Safely Searching Suspects: A Reader’s Insights

November 11, 2020

After reading the article Tactical Review: Prisoner Retention Techniques we posted earlier this week, Calibre Press newsletter readers Lt. Pete Ebel with Palm Beach Co. (FL) Sheriff’s Office shared the following insights related to searching prisoners.

Lt. Ebel writes:

“Great article from my friend and mentor, Lt. Paul Patti. The info contained in his writing certainly stands the test of time. No one can afford to ignore these good habits.

“I have my two cents to add on searching prisoners. Some academies and agencies still teach the systematic head-to-toe search technique, starting at the arrestee’s head, and ending at the feet.  Although well-intentioned—the goal is to ensure the officer misses no areas on his/her way south to the finishing point—I believe this practice is dangerous.

“Think about where criminal suspects carry guns and other weapons. They are usually in the small of the back, the front or groin, and the sides in the waistband. These areas provide quick access to their weapon. These are the areas most accessible to the hands first.  

“My advice is to first search the small of the back if cuffing to the rear (which, in most cases, you should be).  A weapon stashed inside the pants in the small of the back is accessible to a prisoner even when handcuffed. Why wouldn’t you search there first?

“While you’re in the area, remember that illegally armed people usually carry weapons where they can access them with their strong hand, so go ahead and search the waistband all the way around, to include the sides and the front and groin area.  If you find something in any of the aforementioned areas, don’t get excited and forget the rest of your search. We have always been taught – and this is often borne out by the street – that where there is one gun, there is two.

“Finish your thorough search by now checking head-to-toe in quadrants. When you arrive back at the small of the back, the waist and the front and groin area, do them again, just to be safe. Street experience and training have taught me these areas are where criminal suspects stash weapons, so those are areas worth checking again.

“Finally, don’t risk getting cut or stuck by a needle for a nickel bag of weed or a deck of heroin. Once you perform your pat-down, you should search the arrestee. Don’t thrust your hands into his/her pockets without some due diligence. Ask the arrestee if there is anything in their pockets or clothing that could stick you or cut you. Some might actually be honest, especially if you have treated them with some respect.  Failing that, pat the pockets and squeeze before sticking your fingers inside. 

“Some of this may seem elementary to some, but tragedies still frequently occur. Once the incident is examined, we discover that basic rules were ignored. Be safe and be smart, brothers and sisters.”

Have advice, experiences or feedback to share with fellow officers? E-mail us at:

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