New Police Training Standard: From Reasonable Police Officer to Unreasonable Judge

By: - October 4, 2019 reports the Force Science Institute has issued an assessment of a police-related case out of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has led to confusion, training revisions, and the apparent dismissing of a long-established law enforcement training standard.

The Tueller drill, better known as the 21-foot rule, demonstrates a suspect armed with a knife can rush and stab an officer from a distance of 21 feet away before the officer can draw and fire his or her firearm. It’s likely nearly every law enforcement officer in America has been taught or is aware of this standard.

Yet so often the case these days, people who sit behind benches apparently believe they know better about these things than professional law enforcement instructors and the cops at the scene—facing a suspect standing 21 feet away while clutching a knife.

Briefly, in the case, the officer responded to a domestic dispute in which the victim said the suspect had already assaulted her; she pointed him out. The officer first saw the suspect when he was some 40 feet away and drawing nearer. The victim and her family were standing behind the officer. Reportedly, the suspect began to cut his own throat and then stab himself in the chest as he continued advancing toward the officer.

The officer repeatedly told the suspect to stop stabbing himself and to drop the knife. The suspect refused and came closer. The officer was forced to fire. The officer estimates he shot the suspect when he was 10 to 15 feet away. The victim thought it “was closer to 8 feet.”

The remarkable thing about the FSI’s report is the court found expert testimony about the 21-foot rule “irrelevant.” It appears they eschewed expert testimony, disregarded the reasonable officer standard, and, it appears, used no common sense. We’re used to this sort of nonsense coming out of the 9th Circuit. Now, cops have to wonder if any courts today value reason.

As Von Kliem, editor-in-chief of Force Science News, warns, the court relied heavily on the plaintiff’s perspective and not at all on the officers, so it “makes the case useless as a measure of future police judgement and conduct.” He concludes, the court had “one final warning” for cops: “Don’t do it again.”

Von Kliem notes the case “looked very different to the officer…interpreting it through the reasonable officer lens.” He concludes with a poignant observation: “Which means, the officer and the profession were being warned not to do something that likely never happened.” So, it appears some judges are no longer triers of fact but are now mystics, divining friendly “facts” out of the ether.