The Freddie Gray transport van

The Freddie Gray transport van

Legislators legislate. Often, legislation is born not because of a pressing public need, but for less civic-minded reasons. And of course, politics plays a part. Sometimes, legislation would actually make things worse, even dangerous. Maryland is a state very much in the clutches of progressive ideology, and the legislation being proposed in response to the Freddie Gray case reflects that ideology rather than rationality, as The Baltimore Sun reports: 

Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that would prohibit law enforcement officers from giving ‘rough rides’ to prisoners, meant to hurt them during transport.

A bill proposed in the General Assembly would require all prisoners to be secured with a seat belt while being transported, a precaution proponents say could have prevented the mortal injury Freddie Gray suffered while handcuffed and shackled but unbelted in the back of a Baltimore police van last April.

While a police investigation found no evidence that Gray received a deliberate rough ride that bounced him around the back of the van, prosecutors have suggested in court documents that they intend to make that case in a trial of one of the Baltimore police officers charged in his death. All six officers have pleaded not guilty.

“No evidence that Gray received a deliberate rough ride…” Keep that in mind.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, the Baltimore Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said it’s ‘common sense’ to put prisoners in seat belts. She proposes fining officers $10,000 if an unsecured prisoner is seriously injured or killed while being transported.

Also keep in mind that $10,000 is felony territory. Ms. Carter Conway is attempting to enact what could be an entire series of crimes applicable only to police officers. There are more than enough existing crimes that could apply to an officer purposely seeking to injure someone.  What’s going on here are attempts to establish laws officers can’t help but break, so they can be prosecuted in the name of social justice.  How can we be sure of this?  Read on:

Gray’s death, and the unrest that followed, has inspired more than 30 pieces of legislation in the current legislative session. Many of the bills seek to address the underlying distrust between poor black communities and the officers who police them. But a few take on circumstances associated with Gray’s death.

Lawmakers have proposed legislation that would force every jurisdiction in the state to install seat belts in police vehicles, make it a crime not to seek medical help for a detainee, mandate video recording inside vans and require police to put helmets on prisoners.

Ah. So these bills are not matters of public safety, but attempts to address “underlying distrust” between blacks and the police, whether that distrust exists, or has any basis in fact. Certainly, some distrust the police, and the unrestrained rhetoric of many politicians plays a substantial role in that distrust. Talk about The Ferguson Effect…

It’s Baltimore Police Department policy to belt in detainees, though it was not done in Gray’s case, and the state’s police union supports the concept of making it law.

‘We understand it totally,’ said Vince Canales, president of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police. Leaving people unbelted in the back of transport vans ‘goes against common sense,’ he said.

But Canales objects to the $10,000 fine, he says, because it assumes injuries suffered by passengers would be the law enforcement officer’s fault.

‘It’s almost guilt before innocence,’ Canales said. ‘You’re not able to defend yourself.

Canales has apparently entirely surrendered to social justice narratives, or the Baltimore Sun isn’t quoting him completely. One would hope he would be saying as loudly as possible, that seat belts aren’t effective because people can simply open them at will, and that officers must have wide discretion, because trying to apply seat belts to some people is a distinctly dangerous and foolish pursuit.



The city already is putting into place some measures pushed by lawmakers.

Baltimore officials voted last week to pay a Florida company $187,000 to install a system that records what happens in back of the Police Department’s 23 transport vans.

Another bill pending in Annapolis would require video and audio recording in the back of every police transport vehicle in the state.

One wonders if legislators have any idea of the expense of such things. I doubt the state will be supplying the funds. This one is my favorite:

Del. David Moon, a Montgomery County Democrat, introduced a bill that would make it a crime for a police officer to fail to seek medical help if a detainee requests it — another issue central to the Gray case.

But Moon said he withdrew the bill because legislative debate was focused on administrative complaints and discipline for police brutality, not criminal charges for the officers involved.

