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Police Officers are the brave men and women who’s duty is to protect us and to round up the evil folks who commit dastardly crimes against society. They’re enforcers of the law. They run into danger, leaping mud puddles and discarded fast food wrappers along the way. They dodge kids on tricycles and those licking popsicles.

Officers often work during the nighttime among feeding feral animals and smelly winos. Their nerve are cords of steel and their hearts and minds are filled to the brim with compassion.

They train and train and they train, and they’re given all the tools needed to fulfill their duties with the utmost expertise.

Unfortunately, though, cops are human and we all know that humans subject to making mistakes. Cops are no exception. Here, see for yourselves.

Oops!

Serving search warrants and entering homes and businesses to search for killers, robbers, and thieves is risky to say the least.

Before “going in,” though, there’s often a ton of necessary preparation—surveillance, paperwork, briefings, etc, not to mention the hours of training and practice that goes hand-in-hand with being a finely-honed, well-oiled member of police department’s special team. After all, the goal is to make a swift and safe entry, collect evidence, and to bring out the bad guys with no one getting hurt, including the crooks.

But, after all those grueling hours of aforementioned training, often in harsh conditions, repeating the same tactics over and over again until they come as naturally as taking a breath, well, things still happen while executing warrants. Such as …

Knock on Wood

We’ve all seen the TV cops, the officers knocking and announcing their presence and purpose. Bam! Bam! Bam! “Police! Search warrant!” Then the door-kicking starts (battering ram, actually) until the jambs and locks give way. Officers are then able to storm the house like ants on a dropped lollipop.

That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? But then there’s this …

Officers kick and kick and kick, and pound and pound and pound, trying to get inside a crack house. But the door won’t budge. They’re frantic that evidence is being destroyed with each passing second, so one cop decides to break a window when he suddenly hears a voice calling out from inside the home. “Use the door knob, dumbass. It’s unlocked.”


Lookin’ Through the Window

It’s mid July and a baby is trapped inside a locked car. The motor’s running and the mother is hysterical. She accidentally hit the lock on the driver’s door as she was getting out. “Please hurry! My baby’s so scared, and it’s really hot inside. Hurry!”

The responding officer peeks through the glass of the driver’s side window and sees that all four doors are securely locked, so he uses a Slim Jim to try and pop open the latches. But it just doesn’t seem to work this time and he curses those “newfangled” electric locks and all the wiring that becomes tangled around his cardoor-unlocking device. Precious minutes tick by as the temperature climbs past 90. The baby seems to be okay and the ambulance and fire crews are on the way. Another five minutes of jabbing the metal tool inside the door panel passes before a fire truck finally pulls up. Whew! They’ll have the right equipment to get the kid out safely.

The fire captain hops out of the truck and walks up to the car. He steps around to the passenger door and calmly reaches inside through the OPEN window. Then he gently scoops up the cooing baby and hands her to her sobbing mother.


The Old “Mattress as a Shield” Trick: Please Help Me I’m Falling

The prison Emergency Response Team has been called to extricate a suicidal inmate from his cell. The prisoner is extremely violent and he’s well known for hurting staff members. He’s also built like a bulldozer and is as strong as twenty men.

The team assembles at the cell door waiting for the command to go in. The lead officer, typically the largest of the group, is in charge of a cot-size prison mattress. His assignment is to hold the mattress in front of his body, vertically. The idea is to rush the guy and pin him to the rear cell wall with the padded shield. Doing so allows the team to easily restrain the guy. No problem. They’ve used the tactic several times before with great success. Never had an injury, either. When everyone is ready, someone begins the countdown. One. Two. Three. Go!

The door opens and the 6’4, 250 pound ox of a man, the officer who’s wielding the mattress makes his move. The only job for which he’s responsible, to be a human battering ram. However, he steps on the bottom corner of the mattress and tumbles inside the cell. The rest of the team fall on top of him while the inmate looks on. He slowly begins to laugh and then starts to chuckle uncontrollably as the team scrambles to get to their feet. The prisoner, of course, is laughing so hard he has tears streaming down his cheeks.


