The vast majority of police officers carry a knife. When asked why, and depending on who is doing the asking, the most common response by far: cut seat belts! After all, who in police management or among the general public would deny the use of such an innocent and critical rescue and safety tool? Officers who use the “seat belt” rationale hope that the next questions are not: why does your knife have a sharp point, and why doesn’t it have a rounded (safety) J-hook and a fully serrated blade?
The truth is police officers carry a conventional folding-locking knife as a tool to do many different things. One of them, and arguably the most compelling reason, is a last-ditch, self-defense tool. Accepting that, both the police officer and police manager should be asking the same training and liability questions that apply to most pieces of police gear.
The use of a knife in defense of life is a political issue, not a legal one. Legally, the justification to use deadly force allows virtually any means of force: shooting the person, strangling the person, running over the person with a vehicle, dropping a safe on the person or stabbing the person. Deadly force is deadly force. However, politically, not all means of deadly force are equal. Everyone knows that the use of deadly force involves two fights, one on the street, one in the courtroom.
George Williams, of Cutting Edge Training
, has developed a Tactical Duty Knife course designed to help police officers survive both fights: 1) How to use the knife effectively as a last-ditch survival tool, and 2) How to use the knife in such a way to minimize political and criminal ramifications. The realities are that how a knife is used by the police officer is important.
Williams is the Director of Training for Cutting Edge Training. He is a California POST certified Police Master Instructor and expert witness defending officers in civil rights litigation. He is the corporate trainer for Benchmade Knife Company. His instructing partner is Sergeant Tom Benge, a supervisor with the Meadville, PA Police. Benge is a Pennsylvania MPOETC Application of Force Instructor and the national Lead Instructor for Cutting Edge Training.
Williams teaches the limited use of the knife. His course involves hands-on drills in both handgun retention and defending against a close-range knife attack. The training involves both standing and grounded exercises. The knives are not rubber or plastic blades. Instead, they are unsharpened training knives that have the same look and feel of a tactical folder, and they open, lock and unlock exactly like a tactical folder.
Just as importantly, his course is not a knife fighting class and is not a ground fighting class. His course does not draw from martial arts techniques, nor does it use military techniques or military rules of engagement. This course is strictly and specifically a police knife course. It uses police rules of engagement and is based on the knives carried by the police.
Most importantly, it is geared to the common, yet unique problems faced by the police. All the drills are based on actual police situations where they either used a knife, or a knife was used against them.
Just as important as the hands-on physical drills was the classroom instruction on use-of-force policy written to include knives, the selection of a suitable police folder and the age old slash versus stab technique. Cutting Edge Training will supply a defensible knife policy to anyone requesting it on departmental letterhead. Everyone involved in the aftermath of this volatile kind of use-of-force will want to see the department’s policy.
The lack of such policy for such a commonly carried tool with lethal force implications will cause a significant liability for the department. Is there a policy? Was the training consistent to the policy? Was the policy enforced? Did the officer act within policy? Was this an approved knife? A “no” to any of these will be a huge liability problem.
Williams is the national police instructor and corporate trainer for Benchmade Knives. He fully discloses his affiliation. In fact, all students receive a Benchmade Griptilian 551-T training knife to use during the course and to take with them afterward. He obviously feels Benchmade Knives makes an ideal police knife. On the other hand, Williams is also surprisingly neutral and objective when discussing police knife selection.
In knife selection, he speaks in terms of lock designs and blade materials. Designs like the Axis-Lock (internal tang lock) are the strongest. Many knife makers make a similar design. Liner lock designs are the weakest and least reliable. Lock backs are somewhere in between. Virtually every knife maker, who makes all three kinds, will agree with this lock strength assessment.
Blade material makes the knife. Benchmade (and others) use 154 CM or its twin alloy, ATS-34 for tactical folders. That is arguably the best high-carbon, stainless steel hybrid for a police knife. Other hybrids like S30V are becoming popular. If you opt for a traditional 440 stainless steel, be sure it is 440-C, emphasis on “C.”
Look for a strong hinge or pivot pin. With the blade locked open, move the blade back and forth with sideways pressure to the blade. There should be no give. Williams recommended a drop point or clip point over the more aggressive-appearing Tanto point. And specific for police work, recommended the partially-serrated, partially-straight cutting surface.
An internal tang lock knife with a partially-serrated drop point made of 154 CM with a strong pivot pin still leaves the knife selection wide open to a dozen models from a dozen knife makers.
Williams was only insistent and adamant in one area of knife selection: the blade must be able to be fully opened, and locked, with only the non-shooting hand and in the middle of a violent struggle. Thumb stud, thumb hole, thumb disc—whatever—the officer must be able to open the knife with one hand while wrestling with a mope.
Benchmade offers a 40% discount on their knives to law enforcement officers who participate in Cutting Edge Training courses.
The next issue was where to carry the knife. While there is flexibility here, a couple of minutes on the mat quickly eliminated some locations that are currently used by police officers.
