‘It’s Only a Knife’

You really wouldn’t think you’d need to explain to control room supervisors why a knife presents a lethal threat to officers and that the requests made in response to the above scenario are reasonable and reasoned.

I have to wonder as to the motive of the individual who failed to authorise suitable resources to deal with it.

I can however perhaps give a pass to members of the public I have engaged with over the last week or so via private messaging on Twitter who don’t understand my position that edged weapon threats (knife, axe, machete etc) require an armed response to safely deal with them. Again rather than try and explain piecemeal tweet by tweet let me outline the reasons.

Edged Weapons Characteristics

Lets first deal with why edged weapons are so lethal:

  • They require no training to kill. As demonstrated by the numerous youth deaths across the country, you need no special skill to kill with a knife. Swing, stab and slash wildly and often enough and you’ll hit something critical.
  • They can be used in a continuous attack that is virtually impossible to defend against. Attacking from all angles, fast and repeated strikes mean that knives are a highly efficient means of attacking someone. Edged weapon attacks are never just a single strike like you see in the movies. Youtube knife attacks to see how frighteningly dynamic and fast they are. The risk of death doesn’t stop till the threat is effectively neutralised.

Unarmed Officer Vulnerability

Why are unarmed cops vulnerable to lethal edged weapon threat?

  • Their armour covers some vital organs but even at a quick count, at least 6 arteries are on show as targets for the edged weapon attacker (2 each of the carotid, brachial and femoral).
  • They receive NO training as to how to disarm a knife attacker, and even if they did, they couldn’t possibly become proficient with the techniques in the time that they get to practice operational safety. As a young lad I spent a number of years teaching soldiers how to undertake last resort disarms of knife attackers as part of an unarmed combat program. They are LOW percentage techniques even for the trained individual.

Defensive Equipment Capability

Why can’t our normal issued defensive equipment deal with it?

  • Empty Hand Tactics. I have covered this above, youtube knife attacks and tell me that an officer with a day’s refresher or so every year where they practice 50 plus techniques for a couple of minutes each has any hope of stopping a determined edged weapon attacker.
  • Baton. It’s too short, requires us to be within the fighting arc of the edged weapon, exposes the vital officer target areas listed above and it’s effectiveness, even on unarmed offenders, depends heavily on the capability of the officer (remember, one training session a year, for a few minutes a technique).
  • Irritant Spray. Again requires us to be under 2 metres from the attacker, way too close to the edged weapon and even if the offender is partially affected by the spray, they remain just as dangerous wildly swinging and stabbing out at the officer. Spray is also unreliable as an incapacitant.
  • Taser. The MAXIMUM range of the Taser is 21 feet, though the effective range is practically less than that. Again, youtube Tueller’s 21 feet rule to see how quickly an edged weapon attacker can cover this distance. As we have seen recently with the terrible hammer attack on officers, Taser can and does fail. When it does what is an officer to escalate to in order to protect themselves and members of the public from lethal attack?

I just completed my annual refresher in operational safety. Our own force experts, and I bet yours, make it clear that edged weapons present a lethal threat to officers. The only tactic taught to us is a baton flick technique designed to buy us some distance in order to allow us to RUN AWAY.

Likelihood Versus Impact – Assessing the Risk

Coming back to the motivation of the control room supervisor in the tweet at the top of the blog…

When we assess risk we generally measure likelihood of an event versus it’s impact. It’s often argued that knife attacks on officers are rare, and that may be the case. However it’s just as reasonable to suggest that the impact of these attacks can be catastrophic – we recall the axe attack on the UK officer last year that caused her serious injury – only being saved by a member of the public dragging her into his flat.

This imbalance would be guaranteed to require mitigation to lower the risk to an acceptable level. I would respectfully submit that asking officers to simply acknowledge a ‘stay safe’ message fails to effectively mitigate the risk.

So given the all of the above, and the fact that UK Police Operational Safety Experts are teaching edged weapons as being lethal threats, why do we continue to send unarmed officers to deal with them?

I can come up with three possible explanations off the top of my head, but am happy to be corrected:

  1. Supervisors are ignorant to the real threat – in that case send them this blog.
  2. Forces have failed to ensure there is sufficient resource to deal with the number of these calls and so are forced to send unarmed officers.
  3. Supervisors would rather risk an unarmed officer get cut or stabbed than risk the deployment of the correct resource and the impact of a knife offender being shot for continuing to prosecute their attack.

I am sure the truth is somewhere in the middle…..



Author: West Coast Response

I'm a Police Sergeant here on the West Coast of Scotland. I love the job and the folk that do it. I enjoy polite debate on policing and criminal justice and am particularly interested in the practical impact of policing policy, police leadership & making the job better for frontline officers.

2 thoughts on “‘It’s Only a Knife’”

  1. Excellent blog WCR. I only wish the bosses considered our safety as equally. For the last 17 years I’ve argued that the one day refresher is a waste of time. It should be monthly, weekly, daily even to develop muscle memory. I’ve suggested the customers should attend the course so they know what we need them to do given we only practice on compliant clients. The reality is (almost) anything goes, at least until control is gained.
    The country and government wants to believe we still police in a Dixon of Dock Green world where gentlemanly conduct and honour amongst thieves exists. We have little or no contingency for real world issues unless the facility exists to wait for armed back up. Sadly a cop getting seriously injured or killed (again) will be the catalyst for more realistic equipment and training for future threats.

    Liked by 2 people

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