One thing the experts contacted for this article agree upon is that a lack of training and weapons proficiency has diminished the ability of officers to effectively wield impact weapons.
Indeed, now 18 years following the King incident, many use-of-force experts see the cause of that tragedy to be less a case of police abuse than an indictment of Officer William Powell's proficiency with the weapon. It's a problem we may see again, and you can bet that someone will be there to capture it on video.
"In academies, the actual use-of-force training (shooting, batons, pepper spray, etc.) usually gets shortchanged," notes Marquez. "So with the PR there's a lack of development of the high level of expertise that is necessary if you're going to carry it. For both guys and girls, that's a lot of baton that they don't want to mess with. So my recommendation is to go with an expandable baton like a Monadnock or an ASP."
Regardless of the striking weapon chosen, improper training may result in injuries to personnel, as well as civil damages. In the wake of one baton training session gone south, Brawley, Calif., ended up paying a medically retired officer $2.35 million in damages.
But perhaps the biggest threat to striking weapons is a growing perception that TASERs have mitigated their need, perhaps even rendered them obsolete to the minds of some.
Barry Brodd teaches defensive tactics for police, Army, Park Service rangers, regional parks, probation officers, the whole gamut of people. Brodd has noticed an over-reliance on the TASER and cites instances wherein the TASER has been deployed under less than ideal circumstances such as when a suspect is within a couple of feet of an officer and the probes can't spread far enough to create a good circuit.
"That eliminates any effective backup plan if the TASER is ineffective or if the darts don't hit the intended target," Brodd observes. "By then the suspect is right on top of you and the TASER is not effective in close quarters. Of course, it can be used as a contact stun device, but if this fails and the suspect gains control of the TASER, then what?"
Brodd says the answer to his concern is to prevent the situation in the first place using teamwork.
"We train if one officer is deploying a TASER, then the other officer is ready with lethal force. Or if the TASER is ineffective and the situation hasn't escalated to where lethal force would be justified, the second officer would use the baton. Especially with the expanding batons, the motion of expanding it is almost a type of visual escalation to let somebody know, 'Oh, don't hit me with that thing.'"
Marquez agrees that a telescoping baton can be a powerful persuader.
"Being an ASP trainer, I'm going to promote their products somewhat. I think the ASP 26-inch baton is a good tool. If you look at actual kinetic energy the batons deliver, the expandable batons deliver more kinetic energy than a PR; the PR is more a blunt type of baton. It takes a little more talent, a little more skill to use the PR properly, especially to use the short end of it."
Marquez says the argument over batons really has very little to do with their utility and more with administrative and public sentiment against the weapon.