THE Home Secretary, Michael Howard, yesterday signalled the death of one of the enduring symbols of the British bobby - the truncheon.
He told officers at the Police Federation's annual conference in Brighton that he planned to announce the adoption of the controversial US-style expandable side- handled baton next month.
Trials of the new baton by eight forces had been successful, he said, and he would support any chief officer who wanted to introduce them.
The decision is a reversal of his predecessor Kenneth Clarke's decision to abandon the trials fearing a public outcry after the Rodney King incident, in which Los Angeles officers were filmed using the batons to beat a man severely.
However, Mr Howard, who has come under intense pressure to adopt the new baton, which is the preferred choice of most police officers, has resisted demands for the issue of pepper sprays.
He refused to rush the decision on sprays which disorientate violent assailants long enough for them to be handcuffed. There were fears the sprays might be carcinogenic and research was under way to discover any potential health risk and minimise it.
The traditional 15.5in (39.4cm) wooden truncheon has been criticised by police for its ineffectiveness in protecting officers under attack. Introduced when Queen Victoria was on the throne, it is made of a South American hardwood and carried discreetly in a trouser pocket.
The US-style baton, made from toughened plastic, is 22in (55.9cm) long when fully extended. Officers who use it says it is more effective. Many report that the mere act of drawing the new baton is often sufficient to deal with an incident. Public reaction has also been favourable. Mr Howard said that he had also approved the use of 22in batons in London this week, and would give approval to other forces if he felt they were needed.
Richard Coyle, chairman of the Police Federation, welcomed the demise of the Victorian truncheon. 'Our members demand, and they deserve, a baton that gives them, at the very least, a chance against the knife- wielder and the violent thug.'
The Police Federation may have its first woman leader in its 65-year history. Inspector Jan Berry, 39, of Kent Police, is standing against Constable Fred Broughton, 46, from the Metropolitan Police, currently the vice-chairman. The federation represents all ranks up to inspector level.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies