Search Warrant Execution: From Zero to Sixty to … Wanting to Cry


Ah, the search warrant. Many officers can’t wait to go on their first door-kicking, flash-bang-tossing raid. Beats writing traffic tickets, right? After all, what good is all the exhausting and demanding training and fancy equipment if you can’t use it?

Sure, the excitement is there. The adrenaline rush is over the top—from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. And the danger level … WHOOSH! It’s through the roof and then some, and then add a little more.

But there’s another side to executing a search warrant, a troublesome and sad side that most people don’t see (but your protagonists should and most often don’t), and it’s after the door is breached when officers often encounter a host of unpleasantness, such as:

  •  While pawing through the kitchen drawers you notice an abundance of tiny black pellets. There are more on the counter tops, and on the stove top, especially near a large container of rendered bacon fat that’s used to season food or in lieu of olive and other costly cooking oils. A closer look reveals dozens of teeny-tiny footprints in the container of congealed animal fat, and in thin layer of slippery, slimy grease that’s coating the surface of the range.

Also present are marks indicating the dragging of a rodent’s tail, and more of the black pellets along with obvious chew-marks and tooth prints in the grease and around the edges of the container. A frying pan with remnants of the morning’s scrambled eggs sits on a rear burner. No, that’s not freshly-ground pepper dotting the top of the leftover, dried-up eggs.

Listen carefully and you’ll sometimes hear faint squeals and squeaks coming from inside the walls of the range. You don’t want to get closer, but you do it anyway. Yes, there are indeed baby mice living inside the stove, and they’re crying for their mother. And this is only the first room …

  • A favorite place to hide drugs is in or behind a toilet’s water storage tank. But there’s no bathroom in this house so you continue the search by moving to a bedroom, if that’s what you want to call it. Four walls, a tattered mattress on the floor (no bed frame), and lots and lots of filth and dirty clothes, everywhere. Chicken bones, beer cans and bottles. Yellow-gray sheets that were probably white a few years ago, a clock radio with its guts hanging out of the broken plastic casing, and ROACHES EVERYWHERE. Thousands of them. All sizes, too. On the floor, the bed, the walls, a wooden chair in the corner, the ceiling, in the closet, under your feet, and on YOUR PANTS LEGS!

But the search must go on…

  •  What’s in the white five-gallon bucket in the corner? There’s a dishtowel draped over it, as if they’re hiding something there. So you pull back the cloth and WHAM! You now know the location of the bathroom, and it hasn’t been emptied for days.
  • A malnourished skin-and-bones mixed-breed dog is backed into a corner. Most of the fur is missing from its back and around the head. Its lips are pulled back and a mouthful of plaque-coated teeth are aimed in your direction. A low rumble comes from somewhere deep inside the animal’s throat. There’s no time to call for animal control so you pull out the pepperspray. Never mind that it rarely works on dogs, but you feel better with the can in your hand. You back out and close the door.
  • In the next bedroom you discover five little kids inside playing with a few broken plastic toys—a dump truck, a tractor and, ironically, a battered three-wheeled police car. The oldest one … four, or so.

“Where’s your mommy?”

Five sets of shoulders inch upward.

No shoes. Dirty pants. No shirts. Faces crusted with food and sleep and grime. Lint in their hair.

A rat the size of a squirrel walks nonchalantly across the floor near the baseboard. It disappears into a large hole in the sheetrock. Roaches crawl across the boys’ feet and legs, marching like soldiers on a mission.

No more than five feet from where the kids are seated is a ragged microwave perched on an equally ragged nightstand. An overflowing ashtray. Two empty beer bottles. Drinking glass half full of room-temperature tea. Aluminum foil. Plastic wrap. A glass cookie sheet covered in wax paper. A plastic bag. White powder. Baking soda. And crack cocaine.

Kind of takes the edge off the adrenaline rush, huh?


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The Dirty Dozen of “Do Nots” For Your CSI

Detective Pete Gitterdone had a spotless attendance record, never missing a day for sickness in his entire thirty-three years with the department. He refused to soil that record even though on this particular day his fever hovered at 102, and coughing and sneezing fits forced him to spend the majority of the morning with his mouth and nose buried deep into a crumpled and extremely yucky handkerchief.

Gitterdone was busy collecting suspected blood samples (brownish red stains for the official record) at a particularly brutal homicide scene, alternating between coughs and sneezes, when his partner, Detective I. Lergictowork, told him he looked worse than bad and asked if he needed a break. Gitterdone promptly turned his head away from his partner and fired off a round of sneezes directly into the large paper bag of already-collected evidence. “No,” he said. “I’ll be okay. Besides, I’m almost done here. Just one more piece of evidence to examine.”

So, did you notice anything particularly wrong with Gitterdone’s method of evidence collection? Was there anything he could have done better?

Well, it might be a good idea to have both Gitterdone and Lergictowork read this list of Crime Scene Do Nots. It might help to have your protagonist take a peek as well.

Crime Scene DO NOT’S

1. Do Not blow away excess fingerprint powder! Doing so adds your DNA to the surface.

2. Do Not use Styrofoam to package electronic devices (computer parts, etc.) because it can cause static charges. Instead, use foam padding or bubble-wrap.

3. Do Not alter or add anything to a crime scene sketch after leaving the scene. Memories are not quite as accurate as we may think.

4. Do NOT place bloodstained evidence in plastic bags. Plastic bags and containers can serve as incubators for bacteria, which can destroy or alter DNA. Rule of thumb – paper bags/containers for wet evidence (blood, semen, saliva, etc.) and plastic for dry evidence.

