By Donna Rogers, Editor-in-chief
Gang rivalries. Cell extractions. Hostage taking. Riots. Cell phone hits. Homemade shanks. Seg units. High-risk transports.
While it’s not an everyday occurrence, the possibility of danger lurks for corrections officers on every shift, in every shadow, in dayrooms, rec yards, during cell extractions or via escorts through the facility or to external appointments.
On August 24, 2017 two inmates were caught on camera stabbing two officers in the head and face with a homemade knife in the dayroom of New Mexico State Penitentiary in Santa Fe. While two officers were attacked in the face and on the head, one pepper sprayed the perp while a third officer assisted by shooting beanbags at the assailant. The attack left two officers bloody and one needing stitches. Luckily, the injuries were not life threatening. The entire incident was caught on surveillance camera and broadcast on KOAT TV news, making it easier to prosecute the offending inmates.
Another incident happened that same month when a convicted murder unlocked his handcuffs and shackles, stabbed an Iowa sheriff’s deputy with a homemade shank, then raced for the gun from the prison van and shot a second sheriff’s deputy, fatally shooting him, then drove through the prison garage door, before he was apprehended. A surveillance camera caught the chilling episode. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
There is no dearth of violent incidents in prisons across the U.S. As those working in this industry can attest, it is unfortunately a way of life. So the question this is this: just how can you keep your C.O.s safe with the constant high level of threat of bodily harm?
Body Worn Cameras
Slightly behind law enforcement’s implementation of body worn cameras (BWC), those for corrections officers are just starting to be tested and evaluated. Videos from BWC have been used in police trials to positive effect. While the video is far from polished, it offers an account of the altercation from the officers’ point of view in those chaotic moments during a crime.
According to the Washington Post, Michael D. White, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, wrote a report for the Justice Department in 2013 about the legal benefits derived from video footage. White said that in the United Kingdom, where officers have been using body cameras since 2005, court officials have seen an increase in guilty pleas.
“If there is a ‘he said, she said’ aspect such as in assault cases, the defense and the prosecution can see what transpired, the behavior of the suspect and victim, and whether police followed protocol at the time of the arrest,” White added.
Cameras in corrections are used in similar situations to police use, notes Tom Malone, president, VOXX Advanced Solutions, and Paul Soult, founder & CEO, S4W, who have partnered in the development of ACCU.C LTE Body Camera, which is now in trials in corrections facilities. That is, they are primarily used for recording of events that rise to a level of high concern that puts the officers and inmates alike at risk.
“For example,” they further, “[body cameras recordings are] used for a difficult prisoner who resists officers who have a directive to move him/her to another cell or transport to court for a hearing/trial. It’s also used for general in-facility events such as inmate disagreements that lead to fights, gang conflagrations, and prisoner uprisings. One correction official cited his best use case as when a prisoner refuses to leave his/her cell and must be forcibly extracted. That is a frequent issue and often requires extreme use of force and multiple corrections officers to assist and often results in injuries to corrections personnel as well as the inmate.”
There is a push by law enforcement to use cameras. According to a recent survey by the Major Cities Chiefs and Major County Sheriffs, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, more than 90% of local agencies are committed to moving forward with BWC implementation.
But there are drawbacks, according to the Major Chiefs survey. More than 70% of respondents said they will be required to expand and improve their infrastructure; nearly half (48%) did not know how much bandwidth it would require and 46% did not know how much storage the video data would require.
Corrections agencies are adding them too, but “incorporation is still fairly early. They face some of the same issues law enforcement in general does, i.e. defining policy and procedure for proper use, effective data storage, transfer of data to external parties (D.A.s), and in some cases, funding,” say Malone and Soult.
“However, the value of the technology is trumping those issues, officer safety and government liability concerns are foremost in pushing the adoption,” they further. “Liability is a very big driver and certainly in the larger agencies. Prisoner rights advocates and Federal facility monitoring agencies are constantly attuned to corrections facilities events, and relatives of the incarcerated assist their loved ones in filing complaints, hiring attorneys, and registering complaints with rights groups. The corrections operators are sensitive to these items, thus embrace the ability to use body mounted camera technology to provide supportive evidentiary data that can thwart misguided scrutiny and false rights violations claims.”
BWCs support officer safety, inmate and general public safety, limiting liability and risk for the agency (irrefutable evidentiary value), and they have the potential to reduce the incidence of abusive behavior by any of the aforementioned parties.
The install can be turnkey. “On all of our placements,” say Malone and Soult, “we do all of the setup work and training of operators.”
Personal Protection Equipment
Cell extractions often present corrections officers with resistance and violence while inmate riots are often perilous. Both inmates and staff are at risk during these disturbances, which at the least result in serious bodily harm or can easily turn deadly.
Shanks are the weapons of choice for inmates, of course. Edged weapons exist on a daily basis, says Shawn Mayfield, corrections specialist, Point Blank Enterprises. While they may not be deployed daily by inmates, they are continually being crafted behind the scenes, he notes. Luckily, many are discovered and confiscated by prison guards before they are put into use. “Our Spike level 1,2, and 3 stab armor system, the cell extraction suit with blade plates, and our Thrustguard Spike 3, give C.O.s protection from edged weapons and shanks,” Mayfield points out.
In addition, the PACA Advanced Riot Control Helmet (ARCH) is a heavy-duty piece of headgear that delivers a combination of high performance and protection. The ARCH exceeds the NIJ 0104.02 Standard for Riot Helmets and features many safety enhancements including detachable face shield with liquid seal, nape pad with Kydex penetration shield, shock-absorbent foam pads and chemical-resistant chin cup for added comfort. The faceguard is constructed of steel wire with black nylon coating and welded joints for maximum strength and safety.
Benefits of Training
In addition to personal protection for officers, training is of critical importance. Whether that is a community college on campus, an online course that offers management certification for leaders or on-site or off-site certification training in a certain field, regular training can help in avoiding conflict and the associated liability. One such training facility is the US C-SOG National Center for Corrections Special Operations (NCCSO) near Naples, Florida. The 100,000+ square feet facility is the nation's only exclusively dedicated corrections special operations training facility.
This once functional facility was decommissioned and left fully operational.
NCCSO, along with its partners, have dedicated resources to give the Corrections, Law Enforcement and the Military community a realistic experience for dealing with inmate emergencies from hostage rescue and close quarter riot control to the most basic function of removing inmates from micro spaces. Additionally, the Center is capable and outfitted to conduct practical, as well as classroom, leadership development through the exclusive CSO Leadership Academy hosted by the National Sheriffs Association (NSA). The nearly 300-bed facility is at the center of all training that will incorporates certification through both the National Sheriff's Association and Corrections Special Operations Association.
Further, in addition to training at the NCCSO facility, US C-SOG offers training on-site in facilities all over the world. Some of the training courses they conduct are Dynamic Cell Extraction®, High Risk Security Patrols or HRSP, Corrections Special Operations (CSO) Use of Force, Less Lethal Ops, Corrections Hostage Rescue Training® (CHRT) and Close Quarters Riot Control.
One of the courses, the HRSP program, has been deployed across the country in mega and small jails with zero incidents of excessive use of force, a major reduction in officer injuries and a rapid response time to incidents due to having an active unit on scene, the training organization details.
Having an HRSP unit trained on scene allows an agency to handle the most complex of corrections situations and is ready to respond within seconds.
Body worn cameras, training, highly specialized vests, helmets, gloves, etc., all contribute their share to help officers, staff and inmates alike keep safe. The added bonus is corrections operators have less liability as a result of disturbances that are difficult to sort out without intervention.