Reactionary gap: A new look at an old concept

Could arms-length positioning be safer than the traditionally-accepted six-to eight-foot reactionary gap that’s been used in police training for decades?


Whether you make a consensual contact, conduct a traffic stop, or respond to a call for service, you will most likely end up talking to someone face to face. To conduct this interview, you learned a basic principle in the academy called the reactionary gap.

Just so we are on the same page, the reactionary gap is the distance between you and an “unarmed” — or not visibly armed — subject during the interview process. Most defensive tactics systems teach that you should be between six and eight feet from the subject with your hands up in a good bladed stance. The purpose of the gap is to allow you the time to react if the subject becomes violent and attacks. This appears to make sense on the surface. 

An Unfortunate Contradiction
Most defensive tactics instructors teach basically the same concepts for the reactionary gap. The officer should have their hands up in at least a ready position or even a higher defensive position if they’re not writing. This is to protect against an attack. The instructors also tell students to maintain their reactionary gap so they can respond when attacked.

The question: Why do we need the distance to react to an attack if our hands are up and we are being aware? The answer: officers do not keep their hands up as instructed. You can watch any number of YouTube videos of police officer fights, and many of them start with the officer having their hands down, then getting hit.

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