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From Explorer Scout to Sheriff

If the editors of the Miriam Webster Dictionary ever need an example of the word “Change,” they should look no farther than Scott Lewis’ first term as sheriff of St. Charles County.
The day he was sworn into office — Jan. 1, 2015 — was also the day that the law enforcement side of the sheriff’s office split off to become the St. Charles County Police Department. That meant the sheriff’s office would no longer handle patrol, calls for service, investigations and support services. Instead, they would be responsible for civil process, the courts and prisoner transport — only…. Read More

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Welcome to the Missouri Sheriffs’ Assocation

The Missouri Sheriffs’ Association is a non-profit organization with a mission to support the Office of Sheriff and the Constitution through legislative efforts, training and technical assistance, in its efforts to make communities a safer, more enjoyable place to live, to work, and to raise a family. We value Honesty, Hard Work and Personal Responsibility.

The Calibre Report: New Knife-Attack Decision

Court ponders how far is close enough to be an “immediate” threat

Is it reasonable for officers to shoot an on-rushing knife-wielder at an estimated distance of 55 feet…or does the so-called “21-foot Rule” suggest that a would-be attacker that far away does not yet pose an immediate threat justifying deadly force?

That question is the core issue in a case of alleged excessive force brought before the US Court of Appeals in the nation’s largest judicial circuit.

The court’s recent split decision carries important implications for police training, policy, and street practice.

Suicide-by-Cop. Undisputed in this matter is that the assailant, a 23-year-old former high school football standout, wanted to die. But, in the words of his roommate, “he just couldn’t do it himself.” So one winter evening in 2015, in a mood of “suicidal despair,” he called the police to “handle it.”

In what was later revealed to be a “swatting” call, he anonymously told a 911 operator in a  Northern California city that “a crazy guy with a knife” was “threatening to kill my family” in a residence in a known gang area. The caller claimed he was desperately hiding with his children behind a locked door. “Please come fast!” he pleaded, before abruptly hanging up.

Anticipating a possible home invasion, two gang suppression officers patrolling nearby responded within two minutes. Upon their arrival, a young man standing outside the residence (later determined to be the fake complainant) began walking in their direction, brandishing a folding knife in his outstretched right hand.

The officers ordered him to stop and to drop the knife. Instead, according to a district attorney’s investigative report, he “began to run full stride” toward them.

Both officers opened fire. The attacker, struck 10 times, fell to the ground fatally wounded.

The DA declared the shooting justified. Likewise, a district judge, weighing a federal civil rights action alleging excessive force brought by the dead man’s survivors, ruled that the officers’ actions had been reasonable under the circumstances. She granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant officers and their municipality and dismissed the lawsuit.

After the plaintiffs appealed, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a divided opinion. Two of these jurists concurred with the district judge and sustained her dismissal of the case. The third, however, dissented—and made the “21-foot Rule” a central discussion point in the court’s recent decision.

Definition. Quick refresher: What’s commonly called the 21-foot Rule has been “widely explored, discussed, elucidated—and often misunderstood—for decades,” according to the prominent police attorney and use-of-force expert Michael Brave.

In reality, it’s not an absolute rule at all, but a rough guideline based on a firearms training exercise conducted over 36 years ago by well-known trainer Dennis Tueller. Tueller found that “the average healthy adult male,” running with a knife or other contact weapon in hand, can cover a distance of seven yards in about 1.5 seconds—the time it takes the “average” officer to draw a sidearm and place two hits center-mass on a man-size target 21 feet away.

Thus, the exercise suggested, within a 21-foot radius an officer might not have time to draw and successfully defend himself against a charging subject with lethal intent and deadly means before the attacker is on him.

Tueller cautioned awareness of this “Danger Zone,” but he did not characterize his finding as a “rule,” nor as some extreme misinterpretations have claimed did he assert that any knife-wielder within 21 feet can justifiably be shot, all subtleties aside.

In the case at hand, the appellate justices, without providing this background, merely state that: “The 21-foot Rule provides that a person at a distance of 21 feet or less from an officer may pose a threat to the officer’s safety.”

A Question of Distance. Along the investigative and judicial trial of this case, various estimates had been given regarding the distance between the subject and the officers when they fired on him. The panel majority settled on these figures, offered by the plaintiffs:

The subject was “more than 130 feet” away when the officers first encountered him. “At the time [they] opened fire, [he] was approximately 55 feet from them.” (The defendants had estimated the distance somewhat shorter, at 46 feet.) “When [the subject] fell, he was approximately 18 feet” from the officers.

The dissenting appellate judge challenged his colleagues’ conclusion that the attacker posed an “immediate” threat warranting deadly force at a distance of 55 feet. By its written policy at that time, he pointed out, the officers’ department “provides that a person armed with a dangerous weapon, such as a knife or bat, constitutes a danger to the safety of [an] officer when that person is at a distance of 21 feet or less from the officer.

“Thus, under the Department’s own 21-foot rule,” the subject “at a distance of 55 feet presumptively did not pose an immediate threat” when he was shot, the dissenter argued. “The point of the rule is surely to guide officers’ conduct as to whether and when a suspect poses a threat…. [O]fficers are trained based on the policy, and the reasonable inference is that this training should affect our assessment of what a reasonable officer would believe and how he should react.”

