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An ex-ISU cop says martial arts training could lead to fewer mistakes on the job

Jeremy Butler conducting a demonstration
Jeremy Butler conducting a demonstration.

Jeremy Butler grew up on the south side of Chicago. As a young Black man, he didn’t have entirely positive perceptions of the police. But as an undergrad at Illinois State University, Butler met Aaron Woodruff, the chief of ISU police department.

“We just had several conversations about the field of policing. And he felt that I would be a good fit for law enforcement,” Butler said of Woodruff. “So he essentially talked me into the idea of just considering it. And after a couple of conversations with him, I found myself at the police academy.”

Butler said he and Woodruff discussed the need for more representation in law enforcement to address frayed relations between minority communities and the police. After graduating from the police academy, Butler served for seven years on the ISU police force before leaving the field to pursue a Ph.D. in kinesiology.

Butler is now a professor at Judson University in Elgin. He’s combining his knowledge of kinesiology and policing with more than 20 years of martial arts experience to develop more effective control tactics for law enforcement. He has recently published a book called, "Stop Resisting: The Law Enforcement Officer's Guide to Proven Control Tactics, Less Lawsuits, and Building Community Trust Through Martial Arts."

Butler said police training often treats verbal de-escalation and physical control tactics as separate subjects. In Butler’s view, the two go hand-in-hand. Describing interactions between citizens and police that devolve into physical contact, Butler said, “I always felt that most of these encounters are going to start with the verbal interaction, and then they could go south. And now you have to get physical. So, why not teach that together?”

Butler sees the confidence and discipline that can be developed through martial arts as a way to counteract the inherently chaotic interactions police encounter on the streets.

“Oftentimes, we forget that police officers are human,” Butler said. "And, you know, mistakes happen when you when situations are tense and rapidly evolving.”

But by bolstering police training with time on the mats in a martial arts gym, Butler believes officers can better prepare themselves for unpredictable situations.

“As a professional, you have a responsibility to ensure that you're training sufficiently to prepare yourself for these situations so that we can minimize the frequency of these errors occurring,” he said.

Butler will be in Bloomington on July 23 to lead a seminar for law enforcement on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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