Years ago, criminals seemed to engage us in order to make an escape. Now, hyper aggressive criminals seem to be engaging us to finish the attack. Roughly 85% of police officers who have their firearms taken from them are shot with their own handguns. Weapon retention is obviously important. No matter what the technique, if a lone officer has an offender that is much larger, stronger, or more willing, then the officer is likely to loose his firearm and be shot with it.
Lethal force is a justifiable option in these types of scenarios. As such, forward thinking police departments are allowing, encouraging, and training their officers to carry and use knives as backup weapons. Kentucky State Police is one such agency. In the short time that they have been teaching the duty knife, they have had at least one save.
Many good tactical folders are on the market. These use a variety of devices to get the blade open quickly, and once deployed, the knives work well. The problem is the officer’s ability to deploy the knife under stress. No matter what the opening device, we still have to get a hand on it, open it, and then grip it before it can be used effectively.
At Tactical Defense Institute
(TDI), for years we have offered knife training for police officers as a viable supplement to their duty firearm. With this training experience, KA-BAR Knife Company
approached me about a fixed blade knife for law enforcement officers. My adjunct instructors and I set the parameters and took on the project.
The knife had to be small. Large blades can be somewhat offensive to many administrators and to the public. Some departments restrict the carry of knives to folders for just that reason. The knife also had to be carried comfortably. Police officers don’t carry uncomfortable gear. Sitting in a cruiser with an object poking you in the ribs or leg just would not work.
The knife could not go on the duty belt in a conventional manner. We carry so much gear on our belts now that most officers cannot stand another thing. The knife had to conceal well yet be accessible with either hand, especially the non-gun hand. Since a large percentage of officers that have their handguns taken away get shotwith their own guns, I wanted them to have an edge.
Training with any piece of lethal or less-lethal tool is critical, yet training time is a major issue. I wanted the knife to be very simple to both draw and use with a minimum of initial and follow-up training.
After drawing up the concept, I went to Ethan Becker of Becker Knife & Tool. He had the first prototype made. Once we started working with the prototype, some very interesting bonuses showed up. When punching with the knife, it lines up with the major bones in the arm for maximum power. The hand would not over run the knife blade when it struck something hard, like bone. This was particularly important. During our knife classes, we do some hard target training and there is always a concern of injury. In many knife encounters you see wounds that the individual wielding the knife inflicts on himself in this manner.
Another advantage was that it worked as well in the reverse grip as in the forward, and it drew from the sheath just like a pistol from the holster. At TDI, we emphasize using the same gross motor skills for many things and having an integrated system of defense. The “simple is good” theory works.
Dick Hillegas, president of KA-BAR, liked both the design and the idea behind the design. The KA-BAR staff developed the final prototypes and the sheath. The sheath needed special attention since it had to be reversible for left or right-handed persons. We found that putting it on the inner belt worked very well. For uniform functions, it should be worn behind a magazine pouch or other obstruction on the gun belt. Fitting the inner belt worked better if the officer wished to carry the knife off duty, plain clothes, or undercover. Some creative individuals have actually been taking the sheath apart, running the backer behind the magazine pouch belt strap and putting it back together. It works very well and is permanently attached.
I wanted the blade to be stainless steel so that it would not rust, but I also wanted it to hold an edge as well. KA-BAR selected AUS-8 stainless and gave it a razor sharp edge. The Zytel handles fit perfectly over the full length tang. The handles feel comfortable and allow the full use of the 2.38-inch blade. The original version uses a straight edge. KABAR then released a fully-serrated version. Finally, they introduced a blunt-edge, red-handle training blade.
My lead knife instructor is Greg Ellifritz of the Upper Arlington, OH Police. Together we developed an eight-hour law enforcement program based on our 16-hour standard knife class. Each class covers both folders and fixed blade knives. The TDI Law Enforcement Knife-Only user class can be done in only four hours. Inthese four hours, we can cover the required material to become proficient in the use of the knife plus where it should fit in the use of force continuum.
Our knife classes do not teach knife-on-knife tactics, i.e., knife fighting. In all our years in law enforcement, we had never seen nor responded to a knife on knife fight. Police officers have used knives to defend their lives, but we don’t draw a knife to fight a knife; after all, we do have guns.
Sam Faulkner of the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy caught wind of what we were doing and now has us teaching the first ever knife programs at OPOTA. We issue the KA-BAR TDI LE Knife during the program and key on the type of situations that an officer may use the knife, including deployment under stress.
The TDI knife can be accessed under almost any condition, including standing, kneeling, or on the ground. We don’t push the TDI knife during the class, as I want them to discover for themselves what is best. It will become obvious very quickly under stress that an accessible fixed blade is far superior to a folder.
One of the drills we perform is a balloon drill done on a firearms shot timer. You must draw the knife and bust the balloon both folder and fixed blade. We find the averagetime for the KA-BAR TDI knife to be one second or less. With the folders, a fast time is more like 1.5 seconds and generally even more, with some fumbling as high as 8-10 seconds.
More important than time is the grip. Since the TDI Knife draws like a pistol, it has a good full hand solid grip when leaving the sheath; most of the folders, however, do not have a solid grip. Should they strike an object harder than a balloon, they may very well have lost their knife.
This project has been in the making for about three years. We have had several officers carrying prototypes on duty for at least two years. During that time they have had no cause to use the knife in a defensive posture, nor has anyone taken special notice of the fixed blade, nor has any of the officers experienced discomfort while carrying it on duty. A low-profile fixed blade, properly positioned for rapid deployment is a concept worth considering.John Benner is a former police lieutenant and SWAT Team Commander. He is the founder of Tactical Defense Institute in West Union, OH and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.