In March, a video was posted to YouTube showing NYPD macing a man and then restraining him in what the uploader described as a "body bag," zipping it all the way over the arrested man's head. The bag, which we learned is called an EDP bag (but sometimes referred to as a "burrito"), is used to restrain people who are emotionally disturbed, and there don't appear to be any guidelines for the NYPD specifying EDP usage. The New York Times has a piece out today on the restraining devices, and reports that they were used 122 times between January 1st and April 20th in 2016. That comes out to more than once a day.
The man restrained in the bag in the video posted in March allegedly failed to pay his subway fare, the Times reports, and he's said to have became violent when officers tried to arrest him, flailing his arms, kicking, and spitting. He allegedly struck one officer in the head with his elbow and injured another. He now faces charges for felony assault, among others—but his lawyer, Andrew Miller, says that's completely backwards.
"He was the victim of the assault, instead of the other way around," Miller said, calling the officers' actions "excessive and totally unreasonable."
According to the product description for a similar bag as the one that appeared in the video, "the EDP Bag deploys in a split second and can be used to secure an EDP (emotionally disturbed person) in just moments. The fabric is strong and allows fluids to pass through, and can be cleaned and decontaminated easily after each use." It retails at about $750.
As the NYPD told us after we contacted them about the video, "the EDP restraint device is used by ESU when an EDP is violent and may cause harm to themselves or others." But the NYPD's ESU doesn't have the best history: in 2012, for example, ESU officers who were responding to a call for an ambulance would up shooting and killing Mohamed Bah, who was naked and, police said, wielding a knife in his apartment.
According to the Times, the NYPD has been using restraints like this for 25 years, and says that only "highly trained" ESU members are authorized to use them. But Carla Rabinowitz, an advocacy coordinator at Community Access, an organization that helps people with mental illness, has called the use of the bags "dehumanizing" and "dangerous," and recently wrote a letter to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Susan A. Herman and Deputy Chief Theresa Tobin denouncing the department's use of the bags.
"Use of such restraint traumatizes a person in emotional distress and exacerbates the condition and experience of the crisis for the individual," Rabinowitz told the Times. "It is a dehumanizing tactic, and promotes stigma against people with mental health issues...If people in the mental health community find out that their fate is to be put in a body bag, they will fight even harder to not get into a body bag."
Nonetheless, use of the bags appears relatively routine—though zipping them over the restrained person's head, as was done in the inciting video, seems rarer. Attorney David Rankin, who has represented clients that have been restrained in EDP bags, told us in March that he'd never heard of the bag being zipped over someone's head. And a source who works in the psychiatric emergency room of a New York City hospital said that she sees the "burritos" on a weekly basis, but has never seen one used to move someone, or cover a patient's head.