Stop and Frisk has once again worked its way into the political arena, with the president suggesting that Chicago police strongly consider restarting the use of “stop and frisk” to help curtail the city’s out of control gun violence. Trump offered the suggestion during a speech this week at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Orlando, Florida.

In response, Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, said, “Even someone as clueless as Donald Trump has to know stop-and-frisk is simply not the solution to crime.”

Perhaps both men are correct … in part. Maybe the practice of stop and frisk isn’t the solution to stopping all crime, but could it help to reduce it, especially the alarming total number of shootings that occur in Chicago?

The History

In 2015, Chicago police agreed to outside monitoring of stop-and-frisk searches, an agreement that basically halted the use of the searches, a tool that’s often used by police to remove illegal weapons from the hands of criminals.

I’ve used the tactic numerous times over the years. More than I could possibly count, and it works extremely well when used properly and legally.

The Numbers Tell the Story

Did tying the hands of police officers help curtail shootings in Chicago? Does stop and frisk actually reduce gun violence? Well, see for yourself. Let’s take a peek at the year prior to the near stoppage of stop and frisks as compared to the year after.

The number of homicides in 2015, through December 26 = 480 (keep in mind, stop and frisks were in use through August of the same year).

Homicides through December 26, 2016, the year after stop and frisk practically ceased to exist = 754, a 57% increase over the previous year when officers were permitted to use the tactic to remove illegal guns from the hands of the bad guys.

In 2015, the total number of shooting victims, those who died combined with the survivors of gun shot wounds, through December 26 = 2964

In 2016, the total number of shooting victims, those who died combined with the survivors of gun shot wounds, through December 26 = 4338, a 46% increase.

What is Stop and Frisk?

Here’s how it all began, and it’s nothing new, not by any means.

In the mid 1960’s, when I was still not quite a teenager (yes, this law has been on the books for a long, long time), a Cleveland, Ohio detective named McFadden saw two men, strangers to the area, walking back and forth in front of a store. On each pass the men stopped to look into the store window. McFadden watched the men while they made a dozen or so trips past the storefront. After each trip by the business the two men stopped at the street corner to chat for a minute or two. Soon, a third man met the two men at the corner.

Detective McFadden, being quite the observant and proactive officer, had seen enough to send his “cop radar” into overdrive. He was certain the men were “casing” the place, waiting for just the right moment to rob the store owner. So McFadden approached the three men at the corner, identified himself as a police officer, and then asked for their names. Someone mumbled something but no names were offered. Sensing things could quickly go downhill, McFadden grabbed and spun one of the mumblers around (John W. Terry) and patted the outside of his clothing, feeling a pistol in the man’s coat pocket.

Unable to retrieve the pistol on the street while keeping an eye on all three potential robbers, the detective ordered the men inside the store where he had them face the wall with their hands in the air. McFadden retrieved the pistol from the first suspect’s coat and then patted the clothing of the the other two men. During the searches McFadden located a second pistol. As a result, the three men were detained and taken to the police station. The two men with the guns were charged with possession of a concealed weapon.

On appeal, Terry argued that the officer had violated their constitutional rights according to the 4th amendment (unlawful search and seizure). However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the officer, stating that his search was the minimum action required to see if the men were armed, a necessary tactic to safeguard his safety and the safety of others. And, that the suspects were indeed acting in a manner consistent with the probability of robbing the store owner.

Basically, the Court did not change or add laws to the books. Instead, they upheld that whenever possible and practicable, a police officer must obtain a warrant to conduct a search and seizure. However, they ruled, an exception must be made when “swift action” is required based on the observations of an officer.

Detective McFadden’s stop and frisk tactic has since been known as a Terry Stop. It’s a proactive tactic that prevents some crime before it happens, and it helps reduce the numbers of illegal weapons often carried by criminals. Without Stop and Frisk, bad guys have no fear of being caught carrying a gun.

The Terry Stop According to the Supreme Court ruling Terry v. Ohio

A Terry stop is defined as a brief, temporary involuntary detention of a person suspected of being involved in criminal activity for the purpose of investigating the potential criminal violation.

In order to lawfully conduct a Terry stop, a law enforcement officer must have “reasonable suspicion,” which has been defined as “articulable facts (articulable means able to explain in words) that would lead a reasonable officer to conclude that criminal activity is afoot—more than an unsupported hunch but less than probable cause and even less than a preponderance of the evidence.

A police officer may, in appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner, approach a person for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior even though there is no probable cause to make an arrest. Also known as the Common Law Right of Inquiry, this section of existing law permits an officer or agent to engage any citizen in a purely voluntary conversation (i.e. “May I speak with you a moment? Do you need any help? How long have you been here?”). In these cases, a citizen must be free to terminate the conversation at any time and go his or her way with no restrictions. This, however, is not a Terry Stop where an officer would conduct a pat-down of the person(s). Remember, this is a voluntary action on the part of the citizen. Terry Stops are not voluntary. In fact, Terry Stops are brief periods of actual detention that may include handcuffing the detained subject for the safety of the officer and others.

*The preceding three paragraphs are excerpted, with some paraphrasing, from FLETC training material. FLETC is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers.

Based upon Terry v. Ohio, what are officers permitted to do regarding pat-down searches?

Officers may, even without sufficient cause for arrest, briefly detain someone if …

  •  the officer identifies him/herself as a police officer (either by the uniform and badge, or verbally) and asks reasonable questions regarding the suspect’s current conduct.
  • the officer has knowledge of facts that lead them to believe the suspect is involved in some sort of illegal activity.
  • the person they’ve stopped does not immediately justify his actions in a manner that satisfies the officer’s suspicions.

Officer’s may conduct a pat-down search during a Terry Stop if they have a reasonable suspicion, based on personal knowledge of facts, that the person is armed.

The Terry Stop is a Search for Weapons

Officers may not, however, go out on “fishing expeditions” under the guise of the Terry Stop. There must be facts supporting their reasons for a “frisk.”

By the way, a pat-down search is exactly as it sounds. Officers may only “pat” the outer surfaces of clothing. They may not reach into a person’s pockets unless they feel a weapon.

There is an exception to the rule, however, and that’s when an officer who has sufficient training and first-hand knowledge of narcotics packaging, “feels” what he/she suspects is a packet of drugs. The skilled officer, one who’s extremely familiar with narcotics and how the various ways they’re wrapped and contained, may then reach into the pocket to retrieve the packet. To do so, the officer must be able to testify under oath, and verify, that he/she has the sufficient experience and training that would give them the knowledge needed to identify narcotics packaging by feel. An example would be an officer who worked undercover or on a narcotics task force, like me. I was deemed an expert witness by the courts and, as an expert, was often called upon by attorneys to testify in various cases.


If an officer’s assignment is to patrol a high crime area of the city, then it should be no problem to spot people who’re engaging in suspicious activity—drug dealers, robbers, rapists, car thieves, etc. Those are the people, the folks involved in some sort of criminal activity, who warrant being stopped and frisked, if they exhibit signs of criminal activity. Not mom and pop and baby brother who’re on their way to church, school, or the grocery store. And certainly it is not permissible or even ethical to stop someone for a pat-down merely because their skin is a certain color.

When used properly, Terry Stops/Stop and Frisks are a highly effective means of removing weapons and illegal narcotics from the street. When crooks know officers may approach and search they’re more apt to leave their guns at home or at least keep them hidden, out of their pockets. And, without having a firearm instantly available, the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later is greatly reduced.

