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Journal of Police Science and Administration Use of Metal Flashlights as Weapons 1985

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Journal of Police Science and Administration
Copyright "1985 by IAeP, Inc.

Volume 13, NO.3
Printed in u.s. A.

Police Use ofMetal Flashlights as Weapons:
An Analysis ofRelevant Problems
Terry C. Cox, Jerry S. Faughn, and William M. Nixon
Terry C. Cox is an associate professor in the Police Administration Department, Eastern Kentucky University,
Richmond, KY 40475-0957. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of
Akron. Dr. Cox's current research interest lies in the area of drunk driving.
Jerry S. Rwghn is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Eastern Kentucky University,
Richmond, KY 40475-0957.
William M. Nixon is an associate professor in the Police Administration Department, Eastern Kentucky
University, Richmond, KY 40475-0957. Mr. Nixon received his J.D. from the University of Kentucky and is a
criminal defense trial lawyer. He was responsible for the administration and operation of LEAA's Model
Defender Project in Southeastern Kentucky.

All occupations require tools for task facilitation
and accomplishment of organizational objectives. The
police occupation is somewhat unique in that various
tools are required not only for task performance but
are necessary for providing safety and security for
themselves and the citizens they are obligated to protect and serve. As with other occupations, the more
restrictions placed upon the resources one can use in
accomplishing organizational and social goals, the
less effective personnel will be in accomplishing those
goals. In policing, these restrictions may impact the
safety of the officers.
The list of tools both useful and necessary for the
police occupation is long. One ofthe most useful tools
for police officers entering a poorly illuminated area is
the flashlight. Proper illumination is critical for
achieving appropriate levels of task performance.
While many important illumination devices can be
attached to patrol cars, the most important resource
receiving the highest percentage of use is one that is
portable and can be carried on one's person.

in situations where use of nonlethal force is permitted.
The widespread popularity of flashlights with barrels
made of heavy-duty metal such as aircraft aluminum is
at the center of this issue.
The advantages these models offer the police occupation in regard to illumination and durability are
indisputable. Their potential in these areas is significant. However, environmental responses such as legislative and judicial developments are forcing organizational actions on flashlight policies.
Variances exist in organizational policies regarding
flashlight allocation procedures and requirements.
Flashlight policies in organizations familiar to these
authors include: (a) permitting individual officer prerogative in selecting particular types and styles of
flashlights; (b) distribution of styles approved by organizational standards; (c) prohibition of all metal flashlights exceeding standards pertaining to weight and
length; (d) issuing selected styles with formal or informal policies associated with defensive uses and use of
force in lieu of batons; and (e) absence of formal
policies regarding uses of flashlights as weapons.
While some states have created statutes designating
the baton as a "deadly weapon," most have not created such standards for flashlights.
Using physical force to defend one's self or to effect
an arrest is an inevitable occurrence for most police
officers. Police officers are often confronted with situations in which their lives and physical well-being

The need for proper illumination is self-evident.
However, a slowly developing problem surrounding
police use of flashlights does not focus on the illumination issue but on the formally or informalIy
accepted practice of using it as a defensive weapon and









"ate in jeopardy. Additionally, state laws establish legal

standards for using various types of force in effecting
arrests. Situations constituting grounds for using
deadly force are not an issue concerning flashlights.
HoWever, in situations where nonlethal physical force
definitions are applicable, the issue is very important.
It has been the traditional common law rule that an
officer may employ reasonable force to effectuate a
lawful arrest. However, when that force exceeds the
qpantum required to make the arrest, there is great
potential for personal and governmental liability, particularly under 42 U .S.C 1983. Organizational training structures typically provide instruction on established procedures designed to reduce liability
potential in these areas. Defensive training provides
proper directives that, if followed properly, will prodlJce results in actions not amenable to liability problems. Several well recognized training programs are
available for teaching proper uses of the police baton.
Similarly, Peters (1982), for example, has developed
training curricula outlining defensive tactics with
flashlights. Although available, numerous organizations provide no training or directions for using flashlights in defensive or "use of force" situations.
Policy concerning the type of weapon authorized for
use in these situations is important. If, in choices of
weapons, one has greater potential for producing more
serious injuries, then the consequential liability
threats must be weighed by organizational policymakers. Injuries produced by force exceeding the
quantum necessary to effectuate the arrest can be very
c~nseq~ential. Judicial decision-makers are likely to
view Simple contusions and lacerations with lesser
significance than fractured skulls and serious neural
damage when deciding liability questions related to
excessive use of force.
Training programs invariably emphasize the vul~erable areas of the human body and express admonitions for avoiding them in confrontations. In a discussion on vital points of the human body, Starrett warns
"use extra caution in attacking those areas which are
particularly vulnerable, for even a moderate blow to
some of these areas can cause serious injury or even
death" (1981, p. 7). In Training Key #76, the International Association of Chiefs of Police discusses the
importance of avoiding certain vital portions of the
anatomy when using the baton. This training source
The most critical of these areas is the head. A
blow delivered to this part of the body may
result in a serious or fatal injury or brain tissue

