Side-handled US batons to replace truncheons: Howard supports demands by police

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AMERICAN side-handled batons became the likely replacements for the traditional police truncheon yesterday when Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, gave his support for forces wanting to use them.

The polycarbonate and steel batons can extend to about twice the length of the wooden models.

Three forces are currently testing other models, including long rigid truncheons and telescopic batons. The ultimate decision about which to use rests with each chief constable, although they will take account of the views of the Home Secretary and the police authorities.

The decision in London has yet to be made, but Mr Howard, as police authority for the capital, is in favour of the side-handled variety and has given permission for the Metropolitan Police to use them.

The new models have been criticised for being an offensive, rather than a defensive, weapon. The previous Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, refused to allow testing of the side-handled baton after it was seen used in the video-taped beating of Rodney King, which triggered the Los Angeles riots.

However, Mr Howard now believes the public will accept a change. This follows a survey which found that 70 per cent of the public approved of the side- handled baton.

Last year there were about 18,000 assaults on officers. The side-handled baton is slightly shorter than the traditional truncheon but extends, with a flick, to 2ft. The side handle makes it a useful defensive weapon against knife attacks, and it is stronger than the traditional truncheon.

The baton was tested by 13 forces between March and May. A further month's trial of alternative models is taking place in three forces, including the Met. The results will be considered by the Association of Chief Police Officers next month.

Avon and Somerset Police became the first force to start using replacements in January, choosing the ASP, a straight metal baton which extends from 7in to 21in.

Explaining his decision, Mr Howard said: 'The police trials have proved the expandable side- handled baton is an effective and popular piece of kit. They show that the public do not find the sight of officers carrying these batons unacceptable.

'We ask the police to do a difficult and dangerous job, often putting their own lives at risk to help others. We must give them the protection they need.' Both Acpo and the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said they welcomed Mr Howard's decision. Fred Broughton, chairman of the federation, said that every force should now adopt a replacement truncheon.