Friday, August 7, 2015

The Vanishing Police Baton/Stick Use in the USA.

     Shall I start with a confession? "I have hit people with police nightsticks."

     The police nightstick. It was well used and carried when I started in 1970s. I was trained in the old school L.A.P.D. methods in the military police academy and Texas police academy. It employed striking, blocking, and a lot of grappling. The baton was standard gear. With each subsequent decade, the police stick transformed into the car-antenna-like expandable baton, with a slight trend back to the "straight stick"  in the last few years.

     In between those times, there was a fad of using the long, sturdy, oversized flashlight as some sort of an impact weapon. I did. But I think the invention of these super mini flashlights killed off the big flashlight fad. That could be a subject of a whole other essay. We also see the rise and fall of other impact weapons like the PR-24 with its unnecessary side-handle (if you really know how to use a stick, the handle just gets in the way) and even the "nunchucks." Through it all, the expandable baton won the popularity contest for police carry gear.

     Many a year, I stepped out of a squad car and shoved the long wooden or later super-plastic stick in the ringer on my gun belt. Running was a problem, as that stick flopped around. The old holsters would flop, too! If you want to see this, watch the old 70's and 80's cop shows Adam-12 and even T. J. Hooker and watch them run, trying to keep the stick and holster from flapping wildly. Expandable batons and better holsters stopped this.

     In these last few years, USA Department of Justice Use of Force reports claimed that the baton was used in about 10% of their force report cases. That 10% resulted in about 40%, or at times sometimes way more, of all police lawsuits. (I am rounding these numbers off; for exact annual figures, look them up.) This was a degrading message and a pathway to lawsuits.

     Lawsuits. The very word makes the police world shake, shimmy, and otherwise pee in its polyester pants. The policies began to differ from agency to agency. The real message was:

     "Here's a stick, but don't use it,"  or ...

     "Here's a stick, hit him where it doesn't matter. Like on the thigh."

     Ergo, in the last 20 years, officers with batons in some agencies could not raise the stick and stick arm above their heads, suggestive of an incoming head shot or clavicle break. The mere movement without an actual strike, just the very prep movement alone, meant a violation. The rules got screwy. It was not clear for some officers I know whether they could strike the weapon bearing limb of an armed attacker--a most common-sense application. Some agencies still allow various other body-part targets. I find this freedom of choice raw.

     Did I say screwy? Listen to this. In Wisconsin in the late early 2000s, two deputies went to serve an arrest warrant on a large, husky farmer. The farmer punched and knocked out one officer. When the deputy woke up next to him on the floor, the farmer was atop his partner choking the life out of him. The deputy sat up, pulled his baton, and struck the farmer in the head, knocking HIM out and saving the partner's life. This deputy was fined and suspended for striking someone in the head with a baton. He could have shot and killed the farmer, and that would have been justified. But the rule book said no baton strikes to the head. The deputy, in a way, had also saved the farmer's life by just knocking him out. Yeah. Screwy.

     Dr. Bill Lewinski of Force Science U. just reported this week that "batons are gathering dust."

     ... almost all officers (96 percent) carry a baton the survey found, but a slight majority (51 percent) have never used it as a striking tool. About half reported that they “rarely/very rarely” use the device even for leverage or control, with another 40 percent saying they never do so.

     "It seems as though the baton, once a commonly used police tool, is losing its prominence,” the researchers note. "It is not a ‘go-to’ tool for the majority of officers ... it is possible that the use of batons, even when appropriate, appears to be more aggressive, and officers are concerned about public opinion.”

     One police officer told me, "At my last agency, I discovered boxes of quality sticks. I was told to leave them alone and later ordered to destroy all but a handful. The chief and assistant chief said they were 'civil rights violations waiting to happen.'"

     Part of this disappearance is due to the severe lack of stick training available today and what little there is available--such as PPCT (the "creators" of the mandatory, virtually worthless thigh strikes)--would lead anyone with smarts to avoid using the stick, given the rules and regs.

     After all the "old-school" baton training I'd received, coupled with the Filipino stick work I'd done since 1986, the more modern police impact weapon systems were pretty much a lame, empty joke. (Don't misunderstand me; I don't think that Filipino stick material is great police baton training. It MUST be modified. There is not a lot of "stick dueling" in crime fighting--remember so much Filipino stick material is based on "stick versus stick.")

     The lack of practical training leads to a lack of impulse use and use in general. I have also noticed the popular baton courses of recent years have slowly disappeared. Gone. And this almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. A vicious cycle. No stick work, no courses. No courses, no stick work. We can easily see that in a world of pepper spray and taser options, the stick may be an imposing, wounding choice for any officer to consider.

     There is still an official need for enforcement stick work in certain situations, especially with the riot stick. Riots will continue and sadly will probably increase. Riot stick training includes psychological intimidation, physical manipulation, one-hand grip striking, two-hand grip striking, one- and two-handed grip blocking, shield and stick work, and stick retention. (Don't be like the major police agency I dealt with that first bought long, thick riot sticks requiring two-hand grip manipulation and then the next year bought the riot shields. While holding the shield in one hand, you could not wield the long riot stick with one hand! It was a several-thousand-dollars mistake.)

     And, of course, many police agencies around the world, especially ones that do not carry firearms, carry batons as their main weapons and rely on them much more than in the USA. The socio/political/crime/lawsuit problems of America do not fit their local situations. Some countries don't care about lawsuits. Some care about the same. I do worry about how lame their stick training might be, also.

     Some say that the Rodney King mess in Los Angeles way back when had a lot to do with "killing the nightstick," as the film showed King being beaten with sticks. I started this article with a confession. "I have hit people with nightsticks." But that was mostly early on. As the decades passed, I too became less inclined to use the stick. I think "the nightstick baton" is on a long, slow, official death knell for all these reasons mentioned above.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

War Stories Are How Cops Get Trained

“War stories are how cops get trained,” 

    - says Seth Stoughton, a former patrol officer in Tallahassee, who’s an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. There’s no universal model for police training, with almost 650 police academies around the U.S. and more than 12,000 local departments, according to the Department of Justice. In addition, many agencies provide continuing education offered by their own officers or private companies. One constant is the emphasis on danger. Officers are often told death is a single misstep away," Stoughton says.

* * * * * *
    And this is true to a certain extent. Experiences in EVERY field of endeavor are important. They might not be your personal experiences, but they can be learning tools from the wins and losses of others.

    This is true of the military also. One of the life-changing sentences I heard in Army basic training years ago, was the phrase from my Drill Sergeant.

"This is how they will try to kill you."

He knew. They knew. They were vets. That one single sentence eventually shaped my filter and focus for all martial training for years to come, and why I did what I did, moved around, left and dismissed, and settled into what I do now.

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