‘Next year I plan to revive the conversation on when criminal charges are warranted in police abuse cases,’ Moon wrote in an email. ‘Hopefully next session we will have the benefit of seeing outcomes in all the Freddie Gray cases, to help inform our discussion.



Translation: If the Baltimore City Prosecutors don’t convict any of the cops, Moon will have to reassess the political situation for maximum advantage. This one is particularly idiotic:

Other lawmakers have proposed a low-tech solution: requiring every police officer to put ‘protective headgear’ on shackled detainees when a seat belt isn’t available. Maryland state police estimated helmets with a face shield would cost more than $300 apiece.

‘It’s a dangerous situation when you can’t save yourself,’ said Del. Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the city’s House delegation. He is a co-sponsor of the helmet bill, which was introduced by Republican Del. Glen Glass of Harford County.

‘If someone’s going to be in the back of a police van, hands handcuffed, legs shackled — maybe or maybe not buckled — they ought to have a helmet on,’ Anderson said. ‘You don’t have to spend a lot of money on the helmet.

“Low tech” and low IQ. I’ve already addressed the seat belt issue in some detail in Update 4: Belt Me.  However, it seems it’s necessary once again. As I do, keep in mind that there are no seat belts in school busses or other means of public transportation such as subways, yet Maryland legislators seem to have no interest in the safety of those that ride those conveyances. Politicians often take advantage of children when their proposals can’t stand on their own merits, but apparently attacking the police take precedence over even that vile tactic. Their concern seems to be entirely with inconveniencing, even harming, the police, while making criminals as comfy and safe as possible.

Seatbelt Follies:

Notice Gray's apparently uninjured neck

Among the topics taught at any basic police academy is the importance of avoiding coming into close contact with people, and most of all, people under arrest. Putting any part of one’s anatomy within striking, scratching, butting, biting, gouging, etc. range of angry criminals, or people under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or just humiliated and irrational, is a very bad idea. Police officers have lost ears, noses, huge chunks of flesh and suffered all manner of horrific injuries when they have put themselves in range of damage. Few things make this worse then forcing an officer to lean over a criminal in a vehicle to buckle a seatbelt.

While it may be true that most people won’t try to hurt a police officer putting a seatbelt on them, some will, and officers must have the essentially unlimited discretion to decide who is and isn’t dangerous. Such things can change within seconds. Once one starts demanding everyone be seatbelted, or that virtually everyone be seatbelted, and starts trying to anticipate every possible human emotion or situation, police work becomes actually impossible. Often, officers can articulate no more than a feeling about someone, and following those feelings often saves their lives. If officers can no longer use their experience and discretion, exactly the wrong kind of people will become police officers, because the right people will leave the job.

In addition, seatbelts are not magical devices that can and will prevent all possible injuries. For basic safety reasons, seatbelts cannot be lockable. This means that any criminal, even handcuffed, can easily release any seatbelt. There is evidence that Freddie Gray was involved in “crash for cash” schemes wherein he injured himself to set up lawsuits against the police. He may well have been trying that when he miscalculated and killed himself. Even if Freddie Gray were seatbelted, the moment he was out of sight of officers, he could have freed himself and ended up just as dead.

Seatbelts can also be used as weapons against the police, and can be used by criminals to commit suicide, or to beat or kill other criminals being transported in the same vehicle. Suicide prevention, and officer safety are important reasons jail cells have no potential ligatures. A police transport van is, in essence, a temporary, mobile jail cell, but one that provides more than enough time for a suicide if a prisoner wants to die in that manner and the police helpfully provide the means.

Under Carter Conway’s bill, if two prisoners manage to injure themselves and cry police brutality, the hapless police officer driving the van would find himself presumptively guilty of felonies. Such a bill would also be a virtual invitation for crash for cash schemes.

Allow me to repeat it: even if an officer securely seatbelts everyone in a police transport van, each and every one of those people can, whenever they wish, remove the seatbelt.

