It’s not a chokehold: Study argues police should be able to use ‘safe and effective’ vascular neck restraints

‘It’s important to note that VNR is distinctly different from a chokehold.’

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Several cities have banned their local police departments from using any kind of neck restraints in the wake of multiple high-profile deaths in recent years. While the use of a chokehold can impair a suspect’s ability to breathe, a new study finds that’s not the case with vascular neck restraint (VNR). Moreover, researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine say this technique is not only “safe and effective,” but cities that ban VNR need to revisit that policy.

“It’s important to note that VNR is distinctly different from a chokehold,” says Dr. William Bozeman, a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest and emergency medicine physician at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, in a university release. “A chokehold is a form of neck compression that can restrict breathing, but VNR does not impair respiration.”

If police officers learn to apply this technique correctly, the team says VNR is a safe practice for first responders trying to arrest aggressive or violent suspects. Specifically, VNR applies pressure to the blood vessels in the lateral neck. When someone applies the hold properly, VNR can lead to temporary unconsciousness or forces the person to quickly comply with officers. Importantly, the team notes that VNR does not apply pressure to the person’s airway or trachea.

Researchers find no deaths linked to vascular neck restraints

During their study, Bozeman and his team reviewed VNR use among three law enforcement agencies — the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, the San Diego Police Department, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. These agencies all submitted their records on VNR use during an 11-year period, from 2010 to 2020. These logs included training uses and real-world applications as officers dealt with combative or resisting suspects.

During that time, officers in those three departments used VNR a total of 944 times in the field. However, there were no deaths or reports of significant injuries during those incidents. Overall, researchers found that officers using VNR had a 92.6 percent success rate, meaning the technique allowed them to successfully take the combative suspect into custody without causing harm.

In training situations, more than 85,000 law enforcement officers or trainees engaged in hands-on VNR training. Out of this group, 14,083 received full neck pressure during training and 71,835 received partial neck pressure. Again, there were no deaths or reports of significant injuries as a result of VNR.

Bozeman has led previous studies that found the use of force by police is typically a rare event. With that in mind, the team recommends that cities which ban this particular technique should reconsider this “one-size-fits-all” police reform policy.

“By banning VNR, law enforcement officers have fewer options when taking a person into custody,” Bozeman concludes. “VNR is one of the least injurious tools that police have. And we now have evidence, for the first time, that it’s both safe and effective.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine.

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