8.21.2011

Tools of Law Enforcement – The Truncheon


Article by: Scott Hall
Policeman with extension style baton
                Law enforcement officers in today’s modern world are well equipped in the training and methods of practical, non-lethal self defense and submission tactics.  We see examples of some of these tactics in programs such as COPS or World’s Wildest Police Videos.  Hardly anyone really thinks to appreciate how that came to pass after all we would live in a much different world if police only needed to use lethal force to subdue subjects who were unruly.  At one point in their history, police could fire upon a fleeing suspect, should that suspect choose to not heed the “stop” command.


                Law enforcement officers have to contend with safety issues every day.  The public’s safety is very important to those officials in that field, and in order to keep order, the law enforcement officer must also protect themselves from undue harm.  Amongst some of the tools that law enforcement officers carry is the truncheon or more commonly known, Baton.  One of the baton’s primary functions when it was first conceived was to assist in the control of the drunk and the debauchery they cause (policeone.com).  According to the article, aside from controlling those whom were out of sorts, it was also used to assist in distinguishing the police from other citizens, much like the development of the blue uniform to stand out from the military so the public could easily identify them.   The popularity of this versatile first tool, quickly spread throughout other nations and took on a variety of shapes and sizes.
Styles of Batons available

                According to the article posted online (policeone.com, April 2005), amongst the large civil rights movement issues in the 1970’s was the use of these truncheons in an abusive manner, where beatings or extreme abusive force was being encountered or feared.  A fair argument if you had happened to encounter an officer who had a bad temper or was out of control, but what about the officer who also saw the need to use it for defense?  A new design was reached in the evolution of this tool, and a handle was added at a ninety (90) degree angle, thus providing the stance and argument that the item could be held by the handle to defend against attacks upon the law enforcement person.  This era of history was also around the time of Tennessee vs. Garner (supreme.justia.com), a case being fought in the courts where police shootings were also in question, thus applying even more pressure for law enforcement to innovate less lethal and oppressive forms of subduing a subject and defending themselves, a thought process that has no doubt helped in the evolution of tasers, mace sprays, Kevlar vests and even hand cuffs or personal restraint items.

                Police officer safety, as it should be with anyone who works in hazardous environments, is a focus of their training.  Unless that particular department does not use this type of defensive measure, most officers undergo baton training.  This type of training does not teach the officer how to “beat your brains out”; it trains the officer to know that its measure is the area between hand to hand struggles and the officers last resort weapon, his side arm.  Certain drug users can be particularly unruly when under the influence as well as those who are intoxicated by alcohol.  In their training the officer must decide, in which scenario would one want to use the baton and in both of those cases, a baton could be used.  This defensive training helps the officer to not only protect themselves from harm, but also in both of these cases protect the public and the offenders from further harm to their environments or themselves.

                The Baton, while effective in its ability to subdue or get the attention of the subject and help the officer to defend themselves, has positive and negative drawbacks.  According to an online article ( aele.org ) the advantages of the baton include being lightweight, fairly inexpensive, can be used to disarm a subject, help in defensive maneuvers against an attack and in some cases can be used to assist the officer with “coming along”, the stage of taking the subject to the vehicle to be transported to processing.  The hindrances of the baton are worthy of consideration.  If deciding to carry this tool, its placement and rigidity upon the officers tool belt can restrict running which can prompt the officer in some cases to leave the baton inside their vehicles, the baton itself unless a compact model is purchased is not concealable and most persons recognize the long black stick and may alert them or cause them to try and obtain an equal weapon to combat the officer furthering the hazards of arrest and in most cases where the officer has to strike the subject can cause permanent damage or hidden damages to the body that may take a few days to show and the likelihood of laceration which could subject the officer to blood borne pathogens.  In a few cases where excessive use of the baton comes to light, such as the Rodney King incident, the department as a whole may suffer bad public images and outcries as to the brutality of its use.  Even when those departments release the circumstances surrounding those cases as being extreme drug use of the subject, the public in most cases will side with the perpetrator and not on the side of the safety of the officer.

                The officer’s choices of defensive and submissive items at their disposal also include the flashlight (3 or 6 cell), mace, tasers, black jacks and neck restraints.  The neck restraint is an effective maneuver for disruptive or combative subjects, but may also require the officer to take particular care as wrapping one’s arm around the neck and esophagus area can be deadly especially in the heat of a prolonged struggle. Maces and Tasers are a highly effective means for subduing an unruly subject somewhat safely.  Many times officers have had to answer for the results of damage to the criminal or combatant, such as was the case in Illinois when a settlement was reached due to skull fractures as a result of baton use, or over use.  Training does provide a lot of insight for the officer, but even the best trainers cannot cover all areas especially when it is not expected that the combatant is inebriated to the point of numbness or feeling invincible and the officer feels the pressures of “fight or flight” when protecting their own lives.

                As we have seen the Baton, Truncheon, Billy Club, Black Jack or whatever slang term we can think of, has a lot of history.  Sir Robert Peel helped to start to shape its history when the disorderly would not respond to techniques employed prior to the development of the baton.  The baton has advantages and disadvantages; it can be a beautiful device for protecting the officer.  It can be the horror in a combative subject’s environment and can be the cause for making departments and individuals consider revising the training or its use in situations.  In all these cases, the officer’s safety, as well as the public’s safety, is the focus of its needs and uses.  The developed history also helped law enforcement consider new methods like tasering someone or using mace to help subdue a subject.  The Baton, while controversial will forever be a useful tool to law enforcement around the world.  Without its conceptual development, the “stop” command in law enforcement might still be the use of their side arms as the primary means of self defense and public protection. 

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