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Old police baton

A truncheon or baton (also called a cosh, Paddy wacker, billystick, billy club, nightstick, sap, blackjack, stick) is essentially a stick of less than arm's length, usually made of wood, plastic, or metal, and carried by law-enforcement, corrections, security, and (less often) 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. They are also frequently used to rescue people who are trapped—for instance, in cars or buildings that are on fire, by smashing windows and doors.



A modern wooden baton

In the Victorian era, police in London carried truncheons about one foot long called bully clubs (from the word bully, a nickname for police officers). This developed into several varieties available today. The truncheon is a straightstick made from wood or a synthetic material, approximately 1.25 inches (32 mm) in diameter and 18–36 inches (460–910 mm) long, with a fluted handle to aid in gripping. Truncheons are often ornamented with their organizations' coats of arms. Longer truncheons are called "riot batons" because of their use in riot control.

Truncheons probably developed as a marriage between the club or mace and the staff of office or sceptre.

Straight batons of rubber have 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 such as Siberia, cold enough that the rubber can become brittle and break if struck.

The traffic baton is red to make it more visible as a signaling aid in directing traffic. In Russia traffic batons are striped in black and white for the same reason.

Until the mid 1990s, British police officers carried traditional wooden truncheons of a sort that had changed little from Victorian times. After the early 1990s, forces replaced truncheons with side-handle and collapsible batons for all but ceremonial duties.

Theory and usage

Under most American law-enforcement agencies' and departments' use-of-force policies, a baton may be used when a firearm is inappropriate or unjustified but greater force is needed than can be provided by bare hands.

A police 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 proportionately.

If a police officer is fired upon by a suspect with a handgun from a distance of several meters, the officer's best option may be to seek cover and to return fire with his or her side arm. If an unarmed suspect passively resists arrest and is not actively assaulting the arresting officer, striking the suspect with a baton in order to gain compliance may be considered excessive force, depending on the use-of-force policy governing the officer.

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 were smaller and weaker and couldn't defend against the suspect without using weapons, it would be fair and prudent for the officer to subdue the suspect with baton strikes to non-critical areas of the body. Baton strikes may be justified and ideal in an attack by several unarmed suspects.

Target areas

Before the 1970s, it was common for law enforcement in the United Kingdom to "brain" suspects (strike their heads) in order to stun them or knock them unconscious. However, this was unreliable and potentially fatal. Civil lawsuits and claims of police brutality resulted in better training for officers. In modern police training, it is not permitted to hit the skull, sternum, spine, or groin unless such an attack is unavoidable. The primary targets now are nerves, such as the common peroneal nerve, and large muscles, such as the quadriceps or biceps.

Comparison with other weapons

Hand-held impact weapons have some advantages over newer less lethal weapons. Batons are less expensive than Tasers to buy or to use, and carry none of the risk of cross-contamination of OC aerosol canisters (pepper spray) in confined areas. Tasers and OC canisters have limited ammunition, whereas batons do not.

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.

Baton designs

Batons in common use by police around the world include many different designs, such as fixed-length straight batons, blackjacks, fixed-length side-handle batons, collapsible straight batons, and other more exotic variations. All types have their advantages and disadvantages.

The design and popularity of specific types of baton have evolved over the years and are influenced by a variety of factors. These include inherent compromises in 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.



A straight, fixed-length baton (also commonly referred to as a "straightstick") is the oldest and simplest police baton design, known as far back as ancient Egypt.[1] It consists of little more than a long cylinder with a molded, turned or wrapped grip, usually with a slightly thicker or tapering shaft and rounded tip. They are often made of hardwood, but in modern times are available in other materials such as aluminum, acrylic, or dense plastics. They range in size from short clubs less than a foot in length to long 36-inch (91 cm) "riot batons" common used in civil disturbances or by officers mounted on horseback.

Straightsticks tend to be heavier and have more weight concentrated in the striking end than other designs. This makes them less maneuverable, but theoretically would deliver more kinetic energy on impact. Most 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. Despite having been replaced by side-handle and expandable batons in many (if not most) law enforcement agencies, it remains in use by many major departments in the US, such as the Baltimore, Denver, Sacramento, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Riverside Police Departments, and are used by NYPD Auxiliary Police officers, as well as many Military Police forces around the world.


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.[2] Materials other than lead and leather are sometimes used to construct these weapons, but the design of a soft covering over a dense weighted core remain.