damage resulting in an incurable psychosis.
Side blows to the temple, forehead or throat can
also be lethal (p. 20).
In a manual on defensive tactics for law enforcement officers presented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the vulnerable areas, or so-called "chinks
in the armor," are discussed. Additionally, this agency
states "blows, kicks, or pressure directed at or applied
to these areas may cause pain, disablement, unconsciousness, and even death" (1970, p. 9).
Most flashlight liability cases surround the issue of
force involving defendants who were struck in the
head. This is likely a result of the tendency of an
officer resorting to a clubbing effect when encountering the highly stressful circumstances involved in an
altercation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's
manual on defensive tactics establishes that, as a rule,
the untrained person will direct his blows to his opponent's head or face (1970, p. 9).
These factors are legitimate points. However, for
t~e o~fice~ involved in a real or perceived threatening
SituatIOn In the street environment, a different perspective may be functioning. While ignorance of techniques or pure maliciousness presents one unique set
of problems, the training procedures presented to numerous police officers presents another. Defensive
tact.ics are psychomotor movements typically taught
by Instructors with highly advanced skills. Amounts
of training involving batons or flashlights are often
minimal and may involve a small number of hours a focus on individual motor sets. Success in any
skilled movements is determined by past learned behavior and experiences, efficient development of perceptual and physical abilities, and intensive practice in
the particular skill (Harrow 1972, p. 88). Therefore,
when c~n~ronted with stressful situations involving
threats, It IS doubtful that most officers have acquired
skilled proficiency levels sufficient to react instantly
and spontaneously with highly developed synchronized motor movements and perceptual evaluations. If correct, the officer will likely resort to instinctive tactics or previously learned behavior which
frequently involves striking the subject in the head.
Even though this is a realistic problem, does the instrument being used have important implications?

Since society is willing to provide police with weapons for use in defense and arrest situations, it seems
logical that the choice between batons or flashlights is
unimportant if equality exists between factors such as


ethics, capability, utility, and injury potential.
Democratic societies, by perforce, place an important
emphasis on ethical conditions. However, it has been
solidly established that police officers are occasionally
required to use lethal and nonlethal force in various
situations. Of equal importance, situations exist where
some officers use physical force in cases involving
gross misperceptions of the threat involved, disproportionate amounts of force necessary for particular situations, and, although infrequently, in situations involving pure maliciousness. In view of the overall
circumstances facing police administrators, an investigation was conducted to evaluate differences between batons and metal flashlights of somewhat equal
Many styles and sizes of flashlights and batons with
variances in weight and length variables are available.
In this experiment, a light-weight, metal, five D-cell
flashlight weighing 750 grams, including batteries,
was tested. This particular model has a flat tail cap. A
common wood baton weighing 690 grams was used as
a comparison. Thus, the flashlight is somewhat more
massive, but the difference that it could make if used
as a weapon is so slight that this factor is virtually
negligible. In fact, the slightly lower mass of the baton
only means that it could be swung slightly faster and,
therefore, could do about the same damage as the
flashlight. Also, the baton is somewhat greater in
length which slightly affects velocity. This means
that, assuming the flashlight is more damaging, other
factors must be significant determinants in outcome.
These other factors are the sharp angles of the head and
tail cap and protruding surfaces on the flashlights. The
following calculations demonstrate these differences.
The basic equation used is the "impulse momentum
theorem." This equation is stated as:
FAt = mV j

