In a flash, a knife appeared in the hand of the emotionally disturbed person and she began to swing at the young officer. The first cuts were on the left forearm, then the left bicep. As the officer pulled the injured arm back and away, the next strikes hit the right forearm and the right bicep, these cut deeper than the first strikes. The officer’s first thoughts were the pain and bleeding and wondered why someone would kill her over a minor traffic stop.
There are few things more difficult to predict than the behavior of an emotionally disturbed person. Few things accept perhaps, the behavior of someone on alcohol or drugs or both.
Few things are more alarming to a police officer than an edged weapon. A knife, a razor, a sword or a broken bottle, anything that stabs, cuts, rips or tears. Everyone understands the danger from assault with firearms, but the threat from edged weapons may actually be greater. Edged weapons are cheaper, easier to obtain, easier to conceal and infinitely easier to use if you do not mind getting up close and personal with your adversary.
UP CLOSE is, of course, where the danger lies. How close is too close? Within arms reach is obviously too close, but the reaction time to recognize and react to the danger has to be factored into the equation.
A young police firearms instructor named Dennis Tueller once pondered these same thoughts. Tasked with the responsibility of training police officers to react to edge weapon threats, Dennis had to learn the tactics of how to defeat an attack before he could teach them to others. With the help of his staff and other volunteers, he began his study. First, he began testing the volunteers on the range in simple draw and shoot drills with an electronic timer. At the beep, the officers had to draw their handgun from a locked duty holster and score a center mass hit as quickly as they could.
Using the reaction time information he obtained, it was obvious that it took a minimum of ¾ of a second just to observe and process the information necessary to understand that a threat exists (in this case the beep of the timer). It then takes at least another ¾ of a second to react to the perceived threat. That’s a total of 1.5 seconds, assuming that: You have been practicing your draw stroke and shooting; your equipment is loaded and functioning properly; and you have been paying attention to what is going on around you. Together, these represent no small task! The 1.5 seconds doesn’t provide any time to formulate a plan of action, there is only time for your training and practice to “kick in.” If you haven’t had the training or done the practice, you could be the next flag presentation.
Dennis began to role-play known edge weapon assaults. He videotaped various scenarios and played them back in slow motion and real time to see where 1.5 seconds came into the equation. The answer was 21 feet. Dennis found that his volunteers could cover a distance of 21 feet in the time it takes for an officer to process the information that he/ she is in danger and react to it by drawing and scoring at least one center mass hit. The “21 foot rule” or “Tueller Principle” has become universally accepted as the minimum time/ distance needed to respond to an edged weapon attack.
The problem that this rule presents to law enforcement is that the normal distance between an officer and a traffic violator or other public contact is less, usually much less, than 21 feet. As a practical matter, it is impractical or impossible for an officer to obtain a driver’s license, registration and insurance documentation without the parties coming within arms-reach of each other.
The answer is two fold. One, which is a constant: Police work is inherently dangerous, two: Time equals distance. That is to say, any combination of things that take time, equate to distance between perceived threat and successful reaction.
Police officers, out of training and desire for self-preservation, perceive that people that they interact with may be carrying weapons, edged or otherwise. However, most people do not carry a weapon and public contact within 21 feet is necessary. What can the police do to improve their chances for survival? Some small things can be very important.
1. The police can ask and require that people in contact or close proximity keep their hands out of their pockets or other places where weapons are concealed. Yes, I understand that it is cold. As the story goes, sometimes the porridge is too hot and sometimes the bed is too soft. I would ask you to remember that your contact with the police is (usually) five minutes or less. You will be back in your warm car soon. The time it takes someone to put their hands into their pockets and retrieve a weapon is not a long time but it is SOME time. I do not consider that keeping a person’s hands OUTISDE their pockets gives the officer any “advantage” it just provides one FEWER disadvantage.
2. The police can ask and require that the driver and all passengers remain INSIDE the vehicle until the stop is over or until the officer has left. The area around a traffic stop is a DANGEROUS place to be. Many of us have watched police videos and seen oncoming cars strike parked vehicles and/ or people walking around them. Yes, I appreciate you believe you have the “right” to get out of your vehicle anytime you want… but waiting five minutes to exit your vehicle might keep you from getting hit by an inattentive or drunk driver. It is for YOUR safety that we ask you to remain in your vehicle.
3. During an investigative stop, Officers may have the right to do a frisk or “pat down” search of anyone that they believe may be armed. The same officer who would immediately remove a firearm from someone will also remove (and temporarily hold) a pocketknife or edged weapon that can be just as deadly. Yes, I understand that most people do NOT like being searched. I also know that most of us (despite what you might have heard) DON’T enjoy doing it. During pat down searches, I have found things like urine soaked jeans, syringes without caps or covers over the needles, and people with things like Type ‘Z’ hepatitis or worse. Nope, they are not fun to do.
Occasionally, perhaps even rarely, I go beyond the usual rambling war stories to help educate and close the communication gap between the police department and our citizen/ customers, to help the public understand what we do and how we do it. The better the public understands us, the safer it is for all of us. That is the mission statement for these Police Notes articles.
Dennis Tueller is one of the best instructors I have had the pleasure of surviving over the years. His teaching skills and the development of the “Tueller Rule” has saved many officers from injury or worse. He is a master of his trade. He is currently employed by Glock, Inc. as an instructor and is doing good work for them. To learn more visit Tueller Principle