TWENTY ONE FEET IS
WAY TO CLOSE!
ASLET TRAINER Jul/Aug 2001
By Frank Borelli
Borelli Consulting Incorporated (BCI)
It is common knowledge that
a suspect, armed with an edged weapon and within twenty-one
feet of a police officer presents a deadly threat.
Why? Because the “average” man
can run that twenty-one feet in about one-point-five seconds; the same one-point-five
seconds it will take that police officer to recognize danger, draw and point
his weapon, and then pull the trigger. Even if the officer manages to get the
shot off, and even if it hits the suspect; even if it instantly disables the
suspect, the blade is going to be so close to the officer that the suspect’s
momentum may continue forward with enough force for the edged weapon to end up
injuring the officer anyway.
The information contained in the above paragraph has
long been accepted in police and court circles. “If a man has
a knife and is within twenty-one feet, he presents
a deadly threat and the use of deadly force against him is justified.” Here
is the question then: How far away does that suspect, armed with an
edged weapon, have to be before he’s not a deadly threat? A gentleman
named Magliato shot a “bad guy” who
was armed with a baseball bat and standing thirty-two feet away. The courts
convicted Magliato claiming that at a distance of thirty-two feet, the suspect
with the baseball bat could not present deadly force against Magliato; perhaps
they were wrong.
|21 feet - 1.5 seconds - Accepted Standard
|75 feet / 25 yards - less than 5 seconds -
common pistol qulification distance
|210 feet / 70 yards - 14 seconds - potential
distance average man can travel and function
after receiving fatal wonds from officers pistol
If it takes a man a mere one-point-five seconds to
run across twenty-one feet, how long would it take
to go thirty-two feet? The simple answer would be to add half, right?
If thirty-two feet is about one-and-one-half times twenty-one, then one-and-one-half
times the time of one-point-five seconds should be
correct. Wrong. That one-point-five seconds for running twenty-one feet
is from a dead stop. To assume that thirty-two feet would take fifty
percent longer would be a mistake because you would have to assume that
the bad guy started, stopped at twenty-one feet, restarted and then reached
thirty-two feet. Reality is quite different. If you accepted that logic,
the time would be about two-point-two-five seconds. In reality it would
be less than two seconds.
Even if we worked with that two-point-two-five seconds as
a realistic number for covering thirty-two feet, how many feet per second is
an average of fourteen-point-two feet per second. Now accepting that, let’s
consider the cop with his gun holstered and the bad guy thirty-two feet away
with an edged weapon or other form of lethal force. He starts running at the
cop. The cop recognizes the danger, draws, brings the weapon on line and fires.
The bullet hits the bad guy when the bad guy has traveled about twenty-two
feet or is about ten feet away from the officer. In less about two-thirds of
a second after the bullet impact to his body, the bad guy will get to the police
officer and begin his attack.
Two-thirds of a second: Even if the officer fires
two shots and gets good hits with both of them, the bad guy may have enough
oxygen and adrenaline in his system to keep moving, in complete control of
his motions, for another six to fourteen seconds! As mathematics just proved,
the bad guy could run well over thirty-two feet in far less than six seconds,
and we all know that the officer can’t run backwards even half as fast
as the bad guy can run forwards.
Sure, someone reading this is saying, “That’s
why we run in an arc so that as they lose control of their system, their momentum
will carry them forward and we’ll
no longer be there.” Ask yourself this: Have you tried running backwards,
constantly moving in an arc, trying to keep a weapon tracking on someone who
is attacking you with a knife or other deadly weapon for more than fifteen
or twenty feet? Give it a shot some time. Have a fellow officer run at you
hard for fifteen and a half seconds (did you forget the first one-point-five
seconds?) while you try to run at an angle backwards. Do this in a soft area
so that you don’t hurt yourself when you fall backwards as the “bad
guy” plows over you.
With regard to this issue, there is more thinking and math
to do. If you accept that the average man can run more than thirty feet in
about two seconds, how far can he run in that fourteen seconds after your bullets
have struck him and done serious damage to his vital organs; after he has begun
to bleed out? At thirty feet per two seconds, that’s about two-hundred-ten
feet: seventy yards! More than two thirds of a football field is how far you
would have to run backwards in an arc to consider yourself safely away, and
even then you’re assuming an average man with lethal injuries
who has not consumed any substances that would affect his performance.
Obviously some disparity exists here. A man thirty-two feet
away, holding a deadly weapon, didn’t present an immediate and deadly
threat to Magliato, but a man seventy yards away can present a deadly threat
to you, an armed and trained police officer? Think about it for just a moment
and consider this: there is certainly no way that a man seventy yards away
with a knife, bat or other contact weapon can immediately harm you. However,
if that same man starts running at you with the obvious intent of doing you
bodily harm, one would think it prudent not to wait for him to reach the twenty-one
foot mark before firing your sidearm. It would probably be even more prudent
to keep obstacles between yourself and the threat so that the time it takes
him to close distance is even greater.