[Vol. 13



mV f

where F represents the force delivered by the flashlight, At is the time that the flashlight is actually in
;ontact with the subject's body, m is the mass of the
flashlight, Vi is the velocity of the flashlight just before
t strikes the subject, and vf is the velocity of the
lashlight just after it strikes the subject.
In order to use this equation, some assumptions
lbout the velocities were used. The first assumption is
hat the speed of the flashlight just before it strikes the
lead is 10 mls. Actual encounters can obviously proluce velocities greater or smaller than this figure due
o strength, position, length, and distance variances.
'he second assumption is that the velocity is 0 after
triking the body. Again this may vary due to factors

such as movement ofthe subject's body toward or away
from the person who is performing the striking. The
time of contact, At, can be estimated by assuming that
the flashlight comes to a stop in a distance equal to the
diameter of the flashlight, 4 cm. Thus, At can be
estimated as:
At = xlv = .04 milO m1s = .004 s
Using these numbers, an estimate of the average force
exerted on an individual when struck by a flashlight,
by use of the impulse momentum theorem, can be



(.750 kg) (10 m/s) I .004 s


1875 N

Rounding this force off to 1900 N equals 4251bs. This
is a significantly large force, but the true way to
estimate the effects of this blow is to calculate the
shear stress exerted on bones which is of obvious
significance when considering blows to the head. The
equation used is:
Shearing Stress = F/A

F is the force calculated above and A is the shear area
of the bone in the subject's face or head.
Figure I attempts to demonstrate what the area is
that must be considered. Part (a) shows the blow delivered. Part (b) shows the region of impact, and part (c)
shows a close-up view of the impact region, including
the point where fractures are most likely to occur. In
part (c) the shaded area is the length of the line along
which the blow is administered, L, times the thickness
of the bone at that location, t. For a case in which the
blow strikes flush with the surface, we assume a length
L ofO.1 m (10 cm) and a bone thickness of VB in. (.003
m). Thus, the shearing stress is:

= 1900 n I (.003) (.1 m) = 6 x 106 N/m 2

This is a damaging blow, but the truly serious situation arises when the flashlight is swung at an angle
such that it does not hit the subject flush. That is, if the
sharp squared off tail cap area of the flashlight hits, the
area of stress is reduced considerably. A reasonable
assumption is that when the flashlight is swung at an
angle, the line L along which the stress is exerted is
reduced to about .005 m. Certainly, this length is
justified if the struck area is in the vicinity of the eye
socket where sharp bone angles ensure that the line of
the force will be extremely short. The shearing stress
for this case, assuming the same 1900 N force, is:

= 1900 N I (.003 m) (.005 m) =



108 N/m 2







To illustrate what damage this can cause, consider
that the shear stress that can fracture a bone in the skull
is between about 1 x 108 N/m 2 for a thin bone to
about 1. 3 x 108 N/m 2 for a thicker bone. The conclusion is that even when using approximations and assumptions, if the flasWight is swung such that it strikes
the skull at an angle, the possibility of a fracture of the
skull is very likely, and almost a certainty if the blow is
delivered near the eye socket or the temporal region of
the head. The potential is great since several favorable
conditions exist in these confrontations. First, the
clubbing effect is most likely the result of uncontrolled
striking and the blow is likely to land randomly. Second, the officer is likely to utilize the advantage of
distance which makes striking with the tail cap on an
angle a strong possibility. Third, an officer frequently
holds the flashlight "police style" in an encounter
with a citizen. In this situation the flashlight is held
with the head near shoulder height and with the tail cap
extended upward. Striking from this position is likely
to produce a downward motion with the tail cap impacting at angles on the subject's head.
The primary difference between the flashlight and
the baton is the features of the design of the flasWight



that make it more likely that the area of shear contact is
small. That is, the sharp angles at the ends of the
flashlight would cause a small area of contact and,
hence, a very damaging blow. Likewise, many of
these flashlights have a small protruding on/off switch
which would present a small area of contact if the blow
is delivered such that this button makes contact with
the subject's body. In comparison, the baton has
smooth rounded ends and no protrusions. Thus, the
likelihood of a damaging blow is considerably reduced. Based on calculations like those above, it is
reasonable and conservative to assume that the flashlight, used in this experiment, is at least two or three
times more likely to produce serious injuries than the
Another consideration surrounds the weight of the
flashlight used in this test. To compare this one to
others on the market, an analysis was performed on the
five D-cell flasWight weights listed by Peters (1982, p.
34). According to Peters (1982, p. 35), the mean
weight for D-cell batteries is 3 oz. (85.05 grams).
Based on 10 brands specified as five D-cell sizes, the
mean weight for D-cell battery mean weight added is
958.98 grams. The range was 354.37 grams with a



