LONSBERRY: A Paddy Wagon Would Have Saved George Floyd

Bring back the paddy wagon.

               I’m sorry, no offense intended, I meant prisoner transport vehicle.

               But I’m serious, we need to bring it back.

               Watching the trial of the officer accused in the death of George Floyd, and replaying that tragic event in your mind, you see various points at which tragedy, had circumstances been different, could have been avoided.

               And one of them was in the backseat of the car.

               In most American police departments, people who have been arrested are taken away from the scene in the back seat of a police car.

               That’s a cost-cutting measure. It saves having to have another couple of officers and a special transport vehicle come and take the suspect to processing. In most departments, under routine conditions, prisoner transport vehicles and officers have been eliminated, because of short staffing and cut budgets.

               Which gets us to the back seat.

               It’s hard to think of a space – and an opening – less well suited to the task of transporting a person who is physically resisting being transported.

               Like George Floyd was.

               Early in his contact with police, they were able to handcuff him and get him to the side of a police cruiser. They then tried to get him into the back seat of the car. They couldn’t. The physical design of the opening, an odd and narrow space, and the intrusive location of the door – which prevents multiple officers from being able to push the suspect into the car – makes it very easy for anyone who resists, and leans against the door frame, to foil the efforts of multiple police officers.

               That was illustrated recently in Rochester, New York, where a 9-year-old girl successfully refused to get into the backseat of a police cruiser, even though there were three officers directly involved in trying to get her in. Though large for a child, she was nowhere near the size or strength of an adult, and yet her strength, and wedging herself against the vehicle frame, empowered her to successfully resist.

               And all the world has seen it play out in the matter of George Floyd, a tall and powerful man who sat on the edge of the back seat, his feet on the pavement, as three grown men tried unsuccessfully to get him to pivot and sit in the back seat.

               That’s when they stood him back up and the tussle began that left him on the ground and led to his death.

               None of which would have happened, if the police had been able to get him into a vehicle, even in the face of his resistance.

               Which gets us back to the paddy wagon.

               They usually have wide double doors in the rear. And while it’s best if the prisoner cooperatively steps up into the vehicle and takes a seat, if he refuses, there is room for multiple officers to pick him up, if need be, and carry him into the transport vehicle.

               And that’s good. And dramatically better than the scrum that often breaks out when prisoners refuse to willingly get into the back seat of the police car.

               That is especially true in the Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Impala vehicles often used by police fleets, and is even true in the various SUVs used by police departments, with their larger door openings.

               If there had been a prisoner transport vehicle, the Rochester girl wouldn’t have been pepper sprayed, and George Floyd wouldn’t have been killed. And who knows how many hands-on incidents between police and suspects could be averted.

               In the current anti-police climate, activists and politicians are looking for things to take away from police. But the road to better safety for suspects and officers might actually be found by giving them something – a safer, easier and more humane way to transport people who have been arrested.

               It will cost City Hall some money. In Rochester, they got rid of the regularly staffed transport vehicles when they reorganized the patrol sections and eliminated 5thPlatoon. There used to be transport vehicles on the road ready to respond seven days a week from 11:15 a.m. to 3 a.m.

               Now, the two vehicles sit empty and unused as the understaffed department struggles to fill regular patrols without calling in officers on overtime.

               That leads to confrontations at the door to the backseat.

               And that got a little girl pepper sprayed, and it probably got George Floyd killed.

               And if we truly think those were bad things, then we – City Hall and the chief’s office – should bring back the officers and equipment necessary to keep them from happening.

               Bring back the paddy wagon.