There are several ugly truths in law enforcement about knives, but there’s one that overshadows the others. One of those ugly truths that gets rationalized, explained away endlessly like beating the proverbial dead horse or completely ignored as if one’s head is in the sand, is about law enforcement officers carrying and using knives.
You can carry a knife, but you can’t use it…not to save your life, not against a bad guy where you might injure, maim or kill him. WHY? Because the tool isn’t sanctioned, certified for use or trained in. Several officers told me that they had SOP’s on knife carry. Under duress in discussion it came out they could carry a knife, but its use was limited to cutting clothing, seat belts, and the like. Officers told me knives were never to be used as a weapon or a self-defense response tool against another human being.
Just about every officer carries a pocket knife, some carry more than one. Knife companies know this and market knives directly to officers. Companies name their knives as if they are actual police tools: this is the “police model” this is the “tactical response model”. Not only do they give knives cool names, they make them in “tactical black” or “cami-colored” to appeal to LEO’s. Go to the knife section of any law enforcement supply catalog and note all the knives listed. The descriptions tout their lethality, usefulness, and of course their tactical/law enforcement design. Who wouldn’t want one of these knives in their pocket while on duty with visions of what one will do to the criminal who gets in one’s way?
These knives actually have little or no tactical or law enforcement value. This is fine because most of the time they only grace an officer’s pocket. Sometimes officers proudly show such knives to fellow officers. After an attempted use of the knife and its lack of tactical or law enforcement capabilities are displayed, the knife goes into a drawer, never to see the light of day again. The misleading claims and the poor design of the many knives marketed to law enforcement are problematic. The knife itself will not save an officer from harm or make him / her a better officer by simply carrying it.
Let’s get back to the ugly truth of officers carrying knives. Every tool on an officer’s utility belt is issued to him / her. There is a standard training program that goes with it. The tool and its brand, its training program, are not only to ensure that the officer uses the tool correctly, but also to ensure that the tool’s use is within the departmental and manufacturer parameters. Training and SOP’s are in place to limit liability to the officer and the department from claims of abuse or misuse of the tool.
This is true of the officers’ firearm, cuffs, baton, OC spray, taser, utility belt, shoes, uniform, and the like. All these items are closely regulated, mandated, supervised, trained, and carved in stone. Everything, that is, except the knife that rides in the officer’s pocket. That tool typically has no SOP, no mandate, and every kind of knife is found in officers’ pockets. Officers sometimes find knife training on their own regardless of how that training might be put to use or what liability might arise from using the knife.
Recently a police chief commented to me as we discussed this issue. He stated that he had never thought of of using a knife in this manner. He and his officers all carry knives which is a potential liability issue because there is no standardization of which knives and no departmental training. He admitted that he had no idea of how to use a knife safely against another person. That’s true of almost all officers who carry a knife; they have no idea how to use it.
Setting up an SOP training program in knife work that saves lives and limits liability is actually very easy. A knife is a simple tool, it’s mankind’s first tool. It’s an edge designed to cut flesh and the principle of a knife has never changed. A knife of a million years ago cuts the same as a modern knife. It’s a matter separator- plain and simple. All a department needs to do is pick a knife for the officers. The knife chosen should be one that has a functional training drone to go with the knife.
There’s no secret way of use or rocket science about effective knife use. The only secret is that a knife’s best use and function is in a less-than-lethal mode. A knife is legally a lethal force tool but that’s because a person who is cut or stabbed could die on the spot.
When using a knife most people think of cutting or slashing a person’s neck or body, stabbing the body or the head, or a combination of both cutting and stabbing. People are biomechanical cable /pulley operated systems with a hydraulic backup system. All one needs do is cut the cables (muscles) or break the pulleys (joints) and the system can’t function.
The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a perfect example. King Arthur cuts off the knight’s arms and legs and turns him into a stump. Stumps can’t hurt anybody. If one cuts the cables in the forearms or the hands they cannot grab, hold a weapon, pull a trigger or detonate a bomb. If one cuts the cables running down the legs there is no mobility. All of these cables can be repaired later and none of it is lethal in intent or action. This is less-than-lethal cutting designed to stop function. No stabbing or slashing of the body or head is necessary. Bio mechanical shut down is easy to do and can be simply taught. Such training takes hours to learn. Traditional sword and knife systems call it “de-fanging the snake”. Once shut down, a suspect can be bundled up for first aid or hospital repair and then safely booked. No toe tag and body bag is necessary.
With a known knife identified by the department, an SOP that clearly defines biomechanical shut down, and less than lethal cutting directed to repairable limbs, the knives in every officer’s pocket become viable tools in the fight to keep our streets safe. Knives can help get bad guys off the street and limit the liability of officers and law enforcement agencies. Then there would no longer be an ugly truth of “you can carry but you can’t use it”.
Thanks to Chief Mark Overton, Lt Rick Fernandez, and Sgt Nick Rios, the Hialeah (Florida) Police Department has made both the CRMIPT Close Range -Control Response Medium ImPact tool and Bram’s knives with training as part of the official training and SOP’s.
Bram Frank has studied various fighting arts such as Wing Chun, JKD, and American Freestyle Karate for over 40 years. Currently, Bram is Director of Edged Weapons training at the S2 Law Enforcement-Security Institute. He is the SME (subject matter expert) on knives for the Hialeah Police Department. For the last 10 years, Bram has concentrated on the design and use of edged weapons / tools as an instrument of self defense and their use in military, police, and anti-terror applications. Bram was Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame Weapons Instructor of the Year 2007. Action Martial Arts Magazine and their Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2008 named Bram the Grandmaster of the Year 2008. He trains others in Europe, Israel, the Philippines, and the United States.