Photo: Mike Siegfried
Editor's note: View our related photo gallery, "Small Edged Weapons."
Over the past few years, I have trained thousands of cops. One thing I have noticed is that most of them have received little or no training in how to defend against edged weapons. One of the reasons for this could be an over-reliance on the use of firearms. The axiom is true: "Never bring a knife to a gun fight." And training exercises like Dennis Tueller's groundbreaking 21-foot drill reinforce this mindset. But this thinking has critical flaws. What if you don't see the knife? Or what if you do not have time to accurately shoot your firearm before you are cut?
In many cases, the victims of stabbings never knew the knives were in play. Their first indication that something was wrong was when they saw blood. And that's often too late. When adrenaline is flowing, some people don't even realize they have been cut. This is complicated by the fact that small edged weapons are harder to see—especially at night.
Remember, weapons like razor blades can be deadly. It has been widely reported that the 9/11 hijackers used box cutters-basically razor blades with handles-to threaten the passengers on the planes; they are terrifying weapons. I remember one of my knife-fighting instructors saying, "Most cops do not have enough respect for the blade. When a bullet is fired, the bullet decides how big the hole is. When someone cuts you, they decide how big the hole is."
As a police officer, you may now have more reason to take these words to heart. With federal, state, and local budgets getting slashed across the country, many jails and prisons are being forced to release inmates early. Many of the criminals being released have learned to use small edged weapons in prison. In correctional facilities, inmates often attack each other and sometimes custodial staff with razor blades. Some of these inmates are very skilled at using these blades to slice and kill.
Watch for Blades
Job one is to not get cut and to stop the attack. To do this you need to know that the weapon is in play; you cannot defend against threats you do not see. Watch a suspect's hands and recognize when they are accessing a weapon. Under most circumstances, the suspect moves his thumb and index finger to the center of his body and the elbow moves away from the center of his body. Officers can use this information to anticipate when the suspect is accessing a weapon and respond accordingly.
There are other signs you can look for, too. With small blades without a handle, the suspect will usually hold the blade between the thumb and index finger using a standard grip. If the suspect wants a greater element of surprise, she may grip the blade with a scalpel grip, which is very difficult to detect and easy to use. It can be used to hide small and large blades. With this in mind, it is generally a good idea to have the suspect spread his fingers apart before you get close to him.
Deal with the Blade
If you are aware or lucky enough to realize a blade is in play, you have to react quickly. It takes the average officer two to three seconds to draw a firearm and fire. How many times do you think a skilled blade fighter could cut you in that time? I personally don't want to find out.
Your greatest chance for success is to draw your firearm and deal with the blade simultaneously. If you draw your firearm without dealing with the blade, the assailant will most likely have time to cut you more than once. You don't want that to happen. Getting cut is damaging not just physically but psychologically. No one likes to see their own blood spilled. Another aspect of injury during a knife attack is shock. Symptoms include confusion, low blood pressure, dizziness, rapid breathing, unconsciousness, and in extreme cases, death.