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Las Vegas Criminal Defense

Questions About The 21-foot Rule In Policing


Police have dangerous jobs—no question about that. Their training in defensive tactics and tactical awareness, though, has led to questions about  some of the concepts officers are introduced to as they prepare to serve and protect.  Case in point: the 21-foot rule.

What is the 21-foot Rule? 

Officers across the country have been trained to understand that when an assailant is within 21 feet, they could reach an officer before said officer could unholster a firearm. The rule is based on Salt Lake City Sgt. Tueller’s informal research, and has since been developed into a training video for law enforcement across the country.

Interpreting the 21-foot Rule 

While the math may be correct, the fallout from the concept has become deadly:  officers often believe that they should shoot someone who is holding a knife or similar edged weapon if that individual is within the 21-foot range. The use of deadly force, therefore, becomes justified in officers’ minds, even when it may not be necessary.

Options to the 21-foot Rule

When officers encounter an armed assailant within 21 feet, instead of automatically shooting, why not use primary response tactics to respond to that threat? Evaluation of key factors—the threat, the intent of the assailant, and the delivery system—is paramount to a successful, nonlethal outcome.  Officers have tools besides their guns, including position and distance.  By moving laterally, they can put distance between themselves and the threat.  Often there are barriers that can be used to block a subject’s access to an officer, such as a vehicle or overturned furniture.  In many, many situations, lethal force should not be the first and only tactic used in a dangerous scenario involving a knife-wielding suspect.  Instead, officers should become proficient in situational awareness, communication skills, and other defensive tactics in order to afford greater safety to both the officer and the subject.

A “Reactive Gap” 

Some experts today take issues with addressing these kinds of scenarios by referring to a 21-foot rule.  Instead, they say the reactive gap should be considered.  How long would it take an officer to respond to a dangerous situation?  In some cases, the distance might be much farther than 21 feet, while in others, much less.  Having a concrete “rule” in the minds of officers is dangerous and could needlessly lead to loss of life.

Justice Matters 

At Lobo Law, our Las Vegas criminal lawyers are dedicated to the fight for justice.  All too often, individual rights are sacrificed when law enforcement personnel make decisions based on poor training or beliefs in “rules” like the 21-foot rule, rather than based on the factors relevant to the situation they face.  If you or a loved one has had such an encounter with police, we can help.  Schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.

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