Some people may scoff at Officer William Porter, one of the so-called, “Baltimore Six,” for “getting away” with his “depraved indifference” to Freddie Gray’s life and his “evil intent” in not fastening Gray’s seatbelt. People, to be fair, should take a look at the situation from Officer Porter’s perspective, and not just to the suspect with the eighteen arrests including for, burglary, drug dealing, and lying to a police officer.
Seatbelt Policy Brand New
From what I understand, just nine days before the Gray incident, Baltimore City P.D. (BPD) had implemented a policy requiring officers to secure their prisoners with seatbelts for transport. I could not locate Baltimore City P.D.’s police manual online to verify this or determine its requirements. However, I remember when the Seattle Police Department (SPD) implemented this type of policy in Seattle. Cops had serious officer safety concerns. The Seattle P.D. Manual (policies and procedures) reads,
“Officers will use the Transport Vehicle’s Seat Belts to Secure Detainees
Exception: If the circumstances do not allow the officer to safely secure the detainee, then the detainee is transported unsecured in the vehicle.
Exception for officer safety
The exception is key. I’m not sure if the BPD policy has a similar exception. But if the DOJ-manhandled SPD has it, it’s likely BPD does too. If they do not, the policy does not conform to reality and violates basic officer safety tenets.
Police work rarely goes perfectly
When people think of police work, their mental scenarios are often of neatly packaged procedures where everything goes perfectly. It’s difficult to imagine, if you don’t do the job everyday for years, just how many things can go wrong. I once had a handcuffed prisoner kick out both of my patrol car’s rear passenger windows. This happened while several officers stood outside the car, no one eager to be videotaped by the gathering crowd, using “excessive” force on the prisoner (today, everything cops do to criminal suspects is “excessive”—except, maybe, for back rubs and foot massages). The prisoner eventually exhausted himself and officers were able to restrain and transport him to jail. But not before he’d cost a significant amount of money to the taxpayers in damage to my patrol car. And I was supposed to seatbelt that guy?
Gray intentionally tried to hurt himself
According to Reuters, another prisoner being transported in the van with Gray reported that Gray was “‘banging against the walls’ of a police van and ‘was intentionally trying to injure himself…’” Any chance Gray engaged in those actions would fall under the “exception” mentioned above?
Suspects head butt, spit, kick, and bite officers
Think about what is physically required for an officer to secure a prisoner in a patrol car or transport van with seatbelts. The officer must come into very close proximity to the suspect, often leaning across the upper chest and head area within inches and just above the legs. Suspects can head butt, spit, kick, or bite officers. These assaults happen all the time. Every time an officer seatbelts a prisoner, he or she is compromising officer safety. The problem is, on paper, it is a good idea to secure a prisoner with a seatbelt. And, the vast majority of prisoners will not head butt, spit, kick, or bite the officer. But, it only takes one to inflict a serious injury.
You seatbelt that guy in!
I recall years ago some officers and I were taking a mentally disturbed woman into custody. We were assisting a private ambulance crew with placing her onto a gurney and into restraints. The chest and thigh restraints are basically seatbelts used to strap the patient down. As my partner reached across to affix the upper restraints strap, the woman bit him on the back of his upper arm, breaking the skin and causing significant pain. I was relatively new, and I never forgot this lesson—from a veteran officer—of what not to do.
I wouldn’t think of telling anyone what to think. I’ll only tell people what I think. However, I will suggest to people how to think—critically. Please, think critically, and think about this blog before you condemn an officer for actions of which you are not thoroughly familiar.