The sharp edge of the badge

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...

Weapon & utilization

Imagine shopping for a knife, asking the shop owner or paging forwards to the appropriate page of a catalog – the word tactical printed in large block letters on the top – what will be presented?

“When people think about tactical folders, they’re thinking more of the blank-handled knives,” says Shackelford. The knife might include such high performance features such as Titanium handles, high tech, stainless or metallurgy steels, inner locking mechanisms and accessories for quick access.

One helpful aspect is to have an idea why the knife is useful in the first place. Some common explanations are for weapon retention, self defense or a rescue tool. No matter what, the knife needs to be strong enough to handle the job. “For defensive use, you want to make sure, especially if it’s a folding knife, that the mechanical structure is adequate so that there’s no way that there’s a chance to fail in use to potentially cause more injury,” explains Janich.

“Whenever I design a knife,” says Galyean, “I try and make a well-rounded knife that should do a majority of tasks well.”

While both folding and fixed blades have their own roles bringing two different engineering solutions to the officer, many have come to assume that a single blade will be all that’s needed. “They figure it’s going to do just about everything,” says Begg. Knowing this, designers try and match up what their potential customer will be going to be doing in the line of duty. He adds that “a lot of officers carry both, a fixed blade – like a neck knife or on their hip – and a folding knife, where the fixed would be more of a … last ditch backup.”

The design can also control where the officer may want to wear the knife: Tip up or down; Strong or weak side; and above or below the waist.

To illustrate, Frank Borelli, editor in chief of, explains that if an officer wore his firearm on his right side (his strong side) and someone grabs for the gun, his right hand may instinctively go onto the gun to keep it into the holster – leaving the weak side (left hand) for defense. Depending on the placement of this knife dictates how it’s carried. This weak side knife, if a folding knife, needs to be able to be opened single-handed. “Right handed models are made to be held in the right handed pocket, when you pull [the knife] out it’s positioned so that you open the blade with your right hand thumb,” he says. “It’s almost impossible to [open a right handed folder] with your left hand, but you do it with your right because it’s designed that way.”

Carry location also factors in knife wearing decisions. Borelli explains that for a folded knife in a pant pocket, or anywhere below the waistline, when a right-handed officer reaches for it, their thumb is actually point at the end of the knife – the point of the blade is pointing up with the pivot end points down.

As the officer takes hold, his thumb should then be pointed at the pivot end, in position to push the blade open.

However, this all changes when the knife is worn in a pocket of an officer’s jacket. “Now, when you pull the knife out, unless you want to stick your elbow way up in the air to position your thumb correctly, when you pull the knife out you’re actually pulling the tip end and your hand isn’t positioned to open the blade efficiently,” he says.

In this situation, the knife should be placed pivot-end up when it’s carried above the waist so the thumb is still at the pivot end – this may require adjusting where the clip is placed on the handle and which side.

“Some folding knives are specifically designed to be carries above the waist, some are designed to be carried below; some specifically right handed and some left,” he says.

Adding that, “It can be kind of obvious, but you need to think about it.”

The clip itself changed how knives were worn. “The pocket clip really revolutionized folding knife design,” says Janich. Prior to the clip, he mentions that if someone wanted to carry a substantial folding knife they had to carry it in a belt pouch.

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