Remember, Stop and Frisk/Terry Stops are still absolutely legal and constitutional, and they’re done each and every day all across the country. This, as current law states, is not debatable. Department policy, however, may differ, such as the policy in Chicago, where politics entered the picture and the department decided to give in to outside pressure, groups who believed the police used stop and frisks to unfairly target people of color.

I can’t say one way or another the Chicago police abused anyone because I’ve not seen seen it with my own eyes. But I can say that without a doubt these stops are an essential part of both proactive and reactive policing, and they save lives.

Stop and frisk prevents many criminals from carrying out their illegal activities. At the very least, the practice helps remove illegal guns from the hands of those who’re likely to injure or kill others.

As of October 8th this year, 2346 people have been shot in Chicago. 419 of those victims are now dead, including 2-year-old Julien Gonzalez, a victim of a drive-by shooting. And 82-year-old Homer Donehue who suffered a gunshot wound to the back when a man wearing a ski mask walked up and opened fire.

Would Mr. Donehue still be around to enjoy his loving family had a police officer stopped and frisked the mask-wearing gunman? What about 2-year-old Julien Gonzalez? :perhaps he’d have grown up to become a Chicago police officer. What about the 436 people in Chicago who were killed this year, so far?

Chicago – 72 people were shot in a single weekend, including 12 fatally.

Why tie the hands of officers? How many of those victims could’ve been spare the horror had police been permitted to do their jobs? How many people would be alive today?


The very men and women who could otherwise prevent you from facing this the next time you and your family visit your local mall …


*Please do not turn this article into a political discussion. It is meant as a learning tool about Stop and Frisk. Nothing more. Again, PLEASE keep politics as far away from this site as possible. I treat it like the plague. 

Confidential Informant – a person who provides information to police about criminal activity.

The FBI, of course, conducts undercover operations, as needed, and they do so when such operation appears to be an effective means of obtaining evidence. The same is true for local and state agencies.

However, the FBI, as with other federal agencies, are held to tighter control, rules, and regulations as related to UC assignments. Small and basic details, such as the use of a confidential informant requires adhering to the strict guidelines as required by the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Use of Informants and Confidential Sources. And, believe me, this document is detailed and lengthy.

Even their definition of a confidential informant is a bit wordy.

“ConfidentiaI lnformant” or “CI”‘ – any individual who provides useful and credible information  regarding felonious criminal activities, and from whom the JLEA (Justice Law Enforcement Agency) expects or intends to obtain additional useful and credible information regarding such activities in the future.”

Once a person is selected and approved (more on this below), agents may not reveal the CI’s identity at any time, unless they’re obligated to do so by law or Court order. The rule holds true even when the agent involved in the undercover operation leaves the department for whatever reason—transfer, retirement, etc. Keep in mind that law enforcement cannot guarantee that their name will not be divulged. They’ll do all they can to protect their confidentiality, but if ordered by the courts to reveal their names, they must abide.

According to the FBI, before their CI may be put to use, several factors must be examined, such as the informant’s “age, alien status, whether the person is a public official, law enforcement officer, union official, employee of a financial institution or school, member of the military services, are presentative or affiliate of the media, or a party to, or in a position to be a party to privileged communications, a member of the clergy, a physician, or a lawyer.”

In addition, the JLEA must examine “the extent to which the person would make use of his or her affiliations with legitimate organizations in order to provide information or assistance to the JLEA, and the ability of the JLEA to ensure that the person’s information or assistance is limited to criminal matters.”

Other factors of consideration include, “the extent to which the person’s information or assistance would be relevant to a present or potential investigation or prosecution and the importance of such investigation or prosecution.”

Is Becoming a CI a “Get Out of Jail Free” card?


And, “the nature of any relationship between the CI and the subject or target of an existing or potential investigation or prosecution, including but not limited to a current or former spousal relationship or other family tie, and any current or former employment or financial relationship; the person’s motivation in providing information or assistance, including any consideration sought from the government for this assistance; the risk that the person might adversely affect a present or potential investigation or prosecution; the extent to which the person’s information or assistance can be corroborated; the person’s reliability and truthfulness; and the person’s prior record as a witness in any proceeding.”

Furthermore, it must be first determined as to “whether or not the person has a criminal history, is reasonably believed to be the subject or target of a pending criminal investigation, is under arrest, or has been charged in a pending prosecution; whether the person is reasonably believed to pose a danger to the public or other criminal threat, or is reasonably believed to pose a risk of flight; whether the person is a substance abuser or has a history of substance abuse; whether the person is a relative of an employee of any law enforcement agency” … and on and on and on it goes.

Other factors to consider when using CIs in your tales

When making the decision to use a confidential informant, officers must consider the risk of physical harm that could occur to the person or his or her immediate family and/or friends. Nothing is worth the risk of harm to a private citizen.

And …

  • What’s the CIs motive? Perhaps revenge for an act committed against them? If so, is it likely the CI may fabricate or plant evidence?
  • Is the CI a truthful person? Yes, even crooks tell the truth at times. Simply because they sell drugs doesn’t meant they’ll lie about it when asked. Hey, it happens.
  • Serving as a CI does not grant them the authority to engage in illegal activity.
  • They are not considered as employees of the government or local agency.

Finally, a word about entrapment.

Entrapment occurs when a law enforcement officer implants an idea into the mind of a person who would typically not otherwise commit the offense, and then encourage the commission of that offense in order to prosecute the individual.

*By the way, it’s Probable Cause, NOT Probably Cause. Yes, I see and hear this (probably cause) quite often.

The first few hours of the shift were filled with the usuals—he-said-she-said arguments, drunks up to their typical drunken stupidity, Toms peeping, and crooks doing crooked things. But now it’s four in the morning and things have become quiet. Too quiet.

So serene, actually, that fatigue slowly gains control of your eyelids. It’s a subtle move, like grasping the string on your grandmother’s window shades, slowly tugging them downward. The Sandman’s gentle action is so gracefully executed and so well-choreographed that even your advanced investigative skills are unable to detect the hostile takeover.

Thoughts of your family occupy your mind–little Susie and Jimmie and your loving wife of eighteen years, Mollie Jean—asleep in their warm beds, with images of them nestled between clean and fresh-smelling sheets with heads resting on downy pillows and with soft covers pulled to their chins. Claude, your faithful black lab, named, of course, after the the painter, Monet, snoozes on the oval braided rug near the front door so he can hear when your car pulls into the driveway.

Five minutes. That’s all you need. Then you’d be as fresh as a springtime daisy.

Guiding your black and white onto the side street between the U-Nailem Hardware Store and Harry’s Barber Shop, you next steer the car into a long and narrow alleyway, the one behind Bert’s Breads and Cakes, hoping to find a quiet and dimly-lit place to pull over. Five minutes. Just five measly minutes.

Shouldn’t have spent those three hours today playing with the kids when you could’ve been sleeping. Still, that’s the only time you get to see them awake. And, someone had to mow the lawn this afternoon, right? The grass was already knee-high to a baby giraffe.

Oh, yeah, tomorrow is the day you’re supposed to go to your third-grader’s class to tell them about police officers. How long could it take? One or two hours at the most, right? Well, there is the lunch afterward. Another hour. After all, you’d promised. Besides, it’s impossible to say no to those sweet brown eyes and minus-one-tooth smile.

Sleep. You need sleep.

