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June 13, 2007
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13 ways to make cageless transport less risky

From the Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline

A Missouri trooper asked about realistic ways to more safely transport arrestees in a patrol car without a cage. Here are some of the many recommendations we received from Newsline members, some of which can be helpful to you on transports even if you don't operate with an uncaged vehicle.

Tight seating

"If an officer HAS to sit a prisoner in front, keep the front passenger seat as far forward as it can go," advises Ofcr. Joe O'Toole of Louisville (KY) PD. "This gives him almost no room to maneuver to attack you or to slide his [handcuffed] hands around to the front. It also makes it harder for him to jump out of the car and escape. Be sure to seatbelt him in, too. This limits his movement even more."

"On most cruisers," advises Ofcr. Steven Cribby of the Brunswick (ME) PD, "if you pull the seatbelt all the way out, it engages the auto lock feature. After seat belting a prisoner, pull the seat belt all the way, and you can 'lock' them in nice and snug."

Hooding

"I had the problem once [of transporting a prisoner in the front seat] when I was working for a small sheriff's department," recalls Andy Casavant, training director for the Mid-West Tactical Training Institute (IL). After handcuffing and seat belting the suspect, "I put a dark hood over his head. He didn't move. Shuts down all of his senses and he freezes."

Just blindfolding a prisoner can also be a powerful psychological inhibitor if your department permits it, says deputy U.S. marshal in FL. "By not being able to see what's taking place around them, it's harder for suspects to plan an attack. You may also want to make a few unnecessary turns just to confuse them."

And Sgt. Gary Robbins of St. Petersburg (FL) PD suggests that "a paper bag or some rolled gauze" can at least prevent a prisoner from spitting at you during transport.

Velcro strips

Inv. Ruth Josten of the Alaska State Troopers responds: "After the required search with handcuffing to the rear, my simple suggestion is 2 pieces of Velcro. The first strip should be long enough to encircle the bicep/chest area. The second should be short enough to encircle the lower legs. The beauty of Velcro is twofold: 1) it offers "humane" restraint without the appearance of a straitjacket and 2) it's noisy when pulled apart. If your prisoner struggles against it, you will be alerted every time."

Body strap

Lt. Mike Norris of Oklahoma City PD has seen officers use "a very wide and thick leather strap." It's about 1/4-in. thick, 4 ft. long and 4- to 6-in. wide with a large buckle assembly. "They place it around the prisoner and around the right front seat of the unit," Norris explains. "With the prisoner handcuffed behind his back, this strap pins his hands between his body and the seat."

Hobbling

"I used to tether the subject's legs by wrapping a piece of looped rope around the thighs and draping the free end out of the squad," explains Ofc. Rob Petz of Hoffman Estates (IL) PD. "Once you close the door, the subject is anchored to the frame of the car. Even Harry Houdini would need to make some serious movement to get out of being cuffed from behind, safety-belted in, and tethered at the thighs just above the knees! When they start wiggling, pull over and check the status of your restraints."

Several other Newsline members suggest the same technique, using commercially available hobbles. (To Sgt. Don Burns of the Norfolk (VA) PD this makes sense even if your unit has a protective barrier. One night driving on the interstate, an EDP kicked in Burns' Plexiglas shield. "It only took him 2 kicks. He was cuffed behind his back and he began kicking me in the head and shoulders. I was extremely lucky to get to the side of the roadway without him hurting me seriously or causing a wreck. Since then I have routinely used the hobble with potentially violent prisoners." Tpr. Bob Flint of the ME State Police adds: "While a suspect's hands can hold a weapon, the sheer strength in a person's legs makes it a smart idea to keep these 'weapons' restrained.")

Hobbles can also be used to supplement handcuffs. Ofcr. Norbert Schnorr of Hamburg (NY) PD describes one option: Most nylon or polypropylene commercial hobbles have a brass swivel snap on one end. "With the subject seated in the front seat and tactically cuffed behind his back, palms out," clip the brass snap to the handcuff chain. (If you use hinged cuffs, "loop the hobble over the hinged area and clip the snap to the rope" itself).

Tuck the free end through the separation between the seat cushion and the seatback. Then from the backseat, pull the hobble rope "snug, keeping his/her hands down low against the bottom of the backrest. Then pull the end of the rope up and "firmly attach it around the support posts of the headrest." Or place the free end out of the rear passenger door, shutting the door on it to secure it.

Baton leverage

CHP Ofcr. Ted Montez also likes connecting a strap between handcuffs and headrest, which he has used in conjunction with a baton tactic for hauls 100 miles or more across the desert, alone with a prisoner.

With the arrestee in the front passenger seat, his hands cuffed behind, Montez threads the long shaft of his PR-24 through the crook of the suspect's left arm down to the groin area. He then uses his "right arm to control both the baton and the suspect. If the suspect becomes aggressive, you simply push forward on the baton, which places pressure on his groin -- a pressure point!

"This is not intended to inflict any unlawful pain; only to control the suspect as I drive. The few times I have needed to use this method, it has worked without negative effects or injury to the arrestee."

