The baton is one of the most common less lethal self-defense tools. Law enforcement officers, correctional facilities staff, and some military personnel use batons to protect themselves from potentially dangerous situations, but batons are also becoming more common for civilian use. Batons can be made of wood, plastic, or metal and are used to strike, jab, or block an attacker.
One of the oldest and simplest self defense weapons, batons have been used since ancient Egyptian times. In Victorian-era England, policemen commonly used straightstick batons for self-defense purposes. Known as “billy clubs,” London police used these weapons to defend themselves against potentially harmful criminals. The typical Victorian “billy club” was a straight wooden baton ranging from 18” to 36” in length and about 1.25” in diameter. The “billy club” also contained a fluted handle to enhance the policeman’s grip. In London, the “billy club” contained the Royal Crest and doubled as a way of identifying an official policeman.
Until the 1970s, it was common for British policemen to “brain” criminals by striking their heads with a baton. Although “braining” proved effective in stunning a suspect or causing him to lose consciousness, this method proved potentially fatal and unethical. Civil lawsuits and complaints of brutality sparked changes in law enforcement policies during the 1970s that banned the use of a baton on the head, chest, back or groin unless the situation deemed these actions unavoidable.
In the United States, policemen have used batons for decades in situations where using a firearm is not possible or unjustified and the suspect is potentially dangerous. Batons are advantageous to police officers if they are smaller or weaker than the suspect or outnumbered by a group of suspects.
Collapsible batons have generally replaced the wooden straightstick batons among police officers around the world, as they are easier to carry and less intimidating to civilians. In Great Britain, policemen carry collapsible batons but wooden straightstick is still used for ceremonial purposes. In the United States, most policemen carry collapsible batons, but straightstick batons are still used in Baltimore, Denver, and several cities in California.