Your headlights wash over the back of the alley as feral dogs and cats scramble out of the dumpster that sits behind the bakery like an old and tired dinosaur waiting for extinction. The knot of animals scatter loaves of two-day-old bread in their haste to escape the human intruder who dared meddle with their nocturnal feeding. A speckled mutt with three legs hobbled behind a rusty air conditioning unit, dragging a long, dirty bag filled with crumbled bagels.

file00018255783You move on, shining your spotlight at the rear doors of a five and dime, an auto parts store, a pawn shop, and the real estate office you used when buying your house. Only twenty more years to financial freedom and six more before experiencing the joy of seeing the first AARP invitation-to-join letter in the mail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe night air is damp with fog, dew, and city sweat that reeks of gasoline and sour garbage.

Tendrils of steam rise slowly from storm drains—ghostly, sinewy figures melting into the black sky. Mannequins stare into infinity from tombs of storefront glass, waiting for daylight to take away the flashing neon lights that reflect from their plaster skin.

Four more hours and you’d be at home, in your own soft and warm bed.

Desperate to close your own eyes, just for a minute or two, you park at the rear of the next alley, below a grouping of the upstairs, low-rent apartments of the city’s less fortunate citizens. Your choice of nap space is alongside a stack of flattened cardboard boxes and crumpled bags filled with the evidence of someone’s life for the week—chicken bones, dirty, disposable diapers, wilted lettuce leaves, cigarette butts and ashes, and empty bottles of two-dollar wine.

Placing the strip of black electrical tape over the FM radio dial light, the one you keep stuck to the dashboard to block the glaring light, you turn up the volume on the police radio, just in case, and you close your tired eyes and then take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Ahhh … Just what the doctor ordered.

Suddenly, a voice spews from the speaker behind your head, “Shots fired! Respond to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Back up is en route.”

You quickly grab the radio mic and say …

“10-4. I’m 10-8.”

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And so it goes. Night after night, after night, after night.

From zero to eighty, just like that …

Since the topic today is “small town departments” and the officers who work there … well, hold on to your hats because I’m about to make an earth shattering announcement! Ready?

Here goes.

Sure you’re ready? Are you sitting down? Have your nervous medicine in hand? Your doctor on speed dial?

Yes to all of the above? Okay, then. Here it is, and I’m holding nothing back. Not this time.

(One second. I’m taking a deep breath because this is scary).

Okay, here’s the news …

Small town cops are the same as cops in big cities!

Yes, they are. I’ve said it and the secret is OUT!

They receive the same training. They do the same jobs. They go through similar hiring procedures. They enforce the same or similar laws. They use the same or similar equipment.

So why do some writers insist upon writing them differently? Well …


What is Barney-Fife-itis, you ask? Well, lots of writers suffer from it, and it’s a horrible disease. Nasty, in fact.

Do You Have the Symptoms?

Have you ever written small town cops as inferior to officers in large cities?

Have you ever written small town cops as sloppy, stupid human beings?

Have you ever written small town cops as doughnut-eating, ignorant, fat slobs?

Have you ever written small town cops as incompetent officers who must rely on FBI agents to solve every crime that occurs in Small Town?

Have you ever believed any of the above to be true?

If so, you should immediately take a large dose of reality, rest for a moment, and then continue reading this post, because each of the above are things I see in many books and they are not only absolutely and unequivocally wrong, they’re extremely offensive to police officers.

I want to help you get better. I want to help rid your body and mind of this horrible disease that plagues writers. I want to heal you of this affliction. I want to cure you of Barney-Fife-Itis!

Now, do you agree that you have a problem, that this horrible and festering illness occupies a spot in your mind?


Okay, let’s immediately begin the healing process and to do so you must first address the trouble head-on by facing your negative feelings toward small town officers. So I’d like to take you to a small place, the one you’ve conjured up and now resides somewhere deep inside your imaginations, where those ideas live and breed like the black mold that hides beneath your bathroom vanity.

So lets go there, to that spot in your mind where …

Yes, it’s a small red-brick building nestled between Betty Lou’s Cut ‘n Curl and Smilin’ Bob’s Hardware and Pawn Shop. The lone parking space in front is reserved. A sign reads “Chief’s Parking Only.”

Inside, the hallway to the right takes you to the water department and the office of the building inspector. There, you can also purchase dog tags, yard sale permits, and Girl Scout cookies sold by the town clerk, little Susie Jenkins’ mom, Sadie Mae. Her husband is the local letter carrier and her brother Bully Buck runs the feed store out on Route 1, and like most of the town’s business folk, Billy Buck’s a member of the volunteer fire department.

A left turn down the second hallway leads to the town’s police department, a force comprised of five dedicated, hardworking police officers—one chief, one sergeant, two full-time officers, and one part-time guy who’s also the mayor of the next town over.

Complaints can be filed with the dispatcher at the window, or by dialing the local number.

Calling 911 in Small Town, by the way, works the same as calling 911 in Big City.

There is a tiny difference, though. When you call 911 in Small Town somebody always shows up to see what’s wrong. Not always so in Big City.

Small Town dispatchers also work the computer terminals and NCIC. They know CPR and they know everyone in town and the quickest routes to their houses. They know the town drunk and the members of his family, and they know Mrs. Beaman, the wife of the town’s only eye doctor. She’s a kleptomaniac and everyone knows about her problem. In fact all the merchants know Mrs. Beaman. So they keep an eye on her and a running tab of the things she steals so that each of them can present the bills to the good doctor at the end of the month, which he promptly pays.

Officers in Small Town have an advantage over Big City cops in that they know everyone in town. They know the good, the bad, and the ugly (bless little Junior, Jr’s heart, but he did get that odd-shaped head and dreadful set of cross-eyes from his daddy’s side of the family).

Small Town cops know the local crooks by name and address, and they know the names of their mamas, daddies, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, and even the girlfriends and boyfriends they kept time with back in middle school.

Big City cops have to work a bit harder when searching for the guy who robbed the Wiggly Jiggly Club during the middle of Bertha Leadbottom’s last set of the night, making off with $5,000 in singles. In the city, the crook could be anyone from a long distance truck driver who stopped in off the interstate, to Sammy the Nose of the south-side Baddabing Family.

On the other side of the coin, an armed robber hit Popcorn Perkins’ juke joint out on the dirt road between Small Town and Hickory Holler, during One-Eyed Edith’s drunken strip show she performed for anyone who’d watch, well, if Popcorn Perkin’s didn’t pop one in the robber’s rear end, the local boys in blue would be sitting in the front yard waiting for him when he got home.

Why and how?

Because everyone knows everyone in small towns, and cops there arrest the same people over and over again, for the same crimes, over and over again.

Once in a while though, the stinky stuff hits the fan and in comes an outsider, an interloper who decides to kill one of the locals. Perhaps ol’ Rooster Simpson traveled to Big City one Saturday night and hooked up with Sammy the Nose’s wife during a night of boozing it up at the Rusty Nail Motor Lodge lounge. The two head back to Rooster’s room where a friend of The Nose sees them smooching it up before entering the pay-by-the-hour love nest. So a week later Sammy sends his best hit man down to whack Rooster. He does the deed, polices his brass, and heads back to the city without leaving a trace.

So how in the heck would these tiny town officers ever hope to solve such a big time case? After all, it’s murder and the last time someone killed someone else in Small Town was when Jonas Johnson used his double barrel to settle the argument with Homer Wrightway about whose tractor could pull the biggest plow. The gun was meant for show but when Jonas’ prize pig ran outside through the front door of Jonhson’s house with Mabel Johnson directly behind shooing the sow with her best straw broom, the porcine prancer bumped Johnson’s right leg, an action that caused the man to pull the trigger, shooting his buddy Homer dead right then and there.

