Cars and vans

5/01/2015 07:33:00 AM
Ok, here's a thought experiment. Suppose there were two medical procedures, procedure A and procedure B. Both procedures produce exactly the same outcomes, except procedure B occasionally severs the patients' necks. Procedure B is also a little cheaper than A.

You don't really need a health economist to tell you that procedure A is the more cost effective one. Solely in terms of economics, the cost difference would have to be truly titanic for it to even come close, and even then procedure B would simply be proscribed for ethical reasons--it violates the very first principle of medical ethics of "do no harm." Any doctor caught doing procedure B would certainly lose his medical license, and probably be charged with a crime. If any of his patients suffered injury from procedure B, he'd certainly owe millions in malpractice settlements.

Yet the City of Baltimore is still serving up procedure B as a matter of policy, even though most cities get by just fine using only procedure A. I am, of course, refering to police cars versus police vans. In most cities, if you are arrested you are placed in the back of a police car and taken back to the station--the police even hold your head to make sure you don't bump it on the door as you get in. No one gets their necks severed. Yet Baltimore stands accused of paralyzing and killing its citizens by throwing them in police vans for "rough rides" which may or may not be deliberate attempts to cause harm. It isn't just an accusation: the city has been found guilty by the courts and forced to cough up staggering amounts in, essentially, malpractice suits.

We can debate the extent of the problem here: did police really intend to cause harm or terrorize prisoners with "rough rides?" I don't know. Did Freddie Gray really inflict that injury on himself while in that police van? I don't know, but all the evidence for this claim has been recanted. However, when it comes to the question of whether Baltimore police should be allowed to put prisoners in vans, none of that matters at all, because we know these injuries do not happen in regular police cars. The fact that Baltimore continued the use of police vans for prisoner transport once the evidence showed an increase in injury during transport was an egregious case of malpractice, and a violation of human rights.