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Nightsticks on the job

Discussion in 'Cop Talk' started by Snowman92D, Dec 24, 2011.

  1. Snowman92D


    Oct 6, 2001
    After reading Trigger Finger's thread on the use of the revolver for police work, I wanted to ask the readership here for their experiences with impact tools over the years, specifically nightsticks.

    When I started out, the older officers often had a short, hard-rubber club they carried in the sap pocket on the leg seam of their uniform trousers. They referred to it as a "day billy", harkening back to a time when the day shift on a police department was a fairly quiet affair. When the sun went down and the crazies came out, however, they parked the day billy and picked up a "night stick". Most of us also carried a slap-jack, or "convoy" blackjack tucked in a pocket in case we were inadvertently caught somewhere without a stick. Like in a diner during a meal break, or at turn-key downtown. You were expected to always use an impact tool. If you hurt your hand from punching someone, and had to go off on injured status, you were forcing someone else to leave their job to cover your beat. Getting injured legitimately was expected, but getting hurt foolishly was considered to be bad form.

    Being an avid law enforcement history buff, I learned over my 38 year career that there often is a lot of tradition, and a lot of really fun stories, attached to the various styles and configurations of nightsticks and billies used by the different agencies across this country. I've managed to collect quite a number of 'signature' sticks from various LE departments while I was on the job. It's hard for me now to pick one of them up, and heft it in my hand, and not recall the first time I stepped out of a cruiser at a disturbance call, my new gunbelt creaking stiffly, and remember the first time anyone ever came up to me and said, "There,'s that blue house with the chain link fence". In time, I got to visit LE agencies in other parts of the country and was always fascinated by their impact weapons, and the local history attached to them.

    Sometimes it involved the type of nightstick issued at an agency. Like the espantoon used by the coppers at Baltimore PD. If you aren't aware of it, the espantoon outwardly looks like a standard old-style nightstick. However, it was modified slightly in shape and the design of its leather thong and held in the opposite way a normal nightstick was held. That is, you conked miscreants with what most of us would identify as the knurled "handle" end of the stick, not the "barrel" end. I've heard a couple of different stories as to why the espantoon is employed that way, and how it came by its name. I'm not sure anyone knows for sure, but it's a neat story.

    Contrast that with the lance-like 26-inch "koga" style nightsticks that gained favor on the west coast in the 1970's, supplanting the older style nightsticks with the leather thong that beat cops had used for years. The trim, unadorned "koga" stick represented a formalized system of close quarters hand-to-hand control over out-of-control trouble makers. The first real martial arts based system of stick use that I recall being taught to street cops in this country. Most of us had only been taught a few choke holds and come-alongs at the academy, along with hours of striking and short-sticking the heavy bag at the gym. Give a determined road-dog copper a dynawood koga-style nightstick, and a modicum of training, and you couldn't find anyone in the county who could whip him in a fight.

    At a lot of police departments, either the agency issued a cheap POS nightstick, or it required each officer to procure his own "knocker". If you poke around in the history of those departments, you'll generally come upon the name of one or two officers who, as a side-line back in the day, turned out high quality nightsticks and made a few bucks selling them to everyone. The makers didn't charge much for a nightstick because their brother officers couldn't afford much on the skinny salaries they made. These were sticks that had an identifiable style of manufacture that soon became the signature tool of that agency, often nearly as identifiable as the agency's badge or shoulder emblem. The stick makers' names are all but lost in the mists of time now. Names like Tony Barsotti at San Francisco PD, Ernie Porter at Cincinnati PD, or Joe Hlafka at Baltimore. You can spot those sticks by their contours just as sure as if the maker's mark had been burned into the wood.

    Frankly, I've always thought the real advantage to working in uniform was that you could nonchalantly carry a real club when you were in public and on a job, and no one gave you a second glance. The old cops told me to "take his wind, or take his wheels" when fighting a high-end resister, and I quickly learned the effectiveness of a short-stick jab to the solar plexus, a full-power smash to the short ribs, or well centered strike at the back of the thigh or calf muscle. The idea was to debilitate and wear down a resister, bring him back under control and get him cuffed up. "Don't cripple him, if you don't have to", one old timer told me, "Just take the starch out of him and bring him in". Damned if it didn't work as well, or better, than anything invented since.

    That's what the nightstick represented then. Carried idly in your hand, twirled at the end of a leather thong, or dangling from a gunbelt, it was the visible symbol of the restrained presence that characterizes the American police officer. I know that when I started out some of the old sergeants actually discouraged anyone from wearing a baton ring on your gunbelt. They believed that stick should always be in your hand, or tucked under your arm as you scribbled in your notebook. I rebelled, being a practical sort, and started wearing a baton ring as soon as I got off probation in the spring of 1972. Then, as now, there was a lot of anarchist sentiment in the country and assaults on LEO's were high. Having my stick in a ring on my belt cut down on the chances of some chud getting it and getting himself shot for his efforts.

