Good action scenes—car chases, gunfights, and exploding cars and buildings—are great at keeping readers busy turning pages. But, how does your hero survive the barrage of bullets, flames, and KABOOMS?

Are you giving the star of your book a realistic way out of the tough jams you’ve tossed her way? Is what you’ve written a true tactical maneuver or, did you write yourself into a tired old cliche’ corner? You know what I mean—the karate chop to the wrist that forces the bad guy to drop his weapon. How about this doozy … shooting the gun out of the villain’s hand. Yeah, those things. The things that are not only far-fetched, they’re downright silly.

As writers of fiction it is your job and sworn duty to deliver believable make-believe, and having your character(s) shoot the gun out of someone’s hand is far from achieving that goal. So, you ask, how do real-life heroes avoid meeting untimely ends when confronted with deadly situations? Well …

  • When confronting a long-gun-wielding suspect (shotguns and rifles are long guns) it’s best to have the hero approach from the side. Doing so forces the crook to turn his entire body toward the approaching hero in order to continue the threat/potential shootout. Otherwise, the thug has no option other than to flee or surrender. The tactic also allows time for the hero to react to the threat.
  • If possible, place your hero in a good light. Make use of bright lights, such as a setting sun or bright early morning sunlight. The light should be at the hero’s back, shining into the eyes of the bad guy, making it difficult for them to see clearly. The hero, though, will have no trouble seeing the crook. However, don’t allow your protagonist to stand in a position where she/he is backlit, making their silhouette a perfect target.
  • It’s okay to have your hero experience a bit of fear because fear heightens our sense of awareness, which in turn increases the likelihood that we’ll do whatever is necessary to survive. However, fear can have a negative effect if allowed to overtake the situation. In short, a little fear is good, but too much fear combined with gunfire is the recipe for a badge-wearing babbling idiot.
  • If possible, your heroes should focus on breathing during deadly encounters. Yes, breathing properly during a tense situation can help bring things into perspective. It can also help lower the heart rate, and it can prevent fear from morphing into blind rage (sudden bursts of anger could lead to avoidable disaster—not thinking clearly and perhaps rush into a no-win situation.

Taking a moment to focus on combat breathing—breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold your breath for another count of four, and then exhale to a third four-count. Count to four and then start all over again. The heart rate should be noticeably lower after a few repetitions. Of course, I don’t recommend taking the time to perform these deep-breathing exercises during a gunfight with bullets zinging by your ears. It’s been my personal experience that “timeouts” are not allowed during gun battles.

Okay, there you have it. So no more silly karate-chop scenes or shooting guns from bad guy’s hands, right? Good. Then you’re all set.

Don’t Write Your Hero Into the Dreaded Cliche’ Corner!

I can’t recall ever seeing an extremely scared, deep-breathing Jack Reacher standing with bright sunlight to his back while walking sideways like crab toward a guy holding an AK-47.

I suppose an occasional fist to the throat, or a boot to the head is permissible, but only if you’re the hero in a Lee Child book. The trouble is, there’s only one Jack Reacher, and there’s definitely only one Lee Child. Well, now there’s Andrew Child, so …

Police officers are expected to follow and enforce many rules, laws, and ordinances. The penalties and punishments for straying from those regulations can be quite severe.

In addition to the written requirements are numerous “unwritten guidelines” to assist officers as they carry out their duties. Here’s a list of ten.

1. No matter how big, tough, or strong an officer may think they are, they should never, not ever, underestimate the strength of criminal suspects, especially those who’re hellbent on escaping custody. Even the little ones, the guys who are smaller in stature, are quite capable of inflicting enormous amounts of pain. The same is true of females of various sizes.

Even the tiniest woman who’s wearing a polka dot mini skirt has the ability to punch and kick and deliver massive amounts of pain like a seasoned MMA fighter(this one I speak of from experience). Actually, I believe the hardest I’ve ever been hit was by a woman who didn’t take too kindly to me arresting her extremely combative adult son. The young man, by the way, had just committed an armed robbery and I’d chased him on foot for several blocks. The foot pursuit ended inside the home of his dear and sweet Mama, a 225 lb. woman with a fist like steel and the punch of a jack hammer.