maximum of 1063.12 and a minimum of708.75. The
standard deviation was 110.93 grams. The weight of
the flashlight used in the experiment was - 1.88 standard deviation units below the mean. Several models
in this cell category significantly exceed the test model
in weight. Mass is therefore increased which significantly affects the impulse momentum and shearing
stress factors. This is of particular interest when considering that some seven D-cell models weigh 1445.85
grams with batteries included.

As stated above, variances exist among states regarding the classification of batons as lethal or nonlethal weapons. Kentucky and some other states have
classified the baton as a deadly weapon in KRS
500.080(C). The flashlight has currently not been
classified as a weapon in Kentucky.
While it is established that an officer may employ
reasonable force to effectuate an arrest, there is little
dispute that deadly force may not be employed to
make an arrest for a misdemeanor [Love v. Davis, 353
F. SuppI. 587 (W.D.La.1972)]. Since a very high
percentage of arrests are for misdemeanor offenses,
the use of metal flashlights as weapons presents a very
serious legal problem.
As demonstrated in the above research, many flashlights have the potential to produce much more serious
injuries than many batons. Considerable confusion
surrounds how the flashlight should be classified.
Should it be classified as as a deadly weapon? Under
common law there are distinctions between instruments which are deadly weapons per se and weapons
which become deadly when examined in the context of
use. Items are deadly weapons per se which serve little
other purpose but to produce death or serious bodily
injury. Guns, lethal spring traps, and demolitions fall
within this category. On the other hand, objects which
may be designed for a peaceful purpose, but are nonetheless capable of producing mortal harm, may be
deadly weapons. Some jurisdictions classify them as
"dangerous instruments" [KRS 500.080(3)]. A prime
example of this is the baseball bat. It is defensible that
the flashlight is not a deadly weapon per se but falls in
the second category since its primary purpose is to
illuminate rather than to inflict injury. However, since
the device is so often used as a weapon, and is commonly known to officers and administrators as such,
and has the capability of producing serious injury,
there is a developing theory that it should be considered a deadly weapon per se. If the metal flashlight is

[Vol. 13

to be considered a deadly weapon per se, then any use
would be excessive in a misdemeanor arrest, even if
death or serious bodily harm did not ensue.
Such an argument was indirectly advanced by the
plaintiff in Wellington v. Daniels, 717 F.2d 932 (4th
Cir. 1983), with little success. The plaintiff urged the
court to find that, since it was widely known to law
enforcement administrators that the metal flashlight
was dangerous, the defendant municipality was negligent in not issuing directives or regulations to control
its use as a weapon. The court found that there must be
actual knowledge of the use ofthe weapon in an excessive manner with the department in question in order
to establish liability. Had the court accepted the metal
flashlight as a per se deadly weapon, then it would be
likely that liability would have been attached.
Verdicts of police misconduct litigation and cases
such as the above raise the specter of a court or legislature defining the metal flashlight as a weapon per se.
These events are also important since they contribute
to a developing body of knowledge of the metal flashlight's vulnerabilities. In Wellington, the court reasoned that the plaintiff must prove that the municipality knew or should have known that members of its
force were carrying flashlights which were potentially
dangerous if used as a weapon, and also must prove
that the municipality knew or should have known that
such potentially dangerous flashlights were being used
as weapons by members of the police force. If future
arguments are presented it will be difficult to establish
ignorance of problems surrounding the metal flashlight since a growing body of information and police
misconduct litigation is emerging.


Metal flashlights are potentially valuable tools for
the police occupation. However, the design of many
current models, organizational policies concerning
application, and lack of training are creating problems
for police organizations. Important ethical, human
relations, and liability problems must be addressed.
While those problems identified above most be considered, it is of equal importance to consider the importance of metal flashlights for the police officer. The
utility of a device capable of providing illumination
and being used as a defensive weapon is a valuable
asset for the police officer on the street. However,
before it can be prudently assigned as a defensive
weapon, several changes must be made.



