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Edged Weapons Defense Revisited

These days edged weapons defense only gets a passing mention in most of officer safety training.  While we’re focusing on firearms ambushes, vehicle crashes, and traffic stops, the number of police officers and correctional officers stabbed to death in the line of duty is increasing.  In less than three years, 8 police officers have been stabbed to death in the line of duty; six correctional officers and two patrol officers.  Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran, a detective or a jailer, a trainer or a chief, here’s a few things to review at next week’s briefing about edged weapons offenders. 

It’s not just about knives.  An “edged weapon” can be anything from an axe to a box cutter to a nail gun.  If someone wants to hurt you, or stop you from searching their vehicle, handcuffing them, or entering their house they are likely to grab whatever they can to keep you from prevailing.  Remember, many attacks are spontaneous.  We’ve interviewed many police officers who have been attacked with screwdrivers, pocket knives, sharpened gardening tools, a ballpoint pen, and even their own handcuffs when a neighborhood dispute, an in-custody interview or a traffic stop suddenly escalated into a fight for life.  Some criminals regularly carry and conceal some sort of cutting instrument with the sole intention of using it to hurt someone…and that someone may be you!  The first line of defense against an edged weapons attack is the realization and acceptance that one can occur at any time. 

Listen to JD Buck Savage!  Seriously. “Watch the Hands!”  Generally speaking, people are going to use their hands to attack you with an edged weapon. Be extremely wary of hidden hands, objects that are “palmed,” hands that are moving toward the “danger areas” such as pockets, the waist, under clothing, inside boots or into a purse or backpack. Watch for potential pre-attack body positioning, resistance to your verbal commands, or increased tension or attempts to move away or distract during your pat down. We often get so focused on looking for a firearm or drugs that we ignore the non-verbal indicators that that may be telling us “this guy’s armed with a knife.”  Make sure your searches are through, and never allow someone to be put in your patrol car, transport vehicle, holding cell or interview room without another search conducted by YOU.    

Preparation:  Mindset, Visualization and Training.  When it comes to an edged weapons attack, size doesn’t really matter but your reaction certainly does.  The first thing you need to do is engage that “I Will Win!” mentality and think “Not Today!”  The majority of police officers attacked with an edged weapon live to tell about it.  Visualize various scenarios in your mind and then see yourself successfully winning the confrontation, whether you use deadly force or another method of stopping your attacker.  Imagine getting injured and fighting through the blood and the pain, and then when the suspect is under control, see yourself administering self-aid, controlling your breathing, and getting back up.  Train to defend against an attack on the mats and in the classroom as well.  Companies such as Hank Hayes’ “No Lie Blades” offer an inexpensive training knife along with various law enforcement specific class options to get you truly ready to react, to fight and to win!

Mental and Physical Response.  So what do you do when you find yourself on the wrong end of a knife attack? First of all, realize that this is a potentially life-threatening situation.  Cops (and administrators) sometimes get too focused on where edged weapons are located on the “force continuum” that they fail to recognize that an edged weapons assault is a deadly force situation.  Neuromuscular incapacitation devices, such as TASER, are life-savers for both cops and criminals when it comes to edged weapons defense, but we must always be ready (and willing) to deliver deadly force.  “Never bring a TASER to a gun fight” is one motto to remember.  Can you automatically shoot anyone who presents an edged weapon?  You can find force experts who will argue both ways, but if you’re alert to an imminent attack, you may be able to react successfully in other ways.  First of all, try to create distance between you and the offender; they can’t stab you if they can’t get near you.  Train to move laterally (almost no one runs backwards quickly) and then try to get some sort of barrier between you and the offender.  Your patrol car, a piece of furniture, use anything you can to delay the attack so that you can select the proper force option and prevent yourself or others from getting hurt. 

Tactical Medicine and Survivability What if you do get cut, stabbed or slashed?  “Combat care” is key when it comes to significant injury.  Learning and practicing self-aid may be a life saver in an edged weapons attack.  Read the Force Science Institute’s studies on preventable police deaths and immediate aid.  Purchase or assemble a tactical medical kit (and make sure you carry it) and take advantage of the many self-aid and buddy-aid courses available to law enforcement.  Read Ben Sherwood’s book “The Survivor’s Club” and learn about the three levels of survivability (edged weapons injures are statistically the easiest for emergency room physicians to treat).  

Go to the Officer Down Memorial Page and read the stories of our brothers and sisters who have paid the ultimate price due to an edged weapons assault.  Remember, almost 60,000 police officers in the United States are assaulted each year, but if you stay alert, focused, aware, you train for the proper response, and you maintain that “Not Today” mindset, chances are your career won’t be sidelined by an edged weapons attack.  


“No Lie Blades”

Officer Down Memorial Page

The Survivor’s Club