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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Not of this world

    Default Is the 21-foot rule still valid?

    I received this via email from the Force Science Research Center, written by Dr. Bill Lewinski. It is an article about new research about the validity of the Tueller drill in dealing with knife wielding suspects.

    Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

    For more than 20 years now, a concept called the 21-Foot Rule has been a
    core component in training officers to defend themselves against edged

    Originating from research by Salt Lake City trainer Dennis Tueller and
    popularized by the Street Survival Seminar and the seminal instructional
    video "Surviving Edged Weapons," the "rule" states that in the time it
    takes the average officer to recognize a threat, draw his sidearm and fire
    2 rounds at center mass, an average subject charging at the officer with a
    knife or other cutting or stabbing weapon can cover a distance of 21 feet.

    The implication, therefore, is that when dealing with an edged-weapon
    wielder at anything less than 21 feet an officer had better have his gun
    out and ready to shoot before the offender starts rushing him or else he
    risks being set upon and injured or killed before he can draw his sidearm
    and effectively defeat the attack.

    Recently a Force Science News member, a deputy sheriff from Texas,
    suggested that "it's time for a fresh look" at the underlying principles of
    edged-weapon defense, to see if they are "upheld by fresh research." He
    observed that "the knife culture is growing, not shrinking," with many
    people, including the homeless, "carrying significant blades on the
    street." He noted that compared to scientific findings, "anecdotal evidence
    is not good enough when an officer is in court defending against a wrongful
    death claim because he felt he had to shoot some[body] with a knife at
    0-dark:30 a.m."

    As a prelude to more extensive studies of edged-weapon-related issues, the
    Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato has
    responded by reexamining the 21-Foot Rule, arguably the most widely taught
    and commonly remembered element of edged-weapon defense.

    After testing the Rule against FSRC's landmark findings on action-reaction
    times and conferring with selected members of its National and Technical
    Advisory Boards, the Center has reached these conclusions, according to
    Executive Director Dr. Bill Lewinski:

    1. Because of a prevalent misinterpretation, the 21-Foot Rule has been
    dangerously corrupted.

    2. When properly understood, the 21-Foot Rule is still valid in certain
    limited circumstances.

    3. For many officers and situations, a 21-foot reactionary gap is not

    4. The weapon that officers often think they can depend on to defeat knife
    attacks can't be relied upon to protect them in many cases.

    5. Training in edged-weapon defense should by no means be abandoned.
    **Spero optimus instruo pro pessimus**

    **Out of destruction rises opportunity. We are only defeated when we give up. Never, ever give up. (Phil 4:13)**

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Not of this world

    Default Part 2

    In this installment of our 2-part series, we'll examine the first two
    points. The others will be explained in Part 2.

    1. MISINTERPRETATION. "Unfortunately, some officers and apparently some
    trainers as well have 'streamlined' the 21-Foot Rule in a way that gravely
    distorts its meaning and exposes them to highly undesirable legal
    consequences," Lewinski says. Namely, they have come to believe that the
    Rule means that a subject brandishing an edged weapon when positioned at
    any distance less than 21 feet from an officer can justifiably be shot.

    For example, an article on the 21-Foot Rule in a highly respected LE
    magazine states in its opening sentence that "a suspect armed with an edged
    weapon and within twenty-one feet of a police officer presents a deadly
    threat." The "common knowledge" that "deadly force against him is
    justified" has long been "accepted in police and court circles," the
    article continues.

    Statements like that, Lewinski says, "have led officers to believe that no
    matter what position they're in, even with their gun on target and their
    finger on the trigger, they are in extreme danger at 21 feet. They believe
    they don't have a chance of surviving unless they preempt the suspect by

    "However widespread that contaminated interpretation may be, it is NOT
    accurate. A suspect with a knife within 21 feet of an officer is
    POTENTIALLY a deadly threat. He does warrant getting your gun out and
    ready. But he cannot be considered an actual threat justifying deadly force
    until he takes the first overt action in furtherance of intention--like
    starting to rush or lunge toward the officer with intent to do harm. Even
    then there may be factors besides distance that influence a force decision.

    "So long as a subject is stationary or moving around but not advancing or
    giving any indication he's about to charge, it clearly is not legally
    justified to use lethal force against him. Officers who do shoot in those
    circumstances may find themselves subject to disciplinary action, civil
    suits or even criminal charges."

    Lewinski believes the misconception of the 21-Foot Rule has become so
    common that some academies and in-service training programs now are
    reluctant to include the Rule as part of their edged-weapon defense
    instruction for fear of non-righteous shootings resulting.

    "When you talk about the 21-Foot Rule, you have to understand what it
    really means when fully articulated correctly in order to judge its value
    as a law enforcement concept," Lewinski says. "And it does not mean 'less
    than 21 feet automatically equals shoot.'"