2. Crooks sometimes make really stupid comments, so keep your ears open. Listen to your suspects and witnesses. After all, you just may hear a few comments like I did back in the day. Such as …

“Come on, man. I spent my last twenty bucks on that rock. At least let me smoke it before you take me to jail.”

“I didn’t rob that guy. The one I robbed had blonde hair.”

“He was already dead when I shot him. I think he had a heart attack or something when he saw my gun.”

“I was not driving that get-a-way car. The one I was driving when we robbed that store was a Mustang.”

“He couldn’t have recognized me. I was wearing a mask.”

3. Never engage in a foot pursuit when you have a perfectly healthy rookie riding shotgun.

4. If you have to shoot back more than 6 times the bad guy can still see you. Move to better cover.

5. The raincoat in your trunk is meant for the rookie riding in your passenger seat. No need for both of you to stand in the downpour. Besides, someone has to listen for important radio messages and finish the coffee before it gets cold. Waste not, want not.

6. Flashlights are dual-purpose tools. The handle end is great for ending confrontations. When the delivery is just right, it sounds kind of like an aluminum baseball bat hitting a softball when the battery-filled tube connects with a forehead. The other end is perfect for helping you see (in the dark) the crook’s eyes spinning like windmills after the little “love tap.”

*Many departments forbid the use of flashlights as weapons. Sometimes, though, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to stay alive.

7. Never rush into a fight-in-progress. Instead, wait a few seconds to let the two goons wear themselves out. Then, like a lion after its prey, you can grab the one who’s the most tired and wounded while the rookie gets the still-fighting gorilla.

8. Never leave your patrol car, even for a second, with the keys in it. There’s nothing worse than chasing a bad guy on foot, wrestling with him for ten minutes to apply restraints, then marching the handcuffed thug back to the empty spot where you know you left your car. I promise you’ll hear howls of laughter from the bad guy, who, by the way, will remind you for the rest of your career of “the day you lost your police car.” He’ll shout it from the curbside, the jail cell, from his prison window, and from his mother’s front porch.

9. Be sure you never write a check with your mouth that your rear end can’t cash. There’s nothing worse than talking a big game only to find yourself sitting on the pavement looking up at a laughing bad guy who’s now holding your only pair of handcuffs. And, the bruised ego is far worse than the black eye.

10. When you and your fellow first responder are in the process of arresting a combative slimeball-scumbag, always know who’s spraying the “hot sauce.” It’s a real pain in the rear when the bad guy ducks at the precise moment both of you squeeze the buttons on your cans of pepper spray. Ever try arresting a guy when neither you nor your partner can see anything? It’s not pretty.

A dog’s nose is its superpower. In fact, it’s so powerful that a dog could, if it desired to do so, detect a single spoonful of sugar in a million gallons of water (two Olympic-size pools).

As a former K-9 handler, tales (pun intended) of amazing sniffers fascinate me. For example, the dog who detected 35 pounds of marijuana wrapped in watertight material and submerged in a car’s gas tank that was filled to the brim with gasoline. Another dog, a cancer-sniffing dog insisted that a spot on a patient’s skin was melanoma, a place that doctors had pronounced as cancer-free. Finally, after more testing, a biopsy confirmed melanoma in a small fraction of the cells. This SuperDog, of course, dropped the mic and left the building.

So, in the field, how do dogs use that extraordinary group of sensors to zero-in on their targets (narcotics for drug-detection dogs, explosive for bomb dogs, etc.).

This is where Scent Cones come into play. Before we dive in completely, first remember that the best conditions for a dog to search (outdoors) is when the temperatures are cool, but rising slightly, a bit of humidity, and little or no wind. Wind is not a friend, but doesn’t stop the dogs from getting the job done. It does, however, alter the direction of the scent cone.

