Whether it was just one person or a dozen, I never really felt 100 percent comfortable with detainees. Even at my clairvoyant best I was never quite sure who was going to make like Usain Bolt and take off, resist arrest like Randy Quaid, or just go along with the program like Hugh Grant. And by no means was it a case of the more the merrier.

Each additional detainee meant an exponentially greater level of difficulty. Add in some exotic lingua franca, an obligatory scowl, and delayed or unavailable backup, and I often felt I was just at the edge of getting in over my head at any moment.

But with discomfort sometimes came creativity. One time an LASD homicide detective stopped to lend me a hand when he saw me with three lowlifes at curbside and gave me props for how I'd detained the three. As they'd been riding in an older model pickup, I'd been able to use two sets of cuffs to secure them: One outside the driver's door, a second outside the passenger side door, while the third sat in the cab handcuffed to each in the middle. The old style metal window frames meant that they weren't going anywhere and I also gave myself a thumb's up. Later, I wondered how my "creativity" would have been appraised had a car rear-ended or sideswiped the truck and certain appendages achieved orbit. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the smartest thing I've done.

Still, I kept a covenant with the idea of immobilizing detainees as necessary and separating them whenever possible.

To this end I always tried to identify some de facto leader. By giving him the necessary information by which he could perform some cost/benefit analysis, I allowed him some discretion in deciding if he wanted his homeboys to give me any grief.

This didn't entail any BS threats-"don't bark, unless you're willing to bite-just the friendly reminder that there was the spirit of the law and the letter of the law and all manner of grey in between. A majority of the time when I had some probable cause to detain I also had sufficient cause to scratch a docket. Or two. Or a dozen. Of course, there was also the possibility of arrest, confiscature, vehicle, impound, etc. Where and how far I was apt to go was in part dependent on how far he and his homies wanted to take me.

If my newfound acquaintance appeared amenable to acting as my advocate, then I used him. Throughout, I made sure that he was speaking with his associates on the up and up and there was no "wink-wink" crap going on.

If he proved too dunderheaded to appreciate my candor with him, then I fixated on him first. This found him separate him from the group and almost inevitably in the backseat of my patrol car. There are few things more demoralizing to a bunch of followers than seeing their "leader" cut off from them.

That's not to say that the quiet ones were the least of my worries. Again, I had to ask myself if they were merely keeping their mouths shut because of some inner dialogue they were having with themselves about whether or not they should take off running because they were named in one or more warrants.

Such were the reasons I wanted everyone a little uncomfortable. When they were seated curbside with ankles crossed, hands beneath their butts, and heads down, it was hard for them not to telegraph their desire to haul ass. That was usually enough to avail you or your backup the split second you need to take their ass down; better, the mere fact that they'd be stealing surreptitious glances to inventory where the good guys were and what they were doing was enough to prompt the initiative to get them isolated, too.

When it came to having them take a curbside respite, I wanted the slighter members seated closest to me-they tended to be the fastest runners. The more corpulent souls got the far seat. They were usually the easiest to catch up to, the easiest to justify Tasering, and formed a suitable bookend in the meantime.

When it came to letting them go, I likewise tried to do it in as piecemeal a fashion as I had in patting them down and getting them seated in the first place. By taking one's time in letting people venture off elsewhere, you let them know that you're not apt to let your guard down at any time during the detention.

Finally, remember the guy in the backseat is a continual threat, especially if you have him otherwise unsecure. Some years back, a Temple Station (LASD) deputy found that the person he had seated in the backseat of his patrol car was subject to arrest. He opened a rear door with the intent of placing cuffs on the man when the man attacked him and stripped the deputy of his sidearm. The suspect opened fire on he and a second deputy on scene. The second deputy, despite the loss of his prescription glasses, was finally able to put the SOB down.

If you have any tips for your fellow cops on dealing with multiple parties, please post them below.



Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Associate Editor

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio