What Ever Happened to the Police Baton?


When did police start shooting persons with knives instead of using a baton? They didn’t always respond in this way.

The training protocol I was taught, and that I taught others during my years as a defensive tactics instructor, was to use a baton when faced with a knife — not a firearm.

Just to be sure and to test my memory I contacted a few of my peers from those days and they all verified this. So what happened? Why has there been such a dependence on one’s firearm? Why do we see, again and again, police surrounding a man with a knife and then everyone firing their sidearms almost simultaneously?

I think this is an important question. It is a question most of us would ask if we had a mentally-ill person in our family who was in possession of a knife and the police response was to take his or her life.

I do remember training police officers to approach a person with a knife at 45 degree angles and use their baton to disarm and, if necessary, to immobilize persons in these situations. It may cause injury, but not death.

More recently, I have reviewed a number of videos on YouTube in which no attempt is either made by police to de-escalate the situation or to use a less-than-deadly strategy to contain the subject.

I wonder, if a team of prison guards can use a mattress to contain and dIsabel a knief-wielding inmate, why can’t today’s police?

Now I know the arguments — it’s the old “21 foot rule” and “officer safety;” but one of these days police will need to start emphasizing the public’s safety and remember that a group of our nation’s leading police chiefs did exactly that when they published their “30 Guidelines for Use of Force.” The first guideline was that all police agencies need to make “sanctity of life” the core of all they do.

Our police today are more educated than they have ever been. Within their ranks are creative and innovative officers who have the ability to design and train on the use of less-than-deadly methods of using force. Let’s call upon this capacity and design new, less-than-deadly responses to these critical incidents.

At the same time, the public must demand that police do this and develop these non-deadly methods to contain emotionally disturbed people who are brandishing a knives or blunt objects without taking their lives.

It is the correct and decent thing to do.


Here’s three recent blogs I wrote about the subject:

 

 

28 Comments

  1. While I am definitely not a fan of how the 21 foot rule has “come out to play” in policing I have to ask David if you are seriously advocating the use of a baton in confronting a subject armed with a knife???

    Each and every use of force confrontation is situational, context matters more than even our training. Someone walking down the street armed with a knife is a very different situation than someone who faces-off against an officer with a knife and I have been in both situations. Police officers represent all of us collectively and I will not stand for anyone who advocates that a police officer armed only with a baton should battle anyone wielding a knife. Should we be foolish enough to do so, as I was once, and things turn out well then so-be-it but that is a choice for the cop, not any of us.

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  2. I think less lethal baton rounds and the Taser offer good alternatives, but they may fail, or a lone officer or even a team of officers may not have an opportunity to make use of those options.

    Personally I believe too much is being made of this “21 foot” rule. I was taught that, but I can tell you from having been in these situations that the number 21 never found it’s way to my spatial memory (a form of working memory). Under stress in those situations you assessment of space is essentially binary: too close or far enough are the only meaningful measures. We know that your mind fills in the blanks in your memories of an incident and that probably explains how estimates of distance end up in statements made by police officers after an incident. The officers honestly believe that they made that assessment, but I believe their subconscious is using long term memories to fill in the voids in their short term memory.

    We also have to recognize that most bureaucracies develop acceptable language to describe a phenomenon and thereafter it is simply copy and paste. We even lessen the labor involved by providing check boxes in use of force report forms. That occurs because we have built accountability structures instead of learning structures in those bureaucracies. If we want rich detail in descriptions of police officer use of force we’ll have to move beyond accountability to an earnest desire to learn how to improve.

    We don’t currently know where the boundaries of human performance are in this environment, but could make a pretty accurate assessment of those boundaries. Even if we do that we are going to have to come to grips with the fact that we can equip and train to the Nth degree, and there will still be failures. No one likes those but we’re expending precious resources setting our hair on fire instead of learning.

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  3. You are exactly correct David, these killings must stop. How about this idea. Do what the police officer tells you to do. Drop the knife! Drop the gun! Submit to arrest, no one will get hurt. All the citizen has to do is comply, as they are legally obligated to do. If they feel abused they can file a complaint and responsible police leaders can investigate and enforce our professional standards.

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      1. Those are very sad cases, first because many of them want to die and use the police to accomplish that goal. Second, because they simply can’t comprehend what the police are telling them to do. In both situations I would arm my officers with those less-then-lethal options and hope for the best but again, each case has it’s own context where even the best of intentions sometimes just don’t work out.

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      2. Here is a crazy idea. How about we open up medical centers where the mentally ill can receive professional help? Then the police can focus on keeping the peace and less on being the first line of defence against the mentally ill. Maybe we shouldn’t treat them like garbage and spend some of our defense budget on helping our citizens instead of bombing camels.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. What a novel idea. And to supplement this we could have mental health workers available on call 24/7 to assist police. Result? Fewer mentally ill folks being injured/killed by police. But I would add one more: dealing effectively with the mentally ill is the job of today’s police officer until we get a better handle on serving this population. Thanks for the input!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I sometimes wonder how many unjustified police shootings were there in the 19th and 20th century even when those cops who had done the shootings could have used their batons instead to deal with an unarmed person or a person with a knife let alone a mentally ill person and were trained in using the baton?

