What is the "21 foot rule?"

So I read this article http://news.sky.com/story/1633328/scots-police-teach-us-cops-how-to-avoid-gun-use) and there’s a part I don’t understand.

This doesn’t really seem to tie in to the rest of the article. If it is an example of an incorrect tactic, then I would expect some kind of explanation of how the Scots do it differently. But anyway…

My question is that I don’t understand the explanation being given here. If a suspect has a sharp weapon, the police officer is safe as long as he is out of reach… 21 feet should be more than enough. If the suspect closes the gap, the distance is reduced to zero and the police officer is now within range of the sharp weapon. If this is the case, the policeman SHOULD shoot the suspect, because the policeman is now in mortal danger.

Is there something I’m missing here? Did the author mean to say, “…but will shoot if the suspect is closer than 21 feet?” Because I’m my mind, “closes the gap” means the 21 foot buffer no longer exists and the policeman is about to be stabbed.

The rule-of-thumb is that a suspect with a knife can close the distance of 21ft and fatally stab an officer before that officer is able to draw his/her firearm and use it to stop the suspect. In other words, anything less than 21ft is equally as dangerous as 0ft because the officer will not be able to defend himself in either scenario.

This is often demonstrated during law enforcement or similar defensive tactics training. The instructors will have someone stand ready with a holstered firearm, and someone else with a rubber knife only 21ft away. When the instructor says “GO”, the knife person closes the distance and starts stabbing. The person with the firearm is the sucker, as he/she will always lose that scenario. And that is with the armed person knowing an attack is about to happen and being fully prepared. In a situation where the officer doesn’t know if it is going to happen, the officer will lose every time.

Here is a video demonstration and explanation.

The author is trying to say that if the suspect gets any closer than 21ft, the officer can often use deadly force and claim self-defense citing the 21ft rule. “Closing the gap” does not necessarily imply closing the entire gap. Moving in to 15ft from 21ft is “closing the gap”. The buffer is now less than 21ft.
This policy can result in community outrage as the public will see a suspect, armed only with a knife, and more than 10ft away, shot dead by police. People will cry that the suspect was not even close to the officer, that the officer was never even cut, and that the officer should never have used a gun. The 21ft rule helps explain why the officer was actually in a deadly force situation and legitimately feared for his life.

Not to minimize the danger someone with a knife can pose, but I’m not seeing how the 21’ rule as you’ve described it justifies use of deadly force if it applies to the situation where the officer starts with a holstered weapon. Justifies drawing one’s weapon and preparing to use deadly force, sure, but once you’ve got your gun out and trained on knife dude, how does the 21 foot rule still apply?

My hobby is knives (as some here already know) and while I won’t argue with the rule, I think it takes a real psycho to charge an armed LEO with only a knife (and maybe the initial surprise on your side.) That doesn’t weaken the rule one bit, but challenges, calls, and confrontations could start much closer than that before real danger is detected. It’s the attacker’s built-in advantage: surprise, momentum, and singular purpose. All the same, I know a lot of cops feel 21 feet is a lot of distance to consider other options before deadly force.

The question then would be where the danger zone starts with gun drawn.

As Bear said (more or less), if someone is more than 21 feet from you, according to the law, you could have run and/or hid, instead of shooting at him. It’s been shown (even on Mythbusters*) that if someone comes at you from less than 21 feet, with a knife, you won’t have time to shoot him (assuming a holstered weapon).

@the_diego, it’s not just for cops, it’s for anyone carrying a gun. I think it’s basically to make sure you dont’ shoot someone 50 yards away with the ‘he was coming right for me’ defense’.

@Gorsnack, yes, I’m sure if someone is threatening someone with a gun pointed at them, the gap is probably smaller, but for the sake of the law, they have to draw the line somewhere. To small and you end up with people (specifially LEO’s I’m sure) because they were too scared about the legal ramifications of firing. This just sets up a nice clear rule. If someone has a knife, you can shoot when they’re within 21 feet of you. In fact, at my store, I measured the distance from my backroom door to my register to make sure it was less than 21 feet, which it is, so if someone is threatening my cashier with a knife, I know I can fire on them from there and be in the clear.

*I believe this was the ‘don’t bring a gun to a knife fight’ myth where they showed that bringing a gun to a knife fight may actually be to your advantage.

Mythbusters try it.

Not every time. You are assuming that the suspect charges, and that he charges at a sufficiently high speed, and that the officer is not able to dodge the attack. Those conditions aren’t necessarily going to be true in every case where the suspect gets closer than 21 feet.

Many LEOs have debunked this, even though it is still taught some places.

Good training involves creating distance and using cover, factors ignored by this myth. In five years, as proper de-escalation tactics are spread more widely, the 21 foot rule will be remembered as a major contributor to unnecessary police killings.

Again, depends on how fast he comes at you.

Note in the video that the distance starts at 24’ rather than 21’ When they reduced the distance to 20’ Jamie actually was able to stab Adam.

That’s the kind of thinking/assuming/reasoning that happens after an officer shoots someone with a weapon and the (social) media asks questions like ‘why didn’t you tell him to drop the weapon?’ or 'why didn’t you tackle him?", “why didn’t you…” or (IMO worse) “he was mentally disabled, he didn’t know what he was doing.” Personally, I’m of the opinion that when a cop gets called to an active crime, finds cashier with knife pointed at her and the guy turns and points the knife at the cop, it’s the cop that gets to go home to his family that night, the robber gave up that opportunity.
And, often times, the knife wielding robber was giving at least one or two verbal commands to drop his weapon, but he chose not to.

The cop isn’t going to decide is going to decide if the person is going to mosey on over to him or lunge at a high speed. He’s not going to try to figure out if he can dodge the attack, he’s not going to figure out while the person is approaching him if it’s an 8inch buck knife or a little swiss army knife that isn’t going to do much damage, he’s going to get rid of the threat.

There’s, literally, seconds for him to make the decision between ‘do I kill this guy’ or ‘do not kill this guy and risk getting killed’.

I know I’ve mentioned this quite a number of times, but after being involved in a hold up myself, I’d have no problem dispatching the threat (assuming I was armed, which I never am). I think most people that side with the armed, often lunging, dead guy, haven’t been in a similar situation. It’s scary when you’re life is actually on the line. To date, it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever been involved in.

Think about it honestly. You have a gun and someone is coming at you with a knife with every intent of actually making you dead? What do you do? Keeping in mind that if you that you have one chance and if you make the wrong choice, you die.

The majority of people killed by the police while holding knives are alone and mentally disabled. That’s the scenario to imagine when thinking about the consequences of training cops that you’ll die if someone with a knife gets within 20 feet of you.

See, e.g., the Mario Woods shooting. Compare to what the Camden police did just a couple months ago in the same scenario with proper training. (On my phone, but both videos are easily googled).

Keep alert, look alert, walk/stand on the balls of your feet. If you’re carrying a weapon, make sure you can deploy it and use it effectively. And don’t be a jerk. Oh yeah, the above rules apply whenever you’re outside your fortress.

This implies that a U.S. cop concerned enough about the suspect to estimate distance has not already unholstered his weapon. That seems opposite to reality. What am I missing?

But by this logic, the officer is only justified to draw and aim the weapon when the suspect comes within 21 ft. Once he has drawn and aimed the weapon, the critical distance is much less than 21 ft, defined by how far can the suspect move within the time it takes for the officer to just pull the trigger.

The logical sequence. A lunging attack right away, or not immediately with time to unholster the weapon and challenge the suspect.

Here is new research on the 21ft rule. It’s still a good rule for an officer being taken by surprise with a holstered sidearm, but not always applicable to other situations.