Alarm Drops & Building Searches

Building searches, especially when they seem routine, are always dangerous

By Scott Hughes  |   Apr 2, 2015

Police officers search buildings for a number of reasons while on patrol. One of the most common times you’ll search a building is upon discovering an open window or unlocked door while checking on an alarm drop. Answering alarms pose significant challenges with inherent dangers. Too often officers approach alarm drops with a lackadaisical attitude, especially when returning to a house or business with a history of false alarms.

If you find yourself responding to a location known for false alarms, try and ascertain from the alarm company or dispatch where the false alarms have traditionally originated: Front door? Back door? Side window? Basement motion? If your next alarm drop stems from a different location you should be prepared for an actual burglary or other criminal activity taking place. (Note: Officers should treat every alarm drop as the real thing, never taking anything for granted—even a history of false alarms).

Responding to alarm drops and preparing to search a building—a residence or a business—begins as you approach the scene. Pay attention to your surroundings! When responding to a residential alarm, remember to check the license plate numbers of vehicles parked in the driveway. If they aren’t registered to that house be extra vigilant. Look for cars and people who appear out of place and try to ensure you’re not approaching or entering into an ambush.

If, while checking the outside of the building, you discover an opened or unlocked door or window immediately notify dispatch and request backup (if available).

Four Simple Rules
Prior to making entry remember these four simple rules.

Noise discipline: Don’t give your position away by announcing where you are inside the building. Turn down your portable radio or use an earpiece. Leave your cellphone in your cruiser or ensure it’s placed in silent mode. Make sure your keys are secured by placing them in your back pocket or utilize a silent key holder. If you want to see exactly how much noise you generate try this simple exercise: in full uniform jump up and down—how noisy are you?

Flashlights and back lighting: many officers are now using weapon-mounted flashlight systems, which are extremely beneficial. However, you should also carry a secondary flashlight on your duty belt in the event your weapon-mounted light malfunctions.

Note: When practicing on the range, make sure you’re practicing transition drills between weapon-mounted and hand-held flashlights: always prepare for malfunctions and “what ifs.”

Don’t illuminate your partner when using your flashlight. This is often caused by walking behind your partner and shining your flashlight on his or her back unintentionally. Backlighting makes your partner an easy target—pay attention!

Weapon discipline and muzzle control: Constantly be aware of your finger in relation to the trigger. Situations have occurred where officers have accidentally discharged their weapon while clearing rooms. Also: Where is your muzzle pointing? Ensure you aren’t pointing your weapon at your partner!

Don’t be in a hurry to die: There’s nothing inside a building worth dying for! Take the time to be thorough and safe. Think through your actions before acting.

Some jurisdictions try to diminish the risks to officers by using canine units for searches. This is excellent if you have K9s at your disposal and available. Other departments prohibit single officers from searching buildings. Again, this is a great policy assuming you have backup. However, there will be situations where you may find yourself solo. Regardless, in all cases TAKE YOUR TIME.

As I’ve said before: Practice, practice, practice! Use the next alarm drop as a training opportunity. Grab a partner, if feasible, and hone your skills. So much of this job is the ability to articulate why you do what you do. By practicing and thinking throughout the process, you will ensure that your logic is sound and defensible, and that your actions are effective.

Stay safe and vigilant.

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Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.