But there was no need for an investigation. Johnson drove himself down to the police station/water and Girl Scout cookie department to turn himself in.

But now there’s been a real killing with real clues to be found and a real murderer to be located. And it’s up to the Small Town cops to solve the crime. Lawdy, lawdy, and lawdy, whatever should they do?

Well, the answer is simple. They investigate the case just as would any officer in any town or city or county in the country.

All police officers in all police departments and sheriff’s offices (the deputies with police powers – not all are police officers) attend a police academy and they receive the same training and certifications as the officers over in Big City.

No, Small Town PD doesn’t have all the latest fancy equipment with the shiny, spinning dials and winking, blinking lights. They most likely don’t have special detectives who only work homicides or white collar crime, or have specialized gang units or juvenile divisions. And they don’t have sections dedicated to traffic, vice, narcotics, and internal affairs. Budgets simply don’t allow it.

In many cases, actually, small town police officers have an advantage over the specialized big city cops, because officers in Small Town are cross-trained. They each know how to run radar, direct traffic, dust for fingerprints, interview suspects and witnesses, and they know how to investigate a murder. They work burglaries and assaults. They also arrest drunk drivers, drug dealers, people who abuse their spouses, rapists, pedophiles, and robbers. They break up fights, help kids cross the street safely, and they locate lost pets. And, if one of their officers  steps out of line they’ll straighten his butt out, too.

Big city detectives may work in one specific area for a very long time; therefore their skills in other areas often become weak and stagnate due to the lack of experience in those other fields of investigation.

Of course, Small Town is totally fictional, but there are many actual small towns with small police departments. And those small departments, as I stated above but want to re-emphasise, work the same type cases as the departments in larger cities.

No, not all departments are large enough to have officers who serve as detectives. But they all employ police officers who are fully capable of investigating any type of crime. And they do, from traffic offenses to murder. Sure, they perform the same work as a detective, but they may do it while wearing a uniform instead of some fancy-smancy suit.

Yep, most small departments operate the same way as the large ones, just on a smaller scale.

If Small Town officers need additional help, or resources, they call on the sheriff’s office or the state police. Sometimes, if warranted, but it’s rare, they may call on the FBI.

ATF agents often operate out of small town departments and they’ll assist with various local cases, just as they depend on the assistance and backup from the local cops when needed.

Remember, not all departments operate in the same manner. Some smaller departments DO have detectives, and those investigators may or may not wear a uniform. They could dress in a coat and tie, and they could have the title of detective, or investigator. If they’re a detective who wears a uniform their rank would normally remain the same. There is no standard rule. It’s entirely up to the individual department.

Remember—a police department and a sheriff’s office are not the same. Deputy sheriffs work for sheriffs, not police chiefs. But that’s a topic for another day.

I’ve often wondered why some people assume that people who have little are to be considered inferior or less intelligent when compared to those who have a lot. This is also true when considering law enforcement agencies. Those with the shiniest and best equipment are often seen as employing officers who are smarter than their peers who work for small town departments with meager budgets. Of course, this unfair stereotyping occurs throughout most walks of life.

Try breaking it down in this way:

  • Small Town, a town of 4,000 residents, employs five police officers. Those five officers provide police protection and coverage for those 4,000 citizens.
  • Big City, a city of 100,000 employs 125 officers.
  • Break down the number from Big City into three shifts (day, night, and rotating for the off hours of the other shifts) and you wind up with just over 40 officers per shift.
  • Now, since Big City covers a much larger land area than Small Town, officials divided Big City into 8 precincts.
  • Each of the eight precincts covers a land area the size of Small Town.
  • Each precinct employs … wait for it … FIVE officers.
  • Some of those precincts have 4,000 residents, or more, including the extremely high-crime areas. Therefore, these precincts of 4,000 residents are covered by five police officers, which is the same scenario that plays out in every small town and city across the country.
  • Many small town police officers attend the same police academies as their peers in larger cities. In fact, they’re often classmates in the same academy. And, their instructors are the same, their desks are the same, and the equipment used is identical.

Anyway, budget, land area, and location are the major differences. Not intelligence or training.

Check with Experts

As always, please check with experts in the area where your story takes place. Those are the people who can best help with your research. Not someone who once read a book about how cops work in small towns. Obviously, to read incorrect information and then pass it along is, well, it doesn’t make the details any more accurate. Wrong is wrong.

To do so would be no different than me reading a book on brain surgery and then telling you about so you can then operate on your readers and fans. Reading a book about something does not make someone a crackerjack on that particular subject. However, actual experience and training does indeed produce experts.

Otherwise, we still see “Guess-perts” (the folks with no real experience or training) telling authors to write small town cops as “Barney Fifes,” when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know, there are “Barneys” in many departments (other professions as well), but they’re not exclusive to small towns. It’s just that they’re far more obvious when they’re one of only five officers citizens see every single day.

So, if you’re going for accuracy, the best advice for you, my writer friends, is to …

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During my earlier days a police detective, I spent a vast amount of time investigating drug crimes, typically involving large-scale narcotics activities. Most cases were those involving trafficking and sales, including pharmaceutical drugs and the forgery of prescriptions, etc., the manufacturing of methamphetamine and crack cocaine, and large marijuana grow operations.

I made it a part of my job to study not only the crime itself, but the habits and lifestyles of dealers and users, and this was to help me better understand the mindset of the players and their culture. This educational portion of my job provided an insight that I believed would serve two purposes.

The first was, of course, to help get the dealers off the the streets. The second was to help users rid themselves of their habits by entering into treatment programs and/or other means of finding the assistance and support they so desperately needed.

I tried to help dealers find suitable employment. The latter was also the case for the men and women I’d placed behind bars for their crimes. I offered to help  secure meaningful employment after their release from jail or prison. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But my goal was to stop the problem at its source instead of waiting for the trouble to fester and then react to the trouble after the fact. And ounce of prevention, right?

But, sometimes nothing worked and the offenders went right back to their old ways, continuing the in-and-out cycle of breaking the law, going to jail, getting out with every intention of going straight, and then breaking the law again and again and again, and ….

Felony arrest warrant served/executed by me after a stop and frisk led to guns, drugs, and cash.

Later, while transitioning from narcotics investigations into other areas, I found that most criminal activity seemed to circle back to narcotics. And I found that even the informants with whom I’d dealt during the drug investigations were often in and around other criminal activity. The circle, in fact, was small. A never-ending and very tight loop.

Most crimes were connected by a single factor … drugs.

This circle, that never-ending and very tight loop I mentioned above is, in fact, quite small.  And at the top of it was, of course, drugs.

The dealer sells to a user. The user shoplifts to purchase drugs. When he can’t steal he assaults someone and then steals their money (he robbed the victim). Then he steals a car to get away or to sell parts to get money to buy drugs. And sometimes they kill during robberies gone bad. Or drug dealers kill people who fail to pay, or they kill snitches or rival drug dealers.

I devoted a chapter about this issue in my book about police procedure.

Drugs, Not Money, Are the Root of All Evil

Police Procedure and Investigation

Drugs, Not Money, Are the Root of All Evil – Chapter 11 of Police Procedure and Investigation

Many homicides often involve the use and abuse illegal drugs. Robbery, rape, assaults, abduction and even suicide, well, you name it and a drug of some type, including alcohol, is often involved. Not in all cases, but I think it would be a safe assumption to say that in most instances of criminal activity, drugs and/or alcohol are an underlying factor in the crime that resulted in a suspect’s arrest.

