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Surviving Your Prisoner Transport

Surviving Your Prisoner Transport

Richard B. Weinblatt

In the wake of the recent Broward County Sheriff’s Office’s transportation deputy’s death here in Florida, I thought an article on transportation mandates would be in order. For some, these bullet points will be an eye opener. For others, they may serve as reminders of things told to you by your academy instructors and your field training officer (FTO).

Many of these legal and officer survival tips apply to both patrol officers in their daily handling of people in custody, as well as detention and transport personnel moving convicts and pre-trial detainees to court, medical appointments, and other fun-filled destinations.

1) Know your agency policy. This should be the most basic of tips in this article. Agency policies are culled from applicable state statutes and case precedents (including constitutional law). You should know the policies AND actually act within those dictates.

If you stay within the parameters of your agency’s policy, chances are you’ll be okay on both the legal and tactical fronts. If not, when you are out on that limb, you may see someone with gold on his/her collar sawing away at the branch upon which you are perched.

2) Prisoners are not your pals. The folks in chains are there for a reason. They are not your friends. While you should certainly be respectful and non-judgmental, being too friendly or overly familiar would not be a good thing. As long-time correction officers know, prisoners have nothing but time on their hand to figure out what makes you tick and exploit vulnerabilities.

3) Don’t Stop. It appears, according to preliminary reports, the Broward County deputy sheriff stopped his transport van to let his medical transport prisoner smoke a cigarette. While I do not want to criticize a fallen officer, it behooves us as professionals to examine possible mistakes in order to learn and minimize the chances of another officer being killed in similar circumstances.

As a patrol division deputy sheriff, I used to make extra money helping the transport division in my time off. I did both short across the city and long-haul traversing the state prisoner transports. I never stopped.

Any food I needed was already on board in my marked Chevrolet Caprice. If I saw something that needed attention, I called it in. I didn’t stop. My concern was that outside folks might be working with my prisoner on the big escape.

4) Handcuff and Search. In just that order. Improper handcuffing and searching are basic items that hearken from the academy days. Proper handcuffing includes checking for proper fit and double-locking. I would even note the two items in parentheses in my reports. On the legal front, one of the most common police brutality complaints revolves around handcuffs that tighten when they are not double-locked. As for the tactical side, double-locking creates a more reliable securing mechanism.

Searching should always follow handcuffing. When assuming custody from another officer, always perform your own search. I never took the word of another officer as to the search status of a prisoner. Besides, even the most experienced officers have been known to miss a weapon or contraband in a search. A subsequent search can’t hurt and can only help you.

As for the switching of the handcuffs when you assume custody from another officer, it is best to place your cuffs on first and then remove the other officer’s handcuffs. This tactic keeps the prisoner secure at all times.

5. Use a Proper Vehicle. Make sure that the vehicle that you are using is properly outfitted and is not likely to break down while enroute to your destination. Cars and vans should be caged (the politically correct term is partitioned). Units should have a partition system that is OSHA compliant and prevents the front compartment from being exposed to blood borne pathogens.

You should check (as always) your vehicle’s mechanical condition. Check the vehicle’s fluid levels, belts, tires, lights, siren, and radio. The last one is important as it could very well be your lifeline. You don’t want to break down in a marked vehicle with a prisoner onboard.

6. Use Proper Positioning. Much as you learned in defensive tactics, having a poor position relative to your prisoner can be a disaster that is hard to recover from. Make sure that all your side-by-side escorts are with the prisoner on your non-firearm side. Too many officers forget their basic officer safety and expose their weapon side.

In the same vein as protecting your gun side, don’t turn your back. Remember, the only thing standing between you and the prisoner’s freedom (especially out on the open highway) is you. Turning your back is just too tempting an opportunity for some of our society’s behavior-challenged folks.

7. Use all your equipment. While not all agencies equip their badge carriers to the full extent they should, thankfully some do. Take advantage of all of the equipment they give you. If you think something is essential and it wasn’t issued, purchase it out of your own money (as long as its not contrary to policy). While you can feel in principle that the agency was remiss in not getting you all the good stuff, your life is worth more than a few dollars.

