Training – Is It 21 Feet? – Blog 21-12

In 1983 a police lieutenant whose name is Dennis Tueller; began research on what a safe distance was before a police officer should employ deadly force against an attacker with an edged weapon. The general rule was 21 feet. This was the distance a person could cover in 1.5 seconds which was equated as the maximum time standard that a police officer should be able to recognize the threat, draw their weapon and employ it to stop the attack. This principle called the Tueller Drill has pretty much been the standard in determining whether actions by a defender was reasonable even though Lt. Tueller believed that the distance of 21 feet was in the danger zone.

A recent research study by the ALERRT Center at Texas State University and Missouri State University; revealed that this is probably never been the case.

Here is my take with the 21-Foot Rule. There are several factors that can easily negate this thought that action should not be taken before the attacker is 21 feet away. This list is not inclusive.

  1. What is your condition of awareness? If you are taken completely by surprise, you may not be able to take action by the attacker who is 21 feet away and closing their distance to you. In the research study, officers were expected to draw their pistol upon recognizing the threat and place one shot on target. 12% of the officers were not even able to draw their pistol from the holster. Time for officers to draw their pistol upon recognizing the attack ranged between 0.93 and 2.4 seconds. Of those officers that did fire at the attacker 24% of them missed the attacker completely. The officers were at the very least in condition yellow before the attack, in uniform with duty holsters and no cover garments over their pistols.
  2. You are not carrying a cannon. The pistols carried for defense are just that. The one-shot stops we always see from Hollywood are the exception rather than the rule. Unless, you are able to hit the central nervous system of an attacker, it is going to take more than one round to stop the attacker from doing harm to you.
  3. How are you carrying your pistol? Is it concealed under a shirt? Is it concealed under a sweater, and shirt? Is concealed under a shirt, sweater and coat? Whether you are carrying your pistol openly or deep cover; this will affect the time that it takes for you to draw it, bring up on target and fire the pistol. Continual practice will shorten the time required.
  4. How prepared are you for an attack? Ultimately, this is the assessment you have to perform. Remember, 12% of the police officers wearing a holstered pistol in the open in this study were unable to draw their gun during the scenario. You have to ask how prepared were these officers when they knew something was going to happen.

Is it 21 feet? Many unscientific studies have come to the conclusion that 21 feet is too close and in your danger zone. The study found that attackers being at least 32 feet away allowed 95% of the study’s participants to recognize the attack, draw their pistol and fire the one shot. You NEED to understand, there is no set distance and the distance can vary with the circumstances. Remember, you must be able to articulate why you took the actions you did at whatever distance it is.

The study suggested remedies to employ since for police officers 32 feet from a subject is not practical and these can be modified to your particular situation.

  • Reject the notion of a standardized safe distance. Police interactions with citizens are fluid and it does not seem practical to set a standard distance for such encounters.
  • Introduce movement tactics with firearms training. Employ some sort of movement seemed to dramatically decrease the chances of being touched with an edged weapon. The environment will have the largest impact on how you can move in any given situation. While there is no standard movement that should be employed, it is important to create muscle memory for “getting off the X.”
  • Work to increase accuracy when movement tactics are used. Merely moving to increase the survivability of such encounters is only half of the equation. You must then be able to accurately fire you pistol. The increased percentage of officers missing the suspect when they are mere feet away shows the importance of such accuracy. When under real-world stress, this accuracy is likely to decrease even further.
  • Recognize the implications of real-world encounters. As this study was conducted in a laboratory setting, it should be noted that these encounters were all best-case scenarios meaning that real-world scenarios are much more unpredictable and stressful. That makes these results more important because you in the real world are more likely to be in danger within 21-feet of a suspect with an edged weapon.
  • Use caution when interpreting these results. This study was not conducted to justify an officer firing their weapon at someone within 21 feet because they have an edged weapon. Distance is only one factor of many that play a role in determining whether to use force. While it is easy to say that 21 feet is not a safe distance, this study does not necessarily imply that officers should draw and fire their weapons sooner. Officers must consider a variety of situational factors when deciding to use force.

To read the article by Dr. Sandel on the study. You can go to it by clicking the link: Why 21 feet is not a ‘safe’ distance.

Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

– Sun Tzu