Police get rid of an old weapon Baton training aims to supplant use of traditional nightstick

August 11, 1996|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,SUN STAFF

Bidding farewell to the fabled espantoon, Baltimore police are wielding a new nightstick on city streets and practicing new ways of confronting unruly citizens.

The California-based Koga Institute is teaching officers procedures for searching, subduing and arresting people. They are based on martial arts, and the police chief hopes these techniques win minimize injuries to officers and citizens.

Officers also are learning several maneuvers with the new stick -- balled a baton -- which is replacing the espantoon, a nightstick used since the turn of the century.

Although officers seem to like the training, the program got off to a rocky start. Some police commanders have been reluctant to change, and instructors privately have complained that some district sergeants and lieutenants have tried to steer officers away from becoming Koga trainers.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, over the institute's objections, decided to limit how officers use one baton maneuver -- a two-handed jab to the chest -- because he is concerned someone could be killed.

Robert K. Koga, a former Los Angeles police officer, founded the institute in 1973. The self-defense techniques he teaches are based on Aikido, a combination of Greco-Roman wrestling and jujitsu.

While the baton may be the most noticeable addition to the police force, officers are learning a wide range of Koga defense techniques.

"The Koga Method is a , complete system, capable of providing an officer with an the tools needed to not only safely control a suspect, but control the officer as well," company brochures say.

Frazier concluded more training was needed soon after he arrived in Baltimore in 1994 and spent several nights on the street, watching his officers make arrests. "What I saw frightened me," he said. Standard techniques were lacking, he said, putting suspects and officers in danger.

Then there was the famed espantoon. Frazier thought the time-honored tradition of twirling the stick was intimidating to citizens, and he worried about injuries of people hit by the stick.

"There was never any formal espantoon training," said Lt. Gerard G. DeManss, a 25-year veteran who heads the Koga training program in the department. "The department gave you something and didn't tell you how to use it."

So far, 500 officers have been trained in the new techniques and given the new baton, which is 29 inches long and has no handle. The espantoon is shorter and thicker and has a grooved handle and strap.

Instructors estimate it will take up to five years for all 3,100 department members to complete the program, which has cost the city $118,000 in the past two years.

Emphasis on technique

This month, about two dozen police officers completed their last day of Koga training on the fifth floor of the old Signet Bank building on Guilford Avenue. Lining up on blue wrestling mats, they practiced how to arrest and search suspects, including having them lie face down on the ground to be handcuffed -- a departure from making suspects line up against a wall. The idea is to keep the suspect off balance, giving the officer leverage in case the prisoner tries to escape.

The instructors emphasized the importance of technique.

For example, when searching a suspect for a weapon, seven areas are checked, starting with the waistband, the most common hiding place. "If you start jumping around, you will miss something," Sgt. Ronald Fleming told the group. "You will miss the gun."

The officers also went through a series of baton maneuvers, and instructors stressed that the blows are defensive. "It is not used as an offensive tool," DeManss said.

Baltimore police do not teach two Koga maneuvers-a controversial choke hold that cuts off the blood supply to the brain and a practice of having officers approach suspects with guns in hand.

DeManss teaches the controversial two-handed jab to the chest, but tells officers to use it only when they can justify deadly force. In other words, the jab is in the same category as the firearm.

Koga argues that the jab can safely be used more liberally because it is not a deadly maneuver.

But DeManss says "controlling force" manual is inconsistent with how is should be used.

While it recommends against striking near the heart, diagrams clearly show officers striking a suspect's midsection. Making a distinction during a fight is next to impossible, DeManss said.

The FBI "Defense Tactics Manual" lists "unacceptable target areas" for a baton, including any area near an internal organ, such as the cardiopulmonary and digestive systems.

DeManss said Koga may be able to defend the jab in court, but he doesn't want to take the chance. "I can't find a doctor to sign off on this. It is taught [in Baltimore] as deadly force. Bob's totally against it. He said we just ruined the whole [program]."

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