    2. VALIDITY. In real-world encounters, many variables affect time, which is
    the key component of the 21-Foot Rule. What is the training skill and
    stress level of the officer? How fast and agile is he? How alert is he to
    preliminary cues to aggressive movement? How agile and fast is the suspect?
    Is he drunk and stumbling, or a young guy in a ninja outfit ready to rock
    and roll? How adept is the officer at drawing his holstered weapon? What
    kind of holster does he have? What's the terrain? If it's outdoors, is the
    ground bumpy or pocked with holes? Is the suspect running on concrete, or
    on grass, or through snow and across ice? Is the officer uphill and the
    suspect downhill, or vice versa? If it's indoors, is the officer at the
    foot of stairs and the suspect above him, or vice versa? Are there
    obstacles between them? And so on.

    These factors and others can impact the validity of the 21-Foot Rule
    because they affect an attacking suspect's speed in reaching the officer,
    and the officer's speed in reacting to the threatening charge.

    The 21-Foot Rule was formulated by timing subjects beginning their headlong
    run from a dead stop on a flat surface offering good traction and officers
    standing stationary on the same plane, sidearm holstered and snapped in.
    The FSRC has extensively measured action and reaction times under these
    same conditions. Among other things, the Center has documented the time it
    takes officers to make 20 different actions that are common in deadly force
    encounters. Here are some of the relevant findings that the FSRC applied in
    reevaluating the 21-Foot Rule:

    --Once he perceives a signal to do so, the AVERAGE officer requires 1.5
    seconds to draw from a snapped Level II holster and fire one unsighted
    round at center mass. Add 1/4 of a second for firing a second round, and
    another 1/10 of a second for obtaining a flash sight picture for the
    average officer.

    --The fastest officer tested required 1.31 seconds to draw from a Level II
    holster and get off his first unsighted round.

    --The slowest officer tested required 2.25 seconds.

    --For the average officer to draw and fire an unsighted round from a
    snapped Level III holster, which is becoming increasingly popular in LE
    because of its extra security features, takes 1.7 seconds.

    Meanwhile, the AVERAGE suspect with an edged weapon raised in the
    traditional "ice-pick" position can go from a dead stop to 21 feet on a
    level, unobstructed surface offering good traction in 1.5-1.7 seconds.

    The "fastest, most skillful, most powerful" subject FSRC tested "easily"
    covered that distance in 1.27 seconds. Intense rage, high agitation and/or
    the influence of stimulants may even shorten that time, Lewinski observes.

    Even the slowest subject "lumbered" through this distance in just 2.5

    Bottom line: Within a 21-foot perimeter, most officers dealing with most
    edged-weapon suspects are at a decided--perhaps fatal--disadvantage if the
    suspect launches a sudden charge intent on harming them. "Certainly it is
    not safe to have your gun in your holster at this distance," Lewinski says,
    and firing in hopes of stopping an activated attack within this range may
    well be justified.

    But many unpredictable variables that are inevitable in the field prevent a
    precise, all-encompassing truism from being fashioned from controlled
    "laboratory" research.

    "If you shoot an edged-weapon offender before he is actually on you or at
    least within reaching distance, you need to anticipate being challenged on
    your decision by people both in and out of law enforcement who do not
    understand the sobering facts of action and reaction times," says FSRC
    National Advisory Board member Bill Everett, an attorney, use-of-force
    trainer and former cop. "Someone is bound to say, 'Hey, this guy was 10
    feet away when he dropped and died. Why'd you have to shoot him when he was
    so far away from you?'"

    Be able to articulate why you felt yourself or other innocent party to be
    in "imminent or immediate life-threatening jeopardy and why the threat
    would have been substantially accentuated if you had delayed," Everett
    advises. You need specifically to mention the first articulable motion that
    indicated the subject was about to attack and was beyond your ability to
    influence verbally."

    And remember: No single 'rule' can arbitrarily be used to determine when a
    particular level of force is lawful. The 21-Foot Rule has value as a rough
    guideline, illustrating the reactionary curve, but it is by no means an

    "The Supreme Court's landmark use-of-force decision, in Graham v. Connor,
    established a 'reasonableness' standard," Everett reminds. "You'll be
    judged ultimately according to what a 'reasonable' officer would have done.
    All of the facts and circumstances that make up the dynamics between you
    and the subject will be evaluated."

