Bingo. Imagine a ping-pong ball in a can. Except the ball is a human being - thrown into the van walls and floor with such force that permanent injury can result. At least two Philadelphians, in fact, have been permanently paralyzed after getting the so-called nickel ride treatment, and at least 18 others have been seriously injured.
And those are only the cases - likely a fraction of the total - culled from records by Inquirer reporters Nancy Phillips and Rose Ciotta.
As documented in their three-part series this week, the Philadelphia Police Department's shocking record on patrol-wagon punishment seems like something out of a totalitarian regime.
In Chile they used to torture you for being in the wrong political party. In Philadelphia, all it takes is some public drunkenness or maybe just an argument with police.
Gino Thompson's "crime" was a drunken argument with a girlfriend over a set of keys. One wild patrol wagon ride later, he is paralyzed from the waist down.
And consider Carlice Harris, the middle-aged Baptist minister who - on her way to delivering a sermon one Sunday in 1999 - stopped to demand the badge number of an officer she said was kicking a male suspect being held on the ground.
So police handcuffed the pastor, put her in a van, and took her for a ride. "It was a very rough ride," said the Rev. Harris, who suffered injuries to her face, knee and wrists. She collected $22,500 in damages from the city.
In all, the city has paid out $2.3 million in legal settlements stemming from "nickel rides."
Police Commissioner John F. Timoney says the department is doing its utmost to buy safer new vans fitted with seat belts and foam padding or to retrofit old vans. (That process speeded up after the reporters started their investigation.)
Mr. Timoney says that police van punishment "if it does exist - certainly isn't condoned by myself or anybody else in this department."
How can he be sure, though, since his own Internal Affairs bureau is clueless about most of the incidents?
The number of police disciplined for meting out this form of brutality: None. Hey, it's just so easy to claim you had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting a cat.
Police should stop using vans to transport an individual suspect. Patrol cars work just as well. When vans are used, they should include cameras installed in the back.
Again, Philadelphia's police need a civics lesson: This is America, where punishment is supposed to be meted out in court, not by police on the sly.