This weapon works by generating kinetic energy during a swing via the dense core, yet pads the impact with the covering so as to avoid lacerating the skin and lessening the chance of breaking bones. In this way, the blow is intended to be felt as a "jarring" impact that is painful and/or numbing. When directed at the head, it works by concussing the brain without cutting the scalp. This is meant to stun or knock out the subject.

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 are also easily fatal or can cause permanent damage, and they have since become less common equipment.

A blackjack is sometimes referred to as a sap,[3] which is the name for a weapon of similar design (also called a slapper, slap jack or beavertail sap). A sap has a flat profile as opposed to a cylindrical one, but essentially works the same way.

"Blackjack" is also British English slang referring to an improvised weapon composed of a heavy object placed inside a sock. The same improvised weapon is referred to in American English slang as a "sap" or a "cosh".

Side-handle baton

A pair of tonfa

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 24 inches (61 cm) 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 best-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:

  • One end, and the corner between the shaft and the handle used to catch a long swung blunt or sharp weapon.
  • The side handle, and the long shaft held against the hand and forearm to splint and shield the arm against an expected blow from an attacker.

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:

  • There are a far greater number of defensive techniques/maneuvers that may be used with the side-handle baton in contrast with the straight baton.
  • The side-handle component may aid in weapon retention, making it more difficult for a suspect to take the baton away from the officer in a struggle.
  • The side-handle component prevents the baton from rolling far away if inadvertently dropped, unlike a straight baton.
  • Subjectively, some officers may be able to deliver a strike of greater power with the side-handle baton (when used in conjunction with a "power stroke") over a straight baton.
  • Due to its design, a side handle baton is generally used in a more defensive and less offensive manner than a straight baton, and thus it is less likely for an officer to "instinctively" use a side-handle baton as a simple bludgeon and direct indiscriminate strikes against a suspect. Also, the typically defensive stance the side-handle baton is used with is generally believed to present a more community-friendly image than a straight baton.

Side-handle batons have a few disadvantages:

  • More training is required for an officer to fully utilize the potential of a side-handle baton compared to a straight baton.
  • The side-handle slightly increases overall weight and bulk of the baton compared to a straight baton of identical length.
  • When the side-handle baton is used as a simple bludgeon (without gripping the side-handle), it is less effective than a straight baton.

Side-handle batons have been involved in high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality, such as in New Zealand's 1981 Springbok Tour[4][5] and the Rodney King beating.

Expandable baton

ASP 21" expandable baton in expanded and collapsed state.
Swedish riot police with expandable baton.

An expandable baton (also referred to variously as a collapsible baton, telescopic (or telescoping) baton, tactical baton, spring cosh, asp, Extendable, or extendo (slang)) 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 best-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:

  • The collapsible shaft makes it easier for the officer to carry it and to sit in a car seat wearing it, since when collapsed it is between six and ten inches (15 to 25 cm) long. This is contrasted with non-collapsible batons, which the officer may, as a measure of convenience, often resort to removing from his or her belt when seating themselves in a vehicle.
  • Non-collapsible batons are typically carried in a ring type belt attachment. Fixed batons carried in such holders work themselves out of the holder when the wearing officer sprints. Two answers are to hold the baton down in the ring with a hand, or have the baton in the hand; neither is desirable. The typical collapsible straight baton and its scabbard do not suffer this, and remain secure regardless of the wearing officer's movement.
  • In theory, the mere display of extending the baton may in some instances be psychologically intimidating to an aggressive suspect (due to both the sight and sound of the action, with a similar intimidation technique as used in pump-action shotguns), and may thus deescalate the situation and preclude the necessity of any physical force being used at all.
  • Many police officers believe that it presents a more community-friendly image to the general public than non-collapsible batons, due to the former's lower profile while collapsed; many citizens may not even know what the collapsible baton is for when it is collapsed and residing in the officer's duty belt; a 29-inch (74 cm) wooden straightstick's designed purpose, on the other hand, is clearly more self-evident. In this regard, the collapsible baton may be considered more suitable for community-oriented policing.
  • A collapsible baton may be deployed against a suspect whether expanded or collapsed; expanded, the baton's reach is extended, but collapsed, the baton is handier in close quarters. This provides greater versatility in a wider range of environments over the fixed-length baton.

