A truncheon or baton (also called a cosh, billystick, billy club, nightstick, sap, or blackjack) is essentially a stick of less than arms-length, usually made of wood, plastic, or metal, and carried by law enforcement, corrections, security, and (to a less common degree) military personnel for less-lethal self-defense, as well as control and to disperse combative and non-compliant subjects. A truncheon may be used to strike, jab, block, and aid in the application of armlocks. Truncheons are used to a lesser extent by non-officials because of their easy concealment, and are outlawed in many jurisdictions.
Making straight batons of rubber gives a softer impact. Some of the kinetic energy bends and compresses the rubber and bounces off when the object is struck. The Russian police standard issue baton is rubber, except in places, like Siberia, cold enough that the rubber can become brittle and break if struck against something.
The traffic baton is red to make it more visible when being used as a signaling aid when directing traffic.
Until the mid-1990s British police officers carried traditional wooden truncheons of a sort which had changed little from the Victorian era. After the early 1990s, forces replaced truncheons with side-handle and collapsible batons for all but ceremonial duties.
A peace officer not equipped with a baton may be forced to choose between two extremes in responding to criminal assault: bare hands or firearms. Thus, the baton fills an intermediate role in the weapons available to peace officers, and gives flexibility to defend against physical attack in proportionately.
If a peace officer is fired upon by a suspect with a handgun from a distance of several meters, the situation may dictate the officer's best option is seeking cover, and returning fire with his or her sidearm, if the officer were so equipped. If an unarmed suspect passively resists arrest, and is not actively assaultive against the arresting officer, striking the suspect with a baton in order to gain compliance may (or may not, depending on the use-of-force policy of the officer's department) be thought excessive force.
In between these extremes (in terms of the threat posed to the officer), a baton would prove useful. If an unarmed suspect tried to attack an officer at arm's length, and the officer was of lesser strength and size, and couldn't defend against the suspect without using weapons, it would be fair and prudent for the officer to subdue with baton strikes to non-critical areas of the body. Baton strikes may be justified and ideal in an attack by many unarmed suspects.
Unless otherwise justified (as in a deadly force scenario), the officer avoids directing baton strikes towards the head, neck, face, spine, organs, kneecaps, elbow joints, collarbone, or groin. Strikes that hit there can cause serious or permanent injury or death. Directing baton strikes towards non-critical areas of the body, such as arms and legs, is less likely to produce serious or permanent injury or death.
Despite precautions to minimize blunt trauma, a baton strike to a non-critical area of the body can still be lethal. For example, a strike to a leg can cause a blood clot to develop that if is not detected and treated, can kill.
Batons are higher on the use of force continuum than many other less-lethal weapons, as they are more likely to cause lasting or fatal injuries. Like Tasers and OC, batons are referred to as "less-lethal" rather than "non-lethal". These items are not designed to be fatal and almost never are, but it does happen: allergic reaction to pepper spray, blood clots from baton strikes, and head injuries from falling after being shocked by a Taser.
Batons in common use by peace officers in the United States include (traditional) fixed-length straight batons, fixed-length side-handle batons, collapsible straight batons, and collapsible side-handle batons. All 4 types have their advantages and disadvantages.
Several design innovations are being tested in response to some of the perceived limitations of the currently popular expandable baton and side-handle baton. These drawbacks include inherent compromises due to the dual (and competing) goals of control effectiveness and safety (for both officer and subject). Generally speaking, the more control a piece of equipment offers an officer, the less safe it is for the subject.
This has spurred a review of "arrest and control" tactics as well as a flurry of design innovations. There are specialty or improvised batons in use such as electric-shock batons and the use of flashlights.
Long straightsticks with a length are called "riot batons", and are commonly used in such civil disturbances.
Some agencies have replaced the straightstick with other batons because of inconvenience to carry, and a desire for their officers to look less threatening to the community they serve. Many proponents of the straightstick argue it is more effective at rapidly incapacitating a suspect than newer designs (anecdotally requiring fewer strikes than many expandable batons), and that officer safety should be the overriding consideration in baton selection.
An expandable baton (also referred to variously as a collapsible baton, telescopic (or telescoping) baton, tactical baton, spring cosh, or asp) is typically composed of a cylindrical outer shaft containing telescoping inner shafts (typically 2 or 3, depending on the design) that lock into each other when expanded. The shafts are usually made of steel, but lightweight baton models may have their shafts made from other materials such as aluminum alloy.
Expandable batons may have a solid tip at the outer end of the inner-most shaft; the purpose of the solid tip is to maximize the power of a strike when the baton is used as an impact weapon.
Expandable batons are made in both straight and side-handle configurations, but are considerably more common in the straight configuration.
The most well-known example of the straight expandable baton is the ASP (Armament Systems and Procedures) Baton, which has become a genericized trademark within the law enforcement and security communities for this type of product.
Depending on the holster or scabbard design, it may be possible to carry an expandable baton in either collapsed or expanded position, which would be helpful if an officer needed to holster an expanded baton and it was not possible or convenient to collapse it at the time.
