Suspects with Edged Weapons
By Steve Tarani
Zero four hundred hours. Officer Brooks on patrol, flooding a dark figure in the shadows with his alley light calls in his location, gets out of his unit and approaches suspect on foot. "Hey, how's it going, what are you doing out here by the dumpsters at this hour?" Suspect looks around sheepishly, "Oh, I'm just walking home officer." "Well, it's kind of late to be walking around here - I'm going to need to see some identification." The officer closes to within field interview range. "I've got some identification right here!" Suspect lunges across six feet of distance, slashes a razor sharp butter knife at Brooks' throat and takes off running.
Sound like a scene from a horror flick? Unfortunately, especially as in the case of repeat offenders, bad guys don't play by the rules. "Whatever it takes to get away" is the only rule and edged weapons can make that rule easy to follow.
What are the ten most common elements of an edged weapon encounter that chiefs need to know about bad guys with edged weapons?
One - Firearm Access
"Well, I'll just shoot him! "If it's the case that you can see that bad guy coming and you have determined that his actions have placed you in serious bodily injury or death at contact distance, then this is not a problem. However, the majority of incidents where an officer is seriously injured or even killed are such that the firearm is not readily available to the officer (such as custody or prisons) or you cannot access your firearm in a timely manner at conversational distances.
Many are aware of the fact that a somewhat athletic male can close the distance of twenty-one feet in under two and a half seconds and that's if you even saw him coming at you. However, the majority of incidents occur at conversational distances or field interview range from six feet or less. At that distance you're looking at about a second and a half at best.
How many cops do you know (including yourself) that can reach for their firearm, purchase a solid combative grip on the handle, defeat up to three levels of holster retention safeties, clear the firearm from the holster, point the muzzle toward the target, disengage the firearm safety, and successfully place direct hits onto a moving target all under extreme duress and all under a second and a half?
Best primary defense is to put something in between you and the sharp edge or point of the bad guy, preferably distance or some object like a car door or trash can to buy time. Under these dire circumstances you must create enough time and opportunity to access the appropriate weapon system to defend yourself and control the subject.
Two - Availability
An edged weapon can be anything fabricated out of any material capable of inflicting damage to the human body by physical contact. This can include, but is not limited to: screwdrivers, broken beer bottles, a piece of rebar, a steak knife, twisted coat hanger wire, a razor blade, a butter knife, a syringe, a broken picture frame, the edge of a credit card, a nail, a broken piece of glass, the claw of a hammer, fingernails, a comb, or a fingernail clipper.
More often than not a perp should always be suspected of carrying some type of implement, which if needed, could be readily deployed in the event of an emergency escape. Rather than an expensive high tech combat folder, a cop should be wary of the possibility of some cheap and common improvised edged weapon - especially if you're working prisons or custody.
Keep a wary eye when engaging a suspect at conversational distances. Remember it's the hands that kill. What objects are near to his hands? Have him move away from anything that may appear accessible and could potentially be used as a contact weapon.
Three - Carry
The issue of carry is an important one especially when considering edged weapons as the first element of surprise begins when you may not even know he's carrying an edged weapon on his person.
Where should a cop be looking for carry of an edged weapon? The real answer is anywhere the bad guy can think of to suit his intentions. Generally those intentions are not to invite you over for coffee and donuts with his friends. However, there are a few common carry locations on the body and in the clothing to NOT overlook. Here are five of the most common:
Pockets - look for the obvious on the inside or outside in the front, rear, cargo pockets, sewn in to the pants, shirt pockets or even baseball cap.
Belt or waistband - Ask him to turn around and look in the front, along the sides and in the back or in front or behind both the belt and the waistband. In some cases it may even be underneath the pants behind both belt and waste band.
Head or around the neck - look for straps or clips attached to the back, front and under the sleeves of the shirt at either the shoulders or the wrists. Especially a front slung or rear slung neck knife. Boots and shoes - Check the tips of his boots and ask to him to raise the pant legs to check for boot knives attached to the top of the boot or shoe. In some cases, if you get that feeling, then ask him to remove his shoes as sometimes edged weapons are just placed inside without any clips or clasps to hold them in place. Taped to the body - Look for unnatural bulges located on front or back of the arms, the belly, the back and even legs and buttocks.
Four - Deployment
The second element of surprise (after carry location) is deployment of an edged weapon. Bad guys can't cut you or stab you if they can't deploy their edged weapon. In the case of an incident in New York, a suspect grabbed the bill of his baseball cap, slapped the officer across the face a couple times with his hat and took off running. It wasn't for a few moments until that the officer realized he was bleeding profusely from razor blade cuts. The perp had sewn shaving razors into the edges of his cap and simply deployed his edged weapon by using his visor as the handle.
In addition to the classical reach behind the back or from the waist or reaching for the boot dagger, other more improvised methods of deployment can include spitting a razor into your face, reaching behind the head with both hands raised high in a phony surrendering posture to unclip an edged weapon from the back of his neck and let's not forget that he may have already had something in his hand before you even stopped him - and its still there. Although we understand "it's the hands that kill" even if his hands are on the top of his head doesn't mean that you're safe.
Five - Operation
There are several methods of operation you can expect of an edged weapon. They vary in movement of the edged or tip in scraping, slashing, thrusting, hacking and any combination of these. All are nasty and capable of delivering lethal and debilitating payloads upon contact with bare flesh. Of these the thrust has been documented as the most lethal as more deaths are caused by thrusts than by hacks, slashes or scrapes.
