In October, Lafayette, Indiana police officers engaged in a vehicle pursuit of a subject who was reported to have just committed a battery, burglary and arson. After a chase of approximately seven minutes, the subject left the roadway and got stuck, unable to flee any farther in the car.
Here’s what then happened in the next few seconds:
Look at how fast this suspect attacked the officer with the knife:
05:01:55 – The officer stops his patrol car and shifts into park.
05:00:00 – The suspect exits his car.
05:00:02 – The suspect is slashes the officer in the face with a butcher knife.
If you’ve never seen a perfect example of the Tueller Drill, you now have. Dennis Teuller was a police officer with the Salt Lake City PD, and he did a number of experiments regarding distance and reaction time.
The classic Teuller Drill essentially demonstrated a subject standing 21′ away from an officer can close the distance and stab an officer in about 1.5 seconds. The average officer can probably draw his firearm and fire one shot in about the same amount of time.
The distance between the officer attacked and the suspect when he exited the car? About 22′.
I know there are some people who might think the officers waited too long to start shooting the suspect. Technically, the criticism would be correct insomuch as deadly force was justified prior to the actual use of deadly force. However, reaction time isn’t an easy thing to calculate when under stress and in bad lighting conditions.
Reaction Time and Stress
In a reaction time study I reported on here, under ideal conditions, a police officer who knew he was going to be attacked with deadly force (no decision making involved), had a reaction time from threat to first shot of 0.39 seconds. Keep in mind that is under ideal conditions: lighting, weather and full knowledge of the threat.
In anything less than ideal conditions, reaction time will become longer. Officers who are in body alarm response (aka “fight or flight”) suffer from various vision and cognitive effects, meaning reaction time can be slowed as the officers try to see what is in the suspect’s hand and form a proper response to the threat.
As I reported in the article Visual Perception in Low Light, under non-threatening/non-stressful conditions well rested recruits had a great deal of difficulty in identifying known threats in low light. In low light conditions, objects in the hand are very difficult to identify with any certainty. In the dynamic conditions of a violent encounter, threat identification becomes vastly more difficult.
The shooting happened at about 5 am. It was dark out with mainly lights from the patrol cars illuminating the scene. The white light from the patrol cars were pointed in various directions, though at least one officer pointed his spotlight on the driver’s door (good job!)
The strobe effect of the emergency lights on the cars can also hinder the ability of officers to clearly identify an object or action.
The lighting conditions on the scene may have been enough alone to slow the officers reaction time simply because they were not able to instantly identify the knife.
- An end of the pursuit is not the end of the incident.
- Deadly attacks happen extremely fast.
- Distance is time and safety.
- Never give up.
Ultimately, the officer was injured and the suspect was killed. The suspect was shot seven times and died at the hospital. The shooting was ruled as a justified homicide.
(A full, unedited copy of the video is available for download in the Blue Crew membership area.)