A scent cone is simply an imaginary cone-shaped area that begins at the source of the odor/scent (a body, drugs, a firearm, explosives, etc.).

The handler ideally starts the dog in a position that’s downwind from the area to be searched. If the area is hilly and the temperatures are hot, the dog should start in an elevated position since the air (scents) will be rising.

Once in position, the dog heads toward the scent, criss-crossing its way back and forth through the scent cone. I know, clear as mud, right? Let me see if I can find that sketch … Okay, I have it and I’ve taped below to help you better understand how this works.

Okay, the dog starts its search at the wide end of the scent cone (to the right in the image). –>

The cone represents the space the scent travels along the breeze/air. It’s strongest in the center, but gradually fades the further you move away from the middle of the cone.

Therefore, when we see the dogs running back back and forth, what they’re actually doing is running until they no longer smell their target. When that happens they make a U-turn and run in the opposite direction until they no longer smell it in that direction. Then they once again turn and go in the opposite direction until they scent is no longer detected. They continue this pattern all while moving closer and closer to the scent. As they move toward the scent as it grows stronger and as a result the cone becomes smaller.

Finally, they reach their target and the handler gives them their toy as a reward for doing a fantastic job. The toy, after all, is what they’re after. Not a dead body or a package of cocaine. Finding the target of their search is merely the means they use to get to their beloved toy and a bit of fun time with their handler. Believe me, these dogs are full of energy and they love to run and play and jump and … well, they love being dogs, and that’s part of what keeps them in such great shape, physically.

Remember, scent cones move with the breezes, heat, cool, etc. Dogs know where to go and what to do. If mistakes are made, they’re made by handlers who think they know more than their dogs. We don’t. As my instructor at the Virginia State Police Academy used to tell us, “The dogs are on the smart end of the leashes, not you. Stop trying to think and trust your dogs!” Then we’d run a zillion miles. It was his gentle method of helping those words sink in.

See, Lieutenant, it worked. I still remember!

It’s time to reach for the emergency switch that’s hidden beneath my desk, the switch that sends out a high-voltage shock to the writers who refuse to listen to the experts. You know who you are. You sit on your couches eating popcorn while watching fictional police-type TV shows, scribbling away as fast as your little fingers can write, making notes for your next scene. Well, let me be the first to say … STOP IT! There’s a reason they call that stuff fiction. Yes, someone made it up for our enjoyment. You know, like when you write a book based on the characters who live and work and play inside your minds. They’re not real and neither is a lot of the stuff you see on TV. Shocking, I know.

So, if you’re going for law-enforcement-realism I suggest you ask an expert—someone who’s actually in the business. Not an actor. Not someone who read about the subject matter and then wrote about it. Not someone whose sister’s husband’s cousin is married to a guy who knew a guy who worked in an auto parts store a block over from the police station.

No, you need to talk to someone who actually lives the life and has hands-on experience. Think about it … everyone (hopefully) uses a toilet during the course of a day, but that doesn’t make them an expert on plumbing. And when you need someone to work on that toilet you don’t call the guy from the auto parts store, right? Nope, you call a plumber. So why do you insist on relying on actors and screenwriters for your police information?

Anyway, here are a few things I’ve seen lately (again) that should never make it into your stories.

1. Cops DO NOT purposely shoot to wound. They’re not trained to do it, and they don’t. Police officers are taught to shoot center mass (the largest area) of their target.

And to be sure you understand where center mass is located, it’s the large hole in the target above. Again, cops do not shoot at arms, hands, guns, legs, and fingers. Not on purpose, anyway.

To learn more about why police officers aim for center mass and NOT please click this link to an earlier article.

SHOOT ‘EM IN THE ARM OR LEG?

2. Revolvers DO NOT automatically eject spent brass (cartridges). Pistols (semi-automatics) and automatic weapons do.

Do your stories sometimes include the use of handguns? Well …

REVOLVER V. PISTOL: DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE?

