A report by the independent Police Complaints Authority also expresses concern that British officers are being taught to strike people on their kneecaps and shins, despite those spots being particularly vulnerable to fractures.
The organisation warns that the use of these tactics may be responsible for a rise in the number of complaints about batons. A study - Striking the Balance - into the use of new types of police baton follows a 10 per cent increase in the number of complaints - up to 454 - in the past year. In its report, published today, the PCA calls for greater use of refresher training for officers, which appeared to be very effective in reducing complaints.
Batons began to replace 11-inch wooden truncheons - first issued to police in the last century - about five years ago.
The PCA found that most complaints were associated with side-handled batons - the longest and heaviest of the types in use, and deployed in 23 forces across England and Wales. These attracted an average of 3.3 complaints per 1,000 officers using them.
It also raised particular concern about the Asp baton - an expandable wand with a metal tip, used by 12 forces, which was introduced from the US with hardly any changes to the training manual.
One consequence of this wasthat officers were trained to stand ready to strike with the baton resting on the shoulder, which put the suspect at risk of being hit, unintentionally, on the head or another dangerous area. The Asp attracted 2.38 complaints per 1,000 officers.Peter Moorhouse, chairman of the PCA, said: "Police forces should amend their American batons training manuals to take account of the less aggressive style of policing in this country and provide refresher training for all officers."
The equipment receiving fewest complaints was used by only a handful of forces: the Casco type, used by five forces, which attracted 1.9 complaints per thousand officers; and the fixed-length Arnold, used by four forces, including the Metropolitan Police, with 1.78 complaints.
The report also urged police to rethink the areas of the body which were considered target areas. It expressed particular concern that the shin, which could be fractured, was a primary target area and the kneejoint, which could be dislocated or fractured by a baton blow, was a secondary target area.
The new batons have been introduced along with rigid handcuffs, CS spray and body armour, to give officers greater protection. There were 15,488assaults on officers in 1996-97.
The cases dealt with by the PCA include a police sergeant, found guilty in October of assaulting a man with an Asp baton. The officer, who had been called to a domestic incident, struck the man on the shoulder. The sergeant was convicted of assault and forced to resign. He plans to appeal.
In March, an 18-year-old man claimed he was struck on the head with an extendable side-handled baton as he walked away from a football ground. The officer faces a disciplinary hearing next month.