    Of course, some important facts may be subtle and now widely known or
    understood. That's where FSRC's unique findings on lethal-force dynamics
    fit in. Explains Lewinski: "The FSRC's research will add to your ability to
    articulate and explain the facts and circumstances and how they influenced
    your decision to use force."
    **Spero optimus instruo pro pessimus**

    **Out of destruction rises opportunity. We are only defeated when we give up. Never, ever give up. (Phil 4:13)**

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Not of this world
    I think you're right. An unfortunately, most PD's have LCD shooters. Very few even teach lateral movement along with firing at the same time. I guess it's too "dangerous" to practice on the range. I know that I was much closer than 21 feet--more like 3, and it worked for me.
    **Spero optimus instruo pro pessimus**

    **Out of destruction rises opportunity. We are only defeated when we give up. Never, ever give up. (Phil 4:13)**

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    There are certainly a lot of variables as pointed out. But then is this unique or common when dealing with most physical encounters? I would say variables common in most physical encounters. Yes I know people should get off line of attack, etc, etc. However, it is still an eye opener to stand at 21 feet with holstered dummy gun facing a very average physical speciman with dummy knife. You draw when guy with dummy knife makes his move. Results are interesting and man with gun rarely wins. Is this exercise worthwhile? I think so and you can go from there to importance of getting off line, positioning when possible,etc. However, it is also good court demonstration and it is good to have documented officer or civilian unwent basic exercise outline to establish he was aware of danger.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    On the face of it, it seems to be a timely and well done study,,but I fear it stirs up more questions than needed. As others have posted the "LCD" training requirements in most all departments, are a concern,and if the questions or options raised start to become the norm,Officers are flat in trouble.

    The 21 ft rule has always been a joke, any street Officer worth his/her salt knows the attack is going to be up close and in your face. If at distance then there has been some warning coming, and the weapon of choice should be out and ready.

    I don't think changing or even moving the so called death line from 21ft to 30ft is going to make any difference, more training and time should be on the movement of the Officer,before/during/and after.
    All animals except man know that the ultimate of life is to enjoy it.

    Samuel Butler


  6. #6
    Al Lipscomb Guest
    I think that if you take Tueller's work and try and turn the 21' into some kind of rule you are missing the point. The handgun is not a death ray against the attacker with a knife. At seven paces you can find yourself in major trouble. That does not mean that you are safe at eight paces, or a dead man at six. It means that you have to think about the situation you are in and how fast things can change.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Hermosa Beach, CA
    Tangent of minimal relevance:

    The "Surviving Edged Weapons" LEO training video of several years ago included appearances by GT Leo Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia and Guro Dan Inosanto, who was used in some of the quick close with a knife scenarios. In college, Guro I. was on the football (weighing all of 145lbs he was the leading ground gainer for his team -- now over 45 years later he is still under 150!) and on the track team. At a height of 5'6" he was a nationally ranked 100 yard dash sprinter with a time of 9.5.

    but I digress , , ,

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    I've read about the Tueller drill for 20 years, but that was just theoretical.

    Doing FoF at CRG impressed me, a lot.

    Even at 7 yards it seemed like a virtual tie. A tie where the
    good guy (ME) gets killed is to say the least, an "undesirable
    outcome". I got killed at 7 yards, I got killed at 5 yards, I
    got killed at 3 yards.

    Extending the theoretical distance of the TUELLER DRILL
    seems silly to me.

    That seems predicated on the idea that you just stand there,
    draw fast, and shoot the bad guy before he stabs you in the

    It is vital to get off line of the attack and MOVE!
    Shooting while moving is doubleplus good, but MOVE!

    Are Police Departments teaching this principle, yet?


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Without getting into the drill itself, I think there are some other factors, some already mentioned, that have a bearing.

    Many Depts have LCD Shooters and training programs.
    Innovative training is many times beyond the budgetary ability or desire of Depts.
    To many Depts the type of training is to at least some degree predicated on perceived liability related to actions taken based on that training.
    It is probably easier ( read cheaper) for a Dept to take a position that an officer wasn't trained to take a particular action than to defend the action of an officer trained to take that action.

    If memory serves me correctly, at one time the baton, not the gun was the response taught when confronted by a knife wielder. At least it taught movement, which was probably lost with the transition to the gun as the response.
    "Many men are able, most aren't willing"
    J.B. Books

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Not of this world
    Quote Originally Posted by Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
    The "Surviving Edged Weapons" LEO training video of several years ago included appearances by GT Leo Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia and Guro Dan Inosanto, who was used in some of the quick close with a knife scenarios.
    That was a very eye-opening video for me many years ago. They were both very scary with what they can do with a blade and impressed all the cops I watched the video with. I think this video single-handedly did more to prepare officers to face a knife threat than any other training at the time.
    **Spero optimus instruo pro pessimus**

    **Out of destruction rises opportunity. We are only defeated when we give up. Never, ever give up. (Phil 4:13)**

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