In every call for service, you should think things through before you begin your response. Each call can be broken down into three phases: pre-response, response, and post-response. The following scenario is designed to help you think things through rather than give you a specific way to handle the call.
A call comes in about an alarm going off at a very popular pawn shop just a little past midnight. It's in your zone, so dispatch assigns it to you as the primary officer. The alarm is a frequent flyer that goes off several times a week at all hours of the night. You know the pawn shop sells firearms but its main focus is on electronics and jewelry. It is located in a strip mall that butts up against a wooded area in the rear.
You've handled a large number of false alarms at this location. You know from personal experience that the owner is very cooperative and comes out when called. You've also had several conversations with the owner about checking/adjusting his alarm system. You have been there so many times you know the layout inside and out. You can use this to your advantage. Since your attitude relates directly to your survival, you need to fight the temptation to treat it like another false alarm.
Think It Through Questions:
- What is the best direction to approach from?
- How can you best use your backup in a strip mall?
- What is the best way to check for forced entry?
- Is a K-9 team available?
- What will you do if you see the suspect exiting the business?
Strip malls are always fun. You usually have to cover a lot of open area to get to your alarm. Just because you don't see any signs of forced entry, you can't rule out the possibility of a mole burglar having broken into a different business and obtained entry by going through the adjacent wall.
As far as the pawn shop is concerned you know forced entry through the front is highly unlikely. Even shattering the glass doors won't allow access because of security bars. You suspect the rear door as the point of entry. It's heavily reinforced so you don't think there will be signs of forced entry. You suspect the owner left it unlocked or that someone might have a duplicate key.
Think It Through Questions:
- What is the minimum number of backup officers you need for the initial check?
- What are your plans in case you find forced entry or an open door?
- Are you going to stay with your backup or split up as you search the perimeter?
- How will you handle any type of contact once inside?
You need to plan for an exterior sweep of the business. Once your backup arrives, you decide your first priority is to confirm a crime has occurred. You decide not to split up but search as a two-person team; one officer will search while the other one covers.
You check the front and note nothing suspicious. You carefully go to the rear and see the rear door is slightly open. You have your cover officer put eyes on the rear door as you contact dispatch to call the owner and tell him his rear door is open and ask if anyone is working late. You also ask for a third officer to cover the front.
Dispatch advises that no one is supposed to be working late and that the owner will be there in 10 minutes. Since you have instructed the owner on how to respond in the past, you are not worried about him just walking up blindly.
You call for K-9 support but no one is available. You call for assistance from the next jurisdiction over and they advise the same thing. That means you are doing the building search. The third officer gets into position and you wait for the owner to arrive. If nothing else, this looks like a good opportunity to conduct some building search training.
When the owner arrives, you ask a few focused questions about who locked up, whether there are any disgruntled employees, and if he has had any work done to the place for which he may have given a key to a contractor. At first he doesn't come up with anything, but then remembers he had a contractor do some work several months ago. All the work was done on the weekends when the shop was closed and he let the contractor use a set of keys which were returned. You tell the owner to go back to his car and you ask for a clear channel in preparation to search the building.
Before you go in, you announce your presence and order whoever might be inside to come out. After several announcements and no response, you conduct your search. You don't find anyone and you clear emergency radio traffic and return the channel back to normal. You call in the owner and you have him identify any damage and or anything that might be missing.
Several locked glass cabinets have been smashed and a handful of low-end handguns are gone. He believes that several thousand dollars in coin collections and jewelry have been stolen as well. You ask about his surveillance system and after a quick check he advises it is up and running. Because of your agency policy, you don't process the scene but call out your crime scene techs.
Think It Through Questions:
- Did the surveillance equipment capture anything useful?
- Does the owner have the contractor's contact information?
- Has the owner fired anyone recently who may have had access to the keys?
- Does the owner have any other business partners?
- Are there any domestic issues at the owner's home with his or her spouse?
- Who was the last person to leave?
Once the scene is secured it falls on you as the first responder to start your initial investigation. Depending on your agency that means you'll do it all, most of it, or only part of it. Regardless, as a first responder you do as much as you can with the time and resources you are allotted.
Make sure you do an area search and perimeter check. Suspects have been known to drop things. Check the rest of the businesses in the strip mall as well. Make sure you enter the guns as stolen into your state and national databases. Ensure the surveillance video is collected and the crime scene is processed.
Over the years, I have found that officers often rush their calls. To get the right answers you have to ask the right questions. Think outside the box when searching for possible suspects. It could end up being a random guy or someone close to the victim like a spouse or business partner. It could even be the victim; insurance claims pay a pretty penny.
Remember to lock people in and get a written statement whenever you can. Even if you don't get to take the information and run with it, obtaining it will give someone else the chance. We are all investigators and we need to act like it.
As always, there are multiple possibilities and potential responses. Thinking it through now saves you time later.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office.