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Searching for a clue

It happened on a building search call ten years ago. The lesson on the importance of observation skills and other building search issues reinforced in real life then is a story I use even today with basic law enforcement academy students. Most people like a story and this one hits some key building search points.

I was winding down my Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department (in Santa Fe, New Mexico) patrol division shift and overlapping with the next shift. It was around 10:30 pm and I was meeting in a dirt lot with a deputy from the other team when he was dispatched to a commercial alarm at a burger joint. When additional information came out from Santa Fe dispatch that the alarm company was now reporting glass breakage, I figured I'd go with him as glass breakage indication is rarely the false alarm that most other alarm calls are.

Sure enough, we found that the lower half of the rear facing glass door was smashed in. I advised dispatch and we entered the establishment with our guns drawn. I was sure that we'd find a person or even several people in the restaurant as we were just up the road when the alarm came in and did not see any one fleeing the area upon our quick arrival.

After clearing the rest of the hamburger eatery, we set about to search the area behind the service counter. Luckily, I remembered the words of advice that I heard regarding how to search a building. Those words may have saved us and bear repeating in this column. Be sure that you look up and down and not just side to side when conducting a search.

I made sure that I looked up at the ceiling tiles to see if any of them had been disturbed by someone climbing into the ceiling. I also looked down at the floor. It's a good thing I did so. The other deputy was ahead of me and I very easily could have had a bad guy get the drop on us from behind.

On the floor, in front of a lower cabinet, was a folded cardboard French fry holder. I figured that managers of these kinds of restaurants make sure that the floor is swept at closing, so my next thought was that someone must have accidentally knocked it out of the cabinet while they were climbing in to hide.

Tip 1: Look up and down to search for that clue.

I used soft sounds to call the other deputy back to my location and I covered the cabinet with my firearm while he ripped it open.

Tip 2: Have communications worked out with your partner.

Even though I was convinced that someone would be in there, I still jumped as I saw a small man curled up in the cabinet. Luckily, I kept true to my training and kept my finger out of the trigger guard. If I hadn't, my startled reflex might have caused an accidental discharge to be fired at the suspect.

Tip 3: Keep your finger out of the trigger guard.

Next to the man, who also had a knife, were several neatly laid out lines of a white powdery substance. I guess he needed something to do while he waited for us to leave or, even worse, to help him get the courage to jump out when our backs were turned.

The good ending is the cabinet dude got a nice bed at the Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center and several felony charges. I also went home after assisting the other deputy with the charging and booking documents without a knife in my back (vest notwithstanding).

Thank goodness for that French fry holder on the floor. Remember to look up and down, and not just side to side, when you're searching for that clue.

About the author

Dr. Richard Weinblatt is a criminal justice educator, former police chief, police media commentator and an instructor in multiple disciplines. He has earned Florida Criminal Justice Standards certifications in general law enforcement topics, firearms, defensive tactics, and vehicle operations, as well as instructor certifications for Taser, pepper spray, and expandable baton. He holds the Certified Law Enforcement Trainer (CLET) designation from the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET) and is a certified AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer. Dr. Weinblatt is Dean of the School of Public and Social Services & Education/Assoc. Professor of Criminal Justice at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, IN.  He previously served as Director of the Institute for Public Safety at Central Ohio Technical College near Columbus, OH, Professor and Program Manager for the Criminal Justice Institute at Seminole Community College near Orlando, FL, and Chairman of the Public Services Dept./Criminal Justice Instructor at South Piedmont Community College near Charlotte, NC. Dr. Weinblatt has worked in several regions of the country in reserve and full-time sworn positions ranging from auxiliary police lieutenant in New Jersey to patrol division deputy sheriff in New Mexico to reserve deputy sheriff in Florida and police chief in North Carolina. Dr. Weinblatt has written extensively on law enforcement topics since 1989. He had a regular column in Law and Order Magazine for a decade and he has also written for Police, Sheriff, American Police Beat, Narc Officer, and others. Dr. Weinblatt has provided media commentary on police matters for local and national media including CBS Evening News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and The Washington Post. Dr. Weinblatt earned a Bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice, a Master of Public Administration in Criminal Justice, an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree in Educational Leadership and a Doctorate of Education. Weinblatt may be reached through www.TheCopDoc.com.

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