Evidently, Christie Dawn Harris had something to hide. Her chosen hiding place — her vagina — for a loaded, five-shot, .22 caliber revolver highlights some important lessons for us.
Let’s get all the jokes out of the way (“Good thing it wasn’t a Desert Eagle!” or “Don’t forget the plus-one rule!”) and move on to the serious issue this item calls to mind.
Searching suspects — both male and female — must be thorough, every time, all the time. Period — er, uh, end of story.
Rules of Thumb
A couple of years ago, we witnessed this mishap in California, and just about everyone has seen the video of a man in custody pulling a pistol from his waistband and committing suicide in an interrogation room.
Some male officers may have some hesitancy about searching a female suspect (fear of a citizen complaint, lawsuit, etc.), so ideally you can have a female officer come to back you up and do the search.
However, to my knowledge, no court has said that a male officer can’t search a female subject in an instance where there is no female officer available.
You simply have to do it correctly. Admittedly, the definition of “correctly” is going to vary from agency to agency, but in general terms we’re talking about using the backs or edges of the hands to do the search, not the palms. Needless to say, please consult your agency P&P manual for specific guidance.
Remember, officers are covered by applicable U.S. Supreme Court case law — even if there’s not probable cause for an arrest, all you need is reasonable suspicion for a Terry pat down.
Search for Everything
Your brain will often tell your eyes what to see just by the definitions your thoughts are generating. As my good friend and PoliceOne colleague Dan Marcou wrote just last week, looking for ‘something’ can be limiting.
You’ll have a natural tendency to see evidence of what you’re seeking, but miss something equally-criminal, or dangerous, or both because of a type of inattentional blindness.
The best example I can think of also goes to the issue of firearms. When you are confirming a firearm to be cleared and safe, you’re not looking for “no round” to be there.
The procedure your mind, your eyes, and your fingers should be engaged in is looking for a round (or rounds) remaining in the weapon. This “expectation” helps to ensure that you find the round and clear it!
Look, I know that suspects stowing stuff in body cavities is not new.
This sort of thing makes for a salacious news headline every so often, but the fact is that male and female criminals use body cavity concealment all the time, for all manner of contraband.
In fact, it is so commonplace in the world of corrections that unless the example is particularly extreme, my colleagues over on CorrectionsOne don’t even bother posting articles about it.
But when things like this get on our radar, they are good opportunities to reinforce our best practices, and refocus our minds on officer safety.
Stay safe out there my friends.