Not only are drugs interwoven into the commission of the crime that landed an abuser behind bars, the abuse of those substances has a far broader reach than what the general public sees on its surface. For example, did you know:

  • Children of parents who abuse substances of various types are three times more likely to be physically and/or mentally abused.
  •  Children of substance abusing parents are four times more likely to be neglected in favor of those substances, or a factor related to those abused substances.
  • The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that during the period between the years 2002 to 2007, 8.3 million children under the age of 18 lived with at least one parent who was addicted to a drug of some type, or a parent who abused substances (nearly 7.5 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused alcohol. Just over 2 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused other drugs.
  • In 2012, 31% of all children placed in foster care were removed from their homes due to parental alcohol or drug use/abuse.
  • 10% of all newborns are exposed to prenatal substance abuse.
  • Between the years 2011 and 2012, nearly 6% percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 were users/abusers of illicit drug.
  • Young, pregnant teens—15- to 17-year-olds —reported the greatest substance use/abuse overall, topping 18%.
  • Children who’ve been sexually abused are nearly 4 times more likely to develop drug dependency.

Since a whopping 2/3 of the people in treatment for drug abuse report being abused as children, how many incarcerated individuals have found themselves in their current situations with drugs or alcohol as a contributing factor?

Danger to Children

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), children under the age of 18 who reside in homes where drug related crimes and/or other similar incidents occur are referred to as “drug endangered children,” or “DEC”.

These children (DEC) are at risk due to exposure to the possession, manufacturing, and sales of illicit drugs, including the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs. In many cases, the risks involve bodily harm and sexual and/or emotional abuse. They’re often neglected to the point where they’ve been forced to fend for themselves, even having to find their own food and ways to keep warm in the winter.

They’re victims of PTSD and their exposure to drugs and drug paraphernalia is constant. They’re witnesses to pornography and they often reside in squalor, and where violence of all types, include murder, is an everyday lifestyle. Weapons are easily accessible to anyone in the home, including small children.

Children growing up in these horrid circumstances are sometimes forced to participate in sexual activities in exchange for money and/or drugs, and it is often their own parents who force them to do so. Sadly, this includes even small children and infants.

Children living in drug environments often test positive for drugs due to accidental inhalation, needle sticks, and ingestion, and even secondhand smoke inhalation due to being in close proximity to drug users while they’re using.

Many kids whose parents engage in the manufacturing of methamphetamine are at  risk of exposure to extremely toxic and other dangerous chemicals including highly combustible materials that could and have leveled homes in a flash.

As a means to help victims of drug crimes, The DEA offers assistance by way of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Victim Witness Assistance Program (DEA-VWAP).

The much-needed program provides immediate emergency treatment by locating and introducing child and adult victims to appropriate service agencies. Other services include, but are not limited to, counseling and  medical care, immediate access to safe shelter, and transportation and relocation assistance, to name a few.

State crime victim compensation programs are also available, and are in every state in the country, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Victims of most violent or personal crimes—assault, rape, child abuse, and domestic violence, as well as family members of murder victims—are eligible for compensation. Victims of property crimes such as theft and burglary are not eligible for compensation. These programs help victims by covering the expenses for medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages and funerals.

From the DEA:

Crime Victims’ Rights

Under Title 18, U.S.C., Section
3771(a), a crime victim has the following rights:

1. “The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.

2. The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused.

3. The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceedings, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, deter- mines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding.

4. The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding.

5. The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.

6. The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.

7. The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.

8. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.”

The Sad Tale of My Good Friend, Jerome

Jerome, a professional thief and drug addict who was no stranger to judges, cops, and attorneys, sat on a well-worn wooden bench outside a courtroom door. His attire for the day … an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs, a waist and ankle chains, and white rubber shower shoes. The tile beneath his feet was scratched and dented and dull, the effects of years of footsteps and scuffling of nervous feet of offenders, like Jerome, who’d waited their turn to hear whether or not they’d spend a portion of their lives behind bars.

If those walls could talk

The wall behind Jerome was mint green in color and had a row of individual greasy head-shaped stains above each of the benches lining the hallway, stains left behind by the men and women who’d committed crimes ranging from petty theft to killing and butchering other humans.

Jerome was nervous and scared. He was also once a dear friend of mine.

Our bond began when we were teammates on our school football squad. We were the meanest and nastiest linebackers around and together we were practically unstoppable when it came to at least one of us penetrating the offensive line. In fact, it wasn’t unusual at all for an opposing team to go scoreless against us, and part of that success was due to Jerome’s and my (mostly Jerome) hard hits at the middle of the line, along with our regular sackings of quarterbacks.

Back in the day, Jerome was big and muscular and could run seemingly as fast as a frightened deer. He also carried a high GPA. The guy was smart, witty, and popular. He didn’t smoke, nor did he drink alcohol, and he was quite outspoken when it came to condemning drug use. He had hopes of getting out of the projects and attending the University of North Carolina, and possibly a career in the NFL. Drugs and alcohol were not a part of that picture.

In those days, our football days, my friend was a bit vain, though. He spent a lot of time grooming in front of mirrors, storefront windows, or any other reflective surface capable of returning his image. He carried a large Afro pick in his back pocket and frequently pulled it out to work on his hair, and he was forever mopping and rubbing and slopping gobs of lotion on his arms and face until his molasses-colored skin shone like new money.

His perfectly-aligned teeth gleamed like the white keys on a showroom Steinway. And, for a big, beefy and manly guy, he smelled a bit like lavender garnished with a hint of coconut.

There in the courthouse, though, Jerome appeared weak and sickly. He was rail thin and his complexion was muddy. The whites of his once bright eyes were the color of rotting lemons; their rims, and the edges of his nostrils, were damp, just on the edge of leaking trails of tears and mucus.

His hands shook and his teeth, the remaining ones, were spattered with black pits of rot and decay. His breath smelled like a week-old animal carcass. His fingernails were bitten to the quick and his hair was dry, uncombed, and had bits of lint and jail-blanket fuzz scattered throughout, and it was flat on one side like he’d been asleep for days without changing positions. He smelled like the combination of old sweat and the bottom of a dirty, wet ashtray.

With a few minutes to kill before my first case was called, I took a seat beside Jerome, with my gun side away from him, of course. I asked him why he continued to use a drug that was ruining his life and could eventually kill him.

His lips split into a faint grin and then he said, “Imagine the most intense orgasm you’ve ever had, then multiply it a thousand times. That’s how it feels just as the stuff starts winding it’s way through your system. Then it really starts to get good. So yeah, that’s why I do it.”

Heroin (r) south east asian (L) south west asian

He clasped his hands over his belly, stretched his gangly legs out in front of him, and he started talking, telling me about the first time he got high and about the last time he used, and he spoke about everything between. He told me about about the things he stole to support his habit and he told me about breaking into his own grandmother’s house to take a few of her most prized possessions, things he traded to his dealer in exchange for drugs.

Prostitution for Drugs

Jerome told me he performed oral sex on men out at the rest area beside the highway. They, the many, many nameless truckers and travelers, had given him ten dollars each time he entered one of the stalls to do the deed. He described the urine smell and how disgusted he was with himself when he felt the knees of his pants grow wet from contacting whatever fluid was on the tile floor at the time. But whatever it took to get the next high was what he’d do.

