By Gary T. Klugiewicz
Prisoner escort is an aspect of officer survival that is often overlooked, and with very tragic consequences. It is part of the job that we do every day: Police officers escort prisoners from the arrest scene to the squad, from the squad to the jail, from the jail to court, and back again.
Correctional personnel move prisoners constantly inside and outside of the jail, to and from court, the hospital, and prison. We do it so often, without incident, that we forget how dangerous and career-ending a prisoner escort “gone wrong” can be. Nationally, we have seen the end results of poor tactics used on prisoner escorts, i.e., officers injured or killed, prisoners escaping, the public endangered, legal consequences, bad press, and unneeded job stress.
Let’s review some of the components that make up “tactical” prisoner escort procedures:
- Check on prisoner’s background / threat level along with destination along / route of travel prior to escorting the prisoner anywhere. Remember that a two-officer escort is usually safer (when both officers stay alert) than a single officer escort because the officers can then apply the contact / cover tactic.
- Check the restraints: The type should be based on the prisoner’s threat level. Make sure that they are in working order. Remember that a leg ironed prisoner is moved most quickly and efficiently if placed in a wheel chair.
- Apply the restraints properly and double-lock the restraints if that feature is available. Remember: Handcuffs are temporary restraining devices that can be slipped if not applied properly—handcuffs need to be “just snug,” while traditional leg irons need to be applied more loosely—especially if the prisoner is expected to walk during the escort. Also, don’t assume that a leg ironed prisoner can’t run—they practice running with a short rope tied between their feet. I am not kidding—my department lost one this way.
- Search the prisoner properly for weapons, instruments of escape, and other contraband. Remember that a thorough, complete search, including the crotch area and shoes, is needed to insure that the prisoner is not allowed to hide items that can be physically and legally dangerous to you.
- Evaluate the prisoner’s current physical condition / emotional state. Remember that the best place stop a problem is before the escort begins. Trust your “gut” feelings and get more help prior to beginning the escort.
- Once you begin the prisoner escort, while focusing on external threats, always pay close attention to your prisoner, what the prisoner is doing, and what your prisoner is focusing on.
- Stay close to the prisoner. Remember to walk behind the prisoner and adopt a “hands on” approach to escorting a prisoner in order to avoid attempts by the prisoner to assault you, flee from you, or fall down (which can lead to injuries to the prisoner and a “beef” for you).
- Watch for suspicious actions. Remember that you have to be watching to see a problem developing—tragic war stories often begin with these words, “I never saw it coming. . .”
- If the prisoner is ever out of your direct supervision / sight, search the prisoner again and check the restraints. Remember: “Trust is a wonderful thing, but it has no place in law enforcement.” Don’t trust others with your safety. You can’t check your prisoner or his/her restraints too often. Checking your prisoner and his/her restraints is like an insurance policy—how much of a deductible can you afford.
- Remember when most escape attempts occur—near the end of the prisoner escort / transportation. You are starting to relax because you are almost safe while the prisoner is often getting agitated because s/he is almost back inside a secured facility. Here is the most dangerous time. In addition, when taking off the restraints, don’t relax too soon. Officers can be assaulted after the restraints are removed.