Editor’s Note:This is a guest post from Ron Borsch. Ron’s bio is at the end of this article.
For centuries, individuals have used knives as both a primary or secondary weapon. There should be no doubt that knives can and have been effective killing instruments. Perhaps the best-known murders by edged weapons in America today were the multiple Airline pilots and stewardesses on September 11th 2001. Passenger witnesses able to call out on cell phones described their murder weapons as “Box cutters”. These edged weapon murderers led the way to the murder of almost 3,000 innocent people.
For simplicity here, this discussion will be limited to knives, rather than the myriad of other improvised and deadly short edged weapons, (such as Box cutters, Broken bottles, Ice-picks, Pens, Screw drivers, Scissors, Etc.). The U.S. Bureau of Statistics protocol for mass murder is four or more intentionally killed in the same event, location and time period. Our “Edged Weapons Mass Murder”© database is intended to both monitor and illustrate for the unenlightened just how dangerous a single person can be when armed with a cutting, slashing or stabbing instrument.
This single actor database includes attempted mass murder whereby the casualty count of wounded lends probable cause for us to believe that mass murder was the intended outcome. For example, in two incidents, there were no murders, yet 17 and 31 were wounded, clearly indicating both their deadly intent and incompetence at murder using a knife.
Percentages give us a better mental grasp on the problem
Of knife single mass murderers that are known to us, (11 at present), two in the USA, one in Germany, most have been in Asia, and most have targeted children in schools. Similar to the copycat active killer murders by firearms, the frightening factor with mass murder by edged weapons is that 25% of these occurred in a two-month period between March and May 2010, (China). Of the 11 mass murders by a single person using a knife known to us, there were 46 murdered, and 139 wounded. The average mass murder/attempt knife incident resulted in 16 casualties. In 92% of the cases, the specific weapon of choice was a knife. The remaining 8% was by a single actor with a meat cleaver who caused 9 murders and 12 wounded.
Knife Culture Shock
Different countries and religions may have a knife culture that would be a culture shock to most Judeo-Christian Americans. Many immigrants, (often those that do not assimilate well), have come from a knife culture. Unfortunately the average American citizen’s knife awareness training has been misinformation and programming via Television and Movie theaters. The horrible wound from a knife slash is rarely shown, nor is the nightmare of typical rapid and repeated knife slashes and stabs. Regarding stabbing, the elasticity of the human body is such that a stabbing wound in soft tissue areas can be twice as deep as the length of the knife blade used.
Law enforcement and street survival trainers have long stressed the dangers of assault by a person with a knife. Any law enforcement discussion about knives and the reactionary gap would not be complete without mention of the excellent training aid video, “Surviving Edged Weapons”, (Calibre Press), that should be available in all law enforcement agency libraries.
Update: Reactionary Gap for Edged Weapons
Unenlightened persons, even some law enforcement officers, have fatally misunderstood just how quickly a person with a knife can cover distance and kill. For example, some will point to the “21 Foot Rule”. Unfortunately, Dennis Tueller’s informal 21-foot experiment “unintentionally” caught on as an industry standard. Mr. Tueller himself has told PoliceOne interviewer Dave Smith that 21 feet is too short of a reactionary gap
An example of a knife-culture man who induced panic inside a temple in America by threatening worshippers with a large meat cleaver, is reported on a news video, (with actual on-site police audio, challenges and shots fired). In this incident, fleeing parishioners flagged down a nearby police cruiser. Officers entered and inside, the man armed with a meat cleaver suddenly appeared too close to an officer, failed to obey commands to drop the weapon, and was quickly shot by the endangered officer, (who was also protecting people behind him). Due to parishioners immediate fleeing and prompt action by police, no innocents were harmed.
Sometimes, Bad Things Happen to Good People
Does having a firearm trump being attacked with a knife? It depends. Given ideal conditions such as a long separation of distance, an accurate shooter, and a sober attacker, yes. When a knife attacker is anesthetized by drugs, alcohol, emotion, insanity, (or a combination of them), inside your reactionary gap, the answer could be NO, or with “luck” a tie, (both wounded or dead). This is relevant information that any knife attacker can be extremely dangerous, and at close range, potentially just as dangerous, (or more so), than an attacker with a gun.
What’s Important Now? W.I.N! (L. Holtz & B. Willis)
The best defense is a good offense. Action beats reaction. Accomplish the mission of protecting innocents and yourself. Officers have often risked their own lives to protect innocents, but officers should never feel duty-bound to risk their own life trying to save a deadly force attacker or crisis causer. In proper perspective, let’s think about that. By what right does any officer have to unnecessarily risk the life of their children’s parent, their spouse’s partner, and their community’s officer? None! We all have the obligation to do our job and not squander our lives. W.I.N!
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen
It has been often said “We should not watch how politics or sausage is made”. I suggest that the saying should include “the use of force”. Even when the use of force is reasonable and justified, it is rarely pretty. To the unenlightened watching, (or even hearing about), a specific use of force, there may be some “culture shock” for understanding either the reasonableness or justification. Unfortunately, the absent and unenlightened may be prone to criticize the actions of the officers who were on site and used their trained and approved use of force method.
In the cases of law enforcement officers shooting a potential knife attacker threatening an innocent or the officers, a common catchphrase by the ignorant is “They didn’t need to shoot/kill him, they could have”: …..used a TASER, Baton, OC/Pepper spray, Wrestled, Negotiated with him”, Etc. Fortunately, such outspoken persons are rarely correct as the resulting investigation by the law enforcement agency, law director, Grand Jury, (and sometimes a Civil Court), eventually reveals.
The U.S. Supreme Court, (Graham vs Connor), has given a standard for anyone investigating the facts with language such as “…the reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight…” and “…The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation…”
Any use of deadly force is news. Regrettably, the unenlightened and ill informed may be outspoken enough to obtain media coverage criticizing police use of force. Most media has long been aware that officers have a great record of a righteous use of force, and the outspoken folks are badly informed. However, controversy is news, and it sells newspapers and gains a listening or viewing audience.
“If you do not feed the media, they are likely to bite you”, (Unknown). Agencies should be proactive with an open press release, especially including the actual or potential danger of a crazed person with a knife. “Know where the attack will come from, and have a counter in place”, (Massad Ayoob). Your agency should be first with the relevant facts to disarm the misinformed rumor spreaders.
Law enforcement officers investigate victims of knife assault, some wounded, some dead. Officers themselves have been victims of knife assault. Officer-victims may be in two categories of surprise. The first category is where the officer is not aware of the knife and or intent to assault. The second category is where the officer is aware of the knife and hoping for surrender, or by overconfidence of their ability. Both are dangerous.
Uninformed citizens generally have no idea of just how deadly a knife can be. Some of them unfairly criticize police officers for using deadly force on an aggressive offender armed with a knife that invades their reactionary gap. Officers are neither “Rambo’s”, nor Magician’s. They have no obligation to try a less than lethal option on someone presenting an imminent threat of deadly force. They are exercising a legal right and trained response to a knife threat. The officers generally know what they are doing and should be allowed to do what they know without unfair criticism.
FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED
About the Author: Ron Borsch
After a three decade police career, Ron Borsch is semi-retired. While retaining a police commission as a consultant-trainer, he manages and is the lead trainer for SEALE Regional Police Training Academy, a post-graduate facility in Bedford Ohio. SEALE Academy has specialized in tactically training 1st responders since the year 2000. Their current evolution of active killer countermeasures is SOLO, “Single Officer Lifesaving Others”©. Ron has presented various subjects in several different states to fellow officers, Chiefs of Police, national and international instructor audiences.