Rough Rides:

Criminalizing “rough rides” is a particularly stupid, unnecessary and dangerous idea. The devil is in the details. What is a rough ride? How does one differentiate between intent, and circumstances? If an officer suddenly swerves to avoid a truck running a red light, leading to injury of a prisoner, is he an instant felon? With such a law on the books, such an officer will surely be arrested and tried at the least, and for police officers, that alone is career death.

But no rational prosecutor would prosecute a police officer without cause and an airtight case! Correct. No rational prosecutor. Then there was the George Zimmerman case, and the six officers being tried in Baltimore, and the federal DOJ under Barack Obama…

Such a crime is unnecessary because a number of existing criminal statutes, ranging from assault to homicide, would apply in a genuine and provable case. That’s what the Baltimore Prosecutors are trying to do right now, but without evidence or provable cases. There is no evidence that Officer Caesar Goodson gave Freddie Gray a rough ride, and substantial evidence he did not, but that isn’t stopping his prosecution, or keeping the prosecutors from making that argument.

Failure To Seek Medical Help:

This too is incredibly stupid and will not only make police work impossible, it will severely strain medical providers, particularly emergency services personnel. Moon’s intent is apparently to entirely remove police discretion in such matters. If a criminal so much as suggests he might have an owie, the police are obligated to immediately secure professional, medical aid. There are two ways they can do this: by calling an ambulance, or by immediately transporting the criminal to an emergency room.

Every police officer knows, and the testimony in Officer Porter’s trial established, that most such complaints by criminals have nothing to do with medical need. Even though all the officers involved in the Gray case had substantial reason to believe Gray was faking, even they intended to take Gray to an ER when reasonably possible. His own actions resulted in his injury before they had the chance.

If officers must immediately take complainers to an ER, police work, and emergency medicine as we know them, are over. Remember that an officer transporting a prisoner must remain with that prisoner while they’re being treated. They’re not free to answer calls or transport other prisoners. This will dramatically increase police manpower needs, as well as require additional vehicles. To put a single officer on the street around the clock requires the hiring of four to five officers.

Particularly in urban areas, emergency rooms are always overflowing with people legitimately needing medical care. As soon as a flood of faking criminals begins to clog emergency rooms, people with genuine medical needs are going to die, and of course, most of these will be the poor black residents of low-income areas progressives trying to hamper the police claim to love so much.

Social justice-inspired laws are statements of outrage and politically correct indignation. They always impose unforeseen costs far in excess of any good they can possibly do. And often, those costs are foreseen, yet they’re imposed anyway.


This is really a good one. Helmets that are not properly sized and fitted are as dangerous, if not more, than no helmet at all. Putting a helmet on an unwilling criminal is an inherently stupid and dangerous pursuit, not only because of the injuries that may be incurred in the process, but because someone wearing a helmet is wearing a formidable weapon, even if it doesn’t fit right.

Will each police van be followed by another van carrying a wide array of helmets to fit every possible criminal? That is, practically, what will be required. And of course, each helmet will have to be cleaned, disinfected, deloused, etc. How many people will have to be hired for that duty? I hesitate to imagine the sheer number of federal regulations that will be involved.

Final Thoughts:

Certainly, police officers are responsible for the safety of people they transport. Every officer understands and accepts that responsibility. “Rough rides” are dangerous and unprofessional, and should be punished. However, unless they result in real injury, they are not criminal offenses. Short of that, these are matters of proper, professional supervision and internal police discipline.

Installing cameras in transport vans is not inherently unreasonable, and can protect officers and cities from unwarranted claims. However, at some point, we must be able to trust police officers to do their jobs and to use reasonable discretion. This is why police recruiting and hiring is a lengthy and demanding process. If we cannot, if officers must, every second be followed and supervised via video, why would any ethical, capable and intelligent person want to be a police officer? What will that leave us?

Progressives continue to deny the existence of the Ferguson Effect. Ironically, passing laws like these will ensure that the residents of Maryland experience the supposedly non-existent Ferguson Effect, good and hard.