3. Cops always keep a round in the chamber of their weapons. Therefore, they DO NOT pull the slide back on their pistol when they’re about to enter a dangerous situation. To do so would eject a live round (bullet) from their weapon, leaving them one bullet shy of a full magazine. I already know quite a few cops who are one bullet shy of a full magazine. We don’t need more.

Someone once wrote me to say I didn’t know what I was talking about when I said that police officers always carry their handguns fully loaded, with a round in the chamber. They continued the rant by telling me (IN ALL CAPS) that it’s against the law to carry a live round in the chamber, even for a police officer.

Anyway, yes, police officers keep a round chambered at all times (with the safety off, if equipped). In fact, it’s almost second nature to do this when loading a weapon.

When you ask an officer how many rounds he/she carries in his/her weapon they’ll often respond with an answer something like, “Fifteen plus one.” This means they have a full magazine containing fifteen rounds and one in the chamber. Some officers take the answer one step further and include, “Plus I’m carrying two full magazines on my belt. That’s fifteen rounds each, for a total of forty-six rounds, including what’s in my pistol. Yep, I’m carrying forty-six rounds, four short of an entire box of ammunition.”

When loading their weapons, officers first insert fifteen bullets into the magazine. Then they shove the full magazine into the pistol, pull back the slide and then release it, which loads a round into the chamber. Then they eject the magazine and replace the round that was loaded into the chamber. They now have a pistol that’s loaded to 15+1, or whatever number of rounds their particular weapon holds.

Carrying a fully loaded handgun, with a round in the chamber, decreases the amount of time an officer needs to react when involved in a deadly shooting situation. The time an officer spends placing a round in the chamber could be the amount of time it takes to save his/her life.

When under fire, the last thing you want to do is to use up precious time chambering a round.

Did you know that a police officer’s quickest reaction time (based on a study of 46 trained officers), when they already know a threat is present, AND, with their finger already on the trigger, is 0.365 seconds. That’s far less than half the very brief time it takes to say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the silly word from the Mary Poppins film. This reaction time does not include time to stop, draw a weapon from its holster, take aim, yell a bunch of commands, check for passersby, look for accomplices, and, well, you get the idea.

To read more about reaction time, please click this link.

SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS: THE TIME IT TAKES TO DIE, SEVERAL TIMES

4. Cops DO NOT “thumb off” the safety when they’re entering a dangerous situation. Police officers DO NOT carry their weapons with the safeties engaged (on). Their duty weapon must be ready to fire at all times. That extra second it takes to think about flipping off a safety could cost them their life. That’s if they remember to do it at all while under fire. Believe it or not, folks, bullets flying around your head is actually pretty stressful, so you may not be thinking all that clearly. Also, please do a little research about the weapon carried by your protagonist. It may not even have a safety SIG Sauers, for example, do not.

5. Revolvers typically DO NOT have safeties.

6. Prisons are NOT country clubs. Even the lower-level federal prisons are tough. Sure, there are fewer restrictions and less supervision in the camps, but living in a locked building and having minimal food tossed your way a couple of times a day ain’t exactly living like a king.

7. It’s a rare occurrence, if ever, for an officer to come from one department and go to another and start out as a detective. Typically, one starts at the bottom and works their way back up the ladder.

8. The FBI does not ride into town and take over cases from small town police departments. They’re not some omniscient “see all” entity that knows when every single crime occurs. Someone from that town would have to call them and ASK for their assistance. Sure, they’ll help, and they’re great about doing so. Besides, as a rule, they don’t work murder cases.

Every officer in every single police department in this country is perfectly capable of investigating their own cases. Yes, their resources may be limited, but they have the knowledge and training to investigate crime. By the way, FBI agents do not have authority over local police officers. So please don’t have them ordering the local sheriff around. It does not happen like that in real life.

