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Optimum Search & Frisk Techniques For Law Enforcement Personnel

by: A. David Berman

Law Enforcement and Corrections officers have become acutely aware of the threats of communicable disease. The HIV awareness efforts of recent years have made crime fighters take notice of the risks of blood borne pathogens and cross contamination and the contracting of different diseases. An officer must be vigilant in his/her attempt to prevent contracting a disease. The major point is not whether it is HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C our goal should be that we contract none of them on our tours of duty. An area of concern is the search of prisoners or detainees.

For the sake of this discussion let us set up some parameters. The person to be searched is under arrest. Because they are under arrest they will be handcuffed, preferably with their hands behind the back. There are a number of scenarios that could be constructed to include a search or some sort of physical pat down. Due to the circumstances involved in each and every possible variation it is easier for this discussion to state that the person being searched is under arrest and handcuffed.

Handcuff first, then search. Every person who you place under arrest or who comes into your care, custody or control should be subjected to a complete, systematic and thorough search. Failure to conduct a good search could result in serious injuries to you or some other third party. The reason for this search is to locate any weapons and or contraband.

Searches are usually conducted in one of two ways either with the hands or with the aid of a mini-flashlight or Kubotana. Personally, my preference is for the mini-flashlight or Kubotana technique. It has been instilled in me repeatedly during my career that personal contact with anyone other than extremely close friends and/or family members should be avoided, whenever possible. The mini-flashlight or Kubotan search methods allow for thoroughness yet remove the intimate, up-close, personal contact.


The search technique is done by holding the mini-flashlight or Kubotan in one hand allowing about ? of the barrel to stick out from your hand. Place this exposed part of the mini-flashlight flat (or nearly flat) against the body and slide it over the clothes or the body. If any object is encountered in sliding it on top of the clothing there will likely be some sound produced, a click or thumping, depending on the object encountered.

Each time something other than clothing or skin is detected, determine what exactly is causing the noise or the change in texture or what the barrel of your flashlight or Kubotan is bumping against. With a reasonable amount of practice you will be come adept at this technique to locate buttons on shirts in the dark or to discover something as slight as a single edged razor blade in a pants pocket. To search pocket areas insert the barrel of the search tool into the pocket area.

Do not put your fingers where you cannot see! If you are using a mini-flashlight as your search tool use its beam to look inside pockets or boot tops and any other places weapons or contraband are likely to be. The advantages to using the rounded side of your mini-flashlight or Kubotan as your search tool are many; you do not have to actually touch the person with your fingers. Not touching the person with your fingers will help to reduce the potential of exposure to blood borne pathogens or bodily fluids.

For example, searching the crotch area of a male who has urinated in his pants is definitely an objectionable task. Yet, it must be done. It may be that the individual deliberately urinated in their pants in an effort to keep the officer from being diligent and thorough in their search.

Officer safety is a primary concern of all law enforcement functions so, have another officer present whenever possible. This will afford you greater security, while allowing you to focus more intently on the search. Begin with the arrested individual in handcuffs. Start the search in the area around the handcuffed hands. The reasoning is to locate and remove any weapons or contraband that could be used or destroyed by the person. After thoroughly searching the area around the hands move to the head area. Search the hair for any hidden objects. Check in and around the collar area.

Move to one side of the body and work methodically and systematically from the top of the shoulder to the feet not skipping any area. The idea is to completely search one-half of the body. Then move to the other side of the person and repeat the procedure in its entirety using a similar methodical and systematic approach. When the entire search is complete the person can be moved or transported as the situation dictates. If for some reason it is unsafe for you to search the person immediately at a scene. Search the area around the hands for weapons or contraband until a proper search can be conducted.

Searching a female by a male officer can present many potential problems. Accusations of fondling or inappropriate touching can be made regarding the search.

When searching a female it may be helpful to:

    · Have a female officer present, if possible.
  • Be certain that the written report of the incident contains details of the arrest, mention of any weapons or contraband that were being sought, what if anything was found in the search.
  • The more immediate or important the arrest the better. If there is a legitimate belief that she is carrying weapons or contraband a search should not be delayed.
  • Do not search a female alone unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Conduct the search of a female in the same manner that you would search a male.
  • Before starting to search the front of a female, tell her that the search is not meant to embarrass her. Ask if any weapons or contraband are concealed in her clothing or body. She may deny having any weapons or contraband, search anyway. If she admits to having weapons or contraband locate it, seize it, safely secure it and resume your systematic search.
  • Use good judgement and discretion. These basic steps may be employed similarly when a female officer searches a male.

In summary the messages are simple:

1. Wear gloves while doing your job. In today’'s dynamic street environment you cannot always stop to put gloves on therefore have them on and you can put your mind to the task at hand quicker. Do you carry your body armor with you in the car and plan to put it on only for those calls that require it? I don’'t think so. And if you do, you need to seriously rethink your strategy. Wear body armor! Wear gloves!

2. Hand cuff first then search.

3. Don’'t put your hands where you cannot see.

4. Latex or disposable gloves work best when worn over duty gloves.



Dave Berman started his law enforcement career in 1981 hired by the Wilkes-Barre Police Department in Pennsylvania. While a Police Officer he moved through work assignments in patrol, vice, narcotics, Emergency Services and training. He continued on to become an Instructor-Trainer for the Defensive Tactics Institute. Later after leaving Wilkes-Barre David accepted the position of director of training for a suburban police agency in Pennsylvania.

His training has covered a wide array of disciplines and programs including but not limited to courses up to and in some cases including Instructor Trainer level from ASP, Monadnock, DTI, PPCT, PepperBall, Bodyguard OC, Hiatt and American Handcuff Companies, Def-Tec and Combined Tactical Systems (CTS).

He co-authored the Tactical Glove Defensive Tactics Training Program and the Prevention and Management of Sudden In-Custody Death Training Program for Damascus Gloves and American Handcuff Co. respectively.

David currently serves as a part time instructor for Lackawanna College in the Police Academy, In-Service and Constables Training Programs.

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