AWOL from the Belt
Unfortunately, such disregard for batons has resulted in situations where other weapons of last resort, such as flashlights, have been used.
The use of a flashlight as a club in one highly publicized incident spurred the Los Angeles Police Department to ban flashlight strikes and even redesign its officers' flashlights. One might reasonably ask if LAPD's posture on flashlights would have taken so drastic a change had the involved officer used a baton instead.
But the fact remains that the baton hasn't just been absent from certain high-profile videos; it has gone AWOL from many officers' belts, a reality that concerns trainers at some of the nation's leading law enforcement agencies.
Sgt. Brian Muller of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department looked into the matter and subsequently wrote a revised policy on batons for the department.
"A decade ago, the department's policy stated that batons should be 'readily available,'" says Muller. "But a lot of deputies simply began leaving their batons in their war bags in the trunk of their vehicles, largely because of King-related fallout. Then when they needed them, they didn't have them. We removed that discretion, and now policy mandates that personnel—with certain exceptions, such as plainclothes investigators—shall carry their batons with them."
While some agencies still retain rigid policies about baton carrying, others are actually moving away from batons.
It's a reality that finds Marquez less than optimistic about the role side-handle batons like the PR-24 and even telescoping batons will play in the future of law enforcement. And he see that as a problem. "There are still failures of TASERs, which means that you're still going to have to use the baton," Marquez says. But he also believes that improved TASERs and other high-tech weapons will soon obviate the need for batons.
David A. Rose, a consultant with the Law Enforcement Physical Skills Training & Consulting Co., doesn't see that day coming. A use-of-force expert and legal consultant, Rose believes that striking instruments will always have a place in the law enforcement arsenal.
"The idea that batons are going the way of the dinosaur is a fallacy," declares Rose. "Because multiple cases show that at some point you have to go hands on. One guarantee about technology—whether it's law enforcement, military, or civilian, as you know working with computers or cell phones—when you really need it, it fails. Mechanical devices aren't affected by batteries going weak, barbs in TASERs being the wrong distance apart, or wires breaking."
And Rose brings up another concern.
"If you have somebody who's an excited delirium suspect, and he's playing Tyrannosaurus Rex and nothing seems to be stopping him, impact force may be the only thing that you have because maybe deadly force isn't available to you based on the totality of the circumstances. Maybe impact force won't stop him, but it might break bones so that he can't stand any more or grab your other use-of-force options, or choke you, or poke your eyes out."