In Wake Of Freddy Gray, OCPD Tweaks Prisoner Transport Protocols

OCEAN CITY- With the Freddy Gray incident in Baltimore still making headlines, law enforcement agencies all over Maryland are revisiting their prisoner transport policies, including Ocean City, where tweaks and changes to the protocols were approved this week by the Mayor and Council.

The Ocean City Mayor and Council on Tuesday approved a revised general order for the police department regarding, among other things, the safe and secure handling and transport of arrestees and detainees in custody. In April, Baltimore resident Freddy Gray died of complications from the alleged rough handling by city police officers while being transported following his arrest. Gray’s death touched off massive riots in Baltimore and ultimately led to six police officers being charged for their various roles in the incident.

In the wake of that incident, law enforcement agencies all over Maryland, including the Lower Shore, began reviewing their own policies and protocols regarding prisoner transport. Ocean City Police in the weeks after the riots in Baltimore began closely inspecting their own protocols and found the policies generally consistent with state regulations.

Nonetheless, a more comprehensive review of the OCPD’s prisoner transport policies was undertaken, resulting in proposed changes and tweaks. Chief Ross Buzzuro and Captain Greg Guiton told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday the review resulted in some changes to the OCPD’s general orders regarding the safe handling of arrestees and detainees, which needed formal approval from the town’s elected officials.

“Based on the events in Baltimore in April, we took a comprehensive look at our general orders in place regarding transport,” he said. “We saw areas for refinement and improvement and based on that review, we put into place a Chief of Police memorandum which we have incorporated into this final order for your consideration.”

Buzzuro explained the general order covering arrestee and detainee transport did not need a major revision, but rather a few changes to certain sections.

“Going over the language in the general order, specifically with the safety and care of our arrestees in mind, there are some changes implemented,” he said. “From beginning to end, we didn’t have to get rid or what we had in existence, we just had to refine it.”

Among the changes was the installation of video cameras in the OCPD’s prisoner transport vans, Buzzuro told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.

“There are some slight changes in the protocols that were previously in place,” he said. “There were also changes to the police vans, which are now equipped with a camera system.”

While the general order on the table for approval by the Mayor and Council covered a wide variety of protocols and practices regarding safe prisoner transport, certain sections echoed clearly from the Freddy Gray case and the resulting riots and subsequent charges against officers in Baltimore.

“When handling and transporting arrestees or detainees, personnel will provide safety and security for the subject, the officer, arrest and detention section personnel and the public,” the general order reads. “Personnel shall ensure that arrestees and detainees are properly restrained and searched to ensure the safety of all parties.”

The revised general order approved on Tuesday includes language related to restraining arrestees and detainees during transport.

“Personnel transporting an arrestee or detainee in a prisoner transport van are prohibited from engaging in non-routine vehicle operation,” the general order reads. “All arrestees or detainees transported in any police vehicle other than a prisoner transport van shall be properly secured by a seatbelt.”

During the Freddy Gray incident, it has been alleged the officers handling the suspect ignored or were unaware of his injuries and took Gray on a “rough ride” that ultimately caused his fatal injuries. The OCPD’s general order approved this week addresses that particular protocol.

“An arrestee or detainee suffering from an illness, sickness or obvious injury that will prevent the safe transport of the arrestee or detainee or others shall not be transported in a prisoner transport van,” the general order reads. “In these cases, the arrestee or detainee shall be transported individually in a police sedan or SUV with a transport cage or by ambulance if the condition warrants.”

In the Freddy Gray incident, the suspect allegedly told the arresting officers and transporting officers repeatedly he was seriously injured. The six officers now facing a wide variety of serious charges either ignored Gray’s complaints or underestimated their severity, but the general order approved on Tuesday is clear in Ocean City’s new protocol.

“An arrestee or detainee who complains of injury and/or illness to police personnel while in custody shall be attended to immediately,” the general order reads. “This also includes when a request is made during transport.”

In cases where a suspect is injured or becomes ill at the scene of an arrest or incident, the revised general order requires emergency medical services to respond and supervisors must be alerted.

“Police personnel shall request that the EMS be dispatched to the scene of a reported or observed injury or illness of an arrestee or detainee to assess medical needs,” the general order reads. “A police supervisor shall be notified when a detainees or arrestee is transported to a medical facility.”

The revised general order approved on Tuesday also includes language specific to protocols after an arrestee or detainee is transported to a hospital or medical facility.

“All transports to medical facilities where the department will maintain custody of the arrestee or detainee at the facility, shall require two police personnel to accompany the arrestee or detainee,” the revised general order reads. “When the transport to the medical facility is accomplished by an ambulance, a police officer must accompany the arrestee or detainee. While at the medical facility, an arrestee or detainee shall not be permitted to remove temporary restraints to use the restroom. Personnel escorting an arrestee or detainee in a medical facility setting must exercise extreme caution as the complaint of injury may be used as an attempt to flee.”