Once, a man asked him for anal sex. He was desperate, so he agreed. Jerome said he was to earn twenty-dollars for enduring that painful and humiliating experience, all the while knowing the people in nearby stalls could hear what was going on. He said he’d read the graffiti on the wall above the toilet as a means to take his mind off the obese man behind him. When it was over the man pulled up his pants and left Jerome in the stall, crying. The man didn’t pay.

Jerome told me that he wasn’t gay—despised having sex with men is what he said—, but he did it for the high, even though he often vomited afterward when recalling what he’d done. But the drug was more important. It was THE most important thing in his life.

Heroin Fentanyl pills

$1,000 per day habit

My high-school buddy’s habit cost him a thousand-dollars each day, seven days a week, unless he wasn’t able to produce the funds. Then he’d grow sick with the sickest feeling on earth. The hurt was deep, way down to his very core. Even his bones hurt. He’d sweat and he’d vomit and vomit and vomit and vomit until the pain in his gut felt like someone inside was using a hundred power drills and another hundred jackhammers to assault his brain and lungs and emotions. His heart slammed against his chest wall like a sledgehammer pounding railroad stakes into hard-packed Georgia clay.

Then he’d drop to his knees in another restroom, or steal another something that would help make it all go away until the next time. And he’d do it over and over and over again.


Jerome was lucky. He was caught by a deputy sheriff who was passing by a house and saw Jerome climbing out—feet first—from a bedroom window.

He was awaiting arraignment the day I saw him sitting on the bench outside the courtroom door. A dozen or so other jail inmates occupied the nearby seats.

Jerome asked if I would call his grandmother to tell her he said he was sorry for all he’d done, and that he was starting to feel better and was ready to seek help as soon as he was back on the outside. I told him I’d tell her. Actually, I went one step further and stopped by her house to tell her in person. When I arrived, she offered me a glass of iced tea and then we sat at her kitchen table where she settled in to hear about her beloved grandson, the happy little boy she’d called “Lil Jermy” since the day he was born.

I didn’t talk about the prostitution or that her grandson was a thief and robber and that he’d once stabbed a women so he could take the last three dollars she had to her name. Instead, I told her that he loved her and that he was truly sorry for the things he’d done. And I told her that I’d help him in any way I could.

She sat there listening with fat tears leaking from her old and tired eyes, following the convoluted trails of deep wrinkles until they spilled onto her floral housecoat and freshly ironed apron.

After I finished the last of the tea, down to the tinkling of ice cubes at the bottom of the Mason jar, I told her I needed to get back to work. We stood and she thanked me and gave me one of her sweet grandma hugs. She was trembling so I held her for a moment, allowing her to cry without having to face me. Then she stepped back and told me that she’d be praying for my safety. She asked me to tell Jerome that she loved him and that she forgave him for stealing her things and selling them for drug money.

I said I would and then stepped outside onto the old woman’s front porch. It was all I could do to hold back my own tears.

Yes, drugs are evil. They hurt and they kill. They ruin the lives of good people.

Now, I said Jerome was lucky, and I say this because going to jail prevented him from using the drug he grown to so desperately depend upon. His body ached for it, yes, but he beat the sickness and lived.

Unfortunately, many have died because of that same ache.

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 many crime TV shows 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, and by breaking down the front door if necessary.


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

Swear, under oath

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

Details to include in an affidavit

  • 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, though—, 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

When and How

  • 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—.”

“Wrong cartoon …”

Exceptions to Knock and Announce

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.

There are situations when warrants must be served under the cover of night.

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

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

No one’s home but us chickens!

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.

A search warrant in hand means cops can search EVERYWHERE, right?

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.

The Inventory

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

The Return

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).

Glove up!

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.

Roaches, roaches, and more roaches!

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.

Gotta have a a stomach of steel

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 doorknob 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 for his legs to rejoin the party. That’s when someone decided to try turning the doorknob … it was unlocked.

“Shots fired!”

“I’m hit”

“He’s running.”

“I need backup.”

“In the alley behind Joe’s Pawn Shop.”

“He’s shooting again.”


Then, “Man down! Send paramedics … NOW!”

And then it starts. The looky-loos come out of the woodwork with cellphones and cameras in hand. The cop-haters who’re looking for an excuse to lob a few rocks and bricks and circle around the officer who’s bleeding, and scared.

The wounded cop’s adrenaline is in crash mode and his emotions are speeding to places they’ve not been before. Time is in full herky-jerky mode, speeding up to catch up to realtime after its abrupt switch to slow motion when the action first fired-up its engines. Sound returns slowly after a bout of “tunnel hearing.”

“If I Only Had a Brain” ~ The Scarecrow, from The Wizard of Oz

Each of us, hopefully, has a functioning brain (there are exceptions for politicians) and it’s that mass that fills the space between our ears that controls everything we do. It’s also in charge of our emotions. More specifically, it’s the amygdala section of the brain that’s assigned charge of emotional responses. The amygdala typically works and plays well with the other parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex that, by the way, controls complex decision-making.

However, when the brain perceives danger, the typically smooth-running operation inside our skulls goes a bit wonky because the moment danger is detected a major dam located in the adrenal glands is breached. This sudden discord sends out adrenaline to flood our systems.

Adrenaline, the hormone that boosts  blood circulation, increases breathing rate and metabolism and causes our muscles to rise up and prepare for battle. Then all hell breaks lose.

The amygdala section of the brain decides it wants to be in charge and leads a successful coup against the prefrontal cortex, taking control of the making of decisions. Since the amygdala has not been properly schooled in decision-making skills, the results are kaleidoscopic and slightly out of whack responses to various situations. It distorts and narrows our visual and auditory senses to the point where we often focus our attentions on a single point, skipping over other often important things taking place around us.

Fellow author, friend, and police psychologist Ellen Kirshman summed up the experience as it relates to police officers as, and I don’t recall her exact words, but were something like, “Police officers are called upon to do the unnatural. They run toward danger, not away from it.”  I read her quote in an article a while back about the deputy in Florida who failed to act during the horrific school shooting that occurred there. She also said something similar to what I’ve said here on this blog time and time and time again … no one but the officer who’s at the scene at the precise moment the danger takes place knows exactly what happened. (Ellen, I apologize if I’ve misquoted you, but I couldn’t locate the article).

In other words …

Monday Morning Quarterbacks Lack the Touch, Taste, Smell, and Motion to Know with 100% Certainty What Took Place

It’s easy for the public to render judgement regarding an officer’s actions, or lack of action, by switching on the TV or their computers to view a video recording of an event. Commentators often offer slow-motion replays, rewinds, zoom views, and various angles, and their opinions as to what happened and/or should have or shouldn’t have happened.

The officer on the scene, however, views the situation in real time, within a time period of a split second or two, while their brain is sending adrenaline throughout their system, with parts of the mind taking charge over other parts that typically supply reason based upon well-thought-out decisions, decisions that take time and energy before an action is performed.

The body of an officer involved in an intense shootout is undergoing many changes all at once. There’s the whole adrenaline thing, of course, while the brain is rapidly switching back and forth between tunnel vision to tunnel hearing, meaning that during the times they’re visually surveying a scene the volume of their auditory functions is greatly reduced, or nonexistent. They cannot use both tunnel vision and tunnel hearing at the same time. The brain does not allow it during times of extreme stress.

