It only took 16 hours for Sgt. Casey Day to complete a training course that now allows him to legally use a weapon many martial artists spend years mastering.
Soon, his entire 20-person department in the small town of Anderson, California, could be similarly armed.
"We’re a progressive department, always looking for innovative ways to reduce liability and do our job better," Day said of his decision to carry nunchaku, the Japanese weapon commonly referred to as nunchucks, instead of a baton.
Day, a 15-year veteran, said he'd gotten the idea from Anderson police Chief Michael Johnson, who used them when he was employed with the Eureka Police Department. Day said that compared to batons, nunchucks allow officers to more easily restrain suspects while still having the ability to strike.
"It gives you two tools in one," he told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "You can’t use a straight baton for getting control of a joint. A baton is strictly an impact weapon -- nunchucks are a little more subtle. The main purpose isn’t to swing and hit somebody, it’s to grab ahold and wrist-lock them."
Day said that a 16-hour course is "plenty" of time to learn to use the weapon, the police version of which is made of hard plastic rods connected by a nylon cord. "It's not very hard to master," he said.
The company that manufactures the nunchucks and provides the training is Orcutt Police Defensive Systems, Inc., a Denver-based business run by Kevin Orcutt, a retired police sergeant.
Orcutt, who is a first-degree black belt, told HuffPost on Wednesday that more than 100 police agencies currently implement the use of nunchucks through his program. He said that using nunchucks as a control device could have prevented the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died last summer after an NYPD officer put him in a prohibited chokehold.
"An officer at that scene with the OPN would have immediately gone to the ankle area and created the takedown from there. He would have never even bothered with the neck area," Orcutt, who was an officer for 36 years, said. "It frustrated me so much because the result of that incident was tragic, all because of a police use of force that didn’t go very well."
Surprisingly, police using nunchucks is not a new idea. In 1989, San Diego police used the weapons to subdue anti-abortionists protesting at a medical center.
"The pain caused lasting damage, from tendon injuries to breaking a surgeon’s wrist, yet did not work very well to get the demonstrators on their feet and into the van," lawyers for the injured parties argued in a subsequent court case, Forrester v. City of San Diego. A jury ultimately decided the officers' use of nunchucks had been warranted.
Nunchucks, which are illegal for civilians to own in California, would cost about $100 for each Anderson officer willing to make the switch. When asked if the money would be better spent on police body cameras, Day said there are still "a lot of steps to be worked out" before the department can have cameras, and that it is "an administrative decision above my pay grade."
Thom Vermeulen, president of the World Nunchaku Association based in the Netherlands, told HuffPost in an email that 16 hours is not enough time to adequately learn nunchucks.
"It's not enough time to learn the skill," Vermeulen said. "Before a student of ours can start competing with nunchucks, he or she must train for at least half a year, one hour per week."
Orcutt said he agrees that becoming an expert with nunchucks takes years of training, but he added that officers aren't being taught the things "Bruce Lee did."
"I streamlined the training for 16 hours for a real basic-level use of the tool," Orcutt said. "For martial arts, it’s correct, you won’t learn a lot in 16 hours, but that’s not what I’m doing. I'm teaching very traditional impact techniques -- and most officers have already received some type of training like that -- and devote most of the time to control tactics, so it’s a basic level. But I’m very supportive of more training."