If your agency issues leg irons and belly chains, use them. I had these fashionable accoutrements for the prisoner transport details and used them every time. They can’t run too fast with all the metal on them. I even used had a set of leg irons in my Caprice for patrol duties and used them on arrestees that were trying to kick me or my windows.

8. Look sharp and be fit. Just like when you respond to a 911 call for police service, prisoners size you up. Regular guests of the criminal justice system are notorious for doing this. These frequent flyers figure they know the system better than the newbie officers (and they often do) since they’ve been through the whole thing numerous times.

Make sure that your uniform is clean and pressed. Shine those boots. I always had my shirts tailored around my arms (shortened and tightened) and had the back tapered. You might even want to wear shirt stays or shirt suspenders to keep that shirt tight and tucked in neatly. I still wear them even with my criminal justice polo shirts.

Don’t abandon that physical fitness routine just because the academy drill instructors are a distant memory. People will check you out and try to figure out if they could take you on. If you appear to be more of a challenge, they will probably hesitate to tackle you (literally).

9. No Full Disclosure. As I stated before, these short-term acquaintances are not your friends. Don’t answer any personal questions about you, and especially your family, when they are being chauffeured to a room without a view. Long-term prisoners are particularly adept at cajoling the lonely deputy to reveal intimate details of their personal life. That information can be used to threaten or blackmail you and your loved ones.

10. Remember Miranda. Miranda is a much-misunderstood legal concept for many badge bearers. Miranda (off of the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona involving migrant farm worker Ernesto Miranda) is actually quite simple for the patrol and detention officer.

Miranda can be remembered with two words: custodial and interrogation. If you’re not clear on this, you need to ask your supervisor or agency legal counsel to clarify any local nuances that may be at play (sorry, I had to throw that legal disclaimer in). In almost all circumstances, without one of those two components Miranda will not come into play.

Here is an example. I remember being dispatched when our narcotics agents were looking for a patrol division unit with a cage to transport a person they arrested. After the transport of the prisoner, I’d write a simple narrative supplement to piggyback on their initial report. In it, I’d state that I switched the handcuffs out, searched the individual again (double-locked of course), and seatbelted them into the back of my marked patrol car. My next line went like this: “During such transport, I neither asked Mr. Prisoner any questions, nor did he volunteer any information pertinent to his case or make any statements regarding an attorney.” No need for me to Mirandize here.

On the flip side, I have also spoken with people to get basic who, what, where type information. Those folks were free to leave and I made that clear to them as I was asking them questions. The custodial part was not present.

The bottom line of prisoner transport is to take proactive steps to ensure your legal and tactical survival. Most agency policies cover the basics of a safe prisoner movement operation. Even if your agency’s policy doesn’t, you can’t shift the blame and wait for everything to be handed to you. It is up to you, as a criminal justice professional, to take the mental and physical initiative to fill in any gaps. You must be an active participant in your bid for legal and tactical survival.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Great article.

  • Picture_100_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Great article.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 7 years ago


    I agee proper positioning of the prisoner is paramount. However, most departmental policys encourage poor tactics due to ill conceved conventional wisdom when it comes to cageless prisoner transport. When I was a young state trooper, the academy taught me to place the prisoner in the right rear seat. As a result, one day an otherwise docile prisoner suddenly raised his leg and kicked me in the back of the head. The impact nearly broke my neck, as my head hurt for months afterward due to whiplash and a mild cuncussion. Thank god for workmans comp. This little incident forced my department to re-think tactics in the interest of officer safety. They later changed their ill-conceived policy, rule and procedure manual section puruant to cageless prisoner transport. Now, prisoners ride in the front right seat, handcuffed behind back with palms facing out and the seat pushed forwards as far as possible to restrict the prisoners leg movement. I have no doubt that many officers reading this have families they love and love them back. If your department is still mandating poor prisoner transport positioning tactics, they need to rethink the issue. Your life may depend upon it.