The ancient military chronicler Flavius Vegetus Renetus indicated in his documentation of the battles of the ancient Roman armies that the thrust of a gladius (Roman sword) need only penetrate the length of a man's hand to take a life. This was later confirmed by the great Italian fencing master Giacomo DiGrassi in the late 16th century "a blade need only penetrate the length of a man's four fingers" to effectively snuff the life of his adversary.
Slashes, hacks and scrapes may look ugly and do substantial damage, but thrusts with an edged weapon can kill you more readily than any other type of operation. Statistically, more deaths on the street have occurred by puncture wounds to the body as a result of thrusts from a screwdriver.
Six - Contact Connection
The "Contact Connection" is defined as any physical connection beginning from the opponent to the contact weapon and from the contact weapon to the officer in order for that weapon to be effective. The edged weapon is a contact weapon and in order for it to do any damage it must make contact with the body. There must be an unbroken physical connection from the opponent to his weapon to you in order for his weapon to be effective. The key to surviving an edged weapon attack is to always control this contact connection.
Since there are so many different ways to operate a contact weapon (slash, hack, thrust and any combination thereof) it would be impossible to learn a technique for every single method. However, it is possible to retain tried and true methods of "breaking the contact connection." This task is achieved via a series of concepts designed for law enforcement professionals, which include identification of the contact connection, control of the contact connection and the ever-important decision to "Get outside" or "Go in" on the attacker.
Seven - Range of Engagement
There are basically only two ranges of engagement in an edged weapon encounter. The first is the distance at which you cannot be contacted by the edged weapon. If he cannot reach you, then he cannot make connection. This distance is commonly known as non-contact range. At non-contact Range you have the time to employ your legs for mobility and as a result have no need to use your hands to break the contact connection. It is imperative to mobilize in such a manner as to maintain a break in the contact connection, move to safe distance and take advantage of superior position. This may also translate to cover and concealment based on your situation.
The second distance is that in which you are well within range of a contact connection with his edged weapon. This is known as "contact range." At this point in the game you must either "Get In" (get in and try and control his weapon arm or otherwise stifle his attack) or "Get out" to non-contact range, break the contact connection and gain immediate control of the situation from a safe distance.
Eight - Exposed Targets
The term "frozen foot syndrome" is applied to the physiological response or initial startled reflex where both feet are instantly immobilized - frozen to the deck. Sometimes referred to as the "Startled Reaction Stance", this natural human reaction can slow your reaction time down considerably in high-stress situations. However, there are a couple of things you can do to get closer to the reaction power curve.
Don't leave your hands dangling by your side. Bring them both in close to your body as if you were going for something on your belt. Don't get your fingers hacked off by dangling them in front of the bad guy - ten easy to hit targets tantalizing his edged weapon. Optimally, try and get them up to cover your throat and neck. Turn or blade your body in such a manner as to reduce the size of available target area, that is, your body. Stay mobile. Move to a better position. A moving target is much more difficult to hit than a stationary target.
Nine - Centerline
One of the most important elements of an edged weapon encounter that chiefs need to know about bad guys with edged weapons is centerline. Also known as the center mass to most DT instructors, this is that imaginary line that can be drawn connecting from between the eyebrows straight down to the groin area. It is the imaginary line where all your vital organs can be located. The throat, heart, liver, spleen and testicles are all aligned along the centerline. Hits along the centerline can stop you dead. This is why firearms instructors train their students to hit center mass.
Our proverbial bad guy doesn't want your fingers or to give you a haircut or to nick your elbows. His intention is to inflict serious bodily damage and even death. This can only be achieved by scoring a penetrating strike to the centerline. If he hits your hand, wrist or forearm, you've got some time to apply pressure and tie off the bleeding. But, if he nails your heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys or trachea, you've got bigger problems. The bottom line is to protect your centerline.
Ten - Superior Position
The "inside" position is where you find yourself in that area facing your opponent where you end up between both of his arms. The disadvantage of this position is that he has access to you at contact range with both his hands, elbows, knees, both feet and possibly a head butt.
The "outside" position is where you find yourself in that area facing your opponent where you end up directly on the outside of his attacking weapon including his striking hands and /or striking feet. The advantage of this position is that he has no immediate access to you at contact range with his knife or forward aggressive movement. Additionally you are not exposed to as potential a threat from his opposite hand, elbows, knees, both feet and possibly a head butt. There are no disadvantages to this position and is the best to end up if ever you find yourself in a self-defense situation.
One other distinct advantage of this position is that your moving around on the outside forces him to follow your movement. It is always the case that reaction is always slower than action. Thus you end up taking control of any situation at that point where you take control of the outside and force his reactions to your actions. This concept is the same as the classical military objective of outflanking your opponent.
An interesting observation about the outside position, especially with regards to edged weapon defense is that if you look down on the body from above more than 75% of positional area belongs to the outside. The trick is to deftly maneuver from the inside position past the edged weapon to get to all that open area on the outside.
Remember that the ultimate goal in any edged weapons altercation is to safely defend your centerline and to gain immediate control of the situation. Whether that means defending center mass by turning yourself into a moving target (as opposed to a stationary target) or placing something between your centerline and harms way - even lots of distance - the outcome is the same. No fancy martial arts moves. No trick shooter fast draws under pressure, simply break the contact connection, get to the outside and get the situation under control as quickly and as safely as possible.