6 reminders about prisoner transport for maritime patrol

When your patrol unit is a boat, transports take on a whole different level of challenges — here are some reminders for marine/maritime units tasked with prisoner transport


One of the first things police officers learn about transporting prisoners is that it’s unpredictable and potentially dangerous — we never know what a desperate or violent suspect will do when finally cornered and realizes this is their last chance before lockup. 

I’ve had a suspect bust a squad car window and propel himself headfirst out of it. Others have faked medical conditions in an attempt to get me to approach close enough for an attack. We’ve all experienced similar craziness, but have you ever had anyone dive overboard? 

When your patrol unit is a boat, transports take on a whole different level of challenges — here are some reminders for marine/maritime units tasked with prisoner transport. 

1. There’s No Cage
The first challenge marine/maritime officers face is the lack of basic accessories most patrol officers take for granted. There is no cage, barrier, or separation between you and the individual in custody. 

This makes the simplest of transports high-risk — and in fact makes the high-risk transport downright deadly. Without proper control, an unruly prisoner can attack you, attempt to crash the boat, or even damage the mechanics. 

Of course they could also simply decide to jump ship.

2. Cuffs Up Front
Another difference to consider is how the prisoner is handcuffed. Basic training stresses cuffs behind the back — if things get a little exciting you can always add shackles or waist belt for extra control. 

None of these are an option on a boat. Well, you could use any of these methods but if something happens and the suspect ends up getting wet, chances are they will not be able to swim and you will spend the next 10 years fighting a wrongful death suit and spending more time with DOJ investigators than your own family. 

The only option you have is cuffs in front, and a personal floatation device (PFD) on the suspect. The key is to always double lock and double check the cuffs and use the biggest, most cumbersome PFD available — making sure it fits properly and will work if needed.

3. Be Mindful of Location
The debate over where to sit a prisoner probably dates back to the first patrol car. I will not tell you exactly where to place a prisoner on your patrol boat because every boat is different and offers different options. Whatever location you choose should place them as far from the operator as possible and limit their access to potential weapons or mechanical components such as fuel lines, steering cables, and the like. 

I personally prefer to place them in the bow. This allows me to see them at all times and does not provide direct access to any sensitive areas. I also prefer to have them sit directly on the deck, rather than in a seat, with their legs crossed or sprawled out depending on space.

4. Avoid Going Solo
Many departments have adopted single officer patrols, especially if looking to save some money. I think this is a very bad idea. I admit I’ve patrolled alone but I was younger and less experienced. 

Running a boat alone is not that hard, but conducting boardings or controlling a prisoner adds an unnecessary level of risk. Having two officers allows for the operator to do his thing undistracted while his partner maintains control over the prisoner and some otherwise brave souls will think twice when outnumbered.

5. Communicate Your Plan
When transporting in a car, communication with dispatch is important — when transporting by boat it is your only lifeline. If something happens, you cannot pull to the berm and address it, and chances are backup is much farther away. 

You must let someone know where you are and where you are going. If dispatch is unavailable, talk to another officer, the Coast Guard, or even the fire department — someone else who is on the water and can find you if you go dark. This can also have the added advantage of letting your passenger know someone else is nearby.

6. Know Your AOR
A good working knowledge of your Area of Operation is vital. You may not be able to make it your normal mooring, especially if the prisoner decides not to cooperate with your attempts to give him a ride. If this happens not only do you need to know where potential alternate landings are but you may also need to guide land units to location they may not even know exists.

Keep safe, and smooth sailing!

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