    A long time ago, I was talking to a person who was a martial arts expert and he told me a story of a situation when he was in Japan. He saw a mentally ill person with a knife and a couple of Japanese cops show up at the scene. Instead of using their pistols, they took out their long batons and disarm the person. If the Japanese police have strong rules, regulations, and procedures about using their firearms when dealing with mentally ill people, then I don’t see why our cops can’t do the same thing In addition, I was talking to another martial art expert and I told him that it seems that Americans lost their ability to fight with someone in unarmed close combat without having to resort to using their firearms. If America has existed as a nation 2,000 years ago, we would have lost to people like the Spartans and the Romans because we had no firearms and were too scared of engaging them in close combat.

    “Police officers represent all of us collectively ”

    It that was true, there would be no us versus them culture by the police and/or cops would not be saying there is a war on cops plus the police would not be doing the bidding of the political, social, and economic elites of this country against the rest of the population

    “… I will not stand for anyone who advocates that a police officer armed only with a baton should battle anyone wielding a knife. Should we be foolish enough to do so, as I was once, and things turn out well then so-be-it but that is a choice for the cop, not any of us.”

    Well, your remarks will fall on deaf ears with the governments of Ireland, UK, and Norway plus you would face oppositions from the cops in those countries as well. The British police and Irish police are unarmed plus I have heard that even though Norway’s cops are armed with pistols, many of them prefer not to carry them or if they do, they are locked up in the patrol cars. Furthermore, you don’t see the British, Irish, and Norwegian police officers being knifed to death in large numbers let alone being shot to death by firearms.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You may want to check statistics on the number of British cops that are assaulted these days. It’s getting to be routine over there with an average of 24 such incidents a day. Don’t be naive, those cops are most definately armed, you just don’t see it. What’s my proof? I roomed with a few of them at the FBI academy and stay in touch.

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  5. I could not agree more. I was a police officer for 39 years-11 as a COP in a major city. I walked a foot beat in one of the most active parts of a major city in the 60s. I was well trained in the use of the baton even before the Manadnock PR-24 was introduced. Although I never considered dealing with a suspect armed with a gun with the baton, conversely I never considered dealing with a suspect with a knife with my gun. My consulting firm now conducts organizational assessments of police agencies. It is a rare exception that you even see a baton as part of the equipment officers carry or have available to them today. In fact when officers are questioned regarding using their batons the response is generally they rely on their tazers, chemical spray and then their firearms. It is true that to be proficient and confident with a baton you must train with it but most police academy training does not include either recruit or in-service training with the baton. Lastly, the “21 foot rule” has been distorted and used to justify some of the poor decision making and tactics that we see today. It was never intended to be a justification to use deadly force but to make officers aware of the need to have a plan to deal with someone in that proximity and the last resort should be shooting the person.

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  6. “How about this idea. Do what the police officer tells you to do. Drop the knife! Drop the gun! Submit to arrest, no one will get hurt. All the citizen has to do is comply, as they are legally obligated to do.

    What about white people being given more than a fair chance to drop the gun/knife compare to minorities? The Afro-American who was killed outside the Walmart store was never given a chance to drop the BB gun he was carrying. The cops drove straight up to him (poor police tactic at best) and then got out and shot him dead within seconds. Compare that to the Bundy family and their militia supporters who had their guns aim at law enforcement and would have refused to obey the cops’ orders to drop their weapons and submit to themselves to arrest when they are “legally obligated” to do so.

    Yeah, and how many people have died at the hands of the police after complying with their orders? You can’t file a complaint against the police when you are dead.

    If they feel abused they can file a complaint and responsible police leaders can investigate and enforce our professional standards.”

    The key words are “responsible police leaders.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. ” Don’t be naive, those cops are most definately armed, you just don’t see it. What’s my proof? I roomed with a few of them at the FBI academy and stay in touch.”

    And you don’t be naive about thinking that those governments let alone the general public are going to tolerate their cops using their firearms every time they have to deal with being assault every day or having to resort to using their firearms when dealing with a mentally ill person who has a knife. Very bad for the tourist industry over there. Regarding to being assaulted, blame the police recruiting officer who never told you that is part of the job and you did take an oath to protect the public if it means forfeiting your life on the line just as much as we expect soldiers to lay their own lives on the line. One of the big difference between cops and soldiers is that soldiers get court-martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy while police officers don’t. Don’t like laying your life on the line, then find a new line of work and just remember, being a police officer still has not made it into the 10 most dangerous/deadliest jobs in America.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. W. Edwards Deming made a statement about how he worried about America exporting its style of management to other countries. Margaret Thatcher used the American style of capitalism/management and it turned into a bloody disaster for the country. I hate to see British police officers adopt the American style of policing where they are going to use their guns to handled situations involving a knife and/or a mentally ill person.

