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A Training Solution for Searching Female Suspects

Use this technique, when searching female suspects.

February 24, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo by Yuda Chen.

Male officers can be heroically accepting of the sometimes thankless roles women cops take on. Often, she is tasked with handling more than her fair share of sexual assault cases, and dealing with victimized children. And the same male cop who'll dismiss his sister officer as a "skirt who couldn't find a felon in San Quentin" will have no qualms asking her to roll 10 minutes to conduct a female search and consume time otherwise available to do her own work.

But then, female searches can be problematic for cops of both genders. Male officers are hamstrung by an inability to conduct such pat-downs, and female officers by their male counterparts' need to bring them to the scene to do the job.

"In an era where we're trying to do more with less, females are still being called to conduct female searches," says Betsy Brantner Smith, a noted police trainer and retired patrol sergeant. "Departments are notoriously behind and overly sensitive when it comes to dealing with female suspects so that female officer is probably going to have to take it upon herself."

In those instances where female cops roll up to find an uncontrolled, unsearched female standing outside a male officer's car, Smith trains them to position their vehicle in such a way as to afford themselves protection prior to verbally and then physically controlling that female. She emphasizes the need to see female subjects' hands prior to engaging them, but also the need to address concerns with their brethren so as to make sure history doesn't repeat itself: Just because a male officer may not be able to search a female doesn't mean he can't control her.

"If there's a policy that says that a male officer can't pat down a female, there should not be a policy that says that he can't at least get her controlled-at the very least handcuffed-in the meantime," notes Smith, who is a lead instructor for Calibre Press's "Street Survival" seminars. "FBI studies bear this out: Who's being given the gun to carry? Females. And a woman can kill you just as quickly as a male. We better be teaching male officers how to search female prisoners and detainees."

Smith speaks highly of the Washington State Patrol Academy, which she regards as one of the best when it comes to dealing with female searches.

"They teach their recruits how to conduct female pat-down searches," Smith explains. "They start with multi-dimensional targets and move onto mannequins that they place bras on replete with prosthetics on them. Finally, they get female volunteers-primarily FTOs and supervisors who've signed waivers-from within the agency that allow themselves to be searched by both male and female recruits."

The volunteer "suspects" are key to the training, according to Smith. "This allows the recruits to receive live real feedback from the people being patted down such as, 'Whoa, that wasn't a pat down, that was a grope!' or 'That's the proper manner to do a search.'

"This is an excellent program response to an important matter. Many Washington State troopers can't request female officers to roll on every female arrest and at the same time they don't want to place an unsearched female in the back seat of a car."


Duty Dangers: One-Size-Fits-All Training

Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Rick @ 2/25/2011 7:18 AM

When I was with the Coast Guard, the policy was for male officers to search male suspects and if a female suspect needed searching and a female officer was unavailable, the male did the search. Likewise, if a all female crew was present and a male suspect needed searching, the female did it. Training was done with male and female officers searching each other, no waivers needed, as a prerequisite of becoming qualified to conduct LE operations.

Lloyd @ 2/25/2011 10:38 AM

I recall hearing somewhere, maybe Calibre Press St. Survival Seminars, that a male officer could use a flashlight or kubaton to at least pat down a female subject. I suppose a female officer could do the same with a male subject. Didn't see that mentioned in the article, so I wonder if that's still a good practice or not.

morg @ 2/26/2011 11:43 AM

We don't have any policy restricting a male from searching a female, if we did then females wouldn't be searched because female Troopers in our rural areas are pretty much non-existant. Cameras are a good tool, when I search a female I tell them I will conduct the search in front of the dash camera so that there is no complaint of excess grabbing.

christina @ 1/30/2012 1:51 PM

I hav erecently been named the Field Training Program Manager of my local department and this has recently become an issue because a female had a pistol hidden between her belly button and her genital area. I have taught all Officers in Training to use a flash light and the access of every vehicle being equipped with a camera as their witness. Using the back of their hand or a flashlight so that metal on metal will certainly be felt and or heard. I am working on collecting information to forward to other officers. If you hace any information that could help please email me at [email protected]

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