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Police Academy Instructor Explains How Officers Deal With Attacks

DENVER (CBS4) - A man with a sword was shot and killed by police after almost severing an officer's finger Saturday morning.

The incident happened around 6 a.m. at 9th and Walnut on the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver. People called 911 after seeing a man on campus with a sword.

"The officer did arrive and at that time did confront the suspect. A confrontation did ensue between the officer and the suspect," Raquel Lopez with Denver police said.

The names of the suspect and the officer have not been released.

"If somebody's coming attacking you with a knife or any type of object and they're not obeying your commands, you've got to do whatever you can to protect yourself," Lopez said.

CBS4 wanted to know what goes through an officer's mind when faced with a deadly threat.

According to former Denver Police Academy instructor Rob Rathburn, there's something called the 21-foot rule. It's essentially a buffer zone police use to give them a chance to fire their weapon at a suspect charging at them with a weapon.

At 21 feet away, someone with a sword needs a mere two seconds to close the gap and attack an officer.

"There's going to be a lag time, realizing, 'Oh-oh, the guy's charging me, he's coming at me with that knife, I need to do something right now.' So that can take for a highly-trained officer to be aware of what's occurring up to a second and a half," Rathburn said.

(credit: CBS)

Even a smaller blade presents a danger.

"(If the suspect) manages to cut the officer, slash his muscle, hits the hand, that officer is disabled," Rathburn said. "Basically, then that officer is mincemeat."

Rathburn pointed out that exactly what happened between the suspect and officer is not yet known.

"It could be he actually got the suspect to put the weapon down and then he re-engaged," he said. "You know there are 100,000 variables on this thing."

Rathburn said whenever there's a critical incident police departments will review tactics to keep everyone safe.

The coroner was planning to release the name of the man with the sword soon. It's unknown why the man was swinging the sword.

The police officer has been released from the hospital.

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