Not clipped to, but actually carried inside a pants pocket? No. This cannot be reached. Clipped to the gun side pocket? No. Your non-gun hand can’t get to it and your gun hand is busy with the gun retention in the holster. Clipped in a rear pocket? No. You can’t get to it while on your back.
Clipped inside the shirt, or the vest-carry? Maybe. But you will have to unbutton, unzip or rip your shirt to get to it. Here is a tip—clip the knife on the gun side of the vest for an easier reach by the non-gun hand.
Clipped inside the duty belt on the non-gun side? Maybe. It is certainly not accessible or even visible to anyone else (mope or citizen). But it may be difficult to access in the sitting position, or if the officer has had one too many donuts.
In the end, the best compromise position is probably clipped inside the front pocket on the non-gun side. The officers got a chance to try each carry position to decide for themselves, all the while being pushed, pulled, twisted and laid on by their partner.
It was a major accomplishment to just pull the closed knife from its carry position. The next eye-opening drill was to open and lock the blade in the middle of a genuine effort gun grab. A disarm attempt from the front, from the back, sitting toboggan-style, face down on the ground, and flat on your back. Sore muscles, bruised and mat-burned hands, arms and hips the next day were evidence of the force used to attempt the disarm and to deploy the knife.
The way to open the blade during a fight without cutting or stabbing yourself involves “planting” the knife. With the knife firmly held with the thumb and all fingers, plant the heel of your hand next to your body and open the blade parallel and perpendicular to your body. That is a lot easier said than done.
Opening a knife is a fine motor skill, the kind of dexterity that is quickly lost in exactly the scenario calling for a police knife. The press-deploy method is the most secure way to protect the knife from loss and open the blade without injuring yourself. Press the knife against your body. Deploy the blade away from your body. Wrap all your fingers around the handle with the blade edge toward you.
Now that you have it, what do you do with it? More specifically, how can you be the most tactically effective and the most politically effective? The goals are: 1) to stab, not slice, 2) to minimize the number of stabs, and 3) to get the most from that one stab.
The target should be a high blood flow area, or a bony area that produces high pain, or both: between the collar bone and shoulder blade at the base of the neck; under the arm pit; into the femoral artery in the pelvis. Other targets exist, of course, but few have such combinations of high blood flow and pain.
The neck, per se? The officer really wants to avoid cutting the subject’s throat, if at all possible. The American society just isn’t ready for its police to do that. Survive the fight. Do what you must do. While the throat is a great tactical target, other targets are probably better choices politically.
Getting the opened training knife into these primary targets, without dropping the knife and without being disarmed (the original problem!) took up a lot of mat time. Just clamp your hand over the subject’s hand and force the gun to remain in the holster. Get the knife out and open it. Put it in a high-value area.
Williams had goals and principles to follow...but the tactics and techniques were up to the officer. No street fight ever followed the structured techniques taught in the academy’s defensive tactics class. And those fluid and cool martial arts moves quickly fall apart, or can’t be remembered, in a street fight.
The other part of the course was the defense against the knife. Not choreographed X-blocks from a charging maniac with a blade overhead. Instead, the training was the proper reaction to the police reality that the knife came from nowhere—and that punch you felt in your side was actually a stab.
The knife defense drill started out just like you see on footage from prison yards. The victim is surprised, grabbed with one hand and stabbed with a quick series of rabbit punches with the other hand. You can try to block these punches, and you may block most of them. All the knife-wielder has to do is land a few solid stabs. He knows your arm pit is open. He knows a gap exists on the sides of most vests.
After frustrating and failed attempts to block the rapid, close-range, punch-stabs, the solution was both welcome and memorable. Instead of using your arm to block the blow, use it to wrap-up, to lock-up, the arm delivering the blow. Don’t back away...close in. From this position, your other defensive tactics techniques can be used, such as distraction and takedown.
The course concluded with a number of grounded problems. The officer does not want to get in a ground fight. Yet 86% of real fights with subjects end up with the officer on the ground.
The advice for the ground is to remain engaged with the subject as long as the officer is wining. For most officers, that will be a maximum of 15 seconds. You are probably winning as long as the subject remains in the prone position and the subject is not actively armed or reaching for a weapon.
As the ground fight starts to go neutral, or if the officer is losing, the advice is to disengage. We spent a lot of mat time disengaging from the subject. A “disengage” is totally different from an “engage” on the ground. Wriggle away from the suspect without giving him your back. Move into a position with your feet toward him, kicking to free and distance yourself. This will be an extremely natural, if not instinctive, response.
From this “T” position, transition to weapons, whatever weapons you have from Taser, to OC, to—best of all—handgun. At this point, the subject was free to leave. Instead, he continued the attack. No one can reasonably doubt his intent.
Cutting Edge Training offers training in civil liability prevention, officer survival, SWAT entry, expert witness, counter-measures, ground defense, police impact weapons, and police firearms and riot response.