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Departments : Officer Survival

Surviving Knife Attacks

Know what to look for and how to react when confronted with a subject wielding an edged weapon.

June 01, 2004  |  by Ernest Emerson


Present the least vulnerable target. If you are under fire, you find cover. The same principle applies here. If you are physically attacked, you move, you angle, you put something between you and the attack (in this case, most likely your arms).

As a police officer you often find yourself in a position where knife attacks are most likely to occur: within arm’s reach of an unknown individual with unknown intent. It’s a worst-case scenario, but it can happen at any time. To be prepared for such an encounter, it’s important to know what to do in several types of situations. I’m going to break down some of these scenarios to give you a better understanding of what you may someday be faced with and the principles and tools you’ll need to protect yourself should you ever face an edged-weapon attack.

There are three main categories to cover: the perpetrator, method of attack, and defense against the attack. There are thousands of sub-categories to dissect, as each situation is unique, but the ones we discuss here cover the broadest range of likelihood and the best defenses for them. Nothing I can say or teach to you can protect you from harm. You have to protect yourself. This article is designed to help you do just that.

The Perpetrators

The first type of perp, the stone-cold killer, is most likely an ex-con. This is the guy who knows he is going to kill any cop he encounters. He will kill without hesitation to avoid going back to the joint. A wanted felon with a history of murder or violent crimes also certainly fits this profile. This is the guy who will attack anyone who presents a threat to him or his freedom. His ambush or surprise attack will appear to come out of nowhere.

An opportunity attacker, however, is someone who initiates a spontaneous attack. It could occur during a routine stop where a drug shipment is discovered and the perp decides to attack rather than be caught. He has no plan to attack anyone; he just sees an opportunity and in a split second decides to attack.

A criminal caught in the act of a crime, such as a robbery or break-in, could react violently and attack in an effort to get away. If he has a knife you can be sure he will use it. He does not set out to attack or to kill anyone, but in such a situation he believes he has been forced to react with violence. This is another surprise attack, but not pre-planned. It is a spontaneous decision by the perp at the moment he sees his opening.

The mentally disturbed attacker is most likely a homeless man or woman armed with a knife for reasons of paranoia or protection. Such perpetrators will attack if they feel threatened. Be aware that just your presence alone could pose enough of a threat to trigger an attack.

People under the influence of alcohol or drugs can fall under the same category. It could be a person brandishing a knife or an individual involved in a domestic violence call. It could be either the wife or the husband and alcohol could be a contributing factor. Another category here could be the drug-induced frenzy; a crackhead or meth freak who has gone over the edge and has grabbed a knife.

Although these attackers may seem on the surface less threatening, you must never underestimate the actual threat they represent: The end to your life. It’s the same as with a gun. An eight-year-old can shoot you just as dead as a forty-year-old felon. So it is with a knife.

The Method of Attack

I’m not going to discuss the signals and precursors to a violent attack. There is way too much information to discuss here and this should be addressed in an article on that subject alone. Let us just say that you should assume the following until you have proven otherwise: 1) All subjects are armed; 2) Every subject has the ability to take your life.

As for the 21-foot rule? LAPD officer, trainer, and deadly force expert Scottie Reitz has proven after hundreds of controlled tests that the rule on how close a knife attacker must be to pose a threat should be closer to 30 feet. Bear in mind that these tests have been conducted with the subject officer knowing that he was being tested and an attack was about to happen. How far would this rule extend under completely spontaneous conditions where an officer is truly caught “off guard” by a surprise attack? The lesson here is, never become complacent or comfortable relying on facts, figures, or statistics. Every single situation warrants its own particular and unique set of dynamics and it could cost you dearly if you rely on statistics to keep you safe.

Before we discuss the possible defenses against an edged-weapon attack, it’s important to understand the dynamics of the three types of attack scenarios: the stab, the slash, and the slash and stab.

A stabbing attack is most common among ex-cons. It is a truly deadly attack and the intent is to kill you. It is carried out in a series of short thrusts while moving forward with violent pressure to keep you moving backward in a vulnerable, reactive posture. This is the method used in most ambush/surprise attacks.

Tags: Edged Weapons, Defensive Tactics


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