The New Haven Police Department recently announced a sweeping set of reforms meant to improve the health and safety of prisoners in transport, including seatbelt requirements and stricter procedures for quick medical care in the event of a crash or injury.
The changes came just one day into the department’s new leadership under Chief Karl Jacobson and went into effect immediately. They also were implemented just weeks after an incident in New Haven that drew national attention — and criticism — when a 36-year-old Black man was paralyzed after being injured in a crash while in police custody.
Richard “Randy” Cox was handcuffed and in the back of a police transport van when the officer driving the vehicle slammed on the brakes to avoid a crash. Cox, handcuffed but without a seatbelt or any safety restraint, flew toward the wall of the van and hit his head, according to video of the incident. He was taken to a detention facility, processed and put in a cell before receiving medical treatment.
The reforms include requiring officers to transport prisoners in marked cruisers unless a van is physically necessary, to provide or securely fasten seatbelts during transport and to call for an ambulance if there is a crash, illness, injury or mental health crisis. These are guidelines many — but not all — police departments in the state already follow, the Hartford Courant has learned.
Lt. Aaron Boisvert of the Hartford Police Department said that transport vans aren’t often used.
“We only break them out on rare occasions, mostly they’re used for traffic control or special events, but there are rare times that we have to transport people in them,” Boisvert said of the department’s vans.
In those rare times, people placed in the back are provided with safety straps that officers are required to tell them about. The prisoners are able to strap themselves in, Boisvert said. The majority of the time, though, prisoners are transported in marked police cruisers and are wearing seatbelts.
If a prisoner were injured while they are being transported, Boisvert said, officers would know to immediately call for medical help at the scene, rather than waiting until they reach their final destination.
“You’re not going to move a potentially injured person,” Boisvert said.
The lieutenant also said that officers are instructed to listen to them right away if a person who is in custody were to ask for medical help, whether it be for illness, injury or mental health concerns.
“We don’t challenge people,” he said. “If someone says they need to go to the hospital, we bring them to the hospital.”
Cox told officers in New Haven that he thought he had broken his neck and that he could not move. He was slid into a wheelchair and processed and put in his holding cell before an ambulance was called. He was then taken to Yale New Haven Hospital where he underwent surgery, reports show.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and that city’s new chief have both vowed that what happened to Cox won’t happen again in their city.
In New London, the police department does not use prisoner transport vans, said Capt. Matthew Galante.
Anyone under arrest is moved in a marked police cruiser that is fitted with seatbelts and the appropriate dividers between officers and passengers. The only time a prisoner’s seatbelt might not be fashioned by an officer — or the prisoner themselves — is if the prisoner is combative or being violent, Galante said.
In the event of any sort of medical emergency, Galante said that officers would provide “immediate medical attention and transport to a medical facility” and an officer accompanies the person when they arrive at a hospital.
The captain also said New London police officers are instructed not to use electronic devices while driving prisoners unless “exigent Law Enforcement circumstances exist.”
State statute allows law enforcement officers to be exempt from traffic regulations when performing their duties.
The Connecticut State Police said they do not have any transport vans.
Prisoners are always transported in the front seat of marked police cruisers because cruisers aren’t fitted with security barriers between the back and front seats, according to Connecticut State Police Trooper First Class Pedro A. Muñiz.
“The safety and security of our residents is always our top priority whether our troopers are transporting prisoners or providing transport services to other members of our community, we ensure that everyone in our vehicles are properly secured,” said Muñiz.
While in route, persons in police custody are handcuffed behind their backs and are seat-belted in. In-car video cameras are turned on and turned to face them so that all transports are properly recorded, Muniz said.
Whenever there is a medical emergency during a transport, Muniz said, troopers immediately notify their dispatch center and call an ambulance.
Connecticut State Police troopers may use in-car radios, computers or cellphones to communicate with dispatch, supervisors or other first responders.
Lt. Ryan Bessette of the Waterbury Police Department said police officers are trained to keep prisoners safe and secure no matter where they are.
“It is policy that officers not only maintain security but also provide for the safety of prisoners in our custody regardless of if in transport or at the detention area,” said Bessette.
Part of that responsibility involves getting prisoners medical treatment whenever its necessary, he said. If there is a motor vehicle crash, officers are instructed to evaluate prisoners to determine how best to help them.
Waterbury police said they currently only use vans for travel to and from court arraignments in the morning, which typically involves bringing multiple prisoners to the same courthouse.
Seatbelts are only required when prisoners are traveling in cruisers, not when they’re being moved in those vans, according to Bessette.
Transport vans are equipped with straps that prisoners can hold onto for safety, Bessette said.
The Connecticut Department of Correction transports more than 1,000 inmates on a weekly basis, moving them for things like court appearances, trips to the hospital and transfers between facilities, according to Andrius Banevicius, the DOC spokesperson. All trips are handled by the DOC’s dedicated Central Transportation Unit.
The unit uses transport vans, but they are all equipped with seatbelts. Every inmate and staff member involved in a transport is required to use a seatbelt while the van is in motion, according to the Banevicius.
If a van were involved in an accident, state or local police would be called to the scene and the DOC determines whether additional department staff or vehicles need to respond, as well.
In the event of a medical emergency, the DOC driver is instructed to use their discretion as to whether an inmate should be brought to a hospital, to the nearest facility or if they should pull over and call an ambulance for them, Banevicius said.
Every correctional facility has medical staff on site, Banevicius said.
Staff from DOC are prohibited from having their personal cellphones with them anytime they are on duty but carry department-issued cell phones or radios with them in the vans in order to maintain communication between the correctional facility and the second location, like the courthouse or hospital, according to Banevicius.
The Norwich Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment on their policies.
The Bridgeport Police Department declined to provide information about their transport or medical attention procedures, citing the need for a formal Freedom of Information Act request in order for that information to be made available.