Belt cuffing

Along with a number of other Newsline members, Ofcr. Joe Midona Jr. of Chicago PD suggests looping handcuffs through the prisoner's belt and then cuffing him behind to "limit the use of his hands. Carry an old belt with you for those who aren't wearing one." Pick one up at a Salvation Army store. "Get a large one and punch holes in it so it can be used on individuals of all sizes.

"No belt loops to prevent the cuffed hands being slid to the front? No problem. Tie a knot around the cuff's chain with the belt, then buckle it up tightly (another reason for the long belt). Once the subject is immobilized in this fashion and strapped in, either the front or backseat is safe. (If you opt for the backseat, as I do, position the subject on the passenger side. He is away from you and easier to keep an eye on.)"

Adds Ofcr. Darin Webster of Austin (TX) PD: "A makeshift belt can be made for a subject who isn't wearing one, using Flex-Cufs."

Restraint belt

Cpl. David Reed of the San Antonio (TX) Airport Police prefers using a professionally manufactured prisoner restraint belt to an arrestee's own belt for reinforced cuffing. "Run a Flex-Cuf behind the restraint belt and around the chain of the cuffs," he advises. "Pull the end of the Flex-Cuf until the handcuff chain is firmly against the transport belt to help prevent the prisoner from moving his arms while keeping his hands behind his back. Never assume a prisoner's own belt is strong enough for this technique."

"Although a restraint belt is far from optimal, it does increase the level of safety," Tpr. James Jackson of the NY State Police agrees. "These belts are relatively cheap ($25-$30). They're especially useful with very large individuals, who are difficult to cuff in back. Even if they are cuffed in front, a prisoner has restricted access to you and your weapon."

Inspection mirror

Cpl. Reed further suggests that you "place an inspection mirror in an area that will give you full observation of the prisoner while you are en route to the jail. If you see something suspicious, stop the car in a safe area and investigate."

Another officer suggests "adjusting the outside mirror so the prisoner cannot see behind you" and thus can't know for certain whether you are accompanied by another unit.

Eyebolts

"Our cars are equipped with an eyebolt located in the floorboard directly behind the right front seat," says Ofcr. David Hoff of the CHP. "When a handcuffed prisoner is in front, a strap is affixed to the handcuffs then anchored to the bolt behind the seat, making it nearly impossible to move the handcuffs around. The bolt also can be used with another strap to anchor the prisoner's legs down. It's still not as safe as putting the prisoner behind a cage in the backseat, but it does help." ("Yes," admits another CHP officer, Bob Findlay, "prisoners will complain about their plight, but what prisoner doesn't?")

With a suspect's leg cuffs and handcuffs connected by straps to an eyebolt, says Larry Wade, CJ coordinator for the Seward Co. (KS) Community College, "violators can't kick officers, and it's impossible for them to [slip their cuffed] hands in front."

(Another eyebolt advocate, Ofcr. John Maglione of NYPD, remarks: "If the vehicle is leased, then after it is 'retired' from police work, your [department] garage can remove the eyebolts and close the holes with rubber grommets underneath the floor mats.")

Reclined seating

If you transport a prisoner in the right-rear backseat rather than up front in a cageless car, Tpr. Flint of the ME State Police suggests "you can always recline the front passenger seat into their personal space if they get to be too much to handle. This does a great job of keeping them where they should be."

Backup

"In any high-risk transport," says Sgt. Noel Houze Jr. of the IN State Police, "it is an option to call another officer to ride with you (in the backseat behind the prisoner), or follow you in his car and be readily available if assistance is needed."

Even without immediate backup on hand, Cpl. Reed of the San Antonio Airport Police, recommends that "before you depart for the jail, let a fellow officer or the dispatcher know what route you will be taking and your estimated time of arrival. In case something goes wrong and you can't get on the radio, other officers will have an idea where you are."

Weapons security

"Don't keep a second weapon, ammunition, knife, OC spray, baton or anything that could be used as a weapon or tool of escape in the front-seat area," warns a federal officer. "Lock it in the trunk" if it's not something you can securely carry on your person. "If you are right-handed, turn your gunbelt around so your sidearm isn't right next to the prisoner."

In over 15 years of law enforcement, Sgt. Houze has "always transported prisoners in the front seat" because units on his agency, like many others, lack cages. "Even if I had a cage in my car," he says, "I would feel somewhat vulnerable with a prisoner riding behind me."

But other Newsline members responding on this issue were incensed that departments in the 21st century would still not have installed this potentially lifesaving equipment. Some advised officers on such agencies to improvise their own cages with plexiglass, angle iron, metal sheeting or wire bar grate. "You need to ask if your life is worth $50 in material and sweat equity," declares Tpr. James Englin of the MN State Patrol. "Use some ingenuity and protect yourself."

Dep. Joe Boyle of the Pierce Co. (WA) SD, is even more emphatic: "If your department does not care enough about your safety to purchase and install screens or backseat cages, quit before you die! Get a job with a department that cares."

Sheriff Brian Willison of Dane Co. (WI) offers a good survival reminder to all officers, whether you transport in a caged or uncaged vehicle:

"Officers must get over the idea that a handcuffed subject is a not a threat." Handcuffs -- and other restraints, too, when you get right down to it -- "merely tilt the scales of advantage slightly in our favor. We can quickly give up that advantage by relying on the [restraints] rather than ourselves to say safe."

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