The Tactical Folder for Law Enforcement Officers

by Jack I. Mann
23 October 2003

In the late 1980's and early 1990's the image of the folding pocketknife began a rather unique transformation. The pocketknife had always been viewed more as a portable tool than a convenient self-protection item. How that pocketknife opened was a good indicator of its intended use. A combat blade needs to have one hand open capability. This ability had not been seen as a necessity for a work knife. There were a few folding knives that were thought of for combat, but only a few. The balisong and the switchblade were a couple of the knives that were thought of for self-protection, but there were few other options available before that time period.

Today the market abounds with one handed open options. There are the pocket folders with finger grooves cut in the blade for easy open. There are knives equipped with a thumb stud for tactical access. There are also thumb studs for sale to adapt your favorite knife to a tactical folder. Some knives are equipped with an opening assist mechanism, i.e. bar on the back of the blade, a hook to catch on the clothing during the open, etc. There are also special sheaths designed to make your favorite pocketknife into a tactical folder. The balisong and switchblade are still around as well. Both of these knives have continued to develop with advancing technology. In a nutshell, there are a boatload of items available for those interested in using a pocketknife as a self-protection tool.

There are also a great number of knife designs available to the public. There are traditional knife blades with a straight edge, as well as those with serrated edges for improved cutting performance. There are clip points and spear points for a more traditional American pocketknife carrier. There are hawkbills and sheepfoot blades for more utilitarian purposes. The tanto and skinner points are available for those who want a more tactical appearance. With all of these options available, it can be a bit overwhelming to try and develop a training program that fits all of these knife designs, blade designs, opening designs, and carrying designs.

American law enforcement officers have always carried some form of edged tool with them. Upon the founding of our nation, some law officers carried daggers as back-up weapons, while some ( although probably few ) carried sabers. Most of them also carried some form of utility knife for general cutting purposes. As our nation progressed to the times of the “Wild West,” lawmen carried large battle blades as well as a smaller knife ( many times a folding knife ) more suited for skinning game. As we came into the 1900's, our nation became “more civilized.” In so doing, the lawmen of this time period wanted to keep up with the times. They discarded their larger knives and kept only the folding knife. This knife was kept out of sight to avoid a barbaric appearance. This mentality was maintained into the 1970's. Many police officers realized at this point that the pocketknife could be a major asset to their survival. Many police officers began to carry switchblades, while others carried the balisong that was popular at that time. Then the tactical folders came onto the scene.

When police officers were questioned as to why they would carry such a barbaric tool, they often claimed to use them to cut the seatbelts of trapped auto accident victims. This statement was always made with a wink and a nudge, however. The officers knew if the fertilizer piled high enough, they would use the edged “weapon” to cut their way out. When troubled times hit the old homestead however, in the heat of battle a person will do what they have trained to do most. If the officer had never trained to use that knife, chances were they would not realize how to use it under high stress conditions. Some police officers sought out training from the martial arts world, while others went to the military for knife training. Both were acceptable options, but not preferred. The martial arts training that most officers found was far more time consuming, detailed, and intricate than they could afford. The military option addressed edged weapons from a soldier's point of view. If the street officer addressed the general public from a soldier's point of view, that officer would either be out of a job or in prison for an extended stay.

Some of the knife manufacturers began to offer training closer to the needs of the patrol officer, but the programs were still marketed more toward the general public ( the manufacturers biggest client ). Finally, some programs are being developed for the use of American law enforcement officers. These programs are not usually based on dueling methodologies; they are geared more toward escape maneuvers. These programs are normally based around the most likely scenarios in which a police officer might find him or herself. Law enforcement trainers have found that we can teach cops techniques all day long, but everything must be put into context. Unless the trainers put those techniques into a scenario, the police officers have difficulty putting the technique into their practical bag of tricks from which to draw. Let's examine some of the scenarios in which the knife might be used by a police officer.

Scenario #1

The law enforcement officer is standing a post. Much to the officer's dismay, someone sneaks up behind him or her ( this same scenario could be set in a crowded bar while the officer is performing a bar check ). The suspect grabs the officer's pistol from behind with one hand and around the neck in a naked choke with the other arm. The alert officer immediately realizes something is amiss ( when you see four arms around and about your body, you can be reasonably certain that two of them are not yours ). The officer clamps down onto the butt of the pistol with his or her dominant hand, hopefully stopping it from being drawn by the bad guy. With the non-dominant hand, the officer draws and opens his or her handy, dandy tactical folder. The officer cuts to the bad guy's thigh from inside out. The officer moves the blade up to the bad guy's choking forearm and cuts from inside out. The officer should then be able to move away from the choking arm, turn to face the suspect, and now cut to the grabbing arm of the suspect. After this third cut, the officer re-evaluates the situation to decide if he or she can or should draw their firearm, perform additional cuts, or should the officer flee the scene for self-preservation.

Scenario #2

The law enforcement officer has arrived on the scene to take a report on yet another mishap of human nature. Someone lunges from the front and grabs onto the police officer's duty weapon. The officer goes through the PEDA ( Perceive, Evaluate, Decide, Act ) process rapidly. The officer grips down onto his or her pistol with their dominant hand for weapon retention. Using the non-dominant hand, the officer draws and deploys his or her tactical folder. The officer cuts the attacker's abdomen ( low belly ), the attacker's grabbing arm ( either forearm or biceps ), and then across the attacker's throat. The officer then needs to go through his or her re-evaluation process once again ( as listed in Scenario #1 ).

Scenario #3

The law enforcement officer is attacked from behind and taken to the ground. Mr. Big n' Ugly sits on the officers belly and begins to punch and/or choke the police officer. Although this can easily be interpreted as a life threatening weaponless assault, the officer cannot get to his or her pistol ( the bad guy's thigh is covering the officer's pistol ). This forward thinking officer carries a set of tactical folders in his or her uniform shirt pocket. The officer draws and deploys the tactical folder quickly because of his or her training. The officer cuts from inside to outside on the suspect's thigh, then across the abdomen of the bad guy, and finally cutting across the bad guy's throat ( this cut can also be used as a leverage tool to force the bad guy off ). The officer can then roll on top of the bad guy to launch an assault of his or her own or roll away and regain his or her feet for time to re-evaluate.

A trainer will always be influenced by his or her training background. If the trainer has a background in karate, the program may use more striking and blocking type techniques while utilizing the tactical folder. If the trainer is a jujitsu practitioner the program may be filled with more joint locks and grappling type maneuvers along with the tactical folder. A law enforcement trainer can use whatever scenarios he or she believes would be useful for the target audience, but work them into scenario training.

After speaking with prosecuting attorneys and judges, I'm convinced that a law enforcement officer can be justified in using a pocketknife in certain situations. The officer must receive training, however, to ensure that he or she will react properly under stress. Documented training in the use of edged weapons can be an asset to the officer in court proceeding. A jury and a judge will have a much more professional impression of a police officer if professional training in the weapon or technique used is documented in the officer's background.

Take a hard look at your training and the documentation ( training journals, certificates, advertisements of training you attended ) of your training. If you end up in court will you look like a wild-eyed thug, or a controlled, trained, professional? Your training and the documentation of that training could mean the difference in a prison term or a medal. Train hard and document it.


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