As one of the most written about type of tools throughout history, this article does not look to be a comprehensive examination of knives and their uses in law enforcement. There are training, books, articles, entire magazines, Web sites, exposition shows and more all dedicated to knives, knife design, collecting and use – any attempt to sum this essential issue in a single piece of writing would be a futile effort.
However the subject remains vital for anyone interested in obtaining or currently donning any type of knife.
Before cutting into the topic, the term “tactical” should be quickly examined, especially when in the aspects of knives – leading into a hidden redundancy. Steve Shakleford, editor of Blade, a magazine devoted to the knife industry, says, “The word tactical itself is pretty much misunderstood, as Sal Glesser of Spyderco says ‘A tactical knife is a knife you need to have when you need to use a knife.”
Spyderco’s Special Projects Coordinator Michael Janich agrees, saying that “one of the aspects of the definition is simply using a tool to achieve a specific goal for a specific circumstance.” Apart from Spyderco, Janich also trains modern knife self defense and tactical applications under Marshal Blade Concepts.
With that baseline it’s still clear that not any knife can be relevant for law enforcement – there are certain qualities necessary, yet knife makers don’t design from a single checklist of specific characteristics. To begin, a designer might start deciding whether a new design will be a folder or fixed blade, type of steel, blade design, point design, handle/grip considerations, etc.
Many knife makers start looking at answering what is the person going to do with the knife, how are they going to hold the knife and where are they going to wear the knife.
Knife maker and designer Brent Beshara of Besh Knives starts with the basics. “I look at the intent of the product, what is the purpose,” he says. “With that methodology, the [design] basically writes itself, it’s almost as if the knife designs itself through understanding the environment in which [it] is going to conform.”
Beshara considers himself more of an end user. A custom knife maker since 2001, he uses his years of experience within the Canadian military (infantry and navy bomb disposal diver), Canadian special forces and bomb disposal instructor to aid in understanding the day to day benefits of knives.
Afterwards, if a designer took this route, decisions on blade, steel, handle, etc. unfold.
“[Designers] are always looking for little mechanisms, little tweaks or looks to their blade designs,” says Shackelford.
For example, Tim Galyean of Galyean Custom Knives, designed a boot knife for Zero Tolerance. “Some of the things that it had to do, and what I thought of in the design process was it had to be a certain size to be concealable. I wanted it to be flat so that it could be worn against the body and not stick out, also the handle is actually short on the average man’s hand and rectangular … it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world but [the shape] locks it in your hand … giving you a more secure grip.”
Todd Begg of Begg Knives, also considers use into the equation, assuming not every officer is skilled at sharpening – most aren’t. “I’m going to give something that is going to be successful at sharpening, if I gave one of those super steels where it needs diamond belts to sharpen it’ll go dull and he’s not going to take it with him.”
Begg also mentions the design has to “blend” with the rest of the equipment an officer might be carrying – alluding to how the Black color turned to represent tactical. He add that cost is a factor in design as well: “A lot of officers don’t make a lot of money, so they have to have something that they are not afraid to use, or lose.”