Archive for the ‘Police Procedure’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Serving a Search Warrant: It’s Raining Roaches


Contrary to the belief of some, and to the image that’s often portrayed on television, police officers cannot enter a private residence without a warrant or permission to do so. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but the exceptions to this one are few and far between and must be utilized only in dire emergencies. FYI – the entries and searches we see each week on Castle are, well, totally unrealistic.

A search warrant is issued pursuant to an affidavit, a document stating each and every fact that establishes the probable cause to legally search for certain people and items. Simply put, the officer seeking a search warrant must apply for it by filling out a form, a sort of application. This “application” is the affidavit. An affidavit must clearly explain every single reason why the officer wants/needs to go inside someone’s house without the owner’s permission, by breaking down the front door, if necessary.

Affidavit for search warrant, written by Detective David Collins, Hamilton Ohio Police Department.


Normally, the officer must swear to (under oath) the facts listed in the affidavit.

Details to include in an affidavit:

– The description of the place to be searched must be in vivid detail, almost down to the size and color of the doorknob. (I’m exaggerating—not much—, but you get the idea).

If a judge or magistrate approves the warrant, he/she signs it and hands it over to investigators for service. (Keep in mind that some courts allow electronic submissions).

Signed search warrant


– Search warrants must be served promptly. Normally, there is a three or four day rule. If officers wait longer than that time frame the search may be ruled invalid.

– In most cases, officers are required to knock and announce their presence. (Knock, knock, knock. “This is the police. I have a warrant to search this house. If you don’t open the door I’m going to huff, and puff, and—“ Well, you get the idea).

The exceptions to the knock and announce rule (“no-knock” warrants) occur when/if the officer has good reason to believe that:

1) There is a clear and present danger to himself and anyone else present, including people inside the house.

2) The delay of entry would cause irreparable harm to the investigation (evidence would/could be destroyed).

The easiest way to serve a search warrant, of course, is to knock on the door and wait for someone to answer. Not only is the knocking method the easiest, it’s by far the safest means of serving a search warrant. After all, bad guys rarely play by the rules, so safety is a top concern.

Typically, search warrants are to be served in the daytime unless specified differently within the body of the warrant, such as in the warrant pictured above.

If no one answers the door within a reasonable amount of time police officers are legally permitted to damage property, if that’s what is required, to gain entry. What’s a reasonable amount of time? Courts have ruled that a few seconds is considered reasonable—15 seconds or so. This all depends upon the circumstances at the scene, though. For example, when the officers announce their presence and then hear sounds—people running, overturning furniture, toilets flushing, glass breaking, etc.—that would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence is being destroyed, they may enter immediately.

Once inside, however, officers may only search for the item(s) listed on the warrant, and they may only search in areas where those items could be found. For example, if searching for a stolen refrigerator, investigators may not open and paw through underwear and sock drawers. If the item they’re seeking is small (a piece of jewelry or drugs), then they may search from chimney top to basement floor and everywhere and everything between. That’s when they sift through the unmentionables.

When the search is complete, officers must finalize a detailed inventory of all items seized. A copy of the inventory is left with someone at the location, or at the home/business.

Search warrant inventory


Copies of all paperwork are filed with the court.

Search warrant service is not for the faint of heart. It’s dangerous, and not knowing what’s waiting on the other side of the door is nothing short of nerve-wracking. But that’s no secret. However, there’s a side of search warrant service that most people on the outside of law enforcement never hear of, and this tidbit of information could a fantastic detail to insert into a story. Think about it for a moment…entry teams show up  unannounced.  This means residents do not have time to tidy up, clean up, dress up, wash dishes, and hide things they prefer that others do not see. And that means cops “see it all,” and they, unfortunately, must sometimes handle things they wish they could erase from their memories (yuck).

Believe me, sometimes you want to double-glove your hands before touching some of the things people keep tucked away in drawers, between mattresses, under the bed, and beneath pillows. Even then, a gallon of disinfectant never seems to be enough to clean your hands after a particularly distressing search. So feel free to think the worst and then multiply that times 1000. Remember, some items use batteries, and those batteries are kept inside battery compartments. Those chambers must be searched for contraband (no stone unturned, right?). So…whatever sort of device that’s discovered in a nightstand, or between mattresses, must be physically examined by officers. This means actually holding the item in one hand while opening the battery compartment with the other. I know…yuck.

