The “21 Foot Rule”


I try not to allow sarcasm into my writings.  I will try not to today, but can make no promises.  Sometimes, you read things that are just so dumb, the sarcasm writes itself.

Recently, I have read some writings from police administrators, police trainers, and musings in the media in reference to the “21 Foot Rule”.  To put everyone in the readership on a level playing field in our readership, this “21 Foot Rule” is what most of us also know as the Tueller Drill.  In the early 1980’s, Sgt Dennis Tueller conducted studies involving how quickly a subject armed with a knife could cover a given distance, before an officer could react, draw and fire effectively at the knife wielding attacker.

Now, I have been exposed to this drill for most of my career.  The crux of what I carried from it was an attacker can cover that 21 foot pretty quickly, so when dealing with non-compliant suspects, it is wise to have the gun in your hand, and a plan in your head.

Apparently, according to reading some of these “writings”, the “21 foot rule” now has been expanded to shooting everyone with a knife within 21 feet.  At least that is the media portrayal of it at this point.  Many of the writings I have seen by people that I would figure that should know better is that the “21 foot rule” is somehow a magical justification to shoot anyone armed with a knife within that distance.  Strangely, that was never how it was taught to me, and certainly never how I have taught it.

The “21 foot rule” teaches us in my opinion the dangers of edged weapons at closer distances.  It teaches us to that the quickest draw in that situation is to have the gun already in your hand.  But, at least in my exposure to the drill, it has never taught us that you should shoot anyone and everyone that you come into contact with that is armed with an edged weapon at 21 feet or less.  With most police officers skill level, the distance is most likely around 30 feet before it becomes an even playing field.


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About Jerry Jones

Jerry Jones has been a Sheriff's Deputy in Kentucky since 1996. Jerry is currently assigned as a patrol deputy, firearms instructor and senior operator/training supervisor with a multi jurisdictional tactical team. Jerry is Kentucky POST certified to teach firearms, SWAT, and sniper operations and deployment at the Academy level. Jerry is also the President/CEO of Operation Specific Training and the Law Enforcement Representative for Apex Tactical Specialties.

6 thoughts on “The “21 Foot Rule”

  1. Excellent.

    Disturbing trend that training points become Rules of Engagement which further morph into use of force mandates – with less thinking involved at each step in the process.

  2. I agree with the 30′ principle, in the 80’s police officers didn’t have level 2 and 3 holsters to draw from. I don’t think it has to do as much with the officer’s skill level, only the extra fractions of a second it takes to manipulate those holsters. A subject can cover a considerable distance in 2/3rds of a second.

  3. It’s a very important rule to practice and be familiar with but I feel that’s all we do lately, inside 21 feet = lethal force. Years ago we use to incorporate tactics such as getting a barrier between you and the suspect (table, chairs, mv…) moving or circling to the 2.5 position on the suspect (getting off the tracks!) deescalation verbalizing with the suspect (not two or three officers yelling at the same time) and much more practice with two officer tactics with one being lethal force and the other non or less lethal force.

  4. Where can one find a tactical kitchen knife like the one in the photo?

  5. Good piece. The proverbial ‘firebell in the night’. Due in part to recent, well publicized abuses of the Tuller principle, the structure of accepted lethal force policy is under intense, sustained attack. National media, influential ‘progressive’ police administrators and political activists have combined to demonize what has been, since the 1980s, accepted force continuum doctrine. See in particular recent publications of the ‘Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The PERF pub, “30 Guiding Principles” of 29 Jan 2016 is worth reading by every LEO. Cloaked in sanctity of human life arguments, the stated object of PERF is to abolish the “objective reasonableness” standard of Graham v. Connor. Achieving this, every LE use of force policy in the nation would be gutted. Heads up, people! Reform policy and training now, or it will be forced upon you.

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