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Kissimmee Personal Injury & Criminal Attorney > Blog > Criminal Defense > Questions About The 21-Foot Rule In Policing

Questions About The 21-Foot Rule In Policing


Police training throughout the country necessarily includes information and practice involving defensive tactics and use of force.  Recent concerns related to certain concepts to which officers are exposed have come to light–specifically, whether or not the 21-foot rule should be considered an actual rule is of issue.

What is the 21-foot Rule? 

The goal of the 21-foot rule is to protect law enforcement personnel when encountering an assailant who is armed with a knife or blunt object and who is within 21 feet.  It instructs because a subject could charge them with the weapon in roughly 1.5 seconds—roughly the amount of time it would take for an officer to draw their weapon and make a couple of roughly aimed shots.  Many have concluded that deadly force is the best option for officers in this scenario. The conclusions are based on informal research done by Salt Lake City’s Sergeant Tueller and are contained in training videos that have since been dispersed throughout the country.

Interpretations of the Rule 

So is the “shoot at 21 feet” a rule?  Unfortunately, some officers internalize it that way. Even though Tueller provided additional information and suggestions as to how to handle these kinds of scenarios, deadly force is sometimes used when it might not be necessary.

More to Consider

As Tueller advises, officers should snap into action immediately upon realizing that a suspect is armed and within distance of causing harm.  The first thing to do is look for cover and/or create barriers between oneself and the assailant.  That might be a vehicle, furniture, dumpster, or anything else in the area. Certainly, it is reasonable and expected that the officer draw his weapon and issue a verbal warning. In some cases, shots will necessarily be fired.  But Tueller never suggested that shooting is the first and only option when an assailant is within the 21-foot perimeter. For that matter it’s never safe to presume that an officer is safe if the assailant is beyond that magic 21-foot distance, either. It is simply oversimplification to assume that one such “rule” could aptly be applied to every single situation encountered by law enforcement.  The idea that deadly force is always justifiable based on such a rule is certainly unfounded; likewise is the idea that deadly force is unwarranted when a subject is farther away makes no sense—and there are legal cases to support these conclusions (Buchanan v. City of San Jose). In other words, lethal force should be based on multiple factors. An officer’s situational awareness should allow for as many tactical moves as possible before resorting to shooting any suspect.

The Fight for Justice 

Whether you are the one with the badge or the one facing the badge, at Salazar & Kelly Law Group, P.A. we believe that justice requires a careful analysis of each individual situation.  The Kissimmee criminal defense lawyers in our office are experienced and methodical and will work to ensure the best possible outcomes in your criminal case.  Schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.

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