I should also mention the roaches—roaches on the ceilings and walls, on the stove, on dishes, in the dresser drawers, on the beds, on the sheets, in the crib, and on the BABY! Thousands of roaches scurrying throughout the house. Roaches that fall from above like summer raindrops when you shine a flashlight in the bedroom closets. You’re inside the house for less than a minute when you find roaches crawling on your pant legs and across the tops of your shoes. Roaches. Roaches. And more R.O.A.C.H.E.S. It’s skin-crawlingly disgusting.

And…here’s a lesson learned the hard way – When in the midst of a search and you see half-empty roll of toilet tissue on the floor beside a dish-towel-covered five-gallon bucket that’s sitting all by itself in a far corner…well, just never, ever lift the towel. I’m sure your imaginations will once again come in handy and help figure out this scenario.

*Fun fact – When serving search warrants it’s best to try the door before wasting precious time and energy. I once saw an officer, a guy who claimed to be a top martial artist, kick, and kick, and kick a heavy steel door, trying to gain access to a drug dealer’s home. In fact, the door-kicking cop wailed away at the barrier so many times that his face turned beet red, he was sucking wind like a marathon runner, and he stated that his legs were so tired they felt like worn-out rubber bands. He finally sat down in the grass and waited his legs to rejoin the party. That’s when someone decided to try turning the doorknob…it was unlocked.

PostHeaderIcon The First Cut Is The Deepest: Stabbings Are Not Fun


There’s a common sentiment among cops and other people whose business sometimes forces them to “place their hands” on other people—they’d rather be shot than stabbed or cut. I, too, agree.

Bullet wounds happen quickly, whereas wounds caused by edged weapons are sometimes prolonged by an attacker’s repeated close-up strikes. To add to this already painful experience, a knife-wielding attacker is always close enough for the victim’s senses to become involved, making the traumatic event extremely personal.

When a victim is stabbed they often feel the blade—an odd impression, to put it mildly—as it first punctures the skin. I speak with some authority since I’ve been stabbed a couple of times. As the saying goes, I feel their pain.

Think about the sensation you experience when opening a package of meat (chicken, hamburger, etc.)—the “pop” that occurs when the material first yields to the pressure that’s used to tear or puncture the plastic wrap. That’s an exaggerated, sort-of-what-it’s-like example of how it feels when a knife blade first breaks through the skin.

Then there’s the interaction with the attacker. Since victims of edged weapon assaults are so close to their attackers, they’re often able to detect his personal odors, such the lingering scents of cologne, shampoo, tobacco smoke, soap, sweat, his breath (onions, tuna, stale beer, etc.). Victims are also able to detect the sounds made during the incident. The attacker may grunt as he stabs and slashes. He may even talk or mumble to his prey as he inflicts the wounds. His breathing may be heavy or labored.

A stabbing victim’s natural reaction is to hold up their hands, attempting to block the incoming blade. That’s why victims of edged weapon attacks are often found with wounds (defensive wounds) on their palms and forearms.

Civilian stabbing victims (those people who are untrained in defensive tactics) often give up after receiving a couple of wounds. Cops and people trained in martial arts, or even street fighters, probably will not. In fact, their survival training would most likely kick in, therefore, they’d fight even harder at that point. That’s if they realize they’ve been wounded. In fact, the will to live and to do the job that they’re trained to do is what keeps many officers alive.

I was once dispatched to a bar where the owner called to say that two bikers were engaged in a brutal fight and had pretty-much wrecked the interior of his small and dimly lit establishment. Once inside, it was clear that one of the behemoths was getting the best of his opponent. So, I grabbed the one who was winning the fight. As I did, he pulled out a knife and lashed out at me.

Long story short, as I was handcuffing him—he was face down on the hardwood floor at that point—I saw quite a bit of blood spattered all around him. I figured he’d fallen on his knife, so I helped him to his feet (bouncers had the other guy under control), called for EMS, and then begin to search for his wound(s). That’s when someone in the crowd pointed out that it was I who was dripping blood, and lots of it, too.

Apparently, as I reached for and took control of his knife hand, the biker had slashed my right palm, from the tip of my thumb to the middle of my little finger. And the cut was to the bone. In fact, the flesh of my middle finger could be pulled over the tip of the bone at the end of the digit, like a small glove. I never felt it. Well, that is, I never felt it until I saw it. Then it hurt like all get out.

It was the heat of the moment, the will to survive, and the training I’d received, both in the police academy and during the many years of martial arts, that kept me fighting to arrest the thug. But this was not an isolated incident. It’s what cops do. They continue on until the job is done, or, until they can no longer go on.

So, when writing your story about shootouts, car chases, and explosives, remember, it’s the edged weapon assault that make most cops cringe. However, they’ll still dive headfirst into a pile of knife-wielding bad guys to save someone’s life, if necessary.


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