ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) -The Eastern Missouri Police Academy saw a 50 percent drop in the number of recruits enrolled in 2020 compared to 2021, a trend academies across the country are grappling with.

The academy based in Lake St. Louis feeds departments across several counties, including St. Charles County, St. Louis County, Warren County and Jefferson County.

As of mid-April, the recruit class of around a dozen is halfway through their training. As they enter the second half of the academy, much of the hands-on training intensifies.

“Personally I’ve grown so much when I think back to the first week out here running laps and doing pushups,” recruit Janie Grossmann said. “My passion for this continues through it all.”

On Thursday, the recruits took part in baton training, learning everything from how to open and close the baton to technique when using it.

“The use of a baton to strike major muscle groups on the body will actually cause temporary pain and disorient them enough to get handcuffs on them,” Sgt. Mark Dennis with the Eastern Missouri Police Academy said.

According to Sgt. Dennis, the baton is generally considered a step above a closed fist and below an officer’s service weapon. However, it can be used as lethal force if the situation warrants it, he said.

“Especially being a female, maybe I wouldn’t be able to take on a really strong male,” Grossmann said. “For me personally using a baton is a tool to be able to control somebody when I need to control them after my verbal commands don’t work.”

Recruits are taught to only target muscular areas on the body and to avoid the head, sternum and other sensitive areas in non-deadly force situations.

“It’s always great learning about all the different ways we can go about different situations using the least amount of force as possible,” recruit Garrett Burns said.

Sgt. Dennis said batons are one of many options an officer may use if initial, verbal de-escalation tactics prove unsuccessful. Most often, he said, they can be used in situations such as bar fights or domestic incidents.

“As with anything on our belts, we have to know how to use it, we also have to know how to retain it and keep it,” he said. “ We don’t want the bad guy to get our baton where that escalates into a lethal force situation because we have no choice.”