    You remember what a chud is, right? A "citizen having urban difficulties"?

    In time I tried using nightsticks made of polycarbonate plastics, even briefly tried one made out of aluminum. The only one that felt good in my hands was an 18-inch-long "billy" made by Monadnock that I bought about 30 years ago. It had a slightly oversized grip which fit nicely in my oversized hands and was marketed as the "Tuff Boy" model. It sure lived up to its name. It didn't warp out of shape if you left it locked in the car during the summer, was fast-handling and darn near stout enough to hammer fence posts into the ground. But, being a short "billy", it was never as versatile as the 24 or 26-inch hardwood nightsticks were.

    Anyway, I collect sticks and stories. If you have one, I'd sure like to hear about it. Any "El Kabong" stories will not be reported...however they will be graded. :whistling:
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2012
  2. DustyJacket

    DustyJacket Directiv 10-289

    Oct 16, 2008
    Missouri, East of KC
    My first department gave up nightsticks because people left them in their cars.

    The went to the small Yawara stick - the original one not the Kel-lite/Safariland version.
    By the mid-70s we used flashlights.

    At my last department we used issues straight sticks, then later were allowed to purchase a PR-24 and carry them after you got certified.

    I got out of the business before Tasers became common, yet rarely had anyone resist a lot after a shot to the ribs.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011

  3. When I first came on the job in 1989, the only sticks we had were the PR-24's. A few years ago they authorized the ASP. Well, my experiences with the PR caused me to decline training and issue with the ASP. The PR-24 is an AWESOME weapon. Period. When I worked in the rural parts of the state I took it on every call with me. The other guys had left them in the cars. Not me. Mine has served me well. I worked a football game at the Meadowlands a few years ago, and another trooper had mistakenly picked up my stick off my brief case because he thought it was his own. I jumped through hoops to get my tried and true stick back. There is sentimental value to it, and it will stay with me when I retire.

    Quick story to bore you with...

    When I was a semi-young and feisty road trooper and working in a rural area, we got called to a domestic up in some craphole part of the county. I had been working mostly on the highway for eight years prior and didn't know the area as well as some of the other guys, so it took me a minute more to find the place. There was a detective already on scene. The problem was the elder son was juiced up on some type of narcotic and was beating up his father. When I got there, the detective had the son under arrest, and said he had to go outside and catch a breather. I said no problem. Now, the son was covered in bodily fluids, and I didn't want to touch him so I told one of the junior troopers to go out to the car and get some rubber gloves. The son was quiet (for the moment), so I took advantage of the situation.

    Once the other trooper went outside, the son started to act up again, and went after his father and the women in the house with his feet. I pushed him back with my PR-24 (didn't want to touch him without gloves) and he came at me. I still remember the crazed look in his eye, and he was frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog. I gave him a thrust with the long end of my PR-24, and his chest caved in around it and catapulted him back. He came at me again and I gave him another thrust. He wouldn't stop trying to kick every one including me. Somehow (I don't remember) I got him on the ground. He was still trying to kick me, so I went to town on his knee with my PR-24.

    Now the father (remember the victim), sees me blasting his son's knee and comes over and gives me a shot with his body, knocking me off balance. I turned to him, wound up with my PR-24 ready to deal him some NJ justice, when I saw the look in his eyes, which said, "Oh ****, I just royally screwed up." I knew then he was done and didn't strike him. I told him to turn around and placed him under arrest. The other troops were still outside, and I shouted in my portable (I guess I was still pissed) to get me some help in there.

    We brought the son out to my troop car and put him in the back. He kicked out the back window of my troop car so he got maced. That calmed him down long enough for us to get him secured and back to the station. Detectives had told me the next day the PR-24 had done a number on his knee.

    I won't ever forget when the Major came out and told the father he was being charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, in addition to his son. The Major said to him, "NOBODY touches my troopers."

    The PR-24? Awesome weapon. It has gotten me out of thick situations on more than one occasion. I think I'll stick with it, no pun intended.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011
  4. s&w357


    Jun 18, 2005
    Snowman I would love to hear some more about your baton/night stick collecting and stories. I somehow keep obtaining new sticks.

    I've got only 5 years on now,but when I went through my academy they still only trained on a "straight baton" or night stick. You had to get ASP certified after you were on the road.

    I originally caried a Poly Monadnock that my dad got through a trade at some point. I switched to a Baltimore PD styled "espantoon" in cocobolo made by Jerry at I can't speak highly enough of his work.

    I don't know that I need another one, but the Northend Woodcrafters baton looks really interesting.