5. DO NOT collect DNA evidence samples (saliva, blood, etc.) from a criminal suspect without a court order, the suspect’s consent, or under exigent (emergency) circumstances.

6. Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, etc. over any evidence sample. This includes talking over a sample. With each word spoken comes your DNA that’s instantly transferred to the sample.

7. Do NOT fold wet documents. Leave that to the professionals in the lab.

8. Do NOT use fingerprint tape or lifters to collect bits of trace evidence. The adhesion on print lifting tape is insufficient for picking up tiny bits of evidence.

9. Do NOT use dirty digging tools when collecting soil samples. Always clean tools thoroughly after each use to avoid cross contamination.

10. Do NOT use fingerprint lifters in lieu of gunshot residue (GSR) collection materials. (see number 8 above)


Fingerprint lifter – Sirchie image.

11. Do NOT allow shooting suspects, victims, witnesses, etc. to wash their hands or rub them against other surfaces until after GSR tests/collection have been completed.

12. ALWAYS remember #6 – Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, talk, etc. over any evidence sample.

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Immigration Delay Disease: People Without Fingerprints

“Hey, Sarge,” said Officer Trevor “Curly” Barnes. “Would you do me a favor and see if you can get a clear set of prints from this guy? I’ve tried three times and all I get are smudges. I must be out of practice, or something.”

“You rookies are all alike,” said Sgt. DooRight. “Always wanting somebody to do the dirty work for you.”


DooRight dropped a fat ballpoint pen on a mound of open file folders. “But nothing. All you ‘boots’ want to do is bust up fights and harass the whores.” He pushed his lopsided rolling chair away from his desk and placed a bear-paw-size hand on each knee. “Well, paperwork and processing both come with the job.”

“I’m serious, Sarge. I can’t get a good print. I think the guy’s messing with me, or something.”

DooRight sighed and rolled his eyes, his trademark “I don’t want to but will” expression. “All right. Go finish up the paperwork and I’ll take care of the prints and mugshots.” The sergeant pointed a meaty finger at the young officer. “But hurry up and get your ass back down to booking. I get off in thirty minutes and I’ve got plans.”

“That’s right, it’s Thursday night, huh?”

“Yep, Bingo night. And me and the little woman never miss. So, if you ever hope to see a day shift assignment you’d better be back here in ten minutes to take this slimeball off my hands.”

Twenty minutes later, Sergeant DooRight was on the phone to Captain Miller, the shift commander. “That’s right, Captain. The guy doesn’t have any prints. Not a single ridge, whorl … nothing.”

A pause while DooRight listens. Officer Barnes leaned toward his boss, trying to hear the conversation. DooRight waved him away. “No, sir. Not even a freckle,” he said to the captain.

Another pause.

“Nope, not on any finger.” DooRight leaned back in his chair. “All as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Beats everything I’ve ever seen.”

More listening.

“Yes, sir. I checked his toes, too. Nothing there either. Slick as a freshly waxed floor.”

Sergeant DooRight opened a pouch of Redman chew and dug out a golfball-size hunk of shredded black tobacco leaves.

“Nope. Best I can tell he’s not from around here. Says he’s from Sweden and he claims his whole family’s like that. According to him not a one of them has any prints, and I can’t imagine the FBI will accept a card with nothing but black ink smudges. He said his family has a condition called adermatoglyphia. You ever heard of it”

A beat of silence.

“Me either, Captain.”

DooRight shoved the “chew” inside of his mouth, maneuvering it with his tongue until it came to rest between his teeth and cheek. He looked like a hamster after it had filled its mouth full of sunflower seeds.

The sergeant placed a hand over the receiver and turned to Officer Barnes. “I’d better call the little woman to let her know we won’t be playing Bingo tonight, and she ain’t going to be happy. No, sir.”

Credit: Nousbeck et al., The American Journal of Human Genetics (2011)

Adermatoglyphia, or “immigration delay disease” as it’s also known, is an extremely rare and unique condition originally found in members of only four Swiss families. What’s so unique about the condition? Well, for starters, people with adermatoglyphia produce far less hand sweat than the average person. But, perhaps the most startling characteristic is that people with adermatoglyphia do not have fingerprints.

In one instance, a female member of one of the affected families traveled to the U.S. but was delayed by border agents because they couldn’t confirm her identity. Why? No prints to compare.

Until recently, the cause of adermatoglyphia has been a mystery. Now, however, scientists have learned that the affected members of the Swiss families all had a mutation in the gene called Smarcad1. And this mutation is in a version of the gene that is only expressed in skin.

So, all you mystery writers out there…yes, there are people who do not have fingerprints.

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Friday’s Heroes: Remembering the Fallen



Deputy Sheriff David F. Michel, Jr., 50

Jefferson Parish Louisiana Sheriff’s Office

June 22, 2016 – Deputy David F. Michel, Jr. was shot and killed during a pedestrian stop. While speaking with the man, the suspect pulled a handgun from his waistband and began firing. Deputy Michel was shot multiple times and the shooter continued to fire at him after he was down.

Deputy Michel is survived by his wife and father.


Sergeant Stacey Allen Baumgartner, 39

Patton Village Texas Police Department

June 19, 2016 – Sergeant Stacey Allen Baumgartner was killed during a pursuit when his patrol car was broadsided by an SUV. He is survived by his wife, son, and daughter.


Officer Zachary Larnerd, 26

Gainesboro Tennessee Police Department

June 15, 2016 – Officer Zachary Larnerd died as a result of injuries he received in a vehicle crash that occurred in January while responding to a domestic call. His patrol car left the highway, went down an embankment, and then struck a tree, pinning him inside.

Officer Larnerd is survived by his father, the chief of the Gainesboro Police Department.

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