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General orders - who cares?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

General orders - who cares?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
May 25, 2009

In many law enforcement agencies there are those pesky things called General Orders. These are sort of like the Rules of the Road. They are designed to keep a department running safely, for the benefit of the deputies or officers, for the public and for those who end up in the back seat of a patrol vehicle.

One of the General Orders at the McHenry County Sheriff's Department pertains to the time when a deputy is transporting a prisoner to the jail. The deputy is to proceed directly to the jail; do not pass Go - do not collect $200.

Let's say, for example, that Driver A is stopped by Deputy B, and it turns out that Driver A doesn't have a valid driver's license in his pocket. There are a couple of ways this stop might happen.

One is when Deputy B observes a traffic violation near 47 and Lake Ave. in Woodstock and makes a traffic stop.

Another way is when Deputy B uses the power of the computer and the internet to run a computer check on the license plate number of a vehicle in front of him that might just happen to be driven by a Hispanic-appearing individual. Deputy B reads on his computer monitor, no doubt while the patrol car is in motion (is this driving while distracted?), that the owner of the vehicle in front of him does not have a valid driver's license. So he stops the vehicle and, sure enough, the driver does not have a valid driver's license in his pocket. (One big problem with this is, how did the deputy know that the owner was driving the vehicle?)

Arrest time! The driver is arrested and placed in the back seat of the patrol car. General Orders say the arrestee is to be transported directly to the jail - in a safe and prudent manner, of course. No emergency lights. No siren. Obey the speed limits and obey all the traffic control devices. Do make any unsafe U-turns, especially when a car is passing the stopped patrol car!

Now, let's go a step further and say that Deputy B happens to be a K-9 officer and his four-legged "partner" is already sitting in the back seat. Just how safe is this for a prisoner, when he has to sit, handcuffed, next to an animal fully capable of good chomp right on the jugular?

Let's go another step and say that Deputy B is listening to communications over the police radio and he hears of a fight at the Fairgrounds, where six deputies and a supervisor are working off-duty. There is no call for assistance and, even if there were, there are plenty of deputies available to respond and assist. But Deputy B decides to stop at the Fairgrounds on the way to the jail, anyway.

Is there any risk to the prisoner handcuffed in the back seat of the patrol car? Does Deputy B leave the dog unattended in the back seat to "guard" the prisoner? Does Deputy B leave the prisoner unattended and take the dog to the fight? What if the fight turns into a shooting, and the prisoner gets hit? The potential (or real) liability for the County has just gone through the roof.

What if the prisoner has a health problem? For example, epilepsy. If he has a seizure, will the dog recognize it as a health problem and bark for help? Or will the dog go off "Safe" mode and attack the writhing prisoner?

Should K-9 units even be used for prisoner transport? Ever?

So, what happens next? Does Deputy B get a pat on the back for showing up, uninvited and undispatched, at the Fairgrounds to assist off-duty deputies? (By the way, did the Sheriff's Department line up that off-duty work at $40.00/hour per man?)

Or does he get a little private time with a supervisor and a "You know you really shouldn't have done that"?

Or does the Sheriff's Department take a harsh view of such an important violation of General Orders and take a meaningful step to protect the public?

Who sticks up for the arrestee, who had probably better keep his mouth shut?

Should the Department apologize to the arrestee and tell the State's Attorney to drop the charges?

When I was a deputy in Colorado, the standing rule was, if we stopped a driver within city or town limits, even though we had arrest powers we were to notify the local department, which would file the charges, and we would act as a witness. Maybe that's what we need around here.

The primary hunting ground for deputies is the County; i.e., unincorporated McHenry County. While deputies shouldn't be blind to obvious traffic violations occurring right in front of them, they have plenty to do in the unincorporated areas of the County, without making stops for "No Valids" in Woodstock.

Any thoughts? Anyone?

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