens outside dive bars after midnight.

We contacted a guy outside who was obviously higher than a kite. It was clear he was under the influence of drugs.

After some conversation, I decided he needed to be arrested. Everything had been going great up until that point.

That changed the minute I touched him.

He immediately attempted to pull away and take a step. We both grabbed him and between the two of us we were able to get him bent over the hood of the police unit to handcuff him.

Then, in a burst of adrenaline, he managed to stand us both up.

The fight was on. It was a donnybrook as we attempted to get him handcuffed. He flailed his arms, swung at us, swore at us and kicked.

Eventually we ended up on the ground on top of him trying to get his arms in position. Patrons came storming out of the bar and surrounded us.

At some point he sustained a cut to his head when we fell to the ground. There was blood everywhere. Including all over us.

Still trying to get him handcuffed, we had to be cautious of the agitated crowd around us. Yes, it is very scary.

The suspect’s yells hadn’t diminished at all. It sounded like we were beating him to death.

We never punched, struck or kicked him once. We just wanted him to submit to being handcuffed.

Eventually we got him handcuffed and transported to jail. The cut he sustained was minor.

It was a knockdown, drag-out struggle and it didn’t look pretty. If there had been a video I’m certain it would have gone viral and people would be calling for our heads on a platter.

In my experience, the people judging the officers in these altercations have never been in a physical confrontation of any sort…ever. They have never played a contact sport, wrestled in competition or practiced martial arts.

They have never experienced what it is like to be wrestling on the ground with someone who doesn’t want to go to jail.

You see, every police officer brings a gun to a fist fight. If they lose that fight, that gun is now the property of the bad guy.

So the strategy is simple: Meet resistance with not equal force, but overwhelming force.

Taking people to the ground and sitting on them until the cavalry arrives is a routine part of police work.

Thank God it doesn’t happen every day. But it happens often enough to make it almost routine.

The officers do it so the average person doesn’t have to. Until they invent a “Star Trek” phaser that can be set to stun, it will continue to happen.

It would be great if people gave officers a hand instead of heckling them. I’ve had it happen to me time and again. The help was always appreciated.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at