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Crowd control and the irreplaceable police baton

When officers had no designated impact tool, necessity inspired officers to use firearms, radios, or flashlights to avoid the use of deadly force


Riot police with batons at protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami.

File Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“This is my friend maker. Every time I take it out everybody wants to be my friend.”

This is what I used to tell anyone who asked about my baton. When it was properly presented, it brought compliance from most suspects with one simple command: “Back!”

After its development I always carried the expandable baton on my duty belt, while carrying my 26-inch wooden baton in the squad. In crowd control situations, I was able to quickly replace my expandable baton and carrier with my wooden baton and ring.

The Need for Impact
The police baton has a rich history in the United States. The ornately-tooled leather-strapped 19th Century predecessor carried by officers was not just for impact. It was also used to notify back-up when help was needed. When an officer rapped a prearranged signal with his baton against metal or cement, help came on the run.

In these early days of law enforcement there inevitably developed situations where a level of force greater than empty hands was called for, when officers had no desire to shoot the suspect. Back then, when there was a need to make an impact, when officers had no baton, a technique called “bashing” — or “buffaloing” — evolved. This “bashing,” was done by striking a suspect over the head with a firearm.

Even during those harsh times, this was problematic. Not only because of the potential for serious injury, but also because of the possibility of an unwanted discharge, in the midst of the “bashing.”

When officers had no designated impact tool, necessity inspired officers to impact with their firearms, radios, or flashlights in a desperate effort to avoid the use of deadly force. The ironic thing about this well-intentioned effort to avoid deadly force is those strikes most often were made to the head, and were later determined to also be deadly force.

Police Baton Advantages
Having the standard 26-inch wooden baton available as a tool affords the trained officer great advantages. Here are a few:

1. It is very visible.
2. The promise of impact is a deterrent to most.
3. It is a less-than-lethal tool, applicable in many circumstances.
4. When justifiable, a trained, focused, impact directed at nonlethal targets can impede a suspect’s assaultive behavior without serious injury or death.
5. It can be used for some “come-alongs” (some trainers believe adamantly that batons should not be used like this. However I have used baton for “come-alongs” in the past with great effect).
6. It never runs out of ammunition.
7. It can be used on multiple adversaries.
8. It never loses its charge.
9. You can reinforce your skills regularly, on your own at no cost even at home (as long as you stay clear of the big screen, small children, pets, and priceless heirlooms.)
10. It is an invaluable tool for crowd control.
11. It will create distance in most cases it is deployed.

Advantages of the Expandable
The expandable police baton offers some distinct advantages for daily use over the 26-inch wooden baton:

1. It is easily carried. Officers will carry it, whereas they will leave the wooden baton in the squad.
2. It is always available.
3. It allows for an additional visual message to be sent by dynamically deploying it. This in itself can encourage compliance without having the need to impact.
4. It can be used to impact those targeted vulnerable areas with great precision.
5. It affords a less-than-lethal option.
6. It will also create distance in most cases it is deployed.
7. It also can be practiced on your own at no cost.

The Need for an Available Carrier
In the case of the expandable and the wooden baton, it is necessary to have a readily available carrier, or ring. This enables officers to return to hands free, when the situation de-escalates.

Not a Return to the Eight-Track
Since the advent of new control technologies, many officers have removed the baton from their belt. One officer once said to me, “Some officers feel the police baton is old technology and to bring it back would be tantamount to trying to bring back the eight-track.”

This is not quite accurate, because better music listening technology rendered the eight-track obsolete. The baton has not been replaced by better less-lethal technology for impact.

You can take the impact tool away from law enforcement officers, but you will never eliminate the need for officers to effectively deliver strikes.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.