Slim Jim

Before the introduction of electronic locks, it was a simple matter of slipping a Slim Jim between the window glass and rubber weather strip, feel around until the tool hit the “lock rod,” and wiggle it around a tiny bit until the lock knob popped up.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 9.19.23 AM

So presto, bingo, all was well and the happy citizen went about their daily routine.

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Slim Jim

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Notches used for “hooking” the lock rod and other mechanisms

After electronic locks replaced the simple, manual ones, things changed. No longer was unlocking a car door an easy task. In fact, it was quite the opposite and many officers, especially the old-timers, found themselves jabbing Slim Jims inside car doors while pushing and pulling and pumping the darn things in and up an down motion that brings to mind a frazzled grandma in the kitchen using a hand-mashing implement to frantically and wildly smash the heck out of a pot full of potatoes.

Parstamp1

Grandma pounded out a week’s worth of frustrations using one of these things while preparing Sunday lunch.

Sometimes during a particularly violent Slim-Jimming session, the device became entangled in the nests of wiring, rods, gadgets, and connections inside the door. When this occurred it sometimes was impossible to remove the “Jim” without damaging an entire network of electrical, well, car stuff.

Therefore, it was not all that unusual for an officer to leave the device protruding from the door of a high-end vehicle while the owner called a professional for help. Then off they’d drive (the car owner), heading to the dealership with long, flat piece of metal flapping in the breeze.

The Exclusionary Rule keeps police officers in check while conducting searches. It prevents prosecutors from presenting illegally obtained evidence.

The rule states that any evidence siezed during an improper search cannot be used, no matter how incriminating it may be (see Fruit of the Poisonous Tree below).

And, if this improper evidence the key piece to the entire case—the smoking gun—the prosecution may be forced to drop the case, sending a very guilty crook back on the street. The defendant may also have grounds for a civil suit against the officers involved, as well as the police department and the city.

The Exclusionary Rule is basically the Supreme Court keeping watch over search-warrant-serving cops.

There are exceptions to the exclusionary rule, such as:

When officers rely on a warrant that later turns out to be invalid. For example, officers search a house and find a large cache of illegal weapons along with a guy who’s in the process of grinding off serial numbers from an AK-47. Later, the court learns that the address on the warrant was incorrect because the detective accidentally typed River Avenue instead of River Road. Or, the landmarks used to identify the property to be searched were improperly recorded.

“I meant the blue house on River Road, the first one on the right past the old oak tree, not the first one on the left. It was an honest mistake. Oops!”

The warrant may still be ruled valid and the seizure of the guns may still be legal. Or, the warrant may be ruled invalid but the seizure of the weapons could possibly stand. This is so because the officers were acting in good faith, believing they were on the property based on a constitutionally sound warrant (This is a weak example, but you get the idea).

However, if a police officer lies to the judge or magistrate, or if the judge or magistrate showed bias toward the officers when issuing the search warrant, the warrant is invalid and the exclusionary rule is in effect. The evidence recovered by the police may not be used. In fact, it will be tossed out of court, and possibly the officer too …


Did you know??

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree – Illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against a defendant. Evidence illegally obtained is “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.”

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.

Search Warrants:

Our law demands that searches and seizures of property and people must be reasonable and based on probable cause, not mere suspicion. Actually, the 4th Amendment is pretty specific, stating that no warrant shall issue without probable cause. Therefore, when the police need to cross the line to invade a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy they must have a properly signed search warrant in hand.

A search warrant is actually the combination of three documents—an affidavit, the warrant itself, and a return of service.

The affidavit for a search warrant is the portion of the warrant stating the facts (probable cause) as to why permission to search a particular place, or person, should be allowed.

Affidavit for search warrant

In other words, the affidavit sets the grounds for issuing the warrant portion of the document. An officer must state (under oath) that the facts provided in an affidavit are the truth.

The four corners of a warrant refer to the actual paper itself and to everything written within the physical “4 corners” of the document. If a statement, fact, etc. is not included within the affidavit, the information may not be considered as part of the probable cause for issuing the warrant.

