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Rules for Suspect Searches:
If the suspect is under arrest, handcuff first, then search. There is no safer method for conducting a pat-down than to handcuff the suspect first. All other techniques involve some element of risk.
Handcuffing does not equal arrest. Handcuffing in a Terry (articuable reasonable suspicion) situation will be judged by the standard of objective reasonableness based on the Supreme Court's Graham v. Connor decision. Therefore, although you cannot handcuff everyone in investigative detentions, the handcuffing of persons under suspicion of committing crimes does not automatically equal an arrest. If reasonable suspicion exists to suspect the subject has committed a crime, handcuffing may be reasonable. You cannot handcuff everyone you come into contact with under the guise of "officer safety." Indeed, it has been my experience that officers get in trouble when they handcuff under the guise of officer safety and cannot articulate what the threat to their safety was. You may, however, handcuff those persons that are: a perceived physical risk to you or others; a flight risk; to control the person; to stop the person from committing a crime and in other situations.
Use Contact/Cover. This concept has two officers dividing their responsibilities during a field interview situation. The contact officer performs all the business of the encounter (radio communications, handcuffing, searches, etc.) while the cover officer provides overall protection for both by scanning the area and monitoring the suspect's actions, and is prepared to respond with force if necessary.
Ask about contraband. After getting hands on and the suspect under control, ask the suspect if they have any contraband. Surprisingly I and other officers have had suspects admit to having weapons, syringes or other contraband.
Look first, and continue to look where you are putting your hands. Don't ignore the obvious threats and risks, such as folding knives in belt sheaths, or a suspect covered in hazardous material (e.g., body fluids).
Grab and twist, don't just run your hand down the outside of the material. Thin and linear objects, such as shivs and crack pipes, can be missed if proper technique is not used. A missed crack pipe can be embarrassing in the booking area; a missed weapon can cost you or another officer their life!
Check the outside of the pocket prior to inserting your hand. I've had more than a few subjects have "nasty" items in their pockets, such as feces and sharp objects. Try to find these from the outside first. Safety note: if there is a danger due to body fluids or a suspect's obvious lack of hygiene, latex gloves are recommended. I never liked searching with leather gloves due to the lack of "tactile sensitivity." This is a judgment you must make. Always make sure you disinfect your hands with Purell or some other hand sanitizer.
Handcuff, then retrieve. If you find or believe you have found contraband, handcuff, then retrieve the item(s). If you remove the item first, you have a suspect in one hand and evidence in the other. You are now in a poor position to handcuff. If you set drug evidence on the ground, the suspect will step on it. If you set the evidence on the hood or trunk of the patrol car, the suspect may attempt to destroy it. You can hand it to the cover officer or place it in your pocket, but don't place evidence where the suspect can destroy it. Once again, anytime you develop probable cause to make an arrest during the frisk, or the suspect's actions put you in peril, immediately handcuff, then continue searching.
Always look for more. If you find the crack cocaine or meth you've been searching for, or you find one weapon, look for more. Officers are killed each year in this country by weapons that have been missed in frisks.
Search where you don't like to search. Suspects tend to conceal weapons in the groin area, and drugs in the anal area. The rationale is simple -- officers are reluctant to search in these areas. Quite honestly, a good street cop should be able to tell what religion a suspect is (at least, for male suspects) after a search, if you get my drift. Veteran officers have long ago given up any concern for comments made by suspects about officer's hands touching these areas. They can say what they want; my partners and I are going home at the end of the shift.
Don't let gender stop you. There is no legal prohibition preventing male officers from searching female suspects. If the time delay of getting a female officer on scene is too long, pat them down for weapons. Furthermore, I believe that there is no legal reason to use the back of your hand or a glove in these pat-downs. Just do it as safely as possible and under the view of another officer, if at all possible. Note: Officers are encouraged to check their department rules and regulations on this matter.
Know what makes a strip search. Understand what constitutes a "strip search" in your state. If