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  9. “Those are very sad cases, first because many of them want to die and use the police to accomplish that goal.”

    How many of those mentally ill people were in their rational, sane mind at the time that they wanted to die when the police show up?

    “You may want to check statistics on the number of British cops that are assaulted these days. It’s getting to be routine over there with an average of 24 such incidents a day.”

    Here is one report about UK cops getting assault; https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445667/police-officers-assaulted-mar15.pdf

    According to the above report, there is some under-reporting of officers by the officers themselves and/or about reliable data reporting by the police agencies themselves regarding assaults.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Law enforcement no longer uses batons to fend off a knife attack, because it places the officer’s life in jeopardy needlessly and DOESN’T WORK. You should pad up and actually try it some time. I have and can assure you that you will get the crap stabbed out of you. There is a reason law enforcement training has evolved to what it is over the years. This isn’t the middle ages with cops and knife wielding suspects out having knife / stick fights in the streets. Basically you’re saying the police should be stabbed to death rather than be allowed to defend themselves with lethal force. Of course the goal is always to take the suspect into custody using the minimum amount of force necessary. In a perfect world every interaction with a hostile suspect would be done by multiple officers with a variety of force options available to include firearms, beanbag shotgun, Taser and just about any other tool available. In reality this doesn’t happen. An officer / deputy is often forced to make a decision in a split second without a soul around to assist. When alone and faced with a knife wielding suspect only an idiot or some sort of impossibly trained human weapon would choose to dance around and try to knock away a deadly weapon with a stick. It isn’t the 1960’s anymore and the training has changed accordingly.

    Another problem with your argument is training. As a defensive tactics instructor, I can tell you it is a STRUGGLE to even get the minimum amount of training every year that we do. Most agencies out there are making do with less and less and doing more and more. Nowhere is this more apparent than training. Most agencies that even have a defensive tactics program allot 8 hours of defensive tactics training a YEAR. It would be a bloodbath… On the officer’s part to try to take on a knife wielding suspect with a baton especially with the unfortunate level of training most departments provide every year.

    You also bring up how corrections can take on a suspect wielding a knife with only a mattress. This is like comparing apples and a bus. Every aspect other than the knife is different. What you are talking about is a cell entry. A corrections cell entry is done in a controlled environment with the benefits of at least FIVE officers as well as time and planning. Each officer is assigned a limb and there is plenty of time for everyone to know exactly what their job is. A mattress is also rarely used. Most agencies have gone with the high speed shock shield. The suspect is still pinned with it along with the added benefit of causing a bit of discomfort when they’re hit with the electricity. I have worked corrections and patrol and have seen inmates who eat cans of OC like Tabasco sauce, turn around and cuff right up the second they see the shield.

    While I HAVE been involved in several situations with a suspect armed with a knife, I have only been involved in one incident where we were able to bring numerous tools to bear (I shot him with the beanbag shotgun). Most situations outside corrections involve an officer either alone or without alternate tools and absolutely no time to plan in any way.

    If an officer in my agency chose to try to stick fight a suspect armed with a knife (if he survived), he would at least receive a major ass chewing and at worst possibly face disciplinary action. It is articles like this that aren’t based on anything resembling the real world or the realities of actual physical violence that is responsible for so much misinformation out there and helps fuel the anti police sentiment.

    What we should instead be focusing on is the REAL problem. There isn’t a police brutality problem… There is an IGNORANCE problem. The American people are ignorant about the realities of use of force laws as well as what their rights truly are. In the absence of real information people turn to jailhouse lawyers or imaginary Facebook experts. We should literally be teaching classes to high school kids letting them know what will happen when they escalate a situation. This is America… They have a right to disagree, but the proper place to do so is in court afterwards. Compliance will NEVER result in force being used.