    I took the training on ASP back in May and have not carried it once. After going through formal training with one, I just am not convinced enough to retire my straight stick and if nothing else, it definatley is an attention getter real quick. Even if I don't use it, when I get out on foot in projects or crime areas, they all know who the officer is "wit da big stick"
  5. k9medic


    Sep 16, 2000
    at an LZ near you
    We were trained via PPCT and learned to use a bunch of different tools. I briefly carried a pr24 that was expandable and then an asp for about 6 years. Never used either one other than in presentation. Most people knew what was coming next.

    I keep getting challenged with the taser for some reason. Perhaps they don't think it will hurt like a knock to the common peronial will.

    Outdoor Hub mobile, the outdoor information engine
  6. DaBigBR

    DaBigBR No Infidels!

    Oct 28, 2005
    Circling the wagons.
    That's a good write-up, Snowman. I'd like to see it padded out a little bit and ran on Policeone or
  7. smokeross

    smokeross GTDS Member #49

    May 15, 2011
    I have my Great Grandpa's night stick he made himself. He was a sheriff in Kansas. It has death heads and stuff carved into it.
    Also have my son's that he used in Somalia. It is cracked from end to end from knocking a Somalian over the head. He wasn't the only one to get whacked. Best not to mess with them boys from Alaska.
  8. unit 900

    unit 900

    Sep 3, 2000
    Baltimore, Md
    Below is a picture of a typical Baltimore espantoon. I purchased mine from an older gent who made them in his basement. Officers in the northern part of the city tended to carry this style as the gent lived there. Those working in the southern areas carried a slightly different variant. I paid him $25 in 1975 for the bubinga wood version. Rosewood was an additional $10 and too rich for my rookie blood. He told me if I ever broke it over some *epithet deleted* head, he'd give me new one for free. It came out of the car with me whenever I stepped out. When I worked the Central District, I actually had to use it between the car and the station house door. The house was only 50 yards from "The Block" and a running brawl came my way in the 20 yard walk from my car. We later went to the Koga stick and ASP. They are in use today as a prior admin grandfathered in espantoons for those earlier trained in its use. Black/slapjacks were prohibited over 25 years ago. I had a slapper I only used for banging on doors. The oldtimers told me to get one in tan leather, so if I used it I could say I was only using my open hand.
    This is the business end:

    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011
  9. txleapd

    txleapd Hook 'Em Up

    Aug 27, 2004
    Started out the an old school wooden straight stick. Then went to an ASP. Retired the ASP in favor of my SL-20. Now have a PR-24.
  10. On my prior department, we used the good ole "coca bola". Of course, our issued equipment was about as heavy as balsa wood, but we were able to move up to a heavier wood. I remember some that would carry a modified "axe" handle..:whistling:...You became very good at twirling your night stick while walking a foot post during your rookie time. It was mandatory for foot post and radio car duty...At my current department, we're issued the ASP Baton...I do miss the night stick at times...Oh yea, I forgot about the "Jacks" and "Slappers" that were authorized.....A few even used the "Sap Gloves"....
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011
  11. I believe there's a major difference in effectiveness between a day billy and a sap.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011
  12. Rumor has it that the 'PR' stands for 'Public Relations'. :supergrin:

    I worked part-time in a non-sworn capacity back in the days of the PR 24. I still saw a little action now and then, and marveled at the skill some of those Officers had with the PR. But the operative word appeared to be just that: Skill. Grab it by the grip portion and swing it like a baton, and you really don't even have that much effectiveness. I saw that happen now and then. Apply the spin and use a little technique, and it was a work of art. Saw some really nice submission/transport moves as well.

    We still have a bunch of the old 32" hickory sticks on standby, but I have never seen any issued. Even so, it's a nice feeling to see them still in the rack.
  13. Hence the term "wood shampoo." :whistling:
  14. DustyJacket

    DustyJacket Directiv 10-289

    Oct 16, 2008
    Missouri, East of KC
    Sap Gloves - yeah I forgot those.

    I liked them. When you clapped hands on someone, they felt the heavy hand of the law....
  15. SAR


    Apr 17, 2004
    LA LA Land
    Back in 1982, when the LAPD banned the use of upper body control holds, aka "chokeholds," a defiant Department predicted dire consequences. No one could have predicted exactly how true that would turn out be. Impact injuries from the use of the PR-24 skyrocketed, and while there were less deaths attributed to the use of the PR-24, the number of broken bones and lasting injuries increased exponentially. Then in March of 1991, Rodney King was infamously struck over and over using aluminum PR-24s. This single incident probably changed the use of force policy on LAPD (and probably quite a few agencies forever.) Rodney King signaled a change in the LAPD. Officers became increasingly hesitant to use an impact device, and turned towards the use of grapelling techniques, the TASER and chemical agents. As a result, the Department fast-tracked several programs. Gracie style jiujitsu techniques were taught to every sworn member of the Department, the Department discontinued the use of "MACE" and adopted Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray, and finally discarded the aging first generation TASER in favor of more effective newer generation TASERs, currently the X-26.

