Why are some California police now using nunchucks?

Some police departments in California are putting away their batons, choosing to use martial arts nunchucks to subdue suspects instead.

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer/File
Demonstrators chant slogans during a rally to protest against police brutality Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in New York. Speakers at the protest said they want to bring justice for those who were killed by police.

Some police departments in California are putting away their batons, and choosing to use nunchucks instead.

In what could be a response to changing views regarding police use of force, communities across the country have been seeking non-lethal alternatives that allows police to subdue and detain a suspect without causing injury. 

Perceptions of police and their tactics have changed considerably in recent months, after Michael Brown and Freddie Gray died following interactions with local police. Critics, such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, have described these incidents as symbolic of systematic police brutality against the black community. New data also suggests that American policing standards do not comply with the international laws established for police use of excessive force.

The Amnesty International report released in June points out a lack of consistent policy on use of lethal force in the US. 

International law, as codified by the United Nations, stipulates that officers can only use deadly force when either they, or bystanders, face an immediate threat of death or serious physical harm, and only then as a last resort, al Jazeera reports. According to the report's findings, no US state has a law that holds police to that standard. The report recommended sweeping reform, and in states that lack clear laws on lethal force, entirely new regulation.

But can nunchucks - two short sticks connected by a chain or rope - help?

It gives us the ability to control a suspect instead of striking them,” Sgt. Casey Day, of the Anderson Police Department in California, told The Los Angeles Times.

The martial arts sticks are being reintroduced to police departments throughout California - Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Diego being among the first cities to pilot such a program - after a long hiatus. In 1990, 29 anti-abortion activists sued the Los Angeles Police Department over allegations that the nunchucks police used in breaking up their protest caused injury to the protestors. In a settlement later, the LAPD suspended its use of nunchucks.     

Police officers in Anderson, Calif., will not be required to use or carry the Japanese martial arts weapon, but if officers wish to, they must first pass a 16-hour-long training program, reports the Associated Press.

Orcutt Police Defense Systems, the manufacturer of the new nunchucks being adopted by several California police departments, stresses that the appeal of these nunchucks lies in the control that they offer police officers, as well as their less-than-lethal nature and ease of use.

The devices are made of two heavy plastic bars strung together with sturdy nylon. They were intentionally designed to subdue, rather than intimidate or wound.

“Due to the natural moves in the use of the [Orcutt Police Nunchucks] in close quarters there is no problem in quickly gaining control in the corrections setting,” says Orcutt’s website.

For his part, Sergeant Day told The Los Angeles Times that he feels safer with the nunchucks than with the batons he and his department used to use.

“I see the value and the safety they bring to me,” he said. “[But] “I don’t go around looking for trouble,” he added.

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