Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, mass protests, some violent, have erupted through the United States.
Amidst the violence, law enforcement officials have been cited as using shows of force, including with weapons considered less lethal: tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and police batons.
Police batons are considered an “impact weapon,” and can come in straight, side-handle, or collapsible versions.
But “less lethal” doesn’t equal painless. A police baton is still a club, and can cause immediate and lasting injuries to a person.
What happens when a police baton hits the human body? What effects does the impact have? What does being hit with a baton feel like, exactly? And if you are hit with one, is there anything you can do to immediately lessen the pain and effects? If you see someone hit with a police baton, what can you do to help them?
To get answers, we turned to Jeffrey M. Goodloe, M.D., F.A.C.E.P., member of the Board of Directors for the American College of Emergency Physicians and Chief Medical Officer for the Emergency Medical Services System for Metropolitan Oklahoma City & Tulsa.
Here’s what you need to know about police batons, the injuries they can cause, and how to treat those injuries should they occur.
What happens when a police baton hits the human body?
While a police baton strike has fewer variables than a projectile rubber bullet, there are still factors that can change how the strike affects your body.
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“A baton is pretty much a face-to-face, hand-to-hand weapon,” says Goodloe. “The strike usually occurs within two or three feet or less. I’m not aware of too many law enforcement officers who are trained to swing softly. There’s going to be a fair amount of energy.”
The variability comes from where you are hit. “Police batons are designed more for impact on the extremities: the arms, thighs, upper legs,” Goodloe says. If you’re hit in those places, the impact will likely be painful to the point of temporary debilitation.
Fractures do occur, and often out of self-defense. “A lot of injuries we see in the emergency department come from forearm fractures, when someone uses their forearm to block a hit to the face,” says Goodloe.
Police baton strikes can occur to the head, the effects of which can range from simple bruising of soft tissue on the scalp to internal brain bleeding to eye injuries. Strikes to the chest or abdomen can result in fractures or internal bleeding.
What does being hit with a police baton feel like?
“Imagine you’re out playing ball with a young child and they’re swinging a baseball bat and it hits you in the leg,” says Goodloe. “It’s a five-year-old swinging the bat, so you’re most likely not going to get a fracture, but it’s going to hurt.”
The amount of pain also depends on the style of police baton and what part of the baton made contact with your body. All-metal batons are likely to deliver more pain than ones made of composite material. Being struck with the more tapered end of a collapsible baton would affect less surface area than being struck with less tapered end.
What should you do if you’re hit with a police baton?
If you’re hit in a extremity, most of the time you’re going to be okay, says Goodloe. You’ll feel pain for a few days. Ice the bruise, monitor it for infection, and take Tylenol and ibuprofen.
If you suffer a blow to the head and pass out, that’s not normal: “You need to go to seek emergency services. You could have a mild concussion or internal brain bleeding,” says Goodloe.
Same goes if you’re hit in the neck. “If there’s any concern that you’re in trouble, find help via emergency medical services, using on-scene care if it’s available,” Goodloe says.
What should you do if you see someone hit by a police baton?
Get them away from danger, safe from where they (and you) could be the victim of further baton strikes. Ask them if they’re okay: “What month is it? What year is it? Who is the president?” (Regardless of political beliefs, almost everyone knows who the president is.) Assess their breathing ability and consciousness. Check for bleeding. Then, when you are safe and informed, contact emergency medical services.
Paul is the Food & Nutrition Editor of Men’s Health. He’s also the author of two cookbooks: Guy Gourmet and A Man, A Pan, A Plan.