Furthermore, during times of extreme stress, the brain may completely shut off auditory functions which is the reason that in post shooting interviews some officers report not hearing the sounds of shots being fired.

I, for one, am a perfect example. During a bank robbery shootout, I saw puffs of smoke (in slow motion) rise from the robber’s handgun, but never heard a single sound. Not even when I returned fire. Actually, from the moment the situation turned violent until I chased the wounded man and tackled him, I don’t recall hearing anything until I rolled him over and then heard the “click, click, clicks” as he pointed his gun at me and repeatedly pulled the trigger. I’ll never forget those sounds. Not ever.

Thankfully, he’d fired the last round before making his final charge. But until that point, it’s like we were in a vacuum.

This experience and others like it explain why so often police officers simply do not recall hearing a specific number of shots fired. In the world of neuroscience this total shutdown of hearing is called auditory exclusion.

A police officer’s overall situational awareness can become dulled to the point of totally blocking out things going on in their periphery, which presents a huge problem for them if the field of danger extends beyond the point of their focus/attention, and it often does—more than one attacker, threat, etc.

Filling In the Blanks

Officers are human, a fact which seems to escape some people. And being human prompts the desire for them to believe they “should have” both heard and seen the action as it unfolded. Therefore, their very human minds attempt to supply the missing information—the sound of gunfire or seeing the man with a gun standing to the side.

To fill in these voids the brain creates a memory by drawing on context and even experience (“I know that’s what a gunshot sounds like therefore I must’ve heard that sound today”).

The same is true in reverse. The officer who’s incapable of remembering a crucial bit of information that occurred during a stressful event, while their attention was distracted, actually may not believe it happened, despite clear and concrete evidence to the contrary.

This, the brain creating “fill in the blank” memories is one reason why so many Monday morning quarterbacks immediately jump to the unfounded conclusion that an officer must be lying or attempting to cover up a misdeed. But it’s just not so. Sure, sometimes people lie. I won’t discount that fact. But in the vast majority of stressful encounters, law enforcement or otherwise, the amygdala section of the human brain is the culprit.

Anyway, the only true means to judge any situation is in real time surrounded by all the sights, sounds, tastes, and emotions that come with it, along with access to the officer’s thoughts and emotions as the event unfolded. Attempting to do so on Monday morning while watching a replay of video is not the same.

Not even close.

Nor is it possible.

It was an extremely difficult and odd case, busting a woman whose brother had snitched on her to protect his own skin. Yep, threw his own flesh and blood under the bus the second the cuffs touched his wrists.

It started when I’d decided to do a little cold-calling, like an old-time door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. Picking the names of a few known drug dealers, I paid each of them a visit at their homes. The idea was to knock on the door, tell them my name and that I was a police detective (most already knew), and then ask if I and my partners could search their home(s), looking for drugs and illegal weapons. Well, you would not believe the number of idiots who said, “Yes, Officer. You may search my home because I’m a fine upstanding citizen and there are absolutely no drugs or guns here. Honest.”

Anyway, I knocked on this one guy’s door (let’s call him Dumb Jimmy), giving him my little speech about the drug problem in his neighborhood and that I’d like to search his house, with his permission, of course. I even told him that I suspected him of selling illegal narcotics. I also let him know that he could refuse the search and I’d be on my way.

Guess what? Yep … His narrow chicken lips split into a wide grin. Then he said, “Come on in!”

He was so enthusiastic with the invitation, it was like listening to the Price Is Right announcer. “Come on in, Detective Lofland. You have the chance to find fifteen pounds of primo weed and two ounces of the finest cocaine money can buy. And … an absolutely free trip to COURT to visit with  distinguished judge! Yes, you and your fellow detectives could win an all expense paid trip to circuit court, where you and your co-conspirator will enjoy the company of some of the best thieves, murderers, and whores in the business! All this and more, IF … the search is good.”

So Dumb Jimmy stepped aside and waved us in. The place was extremely neat and very clean. Sparsely furnished. He’d gone for IKEA chic, all blonde wood and bright solid-colored burlap-type upholstery. A few Ansel Adams prints dotted the walls. The room was open to the kitchen and a small but adequate dining area. The table there was dark walnut, topped with quite a bit of camera equipment. Nothing cheap. All high-end goods.

Dumb Jimmy’s girlfriend sat on the couch with her outstretched legs and bare feet planted on a glass-topped coffee table, watching TV. Never batted an eyelash in our direction. I understood. Eight Is Enough had that effect on most viewers—a must see.

I guess she’d forgotten, or didn’t care about the big bag of pot and the large bong sitting not two feet from her polished-pink toenails. I turned to Dumb Jimmy, and I kid you not, his first words were, “That’s hers.”

I spun him around to slip the stainless-steel jewelry on his wrists and that’s when he really started spilling his guts. Yodeled like a canary on speed. Anything to get out of the mess he’d suddenly found himself in.

I found myself wanting to make a deal with his girlfriend—I’d let her go if she’d go to the kitchen junk drawer to find some duct tape I could use to cover her boyfriend’s mouth.

“My sister’s got some heroin,” said Dumb Jimmy. “Acid, too. And probably some pot, mushrooms, and meth. Oh, yeah, there’s hash and some horse tranquilizer in the basement.”

“Is that all?” I said. What a dirtbag, rolling over his own sister. I’d meant it as a rhetorical question, but DJ (Dumb Jimmy) hadn’t taken it that way.

“Well, she’s usually got a bunch of Oxy or Percocet …” He scrunched up his nose, a gesture that caused his eyes to narrow into a deep squint. I thought he was going to sneeze, but after a couple seconds passed I realized he was thinking, hard. He was actually trying to come up with even more things his sister had done wrong. Suddenly, his eyes opened, wide. “Hey, what about Botox? That’s illegal, right? I mean, she shouldn’t be giving those shots to people, should she? Does it at home. Shoots ’em up right there in the living room. She steals the stuff from the doctor she works for. That’s where she gets the pills, too. Swiped a few of his script pads. Keeps them in her room with—”

I stopped him, pulling the Miranda card from my badge case. “I need to read something to you,” I said. “And you need to listen carefully. Then, if you still want to talk to me about your sister, you can.”

DJ nodded his head vigorously. “I want to help. And you’ll help me, right?”

His girlfriend shook her head from side to side, slowly. “What a dumbass,” she said before using one hand to stifle a belch while reaching for a pack of smokes with the other.

I heard one of my partners agree with her. “No, not him,” she said. “Me, for staying with that wimp. But, his family has a boatload of money and they always have really good dope. So …”

I spent the next several hours listening to DJ ramble on about his sister’s illegal activities, deciding that he was probably being pretty darn truthful. If so, we had a much bigger fish to fry. The prosecutor agreed and a deal was made. If all went as planned, we’d raid the sister’s house, arrest her, and DJ would testify against her in court in exchange for having all his charges dismissed. We held the girlfriend on minor charges so we could keep the lid on the operation until we were ready to make the next move.

Of course, it took all of three minutes into our search of the sister’s house before she said to me, “My brother sells weed. Lots of weed.”

So, with another warrant in hand and my drug dog leading the way, well, this …

For the the purpose of this brief peek into the minds of police officers who enter into stressful situations such as a violent riot, or a gun battle with bullets whizzing by their heads, we’ll use Officer Sam as our guinea pig. Joining him in this discussion his partner, Officer Pam.

Sam is a bit of a worrier and, thanks to his parents, his name is coincidentally an acronym for three distinct reasons why officers, as well as other people, perhaps sees things differently when the weight of world seemingly comes crashing down around them. More about the acronym a bit later.

