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Departments : The Winning Edge

5 Fundamentals of Making an Arrest

Following these steps will make you and every officer who works with you safer.

April 21, 2011  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author

Photo: Vince Taroc.

"Ah, the good ole days when you could just cuff the bad guy and stuff him in the back of the paddywagon. You didn't have to worry about being shot back then."

Maybe you've heard some older or retired cops talk like that. The truth is not quite so rosy as their hazy nostalgia. Those really weren't the good old days, at least not in terms of officer safety and survival tactics. Such training was really lacking back then. It took some officer injuries, and unfortunately some fatalities, for us to learn a better way.

We in law enforcement don't have sterilized laboratories or expensive wind tunnels in which to conduct our experiments to see what works and doesn't work out on the street. We've had to pay for those mistakes with our blood, and sometimes our lives.

One such mistake is the improper search of an arrestee. We know criminals carry weapons and contraband, and we need to search them thoroughly before we place them in the back of our cruisers. But have we really learned that lesson, or are we still committing the mistakes of the past? Have we really learned from "the good ole days?"


Consider the case of a Houston officer who in September 2006 arrested an illegal immigrant, searched him, placed him in handcuffs, and put him in the back of the police cruiser. The subject was able to retrieve a 9mm handgun from his waistband and fire eight rounds, killing the officer.

In January 2007, a Los Angeles officer was attacked by a handcuffed suspect who managed to reach for a gun hidden in his pants, open fire, and wound the officer before being shot dead by other officers. The officer was shot four times. Fortunately, his badge, his firearm, and his ballistic vest protected him from three of the rounds. The last round went through his right armpit and exited his chest, missing any vital structures.

That same year, a Kentucky state trooper arrested an intoxicated subject and "pat searched" him before putting him in handcuffs and placing him in the backseat of his cruiser. During transport, the man pulled out a concealed handgun and demanded to be released. The trooper stopped the vehicle, and once outside of the vehicle, was forced to shoot the man. The suspect died later at a hospital.

These are just three examples of officers paying the price of bad searches. Unfortunately, this seems to be one of those issues from "the good ole days" that continues to plague us today. The FBI does extensive research into officers that have been assaulted and killed in the line of duty, and discovered some alarming trends about suspect searches.

The FBI found that we are reluctant to search persons who appear to be very dirty or appear to be "street people." We are also reluctant to search perceived narcotic abusers. Who among us wants to search the guy who has urinated or defecated on himself? Arresting officers admitted that searching some subjects became secondary to their perceived need to gain physical control over the individual. Both male and female officers admitted that they were reluctant to search the groin area of male and female arrestees.

Bad guys knew this before we did. Several individuals interviewed by the FBI for the study stated they knew that both male and female officers were reluctant to search the groin area of a male or female offender, and therefore carried their weapons and contraband in this area.

Of the offenders interviewed for the FBI study, 70 percent stated the major area that male officers neglected to search on male prisoners was the groin area. Only eight percent-four out of 50-stated that law enforcement searches were conducted properly. These were not just simple "pat downs" out on the street, but full in-custody arrest searches.

Five Fundamentals

Whenever you make an arrest, follow these fundamentals: Immobilize, Control, Handcuff, Search, and Transport.

Just as you would take the steps to gather the proper evidence needed to build a solid case, you need to take the proper steps during the arrest process to ensure your safety. Follow these five steps and you'll be safer on the street, and not one of those officers that the bad guys get to tell the FBI about.

Immobilize: Stop the subject's movements. Whether done through verbal commands, use-of-force options such as TASERs or OC, or by some other means. You can't move onto the next step, Control, without first stopping the subject's movements.

Control: Too many officers try to handcuff someone without first gaining control, which usually results in officer injuries. Given the technologically advanced equipment we have today, including TASERs and OC spray, this is unacceptable.

Handcuffing: Handcuff everyone, no matter what the suspect's size, gender, or shape. Handcuff everyone behind his or her back. Handcuffing someone in front gives the suspect too much mobility, allowing her too much freedom of movement, giving her the opportunity of being able to reach a concealed firearm or other weapon. When handcuffing someone behind her back, be sure to place the backs of her hands together. This will prevent some of the more flexible suspects from being able to slip the handcuffs from around their backs under their legs. Handcuffed suspects are responsible for stealing more than 100 police vehicles each year.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Davesam25G @ 4/22/2011 12:04 AM

Well done just like your books!


Andre @ 4/22/2011 4:57 AM

A very good and informative article. I´ve been working as a police officer for 10 years and have maybe gotten into the bad habit of doing poor searches. Your article made me think twice about my demeanor. Thank you, sir!

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