The search warrant is basically a court order to search a specific place for a specific item(s).

Search warrant

The “return” is simply the portion of the document (copies of the affidavit, the search warrant, the inventory list of items seized, and the official portion of the document stating the time and place of service and the signature of the serving officer.

Inventory and return

Probable cause is present “where the facts and circumstances presented would warrant a man of reasonable caution to believe that the items sought to be seized were in the stated place.”

To determine whether or not to issue a search warrant, a magistrate/judge only needs to ask himself/herself one question. Would a reasonably cautious person conclude that there was a “substantial basis” for the finding of probable cause? If the answer to the question is “yes,” then he/she may issue the warrant.

Information presented as probable cause must be current information that exists at the time the request is made for the warrant. For example, an officer may not request a search warrant based on activity she observed 30 days in the past.

Say NO to Those Anonymous Tips!!

Hearsay evidence may not be used to obtain a search warrant. I see this used all the time in books—the officer receives an anonymous tip regarding evidence hidden in a car or home, so the cop drives over and starts searching based on the tip. Doing so would definitely be an illegal search.

In addition, a search warrant would not, nor could it be issued based on “anonymous tip” we so often read about in some novels. Even when using information provided by an informant, officers must first establish the informant’s credibility. Has he supplied reliable information in the past? If so, how many times? Have the details of his information been verified by reliable sources, such as another police officer or person in good standing?

What information is needed within the 4 corners of the documents?

1. Place to be searched. The description of a location must be so precise that it would rule out any other place.

2. Person to be searched. Again, the warrant must be specific as to which persons are to be searched. Having a search warrant in hand does not allow a “search everyone” free-for-all for officers. However, officers may, for their safety, “pat down” everyone in the area. This is a search for weapons only.

3. Property to be seized. Once again, the warrant must be specific, and an officer’s search must be limited to searching for the items listed within the 4 corners of the warrant.

For example, if the warrant directs officers to search for a stolen refrigerator, then he may not search dresser drawers in the bedroom. Obviously, something as large as a refrigerator could not be concealed in a small drawer. However, if the officers are looking for a stolen diamond ring, then they may search anywhere within the house where a tiny ring could be hidden. Officers may seize any other illegal items found during the search, such as illegal narcotics.

In most instances, officers are required to “knock and announce” their presence when serving a search warrant. This means they don’t kick in the doors like you see on TV. Not at first, anyway. If the suspect does not answer the door within a reasonable amount of time (there is no set timeline, merely what the officer feels is reasonable at the time), then the door may be breached by whatever means is necessary to ensure the safety of the officers and to protect and preserve the evidence. Also, warrants are normally required to be served during daytime hours unless otherwise stated on the warrant (day or night).

When safety is at risk, officers may ask the judge/magistrate to issue a “No Knock” warrant, which allows them to break and enter the residence, hoping to catch the suspect(s) off guard. This is normally done when it’s suspected that the crooks are armed, or that they may destroy evidence before the officers could gain entry by first knocking and announcing their presence.

 

We’ve discussed the issue of probable cause (PC) many times, and we all know it’s one of the very few things that remains consistent in law enforcement. PC is a “gotta have it” sort of thing when making certain arrests and obtaining search warrants.

One more time – Probable Cause is the existence of facts (not mere suspicion) that will satisfy an officer of ordinary caution that a crime has been, or is being committed … and the item to be searched for is reasonably connected to the crime in question. Oh, and that evidence of the crime can be found at/in a certain place (PC for a search warrant).

Okay, with that reminder in place, let’s take a look at a few more rules regarding search and seizure.

1) Information used to obtain a search warrant absolutely must be current information. “Stale” information is not a valid basis for a search—evidence could have been moved, suspects might have moved on, other people may now be inside the residence, etc.

2) An informant’s name need not be revealed in the body of the search warrant or affidavit. That’s sort of why they call them “confidential” informants.

3) Search warrants must be served (executed) promptly. Not a week or two after the judge signs it. Actually, delays of three or four days have rendered searches unreasonable in the eyes of the courts.

