“Bread & Butter” Tactics Work Best Against Spontaneous Knife Attacks

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There are 2 types of knife attacks that an officer can encounter: a non-spontaneous attack where the officer is aware in advance that the subject has armed him/herself with a knife, and a sudden, spontaneous attack at close range, where there is a high probability that the officer will not even know that a knife is involved. These are 2 distinctly different types of scenarios that need 2 distinctly different training solutions.

Almost every officer-safety instructor will agree on how to deal with non-spontaneous knife assaults. Gain and maintain firearms readiness, keep distance from the subject, use barriers if available and if attacked, shoot while moving off the line of attack. Where instructors disagree is on how to train an officer for spontaneous knife assaults. Some believe in a block, strike and ground strategy. Others believe in blocking the attack, seizing the attacking arm and attacking the subject until the threat is no longer present.

Lets look at some realities of spontaneous knife attacks. The problem with strategies that promote grabbing the attacking arm and engaging the attacker is the assumption that the officer knows he is being attacked with a knife and will actually stop the attack and overwhelm the subject. Rationally, this strategy fails. If a small, weaker officer cannot overpower an unarmed attacker because of physical limitations, what chance will he or she have with that same attacker armed with a knife? This is not a fatalistic attitude, simply a reality.

Some instructors promote not attempting to draw your firearm. And some trainers contradict themselves by saying expect to be cut in a knife attack, but don’t attempt to go for your firearm because you leave yourself open to being cut. Yet the only thing that can consistently end a knife attack is a bullet penetrating the subject’s body. Play the odds: What is the percentage of times officers will be able to seize the attacking arm of a subject versus going for a gun sitting on their hips?

With the time constraints on teaching skills to recruits, we must look at maximizing our training. We have to look at existing skills each individual has and tap into theses skills. Trainers and students need to look at “internal stimulus training” which involves a shift in traditional thinking. The natural “flinch” reaction to a sudden attack becomes the stimulus to the officer, not the “attack” that caused the flinch. Let the officer do what he or she is going to do anyway–”flinch”–then begin their training there.

Train them once they finish flinching to respond with what ever technique they feel natural responding with. You will find that people prone to grappling will grab and interfere with the attack, many hockey players will respond with strong side punches, etc. When they respond with their “bread and butter” technique, their goal is to gain distance, get off the line of attack and move to one of their weapons, depending on what type of attack they believe they are under.

Every officer should have a Bread & Butter Response that is an instinctive reaction to an assault. Whether you are grabbed or the subject strikes out at you, your bread and butter response will not differ. Your response should be built around a flinch. Just as you blink when someone flicks an object at your eyes you will flinch when someone spontaneously assaults you. As you are flinching, it needs to be automatic that you are moving off the line of attack.

From your flinch your Bread & Butter Response should revolve around your strengths. In confrontations there are strikers and grapplers. Your goal for either will be to create distance to allow you to escalate force options. If you are a striker you build your response around striking. If you have a background in grappling (i.e.: judo) it will revolve around a simple throw to gain distance. If you are a soccer player you’ll make a response around using your legs. Instructors will work with you to determine target selection.

The Justice Institute of British Columbia Use of Force Unit in September 2004 ran a knife scenario with 70 recruits that trained in controlling the delivery system (arm). All recruits were told simply that a scenario was going to unfold and they were to act accordingly. When the recruit turned from facing a wall to begin the scenario, an assailant immediately ran approximately 6 feet directly at the recruit with the knife held in his right hand and started to stab the recruit in the midsection.

Four recruits attempted the arm control principle and one recruit was successful. Just that fact alone indicated that if the recruits were not employing the technique under a spontaneous and dynamic circumstance that we needed to “change the way we do business.” Even if the technique worked 100 per cent of the time, if the recruits were not using the technique it is not going to be effective.

Of the 70 recruits more than half indicated that they did not know that a knife was involved until after the scenario was finished. The ones who were successful were the ones who created distance by either getting off the line of attack by striking or simply dynamically moving.

Another group of 22 recruits was not taught the arm-control principle. They were taught to initiate their Bread & Butter move and get off the line of attack or to fight to gain distance and escalate force options. Again the recruits who did best were the ones who created distance either immediately or upon striking.

In this group of 22, 14 were able to create space and either go to their baton (if they did not see the knife) or gun (if knife was observed). Eight recruits were not able to get off the line of attack, and ended up in a clinch situation. Nine recruits indicated that they knew a knife was involved upon being stabbed while 13 did not.

The one aspect that is evident is that the successful recruits were those who immediately went into action to create space and/or get off the line of attack!

One very important aspect of a system built around creating space is that it is easier to train, more realistic, gives you time to make a better force decision and is a proven entity.

Insp. Kelly Keith
Atlantic Police Academy
Prince Edward Island, Canada
(Assisted by Sgt J. Quail, Winnipeg Police Service, and Sgt J. Irvine, Justice Institute of British Columbia, Vancouver)

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