loading page

The Police Killing of Persons Brandishing Knives in the United States
  • Bruece Machacynski
Bruece Machacynski

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

Author Profile


This paper examined the use of lethal force by law enforcement against people brandishing knives in the United States. The purpose of the research was to better understand the correlates of lethal force encounters and inform the development and implementation of systems and procedures designed to monitor, predict, and reduce the frequency of fatal police/civilian violence. There are two parts to this mixed-methods study: a quantitative analysis of the distribution of fatal event factors and descriptive epidemiology of fatal police encounters among persons brandishing knives. A non-probability sample (n = 174) was assembled from publicly reported use-of-force fatalities. The analysis revealed the typical decedent was a mentally ill 37-year-old White male brandishing a kitchen knife. Most encounters involved 2–4 officers firing 2–4 bullets at a person no more than 10-feet away. Police injuries, while uncommon, tended to be moderate, but none were fatal. Contrary to previous studies, Thursday was the most lethal day of the week. California accounted for 29% of all fatal encounters. Future research is needed to examine Black decedents' over-representation, explore the unexpectedly high number of deaths in California, and evaluate trends over time.