9. Yes, there is a provision in the law that allows a police officer to deputize a private citizen in an extreme emergency. Does this happen? Rarely, if ever. Sometimes investigators call on various experts for their assistance and advice, but there’s no need to deputize them, and they don’t. If the officer(s) needs more hands to work a case, they’ll simply call on a neighboring jurisdiction—sheriff’s office, state police, or another town. Now that does happen quite often. But to deputize a private citizen … nope.

10. Finally, please DO NOT give your readers an informational overload. Realism is very important, but to write something that belongs in a gun catalog … not good. Don’t bore your readers. You DO NOT need to show off your extensive knowledge of a particualr subject matter.

For example:

Bobbie Sue climbed into the pilot’s seat. Her best friend, Bucky McDoodoo, slid into the other. She’s never flown a plane before, but she’d seen grownups do it on TV, so how difficult could it be? She glanced around, her eyes taking in all the shiny buttons and gleaming dials and gauges. The 1978 Cessna 185 Skywagon N44TU, with its fixed landing gear, 300 horsepower (for takeoff), and 88 gallon fuel tank, would be perfect for the fun afternoon she had in mind. I mean, what other tiny plane with an overall length of 25ft. 8in. and a wingspan of 35′-10″ could tool along at a cruising speed of 145mph with a range of 645 miles. And all for only $130,000. What a deal!

Bobbie Sue giggled, barely able to contain her excitement, as she began to search for the ignition key and CD player. “Hang on, Bucky. Here we go!” she said.


Just for fun … An Eyewitness

 

You’ve had a long night answering call after call—he-saids, she-saids, chasing a Peeping Tom through back yards and alleys, a couple of drunks arguing over a near-empty bottle of Ripple, kids spray-painting stop signs, and the guy who insisted he was Jesus and attempted to prove it by damning you to hell a few dozen times after you refused to give him ten dollars.

Yep, a looonnnggg night and it was only half over when Jimmy Bob “Peanut” Jenkins, Jr. decided to join forces with his good friend Jack Daniels to blacken both his wife’s eyes. Well, Erlene, the wife, wasn’t about to stand for that so she poked ‘ol Peanut in the gut a couple of times with a dull kitchen knife. Didn’t break the skin, mind you, but the act was just enough to send Peanut off the deep end. Oh, he was plenty mad about it, yellin’ and screamin’ and stompin’ his steel-toed Doc Martens across the linoleum, kicking at Porkchop, the family’s three-legged dog, along the way. But Porkchop, having been to this freak show one too many times in the past, knew to stay six or seven dog-dish-lengths away from his owner’s size twelves.

After about ten minutes of plate, bowl, and pot-and-pan-throwing, one of the kids, a snot-nosed, freckle-faced boy of around ten or so, picked up the cordless and punched the speed dial button for 911.

And that’s where you, Officer Save M. All, show up. And Peanut, a Friday night regular, meets you in the driveway, huffing and puffing like an old-time, coal-fired locomotive engine.

Now things are a bit dicey, with Peanut pounding his chest like a gorilla on meth. It’s best to run down the checklist before diving right in. You know, size him up. Is Peanut armed this time? Is he really going to attack? Or, is all that chest-thumping and Tarzan-yelling just a show for the neighbors? Well, you’d better find out in a hurry because he’s starting to spin like the Tasmanian Devil.

So how can you tell if this guy means business, or not?

Well, there are a few telltale signs that could help you evaluate the situation. And, since weapons and other items that are capable of puncturing your flesh, bones, and organs should be your first concern, here are some common indicators that Peanut is carrying a hidden gun or knife.

1. It’s 97 degrees outside and Peanut, standing smack-dab in the center of the intersection at 9th and Main, is wearing his heavily-insulated, knee-length, blood-stained orange hunting coat. Yes, Einstein, he’s probably wearing it to hide a sawed-off shotgun, the one Daddy gave him for Christmas when he was three.

2. The tail of his flannel shirt is out, but one side is riding higher than the other. A great sign that he’s wearing a weapon on the “high side.”

3. Even wearing a shirt tail on the outside is a sign that he might be carrying a weapon. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign known to bad guys, which means they might recognize you as an undercover officer.

