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Search Patterns: Taking a Haphazard Approach to Patting Down a Subject is a Sure Recipe for Disaster

NCJ Number
Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine Volume: 27 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2003 Pages: 44,45,47,48,49,50
Gerald W. Garner
Date Published
May 2003
6 pages
This article discusses proper search patterns of persons in custody for police officers.
One of the major causes of line-of-duty deaths among American law enforcement officers is the presence of undiscovered weapons on suspects. Most of the time, the means of the officer’s death was present because of an inadequate search of the person in custody. The first rule of safe searching is, whenever possible, the search of a person should be carried out under the watchful eye of a cover officer. It is the officer’s responsibility to aid if resistance develops. The second officer also provides psychological deterrence and may prevent trouble from developing. The second rule is that officers normally should follow the principle of “handcuff first, search second” when taking an individual into custody. But handcuffs are temporary and fallible restraints that can be defeated. Great care must be exercised around handcuffed people. The third rule is that searches of people, even so-called “pat down” searches, should only be executed by an officer wearing protective gloves. The key is to have gloves that offer some degree of protection against body fluids yet are not so thick and bulky so as to make it impossible to feel weapons and other items through them. The fourth rule is before beginning any search, ask the subject if there is anything on him or her that could get them into trouble. The fifth rule is that not everything that looks innocent truly is. An individual that is taken into custody should be searched immediately upon his physical arrest, searched again before being placed into a vehicle for transport, and searched yet again before being taken out of handcuffs for booking and incarceration purposes. To be effective, the searching routine must be practiced and critiqued under the tutelage of a skilled, patient instructor.