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by Peter Moskos

November 18, 2007

He's dead... cuff him

The New York Times has an article by Al Baker, "Handcuffing the Wounded: Tactic Hits a Nerve."

I read that article with interest. Police don't have the option to not handcuff a suspect. I always thought that officers should have some (limited) discretion to not handcuff suspects. For instance, you're patrolling, minding your own business, and a person comes up to you and says “I'm wanted, I'm here to turn myself in.” OK. You run his info and indeed, he’s 10-30 (In Baltimore, that means wanted or in custody).

Let's also say this person is wanted for a failure to appear in court for a non-violent crime. Why handcuff this guy in public? He’s turning himself in. It only serves to discourage others from doing the same.

The part of the article that made the sense to me was the idea that after a shooting, there's a lot to deal with, and you don't even want to think about having a debate about whether or not to handcuff a suspect. Just do it and move on.

I think the rules will change only if some doctors can show that handcuffing a suspect could threaten the life of a wounded suspect.

There was one suspect I didn’t want to handcuff. I was just out of field training and Green, working the Artscape fair in Baltimore on three hours sleep. A young black man was playing the buckets. Buckets are easy to play poorly. But this guy was good. Loud and good.

Some of the Artscape people complained. The paying vendors didn’t want the noise and were maybe jealous that he drew more people than they were. He wasn’t allowed to play in this area. People paid good money to set up shop.

Two mounted cops said they weren't going to tell him shit. My friend and partner wasn’t going to play bad cop either. The drummer had attracted a big crowd, who were enjoying his performance.

I made the mistake of asking the sergeant what to do, hoping he would say leave him be. But he said to get him out of Artscape boundaries, so I had to do it. After his set, I approached him and, to the loud boos of the crowd, told him to pack up and leave the Artscape property. He couldn’t play in the area. I told him where to move and told him he didn’t have a choice. He agreed, I left.

A few hours later I was with the same sergeant and the guy was playing again. Sarge said he was 10-30. "There's the right way and the wrong way to handle these things," he said. He didn't put cuffs on him there, which was a smart move. Rather, buckets in hand, he was lead back to the police truck. I had to do the paperwork and write him a citation. I told him he was a good drummer. He was friendly and a little slow. Perhaps mildly retarded. He told me he was blessed. Maybe he was.

He said made over $500 the day before. He could bang those buckets good.

He was so compliant, even sweet, that I didn't think to cuff him until one of the people in the truck said, “Is he 10-30? Then why isn't he in h-a-n-d-c-u-f-f-s.” Oh yeah. It was a fair question. I was violating departmental regulation. I know there's no guarantee that a sweet and compliant young man can’t turn violent. But I just didn’t think this guy needed to be cuffed. And though I still thought it unnecessary, I cuffed him.

Things got worse. I couldn’t write him a citation because he had no ID. You can’t write a ticket if you don’t know how they are. So now he’s under arrest (technically detained to verify identity, but it’s the same thing). I thought he was 20, but it turned out he was only 17. So now there’s there extra hassle of juvenile paperwork.

I had to count his money for inventory. He had about $170 on him. It was quite a sight later. Laid on the table, you’d think he was a big time drug dealer, except they were all one-dollar bills.

I should have just let him go. It’s the only arrest I’ve ever regretted.

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