What’s a Good Cop Knife?

Protech automatic knives

Here’s a shortcut: Just write in a Protech automatic knife. Protech makes great automatics (aka switchblades in the modern era) that would work well in almost any scenario in fiction. Of course, the shortcut to the shortcut is to keep it simple by writing “knife” and leaving it at that. Remember to keep depictions equally generic. (Photo via BLADE magazine)

The post What’s a Good Cop Gun? attracted a nice chunk of traffic, so I figured it needed a follow up post about “cop knives.” That’s not a term I’ve heard used often in fiction or writing groups, but for the sake of this post let’s assume it means “a knife a law enforcement character would carry as an everyday tool.”

Just as with “cop guns,” there isn’t a single type of knife that’s made only for law enforcement. Knife companies and independent knifemakers will design knives with law enforcement agencies in mind, but that doesn’t mean there’s a separate category of just those knives.

It varies by department, but what typically happens is an officer receives a stipend (or not) to purchase a knife, as well as other gear. There might be a set of guidelines the officer must stay inside or there might not. Unlike Joe and Jane Citizen, the law allows police officers to purchase otherwise restricted knives. That includes automatic knives (aka switchblades), which are explained in this post.

Key Features of a “Cop Knife”

From my experience working at BLADE, there are a few key features found in the knives designed for law enforcement:

  • Durability: The more modern materials, the better. So long, grandpa’s old pocketknife.
  • One-hand opening: Assisted opening knives, automatic knives and ergonomic folding knives are great picks. However, remember that a fixed blade knife (that means the blade doesn’t fold) doesn’t need to open. It just needs to be taken out of its sheath.
  • Reliable opening: When the knife needs to open, it better open. Cheap knives made by obscure brands tend to get stuck more often. It’s like anything else. You get what you pay for. Reputable brands are a better bet. Off the top of my head, it’s hard to go wrong with Kershaw, CRKT, Spyderco, SOG, Ka Bar, Zero Tolerance, Emerson Knives, Benchmade, Protech or BLACKHAWK!, although that’s not a complete list.
  • Strong lock: The lock is the mechanism that secures the blade in place when a folding knife is open. Unintentional closing can cost a finger.
  • A reasonable blade length: A big knife isn’t going to cut it for a character who needs to lug it around all day on a belt or in a pocket. Look for knives with a blade length around three inches.

It’s not a necessity, but it’s somewhat common for these knives to sport tanto blades, which you can more read about here.

Keep these traits in mind when you’re researching a knife for a law enforcement character. If you’re stuck, most knife retail websites have a separate category for “tactical knives.” Start there. Tactical knives are designed for hard use.

Some Real World Examples

During my eye-opening trip to the Hennepin County Jail, I had the opportunity to ask Sheriff Rich Stanek about the knives his deputies use. He didn’t mention any model names, but he did say most choose Spyderco knives. The large thumbholes on most Spyderco knives makes them easy to open with one hand, which probably played a large part in that choice.

Here are two of the most popular knives Spyderco makes: the Endura (top) and the Delica (bottom). (image via BLADE)


The Endura sports a 3.75-inch blade, while the Delica is a bit shorter with a 2.75-incher. Both open manually (i.e. it doesn’t pop open with a device inside like a switchblade) by working the thumbhole in the blade. This boosts reliability in that the knife will always open so long as the user has a thumb. (Sorry, thumbless characters.) Either is a great pick for a “cop knife,” as well as for all-around use by just about any character.

Over at Gun Digest, the Ka Bar TDI Law Enforcement Knife keeps popping up in the articles and books we publish. This is a fixed blade knife, but it’s designed for fast deployment. The curved design makes for a strong grip. The blade length is shy of 2.5 inches. (image via Ka Bar)

TDI Law Enforcement Knife Writing Knives

Of course, automatic knives are a popular pick, too. They open with the push of a button on the handle. Out of the many options out there, I think the Benchmade 9052 is a good choice. (image via Benchmade)

Benchmade 9052 police officer character writing fiction

Don’t Let Appearances Fool You

While researching, you’ll quickly notice that a good deal of tactical and automatic knives suited for police are black from handle to tip. That might seem like a nice shortcut (just pick a black knife that looks cool), but it’s also a little misleading.

Black knives are as much a marketing trick as anything else. Not long ago, companies could get away with charging extra for a black knife despite it offering nothing beyond an identical model made with different colors of materials.

Use the specs and product descriptions to guide your pick, not the colors. Black knives are supposed to be more discreet in tactical situations, but that’s not always the case. Of course, a knife with a blaze orange handle is going to stick out for miles, but I think you get my point.

Your Characters’ Knives

What about you? What knives do you give your law enforcement characters?

Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

One thought on “What’s a Good Cop Knife?

  1. I love your blog. But as far as it goes when it comes to knives for characters… I usually go with Cold Steel or Benchmade.

    While none of the works are professional, and are usually a degree of fan fiction, the knives see an extraordinary amount of abuse. With the most ridiculous being to jam a pocket knife into a gap to use as a step, or as a pry.

    So… I chose brands I have a history with for being incredibly reliable, or at least creating a fictional company that makes some tough as nails knives. I’ve even done some of the things the characters do with my own knives from cold steel. Such as using as a stepping tool, as a pry bar, mirror, etc.


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