Expandable batons may have a solid tip at the outer end of the inner-most shaft; the purpose of the solid tip is to maximize the power of a strike when the baton is used as an impact weapon.
Expandable batons are made in both straight and side-handle configurations, but are considerably more common in the straight configuration.
The most well-known example of the straight expandable baton is the ASP (Armament Systems and Procedures) Baton, which has become a genericized trademark within the law enforcement and security communities for this type of product.
Depending on the holster or scabbard design, it may be possible to carry an expandable baton in either collapsed or expanded position, which would be helpful if an officer needed to holster an expanded baton and it was not possible or convenient to collapse it at the time.
An expandable baton is opened by being swung in a forceful manner while collapsed, using inertia to extend and lock the segments by friction. Some mechanical-lock versions can also be opened by simply pulling the segments apart. Depending on the design, expandable batons may be collapsed either by being brought down (inverted) on a hard surface, or by depressing a button lock and manually collapsing the shafts.
The advantages of a collapsible baton over a fixed baton are numerous:
- The collapsible shaft makes it easier for the officer to carry it and to sit in a car seat wearing it, since when collapsed it is between six and ten inches (254 mm) long. This is contrasted with non-collapsible batons, which the Officer may, as a measure of convenience, often resort to removing from his or her belt when seating themselves in a vehicle.
- Non-collapsible batons are typically carried in a ring type belt attachment. Fixed batons carried in such holders work themselves out of the holder when the wearing officer sprints. Two answers are to hold the baton down in the ring with a hand, or have the baton in the hand; neither is desirable. The typical collapsible straight baton and its scabbard do not suffer this, and remain secure regardless of the wearing officer's movement.
- In theory, the mere display of extending the baton may in some instances be psychologically intimidating to an aggressive suspect (due to both the sight and sound of the action, with a similar intimidation technique as used in pump-action shotguns), and may thus deescalate the situation and preclude the necessity of any physical force being used at all.
- Many police officers believe that it presents a more community-friendly image to the general public than non-collapsible batons, due to the former's lower profile while collapsed; many citizens may not even know what the collapsible baton is for when it is collapsed and residing in the officer's duty belt; a 29-inch (740 mm) wooden straightstick's designed purpose, on the other hand, is clearly more self-evident. In this regard, the collapsible baton may be considered more suitable for community-oriented policing.
- A collapsible baton may be deployed against a suspect whether expanded or collapsed; expanded, the baton's reach is extended, but collapsed, the baton is handier in close quarters. This provides greater versatility in a wider range of environments over the fixed-length baton.
However, expandable batons are not without some disadvantages:
- Some police may prefer to carry a fixed baton due to the greater visual deterrence it may provide (which may be a benefit in the form of increasing the officer's command presence). Similarly, a fixed baton serves better as a conspicuous symbol of authority (i.e. "badge of office") than a collapsed expandable baton.
- Fixed batons may often be less expensive than their collapsible counterparts of identical or similar quality. Because of this, some law enforcement departments, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, may issue a fixed-length baton, but have their officers/deputies purchase expandable batons at the option and expense of the individual officer.
- Fixed batons may be inherently faster to bring into action, due to their not needing to first be extended before use as an impact weapon (unless one wishes to use a collapsible baton in collapsed form).
- If an expandable baton is of friction-lock design, as most are, there is an inherent risk that the baton may inadvertently close at an inopportune moment while being used to strike a suspect.
Additionally, the baton, in collapsed configuration, may be used as a control device against non-compliant subjects in conjunction with pain-compliance control techniques, such as to remove a driver refusing to exit his or her vehic