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Safe Searching: The Standing Basic Search

Conducting effective pat-down is an essential skill that deserves more attention in training.

March 28, 2011  |  by James Harbison

"Hands on Your Head!"

The optimal way to safely and effectively address all three concerns-positioning the body, limiting the mobility, controlling the hands-is to have the person place his hands behind his head. Why? When was the last time you encountered a person who had a gun, knife, hammer, or other dangerous weapon attached to his or her head? As a practical matter, the odds of a person effectively concealing a dangerous weapon there are quite small. Therefore, you can direct a subject's hands toward his head with minimal concern about distinguishing between compliance and arming.

If you agree with that, then you can also agree that with this method you need not be concerned about obscuring a high-risk area to be searched. If you direct the person's hands to the back of his head, and instead he reaches for his waistband, you now have noncompliance, which is more easily identified. There's your "red flag," calling you to action.

Lastly, when you have to overcome resistant or combative behavior, you can much more effectively control the person's body by breaking his vertical plane backward, rather than forward. This is most easily accomplished when the hands are linked to the head rather than the waist. There are three simple and effective takedown techniques from the Standing Basic Search position, which is a topic for another day.

Proper Technique

Now let's look at how to properly execute the Standing Basic Search. The first step is to have the person place his hands behind his head, with fingers interlocked. Next, have him turn away from you or maneuver behind him. From a bladed stance, safely close the distance and use your lead (non-dominant) hand to grip his hands. The grip is important: start from the top (pinky fingers) and establish a firm grip, using your thumb to "lace up" his fingers. Make sure you anchor the hands to the base of the skull by exerting downward force. Maintaining your gun leg back, use your free hand to thoroughly and systematically search the readily accessible areas on the matching side of the subject's body (right hand searches person's right body half). If this is a search where it is legally permissible to reach into the pockets (e.g. a parole search), you can easily do so from this position.

Once you've completed one half of the subject's body, switch the gripping hands and search the other half, again using the matching hand. Notice your stance does not change. Depending on the size of the person you are searching, you may have to shuffle step in the direction of the second half prior to searching, but your gun leg stays back. When you complete your search, place your free hand on the upper back of the person and shuffle step back before further directing the subject's movement.

Depending on the size of the officer versus the size of the person being searched, the downward limit of this search technique is about at the area on the person's legs where "cargo" pockets would be. Under most circumstances, the lower legs are not considered readily accessible areas. However, if you are concerned about those areas and you are legally justified, they should be searched using a technique that meets the same three criteria discussed here.

Simple Yet Effective

The Standing Basic Search offers a simple yet effective way to efficiently and safely conduct a pat-down search. By using the Standing Basic Search, you establish hand and body control of the person you are searching, with a minimal amount of labor. Should you feel the need to gain more control over the person you are searching, you can escalate to a Standing Modified Search or a High-Risk Kneeling Search, both of which are topic for another discussion at another time.

Whether you adopt the Standing Basic Search technique or not, consider all the risk factors involved in searching people, and process those in ways that make sense to you so that your searches will be safe and effective.

Sgt. James Harbison is the Basic Academy Coordinator at the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Office of the Sheriff Law Enforcement Training Center, where he teaches defensive tactics and physical fitness.

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Tags: Pat-Downs, Officer Safety, Search and Seizure, Assaults on Officers


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

nosradna @ 4/2/2011 9:07 AM

Our department (approx 1500 officers) trains this type of search. I have seen other methods but none as effective as this. I had a trainee use the hood to search and the bad guy decided he wanted to fight. One quick strike with his right elbow (from the hood of the car) and the officer was at a severe disadvantage (Fortunately other officers and I were there to help). In training I missed a gun because the guy I was searching was tall and I decided to use the hands behind the back search. Again I was fortunate becauase my FTO saw me miss the area and he found the gun before I let the suspects hands go free. GREAT ARTICLE SIR!

Lt. Paul Hafner @ 4/5/2011 5:32 AM

I certainly agree that placing your hands on a stationary object is to be avoided at all time but unfortunately, this hand positioning is easily defeated. Here is a quick way to evaluate your control of the suspect using the hands behind the head positioning. Have the "suspect" just turn into the officer and duck under his own hands. He will now be facing the officer. In my opinion this is not a postion of control for the officer, attemtping to control both of the suspect's hands with one hand while the facing the suspect. Give it a try!

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