    Astonishingly, despite the King incident, the Department continues to mandate all officers to carry a PR-24 with them, along with an ASP. These days, the PR-24 is used more often in a crowd control setting, and much less as an impact device. The use of OC spray and the X-26 Taser device seems to have gained favor amongst officers as being effective while at the same time being less "evil in appearance" if filmed (which these days is almost always the case for LAPD officers). You have to remember that back in the heyday of the PR-24, officers had the often ineffectual early generation TASERs along with the watered down MACE, which nearly always worked better on officers than suspects.

    So today, the use of the PR-24 as an impact device on LAPD is actually somewhat rare. Its continued use as a crowd control device however is quite common, and you will always see LAPD officers using them on skirmish lines. I still have my pre-Rodney King PR-24 which was issued to me in the Academy. Inscribed with my serial number, every dent and scratch tells a story. I still deploy with it, but I have not used it as an impact device since 1991.
  16. IGotIt

    IGotIt No Demlibtards

    Aug 20, 2011
    On The Edge
    Some of you might remember blackjacks. 2 1/2 lbs of lead on a short length of spring steel, wrapped in black leather. Most of the time used to bang on the traffic signal box to get the traffic lights unstuck, but occasionally used for the intended purpose.
  17. It was amazing just how many of those night sticks "broke" when they had to be deployed....Gee, they must have been defective....:whistling:
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011
  18. OXCOPS


    Dec 31, 2000
    I was trained on the ASP. It stayed on my belt anytime I was in uniform. It worked well in both intimidation and impact. The last time I used it, the perp kept calling me "Tonya Harding" all the way to the ER.

    I also acquired an old, handmade 26" straight stick from my first captain. It was well worn and slightly warped....just like the captain himself. He never would tell me how he dented it.
  19. Snowman92D


    Oct 6, 2001
    Yeah...I know that here the department quartermaster issued us those cheap Chicago PD pattern nightsticks made by Root Brothers there in Chicago. About 1 in 5 of those things would shatter, split lengthwise, when you laid a full-power kabong on someone. Real POS's. We had the "sergeants" version which was the same as the "patrolmans" version, except it was stained a brownish-red color. Most guys bought a better grade of knocker once they got out of FTO. Funny...the younger officers here still use the term "red stick" to refer to an old time officer because of those cheap red-stained nightsticks.

    LE agencies in the old days sometimes issued different colored tassels for officers' nightsticks, the color indicating your rank (patrolman, sergeant, lieutentant and above). I remember Phillie PD was big on that years ago.

    I'm clear on that. The day billies I saw looked like they wouldn't be as effective as a good bare-knuckle punch. A jack of some sort was a whole 'nuther smoke, however.

    Clark-Buckheimer made a really good slapjack that had a flat, 13-ounce chunk of lead sewn into the beavertail end. I think I previously mentioned the 16-ounce, spring-load "Convoy" blackjacks. Those were the best, but you had to be careful about using them. They sure put a stop to hostilities, though. I wish I still had mine.

    Curious to know if anyone remembers the old "Porter" blackjacks, which were like the Convoy jacks, except the Porters weren't spring-loaded. I remember, too, the blackjacks made by the inmates at the Moundsville federal penitentiary in West Virginia. The head on the Moundsville jacks was filled with small lead shot, instead of solid lead, and they were safer to use if you wanted to go upside a chud's noggin. They had a definite service life, though, and needed to be retired when they got worn from being used as a door-knocker. Having the seams on a Moundsville jack split open and spray shot everywhere, when you trunched somebody's head, wasn't very confidence inspiring.

    Then you have those old shiny aluminum flashlights that held 5 or 6 D-cell batteries that were in vogue before the appearance of armored 'Kel-Lite' flashlights. We called those "tonks", because if you ever got pissed off and banged somebody's gourd with one, the flashlight head would pop off and the batteries would shloop out of the tube and fly everywhere. The sound of the impact was sort of a hollow "TONK" that wasn't especially confidence inspiring either.

    I'm not even gonna ask if anyone here carried a knuckler. :whistling:
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011
  20. I must have about 75 or so stories about nightsticks, PR 24s, collapsble batons and blackjacks but can't go into details, too much writing. :faint:

    But I remember when I first came on in 1974 we had the straight nightstick, I think 26 inches long and painted black. The big thing was that as soon as you made probation you were directed by your training officer to see a Sgt in 77th Division who would sell you a much better baton made of either "Laminated Dynawood" or you could get one made of "Ironwood".

    Everyone recommended the Dynawood and that's what I carried till we went to the PR-24, or Prosecutor 24 inch, about 1982 or 83.

    I know an officer back east who collects Police Batons and has quite a collection.

    Of course I also carried a Blackjack.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2011