Search Warrant Execution – No Knock

4) Police officers must knock and announce their presence when serving a search warrant. However, there’s no written rule/law that states a required amount of wait time before using a battering ram to gain entry. But, a good rule of thumb is to wait a few seconds, long enough for a reasonable person to open the door. Any longer allows the suspect enough time to destroy evidence.

5) Officers may obtain “no knock” warrants if there’s a threat of danger to officers should they knock and announce their presence. Also, warrants must be served during daytime hours unless otherwise specified on the warrant.

6) The law says that officers may damage private property while entering, as long as the damage was necessary under the circumstances (breaking doors and windows, etc.). And guess who’s stuck with the bill? Yep, the suspect. However, some jurisdictions have policies in place that require the municipality to cover the cost of repairs.

7) Members of the media should not be allowed to accompany officers into a private home during the execution of a search warrant.

8) Officers do not need a search warrant when conducting a search of a suspect’s personal property during the booking process at the jail. This includes any closed container found in the suspect’s pockets.

9) Officers must limit their searches of electronic devices to only the files named on the search warrant.

Sergeant Search

10) Evidence seized during an improper search may not be used during criminal proceedings. However, if the officer relies on a warrant issued by the court that was later found to be accidentally inaccurate (at no fault of the officer), it is possible that a court would allow the evidence to be introduced.

11) Evidence seized in violation of the 4th Amendment (protection against illegal search and seizure) may not be used in criminal trials. However, that very same evidence may be, and is, used in other court proceedings, such as parole violations/revocations.

12) It’s Probable Cause, NOT Probably Cause. Yes, I see and hear this (probably cause) quite often.

Search Warrants - The Other Side of the Door

Ah, the search warrant.

Many officers can’t wait to go on their first door-kicking, battering-ram-bashing, and flash-bang-tossing raid. Beats writing traffic tickets, right? After all, what good is that training and equipment if you can’t use it?

Sure, the excitement is there. The adrenaline rush is over the top. And the danger level…WHOOSH! It’s through the roof.

But there’s another side to executing a search warrant, an unpleasant side that most people don’t see. Yes, after the door is breached officers often encounter a host of unpleasantness, such as:

1. While pawing through the kitchen drawers you (the officer) 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 used, congealed bacon grease. A closer look reveals hundreds of teeny-tiny footprints in the thin layer of grease that’s coating the top of the range. The top of the dried bacon fat, too, along with obvious chew-marks and tooth prints in the grease and around the edges of the cardboard container. A frying pan with

Evil Roach

remnants of the morning’s scrambled eggs sits on a rear burner. And that’s not freshly-ground pepper dotting the top of the eggs. Listen closely and you can hear faint squeals coming from inside the walls of the range. You don’t want to, but you do it anyway. You lean down. Yes, there are baby mice living inside the stove, and they’re crying for their mother.

And this is only the first room …

2. A favorite place to hide drugs is in or behind a toilet’s water storage tank. But there’s no bathroom in this house. Odd. So you continue the search by moving to the bedroom, if that’s what you want to call it. Four walls, a tattered mattress (no bed frame), and lots and lots of filth and dirty clothes on the floor. 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…

3. 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.

4. In the darkened corner of the room, a malnourished skin-and-bones mixed-breed dog sits on its scrawny haunches. Most of the fur is missing from its back and around the head. Its lips are pulled back to expose a mouthful of plaque-coated teeth that are presently aimed in your direction. A low rumble comes from 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.

5. The next bedroom is better. Five little kids there, playing with two or three broken plastic toys—a dump truck and, ironically, a battered three-wheeled police car. The oldest child, a cute little round-faced boy of about four, or so. The tiniest spattering of freckles peppered his smooth but grimy cheeks and nose.

Evil Rat“Where’s your mommy?”

Five sets of shoulders inch upward.

No shoes. Dirty pants. No shirts. Faces crusted with food and sleep. 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.

A microwave on the nightstand. Overflowing ashtray. 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. Crack cocaine.

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

And that, my friends, is what cops often see “behind the door.”