To find that the shooting was deserving of a summary judgment, the judge insisted, was an error.

Majority Response. Defending its position, the majority pointed out that there was “no evidence, direct or circumstantial,” that the subject was standing still at a distance of 55 feet. The “undisputed evidence” was that he was “advancing toward the officers at a fast pace (at least 12.3 feet per second), all while armed with a knife and ignoring the officers’ repeated commands to stop….

“Had the officers waited 1 to 1.5 seconds more before firing when they did, [he] would have reached them with the knife before falling to the ground.”

As to the 21-foot “rule,” the majority stated, it provides that a person at that distance or less “may pose a threat to the safety of an officer. It does not follow from this rule, or any other, that armed suspects never pose [an immediate] threat beyond 21 feet. Notably, the dissent does not cite any case holding that an officer must wait until an armed suspect is within 21 feet, or capable of actually inflicting death or serious harm, before being justified in using deadly force….

“The officers’ use of force in response to [the subject’s] conduct was reasonable under the circumstances,” permitting the district judge’s dismissal of the case to stand.

You can access the court’s decision in full, free of charge by clicking here.

Lesson Learned. “The key takeaway from this decision for policy and training,” says Atty. Brave, “is to avoid stating and practicing hard-line, so-called ‘rules’ that are not specifically mandated by controlling legal precedent or clearly and reliably established by sufficient scientific proof. To do otherwise only invites unnecessary trouble.

“Rely instead on the ‘objective reasonableness standard’ that requires weighing the totality of circumstances as reasonably perceived by the involved officer. This standard fosters consideration of all factors that could be included in reasonably determining whether a subject is an immediate threat of significant bodily harm, whatever the distance involved.”

Brave notes that the department involved in the case above has changed its policy statement that the court said was in place when the fatal shooting occurred. “In checking the department’s current online-published policy manual,” he says, “the ‘21-foot rule’ is not mentioned.”

Source: Calibre Press

Why Public Safety Leaders Need to Take Risk Management Seriously

​​​Editor’s Note: This article series is designed to introduce you to the concept of real risk management—an approach that goes way beyond a safety program to encompass the 10 Families of Risk and to demonstrate how better understanding these risk families can help you anticipate and mitigate the risks in your own organization. Whether this is your first introduction to Gordon Graham and risk management, or if you’ve been following his innovative approach for years, this series has something for every public safety leader. We encourage you to follow along as we publish additional installments.

Gordon Graham here, and again, thanks for taking the time to read this brief piece. In my last article I introduced you to the breadth and depth of “real risk management” and why this discipline is much more than the “safety stuff.”

In this article, I want to further explain why too many government organizations—including the high-risk occupations involved in public safety in your communities—don’t take risk management seriously.

When I say this in a live program, I often get some pushback: “What do you mean we don’t take it seriously?” My response to this is pretty simple: Let’s take a look at your city/county/state organizational chart. Where will I find risk management on your org chart?

If risk management has its own box, I will be very surprised. And if it is near the top of the org chart, you can stop reading this piece right now because clearly your entity “gets it.” But too often I see risk management sharing a box with maintenance or human resources, someplace in the middle or lower levels of the organizational hierarchy.

Here is a second test for you. Pick up your government phone directory and look for risk management. Again, if there is a dedicated risk manager in your entity, I will be surprised. And I guarantee you that you will have many more lawyers in your phone book than risk managers.

Why am I boring you with this? Lawyers focus on fixing problems after they occur. Real risk managers focus on addressing problems before they occur. It is an entirely different way of thinking—a different bias, if you want to look at it that way. It is the constant battle of spending time and money up front to prevent problems from occurring. The alternative is spending much more time and resources after problems occur.

On my recommended reading list is a great book by two Harvard guys (Bazerman and Watkins), Predictable Surprises. The authors capture the essence of the problem with some thoughts on the shared traits of predictable surprises and why so many people in so many organizations ignore problems lying in wait.

Another great work along similar lines is Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness. She lays out in great detail why so many people in so many organizations are aware of problems, yet they do not act, and again and again ignore problems lying in wait.

We can do so much to thwart bad outcomes if we are committed to real risk management. And maybe this is just me, but I want this transition to real risk management to occur prior to some disastrous event.

Here is a definition that I will be referencing throughout this series of articles. Webster takes a stab at defining risk as “the possibility of meeting danger or suffering a harm or loss, or exposure to harm or loss.” As a follow then:

Risk management is any activity that involves the evaluation of or comparison of risks and the development, selection and implementation of control measures that change outcomes.​​

Or more simply stated, risk management is the process of looking into the future (short or long term), asking what can go wrong and then doing something to prevent it from going wrong. Remember RPM—Recognition, Prioritization, Mobilization.

Last time, I gave you a brief overview of the 10 Families of Risk. In our next piece, I will tackle Family One, External Risks. Until then, please take a look at what we are trying to do at Lexipol to address the risks you face in public safety operations. Thanks for reading!

By Gordon Graham.

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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