Batons

Until the early 1990s, UK police officers were equipped with a short wooden truncheon approx 40 cm long and weighing just under 300 g. There was little formal training with these, but actual use was not that common, either because they were not terribly effective or the situations faced at that time could be dealt with differently. In 1993, trials of both side-handled and numerous straight batons were introduced, because there was a rise in the number of officers injured on duty and the adequacy of their equipment was called into question.

Within the United Kingdom, there are the following three types of batons:

1. The Monadnock PR24 side-handled baton can be either a rigid one-piece baton or extendable from a shorter form for easier transport. Weighing approx 600 g with a shaft of polycarbonate plastic or aluminium, it has a fixed grip at right angles to the shaft toward one end. It is approx 60 cm long. The addition of the handle to the shaft makes it versatile, with more than 30 blocking and striking techniques available to the officer. Correct use in stressful and challenging situations requires extensive and ongoing training. In some restraint situations, a baton strike from the PR24 type is ineffective at producing the desired effect because not enough energy can be imparted from the strike.

2. The straight friction lock baton (e.g., the Asp) weighs less at 560 g and extends from 13 to 39 cm when racked (extended) with a flick of the wrist. It is carried unobtrusively on the belt and does not impede the general movement of the officer. It is made of hollow gun metal, with a small metal knob at the far end. This gives more weight distally, but it is prone to becoming flattened and rough over time because the baton is closed by striking this end against the ground. This change in shape may increase the chance of injury in a forceful strike.

3. The acrylic patrol baton has a solid or hollow nylon shaft with a ring of rubber separating the shaft and handle. It has fixed lengths of 56, 61, and 66 cm. It is broader than the friction lock type and, therefore, less likely to cause injury because the imparted energy is spread over a larger area. This is even though its weight is slightly less at 500-580 g. The heavier weights of these types of batons are used in public order disturbances.

In the United States, a 26-in hickory (wooden) straight baton is used (similar to group 3 in the previous list). The situation throughout the Australian states is variable, with intrastate differences relating to specific police staff; for example, plain clothes staff may use an Asp-type baton, whereas uniformed officers are equipped with straight or side-handled batons.

Batons are used in offensive and defensive strikes, blocks, or jabs. Strikes are made from an officer's strong (dominant) or weak (nondominant) side, and clearly the potential for injury varies with the baton mass and velocity at impact, the target area, and to how much of the surface area the force is applied. Although no body area is absolutely forbidden to strike, an officer must use a proportionate response to the situation he or she faces knowing the potential to injure. Although target areas are divided into low-, medium-, and high-risk areas, maintaining a distinction between them can be difficult because strikes are made in dynamic situations where an initial target area may change as the potential detainee moves.

Target areas with a low injury potential are the areas of the common peroneal, femoral, and tibial nerves on the legs and those of the radial and median nerves on the arms. There is a low probability of permanent injury, with the main effects being seen as short-lived motor nerve dysfunction, as in a "dead leg" and bruising. The medium injury potential areas involve bones and joints, including the knees and ankles, wrist, elbow, hands, upper arms, and clavicle. In these cases fractures, dislocations, and more extensive soft tissue injuries would be expected. Finally, those areas with the highest risk of injury include the head, neck and throat, spine, kidneys, and solar plexus.

The most common injury is bruising, and this is often in the pattern of so-called "tramline bruising," where two parallel lines of bruising are separated by a paler area. This is not unique to a baton injury but reflects an injury caused by any cylindrical hard object. The absence of bruising or other find ings does not mean that a baton was not used because, for example, a degree of cushioning can occur from clothing. If the baton end is used to jab, then circular bruises may be seen. It is possible for a detainee to have signs but minimal symptoms or even be unaware of being struck. However, a move toward the friction lock batons makes this less likely.

An impact over a bony surface may produce a laceration. Abrasions are possible from the surface of a damaged baton. Fractures need to be considered where there are the traditional clinical signs of local pain, swelling, and loss of function. X-ray confirmation is needed as soon as possible.

Considering the forces that can be applied when necessary, there is the potential for significant injury with bruising and rupture of internal organs, including the heart, liver, spleen, or kidneys or a head injury. The forensic physician should refer suspected cases for hospital review without delay, especially if a confirmatory history for events is unavailable. Particular care is needed in those who are intoxicated because they are difficult to assess.

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