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A view from the sidelines: Prisoner transportation searching procedures

Remember that you are responsible for your safety and the prisoner’s safety

This tactical tip begins a new section on Corrections1 that is going to examine incidents that bring into questions what officers have done in specific circumstances. Rather than evaluate the relative merits of the case, we are going to look at the officer safety techniques, tactics, and strategies that affected the outcome. Since I am now retired from the job, we have named this section as “A View from the Sidelines.”

We will evaluate incidents brought to our attention or questions raised by or members. This section will not attempt to make to make judgments on the facts of the case but rather look at what tactical or training points should have impacted officers’ actions. We look forward to your feedback on our efforts.

This recent article reports the events that brought to a conclusion a tragic series of events that led to the suicide of a mentally ill person while being transported to a mental health facility by deputies. The deputies and their department were finally judged to not have been “deliberately indifferent” to the person who committed suicide. Since I am from Wisconsin, I have been following this case.

This was an unusual prisoner transportation case because the subject was not technically a prisoner but a mentally ill person being transported to a mental health facility.

Here are the discussion points:

1. All prisoner / subjects being transported should be searched.
When people are placed in your squad, you and they are placed in jeopardy if they are not searched. At least, an initial pat down should be mandatory for anyone placed in your squad. A prisoner should be handcuffed and searched thoroughly for weapons, contraband, and instruments of escape. Need a review? Check out these seven types of searches.

2. Prisoners and their property should be kept separate.
Once the subject is searched, the subject and his/her property should be kept separate. Remember the recent case where a prisoner was allowed to wear a necklace, access both a handcuff key and edged weapon, and kill an officer.

3. Prisoners need to be constantly monitored.
Subjects in your squad need to be constantly monitored for signs agitation, self harming, attempts at escape, aggression towards you. Although back up officers, can assist in this monitoring, the driver is still responsible for watching the prisoner. This begins with how the subject is placed in the squad, seat belted in, and constantly watched for suspicious, i.e., dangerous activity.

Remember the caution that we gave in our Conducting Bathroom Breaks on Prisoner Transportation video tactical tip. If the prisoner is out of your sight, you are out of your mind.

This applies for letting the prisoner “hide in plain sight” in the back seat of your squad because you are not closely monitoring him/her. Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes are especially important in prisoner transportation when long tips tend to reduce an officer’s level of awareness. You can’t afford to be in condition white when transporting a prisoner.

Remember that you are responsible for your safety and the prisoner’s safety. Don’t relax until the prisoner has been turned over to the proper authority and you have left the area.

Please let us know in the comments below if you found this article helpful.

Let us know if you have any other incidents or situations that you want us to examine.

Gary Klugiewicz can be contacted directly at

Experience, expertise and communication skills are the criteria by which a defensive tactics instructor is judged. By these measures, Gary T. Klugiewicz is recognized as one of the nation’s leading control systems analysts specializing in the Use of Force.