Knife Attack, Taser Deployment, Officer Stabbed

By Jim Glennon  |   Oct 6, 2020

On September 5th Chicago Police officers responded to a stabbing call in a park at approximately 1:40 a.m.

Upon arrival, three officers, one of whom was a female sergeant, came upon a 34-year-old man holding a large butcher-type knife.

Officers were wearing body cameras that were activated and in the video of the encounter, you can hear officers shout orders at the man, including, “Put your goddamn hands up. Don’t be reaching for nothing.”

The man ignored the orders and began walking towards the officers with the butcher knife clearly visible and in front of him.

A several inches long butcher’s knife is undoubtedly a deadly weapon. Some don’t believe that, including many activists and some politicians who believe that officers use deadly force against people armed with knives unnecessarily and with shocking frequency. There is no statistical data at all to back up those claims and beliefs, yet they’re pushed forward aggressively.

In the vast majority of cases, officers faced with people armed with knives hesitate to shoot. Instead, they try to create distance and issue multiple orders prior to using the last resort of deadly force.

Some, both in and out of the profession, view a knife as a less-than-lethal weapon and believe the use of deadly force against someone armed with one is inappropriate. Instead, they believe officers should “respond in kind;” in other words, use less-than-lethal options to stop an edged weapon attack and disarm the assailant.

The less-then-lethal option most often mentioned is a Taser or similar ECD. The theory is that these will incapacitate the subject and allow for officers to move in to disarm the knife wielding subject while he is incapacitated by the effects of the electronic charge.

This, is of course, is a flawed theory on many levels.

Case in point: the video footage of this Chicago incident. [Watch it now.]

Tactically, police officers need to move to within 15-20 feet of the threatening person armed with a knife in order to effectively deploy their Taser. Studies show that within 1-2 seconds, a person can cover that distance and stab an officer: which means, the Taser better work perfectly on the first deployment!

Very often they don’t.

Studies also indicate that on average, Tasers work to incapacitate or cause a resistant subject to submit to arrest between 53-70% of the time. [For reference: Tasers Often Don’t Work, Review of LAPD Incidents Finds & Despite Widespread Use, Police Rate Tasers As Less Effective Than Believed]

Why don’t they always work? Well, there are a myriad of reasons including operator error, wind, rain, clothing, etc. The reason they don’t work 100% of the time isn’t the point. The point is they just don’t.

In the Chicago case, the Taser did knock the man down and incapacitate him for a few seconds, but the knife never left his hand and the desire to attack officers never left his mind.

Even though the suspect was feeling the effects of the ECD, it wasn’t prudent for officers to approach and attempt to grab the knife. That move would leave them too vulnerable.

After the man recovered—which he did quickly—he immediately began pulling the probes from his body, got up on his knees and to his feet and charged towards the sergeant in a matter of seconds. As he reached her, he started stabbing her repeatedly in the chest area. Thank God she was wearing body armor which prevented his strikes from causing any real damage.

The ultra-rapid speed and the fluid motion of his attack on the sergeant also impacted the other officers’ ability to quickly respond. What was going through their minds at that moment?

They had to shoot the assailant to stop the attack on their colleague, who was doing her best to physically defend herself, and they had to avoid shooting her in the process. She was moving away from the attacker which caused him to move as well, posing a major challenge to their accuracy. In addition, it was in the middle of the night and they were relying on ambient light and their flashlights for illumination of a very dynamic and evolving event.

Not as easy as it is on TV.

The two officers fired approximately 15 shots combined and they did hit the suspect, who died at the scene, without hitting the sergeant. The number of rounds fired, incidentally, could also draw fire from those who don’t understand what it may really take to end a threat. The video clearly shows the suspect continuing his attack after multiple rounds are fired. The fallacy of one or two rounds always being sufficient to end a threat is shattered in this footage.

The investigation into the officers’ combined actions are still being reviewed.

Conclusion

Do you train for such an eventuality?

Consider the level of reality of range training for most police officers.

It usually sounds something like this: “Stand on the seven-yard line. Wait for your target to face you. When it does, fire two rounds, then re-holster your weapon.”

We do little training for hitting a moving target and in real life, targets are almost always moving.

We train to the point that our brains believe the static training scenarios we create are a true reflection of the real world, and the results we achieve in static training will be the results we’ll see in the real world. That’s a problem.

When I was Tased in training I thought to myself, “Holy crap this sucks!” The five second “ride” seemed like an eternity.

What essentially happened is that we programmed our brains to believe that we deploy the Taser, the offender capitulates.

In reality, not true.

A knife attack is spontaneous, confusing and violent. And it can happen very quickly. The time between an attacker’s initial move and a blade being plunged into an officer’s chest can be less than a third of a second.

Decisions have to be made…in that time. Tactics executed…in that time.

Fantasy beliefs have no place in the real world.

These Chicago officers did their best to avoid killing the man with the knife. The sergeant risked her own life to keep from killing a man intent on violence.

Her reward was to get stabbed.

The other two officers had to make a difficult and fatal decision in the moment and they performed exceptionally well.

The video depicts the reality.

Interestingly, there were very few articles about this incident.

I wonder how many there would have been if there had been a hint of malfeasance on the part of the cops?

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.