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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Suspect Haunts

Where to go fishing for miscreants.

July 20, 2007  |  by - Also by this author

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton replied, "Because that's where the money is."

If someone were to ask a cop why he conducts patrol checks of motel parking lots, he might very well reply, "Because that's where the dirtbags are."

Critics like to refer to such non-target specific operations as "fishing operations" or "trolling." But the bottom line is that our players are not apt to be found at the local Kiwanis office, or DAR convention, unless they're casing for crimes to commit.

So when it comes to playing Where's Waldo with criminals, our task can be daunting. Thanks to Hollywood and Madison Avenue, it's increasingly difficult to discriminate between players and wannabes. Taggers and party crews and gangbangers—oh my.

But if you've some downtime, and do feel like snooping and pooping, here's a reminder list of some favorite hang-outs for criminals:

Pawn shops.

Next to Ebay, one of the greatest venues for fencing property. (Also popular with robbers who bought their guns from yet another pawn shop.) Swap meets are great for unloading the tools they took out of their neighbor's garage the day before. And once they're flush with cash, they're apt to be found at…

Gentlemen's clubs.

I know, I know—you're just as apt to find cops at 'em, too. But think about it: Low-lit, low-life venues are attractive places to deal dope, pass counterfeit currency, and negotiate a little romance for the otherwise unromantic. Which leads us to…


Truly a home away from dysfunctional home, their catering to the transitory finds them suspect-friendly. Wristband tans among the clients are common, what with many a motel a layover site for the recently paroled. In states such as California, many registered sex offenders are routinely given vouchers to stay in them. They're often used for drug labs, prostitution, and other illicit activities; many a stolen credit card has ensured a reservation. As such, you should consider knock-and-talk consent searches, and have a sustained dialogue with hotel staff and management as to the comings and goings of their clientele.

But not everyone is up for paying for a room, legally or not. This finds them hanging out at…

Public parks.

I used to have a theory while working patrol. Whenever I saw a younger dirtbag-looking guy at Whittier Narrows Park in Los Angeles County, he was there to 1) buy his dope, 2) sell his dope, 3) do his dope, 4) beat his meat, 5) drink his beer. Once in awhile I'd find a guy reading the newspaper. But you get the idea.

Stop and Robs.

These 24-hour convenience stores are obligatory stops for a demographic that seldom shops in a conventional sense.

Other Hangouts

Other favorite hangouts include bars, night clubs, halfway houses, the DMV (always a pressing need for various forms of identification), government offices (like cops, dirtbags very much embrace the "if it's free, it's for me" philosophy). Amy Winehouse may not wanna go to rehab, but others do go. It's the equivalent of a social club.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention buses and taxis as hot spots for ne'er-do-wells. Many of society's problem children have had their driving licenses suspended or revoked. As a result, when they're not riding bikes, they're left to rely on alternative means of transportation. Keeping an eye on passengers may find you picking up one of your own.

In any event, don't be surprised if your fishing expedition gets you a hook, or two.

What are some of your favorite fishing holes?

Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

jnc36rcpd @ 7/20/2007 7:09 PM

I have to second motels as a bad-guy venue. It was a quiet shift last night. Three of us ended up at the local no-tell motel (where, fortunately, the management does tell). Within minutes, one of the troops made a car stop on a revoked driver which resulted in a drug arrest and the likely flushing of more dope before we got into the room.

tachesser @ 7/21/2007 1:36 PM

Right on target!!! Some other haunts include Interstate Rest Areas and Truckstops. I found that cars that were parked away from other vehicles and were backed into the parking space usually had something wrong with them.
Truckstops are notorious for criminal activity, including the card game and shell game ripoffs. Many transient people there and you will always find others to cover for them.

dungbeetle @ 6/13/2009 7:03 PM

All true, good article!

I'll add homeless shelters, check cashing businesses, pre paid cell phone stores, rent to own places, car stereo shops, scrapyards, porn stores, public health clinics, head shops, and day labor businesses.

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