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    1. Let me begin by thanking you for your comments. I would like to respond to your last statement, “Compliance will NEVER result in force being used.” How I wish that were the case and it was that simple. You surely know that that is not a universal police practice as we have far too many videos online which show the exact opposite. As a young patrol officer, I remember being instructed by senior officers that after a high-speed chase ended I needed to manage my emotions by not pummeling the suspect. Our department simply did not permit this kind of behavior. Period. There are ample amounts of views on YouTube demonstrating that restraint in these circumstances is not a universal practice. As you know, most departments prohibit this practice, yet culture appears to override rules. You would have to agree that it continues to be a problem. When we talk about compliance, what about persons who have mental illnesses, or temporary emotional breakdowns, that prevent them from complying in ways police would like? But as two defensive tactics instructors, separated by almost two generations, there must be some things about the use of force in which we can agree. We can both agree that we need to get serious about police training an it needs to be amped up. But what about the baton? If I am willing to accept your position that a baton is not a valid instrument to use against knife-wielders, would you agree that we need to develop some kind(s) of less-than-deadly response when suspects are non-compliant and have an edged or blunt weapon? Is this a possibility? Can we consider developing “less-than-deadly shooting” as some European departments have done? Is this now possible given today’s police carry semi-automatic pistols with large-capacity clips? The point I am trying to make is that today’s police MUST develop a system to control non-compliant persons brandishing edged weapons without taking their lives. That’s what many community members are asking for today and which I strongly agree and argue for. I have worked on the street enough to support police officers’ use of deadly force when suspects point firearms at them. Although you may argue that it’s not the 1960s anymore, I will tell you that there are more similarities than differences. The late 60s, with Dr King’s assassination, and civil rights being denied to many Americans, life on the streets as a cop was no picnic. We had no body armor, portable radios, or semi-automatic pistols. Yet some of us quickly learned that our safety and effectiveness as police officers depended not on the threat of force but on the quality of our relationships with others – particularly people of color. Let us not forget that that is exactly the situation you face today. It’s what I learned and why I chose to move from being a training officer into formal police leadership. Let me say this: Unless today’s police develop ways to control their use of deadly force when NOT confronted by suspect with a firearm, their life will not get any better; in fact, they will be less safe and less effective in their duties — that’s the REAL problem. I hope that you have not become hardened to today’s problems and that you strive to serve and not control and to be fair and respectful in your daily work. I wish you the best. And I ask you to try and understand where I am coming from and why I believe what I do. We may be far apart in years, but not in wanting the best for our nation’s police and those whom they serve.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. “The American people are ignorant about the realities of use of force laws as well as what their rights truly are. ”

    You have many Americans who know what their rights are; however, many police officers don’t give a care about the rights of Americans and get tick off when those Americans exercise their rights plus many of those cops think that the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution prevents the police from doing their job and ought to be thrown into the trash can. You are damn if you know those rights and damn if you don’t know your rights when dealing with the police. Incidentally, you have corporations and wealthy people trying to pass laws to make it impossible for people to have access to the court system when they want to file lawsuits against them and/or they tried to put judges on the bench who are friendly to business and wealthy people.

    If a baton is such a useless weapon as you claim it is, then why bother telling the cops to purchase one? If a cop has a problem with getting adequate baton training, then he/she needs to go to a martial arts class if possible to get the training or hire a private martial arts instructor to give him/her the training.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “We should literally be teaching classes to high school kids letting them know what will happen when they escalate a situation. This is America… They have a right to disagree, but the proper place to do so is in court afterwards.”

    Many kids did nothing to escalate the situation – it was the cops that escalate it. Regarding the courts, you have too many judges and district attorneys who are too pro-police and need the cops in order to do their jobs. They are not going to bite the hand that helps them when it comes to election time. Also when you look at the court system, the upper middle class and rich class kids get more slack than the poor kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The police baton is to risky. Using one is not as safe as shooting someone from a distance. Why should an officer who must go home safely that night get close enough to risk any injury? Modern police training says they should not take that risk.

    Why do police shoot to kill instead of shooting in a leg? Most people when shot lose all of the fight they may have had. It matters not if they were shot with a .22 or a .45. The location does not matter. being shot hurts and most shot one time do not want it to happen again.

    A lot of police do not even know they laws they supposedly enforce. Some can think and some are cement heads. If you run into a cement head cop you can do nothing to be safe from them. The warrior cop mentality you posted about refuses any risk to them if instead they can just legally kill anyone who might threaten them.

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  14. Indeed it all started after the world went NUTS over Rondney King got his ASS beat…..but he was alive and millions of dollars richer.
    Was it right he’ll no.

    But as I said a few day in hospital and home or jail.
    Cops in my family 1880 s.
    Police to day time after time killing people……night sticks and slap Jack’s
    Even the big guy in New York was killed by police taking him down or the guy was running at the cop in the town that had riots for a week after.
    Classic a two hand baton thrust would have stopped him in his tracks.
    No shot 8 times.
    Beat cops in Philly were respected walking down the streets the Blue Knights first thing out of the car one Adam 12 the batons camera out of the car and in the ring.
    If I was chief my guys are carrying 36 inch Rose wood.
    Stop killing people and Beat thier ASS get Respect back.

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    1. “f I was chief my guys are carrying 36 inch Rose wood.
      Stop killing people and Beat thier ASS get Respect back.”

      Yeah, sure and watch cops beat up people who exercise their right not to be searched, refuse to answer their questions, or tell the cop about the law considering the fact that cops don’t even know their own local laws.

      Like

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