Conducting a thorough post-arrest search can save you some embarrassment, and it can even save your life.
Take, for example, the simple shoplifting case that two officers on my shift handled this week. The manager at a local store detained a man for stealing about $20 in merchandise. This is typically a “low-risk” call, as the suspect who will fight will rarely stick around until the cops get there. However, after being arrested, the officers find multiple weapons on the suspect, including a balisong (butterfly knife) and a .25 pistol.
I’ve talked before about Hank Earl Carr, a murderous piece of human debris, who retrieved a concealed handcuff key after he had been arrested, and freed himself. Subsequently, he murdered two Tampa police detectives and a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol. Had the handcuff key been found, it is unlikely he would have escaped and killed those officers.
A similar situation happened with another Florida agency this past weekend. In this case, a deputy arrested a man for theft. The suspect, knowing he was likely to be arrested, concealed a handcuff key in his pocket. After arrest, the man was able to access the key and unlock the handcuffs. The man asked the deputy to roll down the window so he could spit, and when the deputy did so, the suspect was able to open the door from the exterior and flee.
Obviously, a more thorough search may have located the concealed key. The deputy also made another mistake, as he allowed himself to be distracted from watching his prisoner during transport, by pulling through the McDonald’s drive through and ordering up some breakfast! It is likely that during the ordering process, the prisoner would have had ample time to unlock the cuffs without attracting the deputy’s attention.
Think about what would have happened if the deputy also missed a small pistol, like the .25 my fellow officers pulled off of their shoplifting suspect. There is a good chance that the hungry deputy would be dead rather than embarrassed.
Make sure you conduct a thorough search of every prisoner, every time. Pull their pockets inside out, check their mouths, have them step out of their shoes, and closely check the area between their belt line and groin. If you find one weapon, keep searching! Criminals are likely to carry more than one weapon, as illustrated by the criminal in the first example.
Oh, and when transporting a prisoner…avoid the McDonald’s drive through.