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by Peter Moskos

June 25, 2015

I still like the baton

Maybe this is minor in the bigger picture of what people are saying about Michael Wood Jr, but I have to disagree with Wood's dislike of the baton. In a radio interview he said he didn't carry his because he couldn't imagine hitting somebody with it. In the Balko interview he says cops used them to dent doors.

I loved my baton. I still have it. Right by the front door, just in case. The straight baton I'm talking about, not the asp. Wood never had a straight baton (BPD phased them out in 2001). The straight baton can do so much more than the asp. It's defensive. You can wack a leg or arm. You can thrust forward and back. You can hold it in multiple positions (some more benign than others). You can twirl it. (One of my great regrets was trying and failing to master the espantoon.)

The old-fashioned baton gives you a certain gravitas when you walk the beat.

Unlike most cops I carried my stick with me to almost every call. I wanted to avoid being in a situation where I might be on the losing end of a fight and have to kill somebody. And partly because of my willingness to carry it (combined with the general view on the street that cops carried a baton only when they planed on using it) I never actually did have to strike anybody.

But I sure did use it to knock on doors. Did I dent any? I don't know. Not intentionally. But how else are you going to be heard knocking on a door? The door bell hasn't worked in decades. I learned pretty quickly that my knuckles aren't hard enough. There's loud stuff going on. And I don't want to waste everybody's time -- they did, after all, call 911 -- not knowing whether or not you heard me knock the first time. Also, I wanted to make damn sure you knew that police were at your door. When you're a cop you knock like a cop. You take a step to the side, rap a few knocks loud as hell (once), and say "PO-lice." Worked every time.

I wrote more in defense of the straight baton in 2011.


bacchys said...

Why didn't you carry the espatoon? Now that's Baltimore, hon!

Peter Moskos said...

I wanted to! I just bashed my knee one too many times trying to practice. And I didn't want to carry a baton I wasn't comfortable using. (And buying one wasn't cheap.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a police cadet. Maybe asp training will change my view, but I doubt I will use the baton much if I can help it when I'm on the job. Why?

Easy. Anytime you use the baton, it looks terrible on TV. Baton strikes and closed fist strikes both. When that video hits Youtube, people are going to whine that you're beating the guy, no matter how righteous the use of force is. The old Rodney King video is still embedded in the public memory. I'm not the only guy who feels this way - it's been expressed in several public interviews by others at this point.

David Woycechowsky said...

I predict that taser lawsuits will eventually bring the baton back to popularity. Hitting somebody with a baton only looks bad if you hit them in the head or neck. And it doesn't kill the suspect unless you hit in the head or neck. Walk softly and carry a big stick.

campbell said...

I doubt I will use the baton much if I can help it when I'm on the job. Why?

Aside from the tv thing something else that's a PITA with the collapsibles is the inability to quickly holster the damn thing to cuff someone or transition to something else. I'd love to carry a 24 or 26'' Monadnock but like many departments only the collapsibles are authorized for regular patrol. Oh, and keep an eye out for the guy who doesn't know when to put his away. Sometimes when you and a couple other cops are going to swarm someone there's the one cop who decides that's a good time for some asp action and if you're not watching you'll catch a whack or two from a co-worker.

Hitting somebody with a baton only looks bad if you hit them in the head or neck.

I really wish this was true but it's not. People lose their minds at baton and fist strikes, even when justified.

Anonymous said...

My department rounded up the straight sticks and replaced them with ASPs decades ago. I was on vacation when that happened but some administrative slacker failed to double-check the inventory and collect mine. It now sits on the shelf with other relics, like my 4-D-cell flashlight.
I can recall hitting a couple people with it. It got far more use knocking on doors, poking into dark corners, and playing fetch with the K9. I could stick a parabolic mirror on the end with Velcro and use it to look over, around, and under things.

Len Neal said...

I've always, as not-a-cop, appreciated the IMAGE of the baton; not at all the dumb Nunchaka-image of that other thing, which, by the nature of having a 90-degree impediment sticking off it, is easy to hang up on things, looks stupid and aggressive ('It's the Karate Kid!'), and has no... gravitas. And they're all black: good batons should look like what they are: fine, oiled woodwork and half working tool, half scepter.
If that cop decides to soil his fine baton with your head, you did something to deserve it.
It's not called a baton for nothing; and, in my experience in Black communities, a band marshall's baton is more respected than some Asian chop-socky tree branch. The IMAGE is everything.
Oh; and working on the same streets as cops in very, very bad neighborhoods, I could NOT believe the number of rookies I saw stand in front of doors and bang on them. Could not believe it. Right in front of doors. Gives me the shakes thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

People lose their minds at baton and fist strikes, even when justified.

Maybe. If only we had an anti-cop, non-police civilian at this blog that we could consult . . . o, well.

PD Sergeant said...

Hard to take anything a police cadet says seriously. I'm sure you'll look good getting your ass kicked because you don't want to "look terrible on TV" "no matter how righteous the use of force is". Come talk to me when you have some real experience, junior. Or better yet, find another line of work, please. I've been a copper 21 years and have always carried a straight baton. I agree with you, Peter. Unfortunately, We're a dying breed.

Adam said...

I didn't take "I doubt I will use the baton much if I can help it" to mean he'd let somebody kick his ass -- just that he'd avoid using the baton when other tools or tactics would be equally or more effective. He might, for instance, decline to use the baton when faced with mere noncompliance.

Sarge, why jump on Anonymous because he's only a cadet? If you disagree with what he says, then just refute his points with, ya know, logical arguments. Do you really think he's wrong *because* he's a cadet? Are you familiar with the term "ad hominem"?

Peter Moskos said...

Hey, nice link. I don't remember that at all.

As to the Sarge, yeah, he is too harsh. Classic police management technique, unfortunately. Doesn't go over too well with the kids these days. But I do see the exactly moment when Sarge got pissed off: when police officers are more worried about how something "looks on TV" than their own personal safety and the safety of others.

You can not be a pacifist cop. I don't mean cops should be over-aggressive brutalizers out to beat people up. But the job does *require* use of force. And at some point you *will* get in a fight. And when that happens, you *will* win, youtube be damned. (Of course that's why you need the support of your department when do the right thing, even if the peanut gallery on youtube doesn't like it.)

PD Sergeant said...

Adam - "I doubt I will use the baton much if I can help it" is a bad mindset for a cop. It's a mindset for disaster. Cops get hurt because they use a lot less force than the situation calls for. If the force continuum calls for the baton you use it and how you look on YouTube shouldn't even enter into the equation. The cadet already has a mindset that is going to get him and/or his partner hurt. Am I to critical? Maybe, but I've seen too many young cops (and even some veterans who should know better) get hurt because of inappropriate use of force. I don't think he's wrong "*because* he's a cadet" - I think he's wrong because he has a mindset that will potentially get him hurt because he is limiting his use of force options. If he pursues police work as a career, hopefully training will correct this before he gets hurt.

campbell said...

hopefully training will correct this before he gets hurt.

Experience will do it. We've all been there and had a fight/resisting go longer than it should have because someone hesitated.