The 131 2 in baton, which extends to 24in and is seen as a more appropriate 'defensive weapon' than the existing truncheon, is now going on trial. A nation-wide poll by ConsumerVIEWS of more than 3,000 people found that 79 per cent favoured its use.
Tony Judge, director of the Police Federation, said: 'We were always of the opinion that there was very little public resistance to the introduction of the baton and this independent report backs up that feeling. People should be aware that the baton currently in use by the police is old, and if used incorrectly can be harmful. The new side-handled baton is purely designed as a restraint weapon.'
The poll also found a surprisingly high number of people prepared to accept a requirement to carry an identity card with a photograph and other personal details, such as a criminal record, coded on it like a credit card. Sixty-five per cent of those polled said they were in favour.
In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that the British police could carry arms as a matter of routine within 10 years because of the rise in terrorism and crimes involving guns.
More specialist units and officers would need to carry guns because of the creeping pressures of crime. He said: 'There will be more and more specialist units and more and more officers on the streets who will have to be armed . . . I do not seek it, but . . . it could happen within 10 to 20 years. I do not believe it is inevitable - but it is probable.'
The opinion poll also shows that the public are in favour of other, more direct options to be used against attackers. Seventy-two per cent said that individuals should be allowed to carry dye sprays for use against possible attackers.
About 96 per cent of those polled wanted harsher penalties for juveniles who stole cars. Persistent offenders should be punished by compensating their victims (37 per cent); longer prison sentences (23 per cent); useful community work (21 per cent); and heavy fines and confiscation of goods (18 per cent).
Asked if they still had faith in the justice system, 78 per cent said they had 'some faith', 10 per cent had 'complete faith' and 12 per cent had 'no faith'. More than one-third, 36 per cent, were confident they would be treated fairly if stopped by police.
About 28 per cent would be 'concerned at what might be going to happen', 18 per cent would 'co-operate fully and trust in British justice' and 13 per cent would 'only co-operate reluctantly and cautiously'.
Most people, 59 per cent, wanted the police to meet limited resources by reducing their responsibilities for car checks and football matches, which could be contracted out to private companies. Twenty-seven per cent wanted the police to maintain responsibilities in all areas, but concentrate on violent crimes. Fourteen per cent wanted the police to cover all areas equally.