Pam, on the other hand, is a seasoned veteran who’s “been there, done that” a thousand times. She sincerely believes she’s impervious to stress.

Let’s dive right in by first setting the stage. Sam and Pam have been called to the scene of a bank robbery where the masked bandit has decided to not be taken alive. Therefore he begins lobbing .45 caliber rounds at the two responding officers who immediately take cover and immediately return fire.

The intense shootout lasts two minutes before both Pam and Sam fill the desperado full of government-purchased lead. He dies as a result of the aerating of his torso by a baker’s dozen of neat, round puncture wounds delivered by the officers’ sidearms.

The shift commander assigns a pair of internal affairs investigators to take the statements of the two heroes who saved the bank employees from what could have ended up as a mass funeral for the seven cashiers and an elderly security guard named Rufus.

The two IA detectives separate Pam and Sam and then take their statements. Later, the “suits” compare notes and, unbelievably, the officers’ stories vary … a lot. In fact, it’s almost as if Pam and Sam told tales that took place at two different locations and they’d practically described two entirely different events. Yes, they were that far apart.

So how could this happen, you ask? Well, let’s closely examine Sam’s name to see if we can arrive as some sort of answer that makes sense out of the discrepancies/distorted realty.


“S”, in my own little and limited warped mind, stands for “Secure.”

To start the ball rolling, the brain first must “SECURE” information. However, the human mind can receive only so much at once, so it decides what is important and then discards all of what it deems as unnecessary details.

This is where repetitive training plays a vital role, because repeating the same action over and over again (draw, point, shoot, draw, point, shoot, for example) helps the officer to react instinctively rather than having to rely on a brain that immediately discards some details, such as “the guy has a gun!”

During a stressful event the human mind does strange things

Human brains do not have a far-reaching ability to observe, meaning we see either a forest or we see a group of individual trees, or a lovely meadow or individual grasses. A crowd of people, or individual humans. But not both at the same time (forest AND trees, etc.). The brain focuses on one or the other, making it difficult to process many details. And, when two humans are observing the same grouping of objects, one’s focus may be on the guy with the gun while the other’s is trained on the woman holding a cigar-smoking baby.

“A” = “ABSORB,” meaning the retention of what the brain decides to secure. Unfortunately, our minds operate on a selective basis and we absolutely have no control over this weird phenomena. It is the brain that picks and chooses what it is they want to absorb, and often those human computers focus on one non-essential thing while totally disregarding another more important detail. Again, the woman holding a cigar-smoking baby instead of the far more important and dangerous guy with the gun. This is the reason why Sam may see one thing while Pam’s mind secures and absorbs something entirely different.

The proper terminology for what to pay attention to and what to disregard is “selective attention.”

*For more on selective attention, click here.

“M,” the final letter in Sam’s name, we’ll identify as “MEMORY.”

Memory, simply put, is the brain filing away all of the details about the stressful event that it deemed as unimportant. Then, what’s left are the elements that stood out. The ones that, due to selective attention, seemed vividly specific. However, those details may have been perceived differently than they actually were and that’s because not all surrounding information was retained, which can and often does distort reality.

The latter being the case in situations where officers fail to recognize an object in a fleeing suspect’s hand as a cellphone instead of a firearm. The same is true in reverse, when the officer mistakenly believes an object is a cellphone when in reality it’s clearly a pistol. These false negatives are caused by a human mind rejecting something that should have received and accepted for what it is/was. In the case of officers involved in deadly force scenarios, these mistakes could and often do result in life-ending occurrences.

Training does assist the brain with making these decisions by allowing it do its thing while the officer simply reacts without having to take the time to first SECURE, ABSORB, and then pull the needed information from their MEMORY. Instead, they see a gun and draw, point, and shoot. It’s what they’re trained to do, and during their time in the academy that’s exactly what they do, much like training a dog to sit.

How many times have we all said to little Rover …

“Sit, boy. Sit.” “Sit, boy. Sit.” “Sit, boy. Sit.” “Sit, boy. Sit.”

Well, that’s how cops are trained, and it’s by design to help keep them alive.


As a sheriff’s deputy, long before I made the switch to a city police department and later as a detective, I, as did my fellow wearers of the star-shaped badge, often patrolled the entire county, alone.

Should a serious situation arise our only backup was a lone state trooper whose duty was prowling for speeders and drunk drivers during their patrol of the major highways that crisscrossed their way through our jurisdiction. This meant that help, if needed, could be well more than three-quarters of an hour away, and that’s with full lights, siren, and gas pedal pushed tightly to the floor. Our agencies had a mutual agreement, though; they worked traffic-related incidents in the county—speeders and auto crashes, and we handled all criminal cases. When necessary we’d each back the other.

Needless to say, handling all calls by yourself could be a bit nerve-wracking. Troopers never knew what or who was waiting for them when they stopped a car out on a deserted stretch of highway, and we never knew what or who(m) we’d be dealing with when we approached a house or other location where a crime was reported, or one in-progress that we’d stumbled across while on patrol.

Now, I’ve said all of the above as a means to address a question that I’ve been asked numerous times over the years, and that’s if I experienced fear at any time during my career. Well, I’ve never had to pause to consider a response because the answer is easy … a resounding YES. And that fear, at times, was extremely palpable, complete with a heart that took on a mind of its own at times.

Like when searching for armed and wanted suspects inside an abandoned and very dark warehouse. You can’t see your own hand in front of your face and you know the thugs are there, waiting for you and will stop at nothing to avoid prison. It’s times like this when the old ticker starts pounding and thumping so fiercely against the interior of your chest that you’re afraid the suspect will hear it, giving away your position.

Sometimes, during extremely tense situations, you see your pant legs moving slightly and that’s when you realize you’re trembling just a bit. And there’s always that bead of cool sweat that worms its way down your Kevlar vest and fear-heated back, following the bumps and curves of your spine until it dips past your waistline and into your pants where it continues on into, well, you know where. Perspiration from your forehead and brow leaks into your eyes, burning like a powerful acid. And this is all when it’s cold outside.

We wade through mounds of people who’re fighting, using fists, and sticks, and knives, and guns, all to arrest the folks who’re leading the battle and/or those sought per arrest warrants. We go toe-to-toe with people far tougher than one could imagine, or would ever want to envision.

There’s nothing like pulling up to a “shots-fired” call and suddenly finding yourself the target of machinegun fire. Bullets rapidly puncture and rip and tear away the metal and glass of your patrol car while you frantically try your best to find some sort of cover.

A bar fight where the two bikers stop and join together to turn their large knives toward you because they hate cops more than one another. But, somehow you come out on top in spite of all the blood that’s pouring from your wounds.

But cops do what they do and I was no different. We have a job to do and dadgum it we do it. We head into those warehouses and street and bar fights and those dark alleys, and we continue moving forward until those suspects are in custody.

Sure we’re often scared. But we deal with the fear later, once all is a said and done. That’s when the hands really begin to shake and the knees knock, and you say your thanks to God, as I did and still do, or to whomever your faith directs you to thank for seeing you safely through the incident, even if that someone is merely your lucky stars, a rabbit’s foot (not so lucky for the rabbit, though), or to the earth and sky and wind and water.

So yeah, I’ve been scared. Plenty of times.

So remember, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself … and guns and knives and giant bad guys with big sticks and ham-size fists.

Oh, yeah, and spiders.