An expandable baton is opened by being swung in a forceful manner while collapsed, using inertia to extend and lock the segments by friction. Some mechanical-lock versions can also be opened by simply pulling the segments apart. Depending on the design, expandable batons may be collapsed either by being brought down (inverted) on a hard surface, or by depressing a button lock and manually collapsing the shafts. The advantages of a collapsible baton over a fixed baton are numerous:
However, expandable batons are not without some disadvantages:
Additionally, the baton, in collapsed configuration, may be used as a control device against non-compliant subjects in conjunction with pain-compliance control techniques, such as to remove a driver refusing to exit his or her vehicle.
Although not specifically prohibited by name, expandable batons are generally considered to be deadly and prohibited weapons in the State of California under Penal Code Section 12002 /12020, and as such, may be lawfully possessed only by authorized law enforcement and security personnel. These batons are illegal in most European countries, but are used by law enforcement units, especially riot police. In some countries (such as in Hungary, where these batons are called "vipers") this practice leads to controversy in police compliance evaluation and increases social tension.
A blackjack is a small, easily-concealed club consisting of a leather-wrapped lead weight attached to the end of a leather-wrapped coil-spring or rigid shaft, with a lanyard or strap on the end opposite the weight.Materials other than lead and leather are sometimes used to construct these weapons.
A blackjack is sometimes referred to as a sap, which is the name for a weapon of similar design (also called a slapper, slap jack or beavertail sap), which has a flat profile as opposed to a cylindrical one.
Blackjacks were popular among law enforcement for a time due to their low profile and small size, and their potential to knock a suspect unconscious. However, blows to the head could be easily fatal, and they have since become less common equipment.
Side-handle batons (sometimes referred to as T-batons) are batons with a short side handle at a right angle to the shaft, about six inches from one end. The main shaft is typically in length. They are derived from the tonfa, an Okinawan kobudō weapon, and are used with a similar technique (although Tonfas are usually used in pairs, whereas side-handle batons are not). The most well-known example is the Monadnock PR-24, which has become a genericized trademark within the law enforcement and security communities for this type of product.
It can be held by:
Side-handle batons are made in both fixed and collapsible models, and may be constructed from a range of materials including wood, polycarbonate, epoxy, and aluminum.
Some side-handle batons are one-piece in design; the side-handle component and primary shaft are permanently fused together during manufacturing. One-piece designs are potentially stronger in design than two-piece designs, and have no risk of having a locking screw loosen from its threads.
Other side-handle batons are two-piece in design (common among cheaper makes); the side-handle component is screwed into primary shaft. The side handle may be removed from the shaft by the end-user, converting the side-handle into a straight baton. Users of two-piece side handle batons would be well-advised to apply a thread-locking compound to the side-handle screw to prevent loosening under use. It would also be prudent to occasionally check the tightness of that screw.
The advantages of a side-handle baton over a straight baton are numerous:
Side-handle batons have a few disadvantages:
Stun batons are designed to administer an electric shock.
Although the Kel-lite in the 1970s appears to have been the first flashlight designed specifically to be useful as emergency defensive weapon, the most well-known example is the five D-cell Maglite, still in use by some law enforcement and security personnel. Due to their inefficient size/weight-to-power ratio compared to smaller, lighter, and brighter lights such as lithium-powered Surefire lights, Maglites are often regarded as being more useful in their improvised impact weapon role than as illumination devices.
Use of such flashlights as a club or baton is generally officially discouraged by the manufacturers and law enforcement officials, but its use is an option. As with all police weapons there have been many allegations of misuse, such as in the Malice Green beating in Detroit. However, it should be noted that the use of flashlights as improvised impact weapons is subject to the same use of force regulations as the use of purpose-designed impact weapons like batons.
Peace officers may often choose to use such flashlights because they are viewed primarily as illumination devices; thus, if a peace officer carries one in his hands during nighttime encounters with potentially violent subjects, it would be more difficult to file valid complaints (of "unnecessarily" brandishing a weapon) than if the officer were to be equipped with a baton or OC canister instead. This permits the officer to have an impact weapon in their hands and ready for instantaneous action, rather than having to draw a baton or OC canister.
Characteristic of a flashlight used as a baton or club is the grip employed. Flashlights are commonly held with the bulb end pointing from the thumb side of the hand, such that it is pointing outward from the body when held palm upward. When wielded as a club, the bulb end points inward when the hand is palm upward, and the grip is closely choked to the bulb end. This grip has several advantages, in that the bulb end of a flashlight is usually flared and thus serves as a pommel preventing the flashlight from slipping out of the hand when swung, the bulb end is also relatively more fragile and more likely to break on forceful contact, and the bulb end has less mass than the opposite end which is usually filled with heavy batteries. Gripping a flashlight in this way is somewhat less convenient for use as a light, since the natural position of the resting hand points the flashlight to the rear when standing. Thus when a flashlight is held in this manner it is often perceived as an “offensive” posture.
Another advantage to using a flashlight as a club is that in poorly lit situations it can be used to initially blind the eyes of an opponent. Law enforcement officers often deliberately shine flashlight beams into the eyes of suspects at night to cause temporary night-blindness as a preemptive defensive measure, whether or not the individual is likely to behave violently.