    Stay safe,

    The Fuzzmeister

  • Bike_trip_005_max50


    over 7 years ago


    great article

  • Colt_max192w_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Very good article and I might reiterate coming from a the Max Security facility in NJ, that prisoner your transporting is not your pal, he has been thinking of how he is going to set you up the first chance he gets.

    If someone had already searched and shackled the prisoner prior to your arriving and taking custody of him, you do your own search and double check the restraints yourself.

    You Never Ever Stop between points A & B for any reason, if he can't hold his water then he'll have to wet his pants because his buddies might very well be sitting there waiting for you. And if he is having a heart attack then he'll have to wait for back up and or supervisor to arrive or he'll just have to die waiting because it may very well be a set up, I'd rather be tried by 12 then carried by 6 because I fell for his scam.

    Never should your weapon be facing the prisoner, ideally there should be another officer with you to hand your weapon off to, then there would be no way the prisoner can get it.

    And I must close with this final statement in NJ a 2 time lifer/ max security prisoner would never be transported 1 on 1 and if he was a super high risk prisoner, there would be more security on him that the Pope would not even be able to get close to him.

  • New-patch_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Good article There are many agencies that need to take a close look at their transport policy and make some changes.

  • Blue_hills_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Great article-thank you

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 7 years ago


    A good reminder to us all. Lets stay safe out there.

  • Policelinkbadge_max50


    over 7 years ago


    im a non-leo but working on it but damn, we had sheriffs deputy have this problem this morning, the deputy was transporting a prisoner and had him in the passenger seat and handcuffed him to it, and the prisoner reached over with his foot and stomped on the accelerator driving the car straight into a wall, where the deputy suffered minor injuries and they perp escaped. theyll do anything to escape wont they?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 7 years ago


    Great and well written.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 7 years ago


    Great article. I am constantly trying to drive points like this into the psyche of my staff. They will all now read this article, also. Thanks.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 7 years ago

    Well said Frank

  • Frank_at_work_max50


    over 7 years ago


    Good article, well written and topical. This is the most overlooked area of our profession.

    A professional demeanor is always important. Do not become too friendly with your inmate because they are not your friends. They are the enemy.

    I always talked to my inmates and I touched them. I searched them, I held their arms as I escorted them, I patted them on the back just to let them know I was there and that I wanted them to pay attention to what I was saying. Do not demean them because that will cause you further trouble. If you want a group of inmates to face the wall, you don’t have to call them “inmates.” Say “Face the wall, gentlemen” and you will set the standard for how you expect them to behave and you have gotten them use to doing what you want them to.” If you demean them they will all drop to that level and show you that you were correct, but it’s easier if you raise the standard instead of lowering it.

    Use your equipment properly, but USE IT. Some inmates will still have too much mobility when wearing chains, but by adding a handcuff or tying a knot in the ankle chains you can further restrict their movements. By placing restraints on them they may fall and injure themselves, which might even be their plan. So hold onto them as you escort them.

    Be aware of what is happening around you and that you are moving criminals. If something appears to be wrong summon cover. If an inmate is becoming combative put them on the ground and wait for cover if you have to. Know your agency’s Use of Force policy, and how it changes once the person is handcuffed. And write the appropriate reports to cover yourself when you do use force.

    Follow your department’s policies and stay safe. And if your policies are out of date use your chain-of-command to change the policies. But stay safe.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 7 years ago

    I've preached this everyday to staff. Nothing makes me mad as driving up on one of our transports sitting in line to get fastfood and a prisoner in back. So many take chances and act like thier prisoner is nothing serious. How many time do you find out that the charge he has now wasn't the most serious he was caught with yet....

  • Logancruisein7-07-2_max50


    over 7 years ago


    I appreciate any article pertaining to prisoner transport. It is the weakest link in the chain of custody and there is always room for improvement. Thanks for the good points!

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