However, expandable batons are not without some disadvantages:

  • Some police may prefer to carry a fixed baton due to the greater visual deterrence it may provide (which may be a benefit in the form of increasing the officer's command presence). Similarly, a fixed baton serves better as a conspicuous symbol of authority (i.e. "badge of office") than a collapsed expandable baton.
  • Fixed batons may often be less expensive than their collapsible counterparts of identical or similar quality. Because of this, some law enforcement departments, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, may issue a fixed-length baton, but have their officers/deputies purchase expandable batons at the option and expense of the individual officer.
  • Fixed batons may be inherently faster to bring into action, due to their not needing to first be extended before use as an impact weapon (unless one wishes to use a collapsible baton in collapsed form).
  • If an expandable baton is of friction-lock design, as most are, there is an inherent risk that the baton may inadvertently close at an inopportune moment while being used to strike a suspect.
  • In a situation in which stealth is required, a collapsed baton may rattle, giving away the officer's position.

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.

Stun baton

Stun batons are an unusual modern variation designed to administer an electric shock in order to incapacitate the target. They consist of an insulated handle and guard, and a rigid shaft usually a foot or more in length for delivering a shock. Many designs function like an elongated stun gun or a cattle prod, requiring the tip to be held against the target and then manually triggering a shock by a switch in the handle. Some more sophisticated designs carry a charge along the shaft's entire surface, administering a shock on contact. This later design is especially useful in preventing the officer from having his weapon grabbed and taken away by an assailant.

Most batons of this design were not intended to be used as impact weapons and will break if used in this way, though a few were built to withstand occasional lighter impacts. They are rarely in use by patrol officers in modern times due to their price and the other associated problems with electroshock weapons.

Improvised impact weapons

Some non-purpose built items have been used by law enforcement over the centuries as impact weapons. Examples are:


Although the Kel-lite in the 1970s appears to have been the first flashlight designed specifically to be useful as an emergency defensive weapon,[6] the best-known example is the 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 modern 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.[citation needed] 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 hand 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.


Batons are legal for sworn law enforcement and military in most countries around the world. However, the legality of civilian carry for purpose-built batons varies greatly by country, and by local jurisdictions. In the United States, many states such as Arizona allow for legal carry in the absence of unlawful behavior or criminal intent. They are rarely banned specifically by name in law, though some jurisdictions such as California have general prohibitions against the carrying of all "club" weapons by non-law enforcement. Such jurisdictions will sometimes make exceptions for persons employed as security guards or bodyguards, will provide for permits to be obtained for legal carry, or make exceptions for persons who complete an appropriate training course.[7][8]

In the UK, batons are covered generally by the offensive weapons act which makes it illegal to carry items "made or adapted for use in causing harm to a person" however extendable batons such as the Monadnock Autolock series of baton and the ASP are listed specifically in the Home Office list of prohibited weapons along with items such as "flick" knives.

In Canada, there is no specific law that prohibits batons; except for the Kiyoga baton, which is defined as a prohibited weapon under a regulation entitled Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted (also capable of being referred to by its registration number: SOR 98-462). However, it is a crime under section 90 of the Criminal Code of Canada to carry any weapon, including a baton, in a concealed fashion. Also, section 88(1) of the Code specifies that it is a criminal offence to possess a weapon for the purpose of committing an offence, or a purpose that is "dangerous to public peace". Consequently, if a person were to possess a baton and act in a manner that is perceived by the authorities as being overly aggressive, or that provokes others, they could possibly be charged with that offence.

See also


  1. ^ Thorpe, Nick; James, Peter (1995). Ancient inventions. New York City: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-40102-6. 
  2. ^ Farwell, Byron (2001). The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Land Warfare: An Illustrated World View. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 109. ISBN 0393047709. "A weapon with a short shaft and weighted end used as a bludgeon." 
  3. ^ Campbell, Robert K.; Jack Lewis; David Steele (2007). "Chapter 3: From Billy Clubs to Pepperballs". The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons. Gun Digest. p. 42. ISBN 0896894983. "Back in the days when head blows were standard procedure, some officers preferred a sap or blackjack to the wood baton. The sap was a leather-covered flat or round piece of lead with a spring handle, although it could contain lead shot rather than a solid piece of metal." 
  4. ^ Gregory, Angela (6 May 2005). "Meurant's Red Squad baton up for sale". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  5. ^ "Police Baton (Minto Bar) for sale". Trade Me. 2005-05-25. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  6. ^ Jess W. Gundy (2001-08-09). "Flashlights and Liability Reduction for Law Enforcement". The Educator. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  7. ^ "California Penal Code Section 12000-12003". FindLaw. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  8. ^ "California Penal Code Section 12020-12040". FindLaw. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 

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