Over the past 20 years, baton use by law enforcement officers has taken a back seat to other less-lethal tools, such as the use of deterrent sprays and electronic control devices.
This decline in baton popularity is the result of the assumption that these other low and intermediate use-of-force options would generate less controversy and subsequently, less litigation than baton use did. This is no longer the case, despite the fact that the Rodney King incident and other similar use-of-force scenarios captured on video continue to haunt the law enforcement community. Of course, the ever-expanding use of inexpensive and easy-to-carry video cameras (including today’s cell phones and dashboard cameras) only perpetuates the stigma and negative perception of batons as being used tools for punishment, rather than self defense or subject control in the minds of the general population.
While there have been significant advancements in baton technology, baton training has remained primarily the same, even with the lighter and more versatile expandable batons widely available today.
Unfortunately, even with lighter batons, most baton training is still based on the belief that officers will instinctively use their baton in a club-like manner, and therefore the misconception continues that baton training should be based on club-like swings, with the only difference being that the lighter batons are swung more often in a shorter period of time.
More martial arts-oriented instructors lean heavily on kali or escrima type swings that were effective for martial artists who lived hundreds of years ago, and who were certainly not subject to the use-of-force restrictions placed on modern day officers.
Rather than reduce the “image” of brutality, these types of martial arts unfortunately magnify that image, especially when excessively replayed on TV and the Internet. Imagine the Rodney King images with the amount of baton swings being multiplied by three times in those same seconds of edited video.
Most images we see of “perceived” brutality are actually the result of officers trying to make an ineffective technique work by simply repeating the technique over and over again. It is easy to imagine how this can be unfairly perceived as being acts of brutality by the untrained eye or those with a bias toward police.
In answer to this dilemma, a well-researched, litigation-resistant baton training system referred to as the High Efficiency, Low Profile (H.E.L.P.) Expandable Baton System has been developed.
The H.E.L.P. system is based on the concept that defensive-looking strikes can be more effective than offensive-looking strikes if the impact generated is based more on velocity than a combination of mass and leverage. At the same time, strikes that are defensive in both appearance and in fact minimize the perception that the officer is aiming to punish the offender.
Mass is most commonly related to the weight of the baton, the strength and size of the officer, plus the rotation of the shoulders and hips. Leverage is often dependent on the stance and stability of the officer swinging the baton. Velocity, or more specifically escape velocity, can be generated and enhanced through a process called springloading.
Springloading is a concept that was developed in Greece and China in the 4th century with a catapult-type weapon called a traction trebuchet. The principle is still employed today with crossbows, slingshots and even in drag racing when the driver holds down the brake pedal as the accelerator is pressed while waiting for the starting light. By holding back energy before it is released, the escape velocity increases dramatically, and impact is thereby increased at shorter distances.
Compare a train to a dragster: although a train will eventually reach a much higher velocity than a dragster, it would never win in a quarter-mile race.
A baton can be springloaded by simply tucking it under the arm or by holding it back with the free hand, forearm or behind the leg and putting slight forward pressure on the baton before releasing it to block or strike. This concept naturally works much better with lighter batons, such as an expandablebaton, than it would with a heavier baton such as Cocobolo.
The advantage of springloading is that the baton achieves a higher degree of impact in a shorter distance and can be launched in any direction without any wind up or telegraphing motions preceding the actual block, redirection or strike. Also, because springloading is not dependent on a wide stance or hip and shoulder rotation, the officer can theoretically block, kick and use his or her baton in a single motion and in opposite directions, with sudden and unexpected impact at shorter distances (see Figure 1, Page 32).
Stance, in addition to hip and shoulder rotation, are not major factors in springloading, so an expandable baton can also be effectively employed in ground fighting situations against one or more opponents along with the free hand, legs and other natural weapons (see Figures 2 and 3, Pages 32 and 36). This ability will encourage officers to have their expandable in their hand, rather than discarding it when they fall to ground, in favor of employing empty-handed techniques or taking the time to draw their firearm when deadly force may not be appropriate, i.e., due to insufficient information or sensitive environments such as schoolyards, hospitals, etc.
Having the baton accessible makes the officer less susceptible to being disarmed during the upholstering transition. It is because of this increased diversity created through the process of springloading that the developers of the H.E.L.P. system have also added effective grappling tactics into the system (see Figures 4 through 7, Pages 36 to 38).
As with most new systems, especially those that stray from traditional tactics, this baton and less-lethal tactic will likely go through a period of skepticism and controversy within the training community. I believe that with time and the development of high-quality, well-trained master instructors throughout the United States and Canada (where expandable batons are widely in use) law enforcement trainers and administrators will see the advantage of having a non product-specific, highly effective, yet litigation-resistant expandable baton system.
Once the paradigm shift is complete, the H.E.L.P. System will allow officers, administrators and the general public to see batons in a new light. It’s time for the expandable baton to climb out of the backseat and into the front where it belongs.