Bat Belt Syndrome

There is no guarantee that a less-lethal tool will be effective.

"This is the law:
There is no possible victory in defense,
The sword is more important than the shield,
And skill is more important than either,
The final weapon is the brain.
All else is supplemental."
-John Steinbeck

What do your TASER, pepper spray, and baton have in common? Sure, they're all "less-lethal" tools designed to enhance officer and public safety. But, they have something else in common that many officers tend to forget. They are useless in situations where the suspect is too close for you to employ them. In a physical altercation, distance equals time. Without sufficient distance, you won't have time to access any of the gadgets on your "bat belt."

Assuming you were able to draw the appropriate less-lethal tool from your duty belt and deploy it, there is no guarantee that it will effectively neutralize the suspect. Let's examine some of problems associated with three of the most common less-lethal tools.


The TASER, perhaps more than any other less-lethal tool, tends to breed a false sense of security in officers. This can be attributed to the fact that it requires very little skill to operate and it allows even the smallest officer to take down King Kong-sized suspects. Another benefit is that it enables you to be up to 35 feet from the suspect, depending on the type of cartridge you are using.

However, the mere fact that you point your TASER at the suspect and pull the trigger does not necessarily mean that he will stiffen up and fall over like you've seen on COPS. In the real world, the TASER could be ineffective due to a number of factors including the following:

  • Battery problem
  • Mechanical problem
  • One or both darts miss the target
  • One or both darts fail to penetrate clothing

TASER International acknowledges the fact that their product is not infallible. In fact, the following quote can be found on TASER International's web site:

"No weapons system, tool, or technique is effective 100% of the time. Consider acceptable options, alternatives, and back up plans in case of ineffective deployment when deploying, activating, or otherwise using a non-lethal weapon, including TASER devices."

Pepper Spray

Ah, nothing beats a face full of your partner's pepper spray when you're trying to take a combative suspect into custody. When used properly, pepper spray is a viable less-lethal tool that has a high probability of success. Those of us that have been exposed to a good dose don't soon forget the experience. However, pepper spray may be ineffective due to any of the following circumstances:

  • Stream, fog, or foam misses target due to operator error
  • Suspect shields face
  • Suspect's glasses minimize effect
  • Suspect is immune to effects
  • Cross contamination issues


If I were a bad guy I would definitely choose the TASER or pepper spray over being struck with a baton. The effect of a well-delivered baton strike will last long after the TASER deployment or pepper spray exposure. At the very least, a baton strike is likely to result in significant bruising. There's also a strong possibility that a bone will be broken in the process.

You're probably thinking there's not much that can go wrong when delivering a baton strike. After all, most batons are made of nothing more than a 26-29-inch piece of hardwood and a rubber grommet. Or, in the case of the side-handled baton, a metal or hard plastic shaft with a perpendicular handle.

Keep in mind, the baton requires a much higher level of skill to use than a TASER or pepper spray. You also have to be much closer to the suspect to strike him, which could place you in a vulnerable position if the baton misses its target. Let's see what else can go wrong:

  • Baton misses target due to operator error
  • Suspect moves inside the arc of the baton
  • Baton hits but is ineffective
  • Mechanical problems (with expandable or collapsible models)


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