Search: Always conduct a proper search of the person you are handcuffing. Cuff first, then search. Never search first, and then handcuff. The ages of subjects that have feloniously killed law enforcement officers ranges from 12 years old to 82 years old. You have to have the mindset that everyone, no matter the person's size, race, gender, or age, poses a possible threat.
Transport: Never let your guard down until the transport is complete, and the subject has been turned over to someone else or incarcerated. When doing a transport, we have a tendency to let our guard down the closer we get to our destination. The opposite is true of the suspect in the backseat. The closer we get to the facility, the higher his or her stress and anxiety level becomes. Often the end of the transport is one of the most dangerous times because the bad guy knows that's the end of the road.
We've talked about the importance of a proper search, but we don't always work under the most ideal of conditions. Sometimes a thorough search of the subject cannot be completed at the time of the arrest. This may be because of the arrest location. For example, suspects have been known to jump into bodies of water to try to elude us and conducting a thorough and complete search in the middle of a swamp, or lake, is never a good option.
Other factors inhibiting a proper search may be due to environmental conditions. Gale force winds or heavy downpours make it difficult to search someone.
Another factor may be the presence of hostile others in the area. Conducting a thorough, systematic search of some gangbanger on a street corner in front of 20 of his homies is never a good idea. Lastly, conducting a proper search of a combative subject is always difficult.
But there are some tactics you can use to make yourself safer. Always remember we need to Immobilize, Control, Handcuff, and then Search. Once handcuffed, search the subject's immediate area where he or she can retrieve a weapon while handcuffed. This includes the waist area, the groin area, pants pockets, and the small of the back-all favorite spots that criminals like to hide their firearms and other weapons.
Once you clear the suspect's immediate area where he or she can retrieve a weapon, conduct a more thorough, systematic search of the subject. This includes going back over the areas that were immediately checked the first time. If this second search cannot be conducted properly because of the environment, the location, the presence of hostile others, or a combative arrestee, then at the very least frisk the subject entirely for possible weapons, and complete a more thorough search of the subject when it is more tactically sound to do so.
This may mean moving the subject to a better location. If you're in a swamp, move him to higher ground. If you're out in a downpour, move him to one of those gas stations with a big canopy. There you'll be dry, and most of those areas are also very well lit. If other hostile subjects are present, quickly move the subject out of the area after conducting your initial frisk for weapons, and conduct a more thorough search at another location. This may just mean moving the subject a couple of blocks to an area where his or her fellow gang members can't see you. Be sure to call off with your location, and the fact that you'll be conducting a proper search of the individual. This is done so no false accusations can be leveled against you, and dispatch knows exactly where you are and what you're doing.
If you're dealing with an actively combative person, whether mentally ill or not, you'll still want to conduct a frisk for any possible weapons. Once you've been able to calm the subject down or completely immobilize his movements through the use of restraining devices such as leg irons or other tools, you'll need to conduct a more thorough search of the subject.
Don't be afraid to search the subject more than once, or to have more than one officer search the subject. Every time the subject is transferred to another officer, or picked up or dropped off at a correctional facility or stationhouse, the subject needs to be searched. On more than one occasion a subject has been found to be in possession of a weapon or contraband while being transferred from another officer or picked up from a correctional facility.
Follow the five fundamentals of an arrest-Immobilize, Control, Handcuff, Search, and Transport-and you'll be safer for it. And everyone around you will be safer as well. The fewer of us in law enforcement that show up on those FBI statistics, the better.
Michael T. Rayburn has served more than 30 years in law enforcement and is currently an adjunct instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy, where he teaches a handcuffing instructor program. He can be reached at [email protected]