Structural Redesign
Changes in some prominent structural flashlight
features would drastically reduce its injury potential
and make it no more of a liability threat than most

The primary problem is sharp angles which increase shearing stress factors. First, flat tail caps have
angles and should be eliminated. A plausible substitute would be a rounded, bullet shaped, durable
rubber tail cap. Second, angles on the flashlight head
should be rounded. This area isn't the greatest threat
since striking often occurs in the tail cap region.
Third, all protrusions, such as the on/off switch,
should be eliminated or recessed. These changes
would effectively reduce shearing stress ratios.

Structural changes referred to above combined with
reduced weight would produce flashlights less dangerous than most contemporary batons. Several five
and six C-cell brands weigh much less than the flashlight used in this experiment. This does not significantly alter its utility as a weapon since appropriate
length is present. The illumination capacity is more
than adequate since the candlepower is many times
greater than two-cell alternatives.

Perhaps the most vulnerable area to challenge under
a negligence theory of liability for law enforcement
deals with the area of training [Owens v. Haas, 601 F.
2d 1242 (2nd. Cir. 1979)]. The law developing in the
area of alleged insufficient and negligent training includes excessive use of force and the improper use of
certain items of issued equipment (Scuro and Souza
1983, p. 37). Both of these categories have strong
implications for flashlights issued as weapons.
Organizations informally or formally permitting
flashlights to be used as weapons have a strong need to
provide appropriate levels of training and directives
for appropriate use. Proper training combined with
structural changes and proper style selection should
make the flashlights no more vulnerable than batons.
According to Scuro and Souza (\983, p. 38), if a
police agency can demonstrate that its training mode is
directly related to performing tasks common in the


daily performance of official duties, such training will
be more defensible when challenged in court. There
should be no problem with demonstrating the need for
use of weapons in defensive and "use of force" situations. The important issue is demonstrating that appropriate training is provided. Law enforcement agencies with policies permitting their officers to use
flashlights as weapons, but which provide no training
for their use, are very vulnerable to civil actions.
Training programs emphasizing defensive tactics
with flashlights are available. If preferable, local
training curriculum could adopt techniques similar to
those used for the baton. Methods such as the "Lamb
Method" stress techniques important for defensive
purposes. The program adopted or developed should
strongly emphasize effective techniques which avoid
striking vulnerable areas of the human body. Training
should be thorough and realistic enough to assure skill
development sufficient to be applicable in field situations. Additionally, training should be uniform and
required of all organizational members.

Police organization policy-makers should formulate a flashlight policy capable of providing direction
for police officers and buffering the effects of civil
litigation. If flashlights are issued exclusively for illumination purposes then this position should be included in personnel policy manuals. Organizations
permitting the use of flashlights in defensive or "use of
force" situations should clearly establish parameters
associated with these policies. In some instances, this
will protect the agency when particular actions, not
included in these policies, occur.
Equipment policies should consider the problems
identified above. Flashlights which have sharp angles
and are exceptionally high in mass present potential
serious liability problems. Current trends are certain
to result in the widespread loss of a potentially valuable tool unless policy changes alter the current course
of direction.
We wish to thank Mr. Allen K. Johnson, Section Supervisor, Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training, for
the art contributions and Dr. Larry K. Gaines, Chairman,
Police Administration Department, Eastern Kentucky University, and John 1. Charles, doctoral candidate, The University of Akron, for their editing contributions.



Federal Bureau of Investigation. 1970. Defensive tactics: A
manual for law enforcement officers. Washington, D.C.:
Harrow, Anita 1. 1972. A taxonomy of the psychomotor domain. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.
International Association of Chiefs of Police. 1971. Training
key #/4: The police baton. Gaithersburg, MD: Interna-

[Vol. 13

tional Association of Chiefs of Police.
Peters, John G. 1982. Defensive tactics with flashlights.
Albuquerque, NM: The Great Western Publishing Co.
Scuro, Joseph E., and Souza, Lawrence 1. 1983. Civilliability consequences for improper training of officers. Law
and Order 15:35-38.
Starrett, Richard R. 1981. The PR"24 police baton: A training
manualfor law enforcement officers, 2nd ed. New Hampshire: Monandock Lifetime Products Inc.