Holding Cells And Booking: Processing The Bad Guys


“He’s running!”

A bag of cocaine is tossed to the ground along with a small handgun. The bad guy takes off, and he’s well prepared for the run—tennis shoes and loose clothing. More importantly, he has a small head start…and he’s younger. Much younger. A kid.

You know, it’s difficult to chase someone, especially while wearing a suit and dress shoes, but that’s the nature of the beast. So detectives don’t complain, they just do it. Sure, they’ll hear the teasing from the uniforms, later… “Who taught you how to run, your grandma?” “Slowest chase I’ve ever seen.” “You got weights tied to your ankles?” “You put your feet on backward this morning?”

However, in spite of the awkward, wingtip-clad feet, the investigator almost always catches the thug, wrestles to get the cuffs on his sweaty wrists, and stands him upright for the walk back to the unmarked police car. Then it’s back to the police station for processing, which includes mugshot photos, fingerprinting, and normally the prisoner’s phone call to his wife, mother, attorney, or bail bondsman (sometimes, there’s a list of local bail/bond folks beside the jail/police department lockup phone).

Yes, that’s me in the above photo. The picture was taken by a newspaper reporter who somehow managed to show up just as I captured a prison escapee (I’ve never understood how reporters always seem to find you, when backup cannot).

Anyway, I’d just left court and was on my way back to my office when I spotted the guy walking along the railroad tracks. He saw me and took off like a rabbit. I jumped from my car and chased him through neighborhoods, over a short fence, under a taller fence, through alleys and parking lots, and finally into someone’s unlocked apartment. After a brief struggle while listening to nonstop screaming and squalling coming from the two young women who lived in the apartment, I handcuffed the escapee and proceeded to walk the long trek back to my car. Of course, I’d jumped out of the car without grabbing my portable radio, so backup had no idea where I was. Not a smart thing to do.

Signs like this one are reminders for the officers who sometimes have a tendency to forget the details.


Officers must lock their weapons inside a lockbox before entering the booking area. This is to prevent prisoners from gaining control of a weapon. The officer locks the box and takes the key with him.

The arrestees are often seated and handcuffed to benches while waiting for processing. Notice the handcuffs attached to the second rail from the left.

Prisoners are fingerprinted for both in-house records and for the FBI national database, IAFIS. Most departments now use automated fingerprinting devices, such as this LiveScan terminal.

Capturing a suspect’s fingerprints on a LiveScan terminal

The prints are transferred to a computer terminal where the suspect’s personal information is entered.

Digital images replace ten-print cards (cards used for capturing inked fingerprints).


Some departments still use the old ink and ten-print card method of fingerprinting (LiveScan terminals are expensive).

Then, with the processing complete, prisoners are placed into a holding cell until they post bond, or until they are transferred to the county jail to await their first court appearance, usually an arraignment.

Police department holding cell.

Steel plates mounted on the walls serve as beds. Prisoners are issued mattresses if their stay is overnight.

Combination sink and toilet

In-cell telephone

After processing, the cycle often begins again…


 * This repeat article is in response to Jodie’s question, “Are people who are to be released on bail or bond brought to holding cells, or do they wait somewhere else?”

By the way, yes, Jodie, suspects wait in holding cells until their bond has been satisfied. That’s when they’re officially released from custody.

7 thoughts on “Holding Cells And Booking: Processing The Bad Guys

  • SZ

    Dig that groovy hair style !

  • Lee Lofland

    I’d just started growing it out again before doing some undercover work.

  • Lynda

    This is great insider information we can use in our crime fiction. Thanks, as always.

  • Jodie

    Thanks for the post and the response to my previous question, Lee. I always look forward to reading your blog.

  • Diane Schultz

    I, too, got lost after seeing that hair, Lee. I promise to reread and see if I can skip that part. What I want to know is why they always manage to get pictures from behind, but never get the good ones from the front? Did the reporter think you might not let him keep the shot if he’d been in front of you? This is great stuff, btw…really enjoy reading it and seeing the pictures. I am not sure where that handcuff is, though.

  • Lee Lofland

    Wow, if that little bit of hair threw you, you should have seen it a year or so earlier when there was enough to wear in rather long ponytail. Not to mention the full beard. Ah, the good old days… :)

    Where the handcuff is? I’m not sure I understand.

  • S.L. Smith

    Very informative. Thanks!

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