Finally, we can all foresee the juror
who says, “How much damage can
an injured man armed with a knife do against an uninjured police officer
armed with a gun?” Well, you all know that bullets do not instantly
stop anyone unless you achieve the more-than-rare central nervous system
hit. As all officers are trained to shoot for “center mass” since
it is the largest target and therefore presents the best chance of actually
hitting the armed assailant, there is little chance that the rounds, if they
hit the assailant, will pass through his body exactly on center to impact
his spine and immediately stop his threatening actions. So, excepting that
central-nervous-system, you know that the assailant can function as described
above, for another six to fourteen seconds or until his system finally runs
out of oxygen and adrenaline.
At contact distance, in a time span of six
to fourteen seconds, what can you do as a police officer with a firearm?
Shoot him several more times increasing the amount of tissue damage done
and reducing the amount of time it will take him to “bleed out”.
By the way, you have to do that while fending off whatever attack he presents.
What can the assailant, armed with a knife, and within contact distance
do to you in that same time span? Common sense suggests that he could stab
you anywhere from twelve to twenty-eight times, everywhere he can reach,
substituting slashes for stabs as he sees fit. That doesn’t sound
like a good time. Further, no where in any cop’s job description
does it say you have to fight an assailant with a knife since you are specifically
equipped and trained to avoid getting into that situation.
So, you say to yourself, if there is no specified distance
at which you can readily assume an armed assailant is too close and deadly
force on your part is justified, how do you know when it’s okay to shoot?
Just as with the use of deadly force against any threat, four factors must
exist prior to your response with deadly force. 1) Opportunity: your assailant
must have the opportunity to bring killing or crippling power to bear. This
is the factor that is most affected by distance. A man with a knife can’t
do you harm at fifty feet, but at contact distance he definitely can. How quickly
he can close that distance and how quickly you can stop him has a direct affect
on his opportunity to do you, or others, harm. 2) Ability: the assailant must
have the ability to bring killing or crippling power to bear. Ability can exist
in a number of forms such as weapons, overwhelming size, physical strength,
force of numbers (in the case of more than one assailant) or special knowledge
on either part. If the assailant has a gun or knife, that creates his ability.
His size and/or strength can also create his ability to do you, or others,
harm. If there is more than one assailant, together they stand a better chance
of doing harm than when alone. Special knowledge is a two edged sword. You
can have special knowledge of the assailant’s proven
intent or skill; such as he’s a professional heavyweight boxer. That
skill in heavyweight boxing is special knowledge that he possesses that makes
him a greater threat. 3) Imminent jeopardy is the third factor and must exist
prior to your deployment of deadly force. If the assailant does not present
imminent jeopardy to you, or others, you cannot justify the use of deadly force.
To some extent, “imminent” is controlled by distance. Again, that
guy at fifty feet may not be presenting an imminent threat, but when he starts
to move toward you, the threat he produces easily becomes imminent.
The fourth, and final, factor is preclusion. Any prudent person
will normally make an attempt to escape or avoid the situation, which may lead
to the use of deadly force. Police officers don’t have a requirement
to retreat, and certainly conditions can exist wherein the police officer has
no choice but to stand his ground. The duty to protect others may mandate that
you face the threat without the option of running from it. The statement “preclusion
is the fourth factor” truly means that avoiding the situation has been
considered and is not a viable option. The officer must be able to articulate,
along with all three other elements, why he didn’t, or couldn’t,
avoid this deadly force confrontation. In the case of a man with a knife, bat,
or other deadly contact weapon, once he (the bad guy) starts charging you (the
police officer), his ability to close distance and deliver a killing or crippling
injury is far greater than your ability to escape or stop his attack. If he
is within the distance we typically train at with our handguns (twenty-five
yards or seventy-five feet is usually the maximum distance), then preclusion
is removed as soon as he begins his charge. All the mathematics above should
have adequately demonstrated that he can close seventy-five feet in less than
six seconds and that, even if you score good disabling shots while he closes,
he may still have plenty of operational time remaining in which to do you potentially
fatal harm. Therefore, it is maintained that, if he is within trained handgun
distance, seventy-five feet or less and is armed with any type of killing or
crippling contact weapon, imminent jeopardy exists and preclusion, as an option,
has been removed. At that point, all four factors exist for your justified
use of deadly force in defense of yourself or others under your protection.
To review: it’s takes one-point-five seconds or less for an armed bad
guy to close twenty-one feet and do you bodily harm. It takes less than two-point-two-five
seconds for that same bad guy to close thirty-two feet and do you bodily harm.
After you’ve shot the bad guy, he has enough oxygen and adrenaline in
his system to close another two-hundred-and-ten feet (seventy yards!) and do
you bodily harm. The next time you are in an “Edged Weapons Defense” class,
bear this in mind.
The next time you pull up on the scene of a violent domestic and that guy
has a hammer in his hand in his front yard, bear this in mind. The next time
you decide to park you cruiser within twenty feet of a vehicle on a traffic
stop, and you officers on the street will all have to do exactly that, bear
this in mind! You rarely know who the bad guy is, and you never know what the
bad guy is bringing to the fight. As an instructor friend of mine is so fond
of saying: “You always want to bring a gun to a gun fight. What do you
want to bring to a knife fight?” Many of the people in the classes he
teach respond with, “A knife.” He smiles a knowing smile and says, “No;