Questions raised over quality of training

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The Independent Online
Brian Douglas was the first person to die after being struck with one of the police's new long batons, raising questions about the safety of the equipment, writes Jason Bennetto.

Since it became available nationally from May 1994, forces have gradually adopted the acrylic 22in, 24in and 26in batons and 21in extendible batons, seeing them as more effective weapons than the old, short, wooden truncheons.

However, there is concern about the quality of training that officers receive in the use of these tools.

The Police Complaints Authority noted in its annual report last month that forces had opted for a variety of types of baton and that training varied from one force to another.

It observed that were no standard instructions covering circumstances in which batons might be used, the way in which they were employed, or the way their use was reported.

Yesterday, the PCA reported they were having to deal with a growing number of disciplinary cases arising from complaints about the use of batons and warned that officers should draw them only as a last resort.

The annual report said: "The drawing of a long baton to deter a possible threat of violence could be misunderstood by a member of the public who might well see it was a potentially aggressive act.

"The design of some of the new batons also means that they can inflict more serious injuries."

The Metropolitan Police has the greatest number of long batons in any single force; about 20,000 officers are armed with them. An additional 7,000 have the 21in extendible batons. They were introduced in response to fears about the rise in attacks against police officers and pressure on the Government to provide greater protection.

In the past two years, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has allowed the use of new batons and stab- and bullet-proof vests, while the use of CS is being tried out.

Superintendent John Rees, a Metropolitan officer, yesterday defended the use of the new batons.

He said: "I think you should remember why the batons were brought into the police service.

"Between 1990 and 1995 seven police officers were killed. In the period between 1994 and 1995, 3,700 police officers were injured.

"Since the introduction of the officer safety training package, of which the long batons are an aspect, that number of injuries has been reduced to around about 3,100. That is the equivalent of a 16-per-cent reduction in injuries to police officers."

However, the controversy is expected to continue as the number of complaints mounts.