Now, the signs that Peanut Jenkins is about to attempt to stomp your butt into the mud …

1. For some unknown reason, many offenders/would-be attackers seem to feel the need to rip off their shirts prior to delivering the first blow. So, when a drunk starts ripping cloth and zinging buttons across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, well, that might be a good time to reach for the pepper spray because he’s subtly announced his intentions.

The standard shirt-ripping ritual is usually accompanied by lots of top-of-the-lung screaming and yelling, especially nasty comments about your spouse and mother. Nasty comments about the family dog are optional.

2. Another clue that Peanut is about “go for it” is when he starts glancing at a particular spot on your body, like your throat, stomach, or even a knee. Instantly, you should go on alert for a possible strike to that area. Peanut is announcing his intentions and he’s ready to pounce.

New Picture

3. Peanut constantly glances to a spot behind you, or to a place off to your right just out of your line of sight. Watch out, because his partner may be approaching for a rear ambush. And, his partner just might be Mrs. Peanut. Yes, even though her “loving husband” had just moments ago beat the ever-loving snot out of her she’ll often defend her man until the bitter end. Unfortunately, the end sometimes results in a funeral … hers.

These quick glances are also good indicators that Peanut has a hidden weapon nearby. For example, you’ve stopped Peanut for drunk driving and he’s constantly glancing toward the glove compartment. Well, there’s a good chance that a weapon or other illegal items are concealed there.

New Picture (1)

4. The Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home – You arrive on scene and you approach Peanut, who is standing still, staring off into space. His jaw is clenched and he’s sweating profusely, even though you’re both standing in two feet of freshly-fallen New England snow (New England snow, to me, is the coldest snow on the planet). He doesn’t respond to you in any way, but you see the anger rising. Face is growing redder by the second. Veins poking out on his forehead. Eyes bulging. Yeah, you get the idea. Believe me, it is time to take a step back and start pulling every tool you’ve got on your duty belt because this guy’s getting ready to blow. Silence is definitely not golden in this case.

5. Peanut might be a “I’m not going to look at you” kind of personality. This is another indicator that an assault may be on the way. If he’s staring at place on the ground, refusing to listen and obey your verbal commands, then be prepared for an attack. At the very least, be prepared for a battle when the time comes to snap on the cuffs.

I guess a good rule of thumb is to always assume the worst, and hope for the best.

 

Before I begin with the content of today’s article about search warrants, I’d like to take a brief moment to thank everyone for their kind words, well-wishes, support, and generous donations to the fundraiser for our daughter Ellen. She’s in a serious battle against cancer that returned just two years after beating it the first time in a different location of her body. This time the disease is here in a big way.

Ellen and her family are going through the worst times of their lives and your contributions have meant the difference in being able to purchase much-needed medicines, testing and scans, electricity, water, and food, or going without. Every single dollar has helped in some way. Having to serve as Ellen’s constant caregiver, her husband’s company let him go. As a result Ellen and her husband now survive on only $168 per week unemployment, no health insurance, and a government who denied Ellen Medicaid.

So again, I thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. I’m grateful for all you’ve done and continue to do to help Ellen.

If you’d like to contribute, here’s the link to the fundraiser.

*By the way, Denene and I made a sudden trip to North Carolina late Thursday afternoon to be with her mother who is also battling serious cancer. She’s not well at all so a few of those well-wishes sent her way, too, would be appreciated.

We’ll remain here for a few days before traveling further south to spend time with Ellen. Then we’ll head back to Denene’s mother’s for a couple of days before once again going back to Ellen’s in time to be there for her next scan and chemo.

If you’ve wondered why I’ve disappeared from here and on social media, now you know the answer. My heart and thoughts are currently with our family.

Please, take the time to visit your family members, give them a quick call, or whatever it takes to stay in touch and to create memories. Time, after all, is precious, and it waits for no one.

Now, today’s article.


Breonna Taylor: The Search Warrant

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police when they entered her home in congruence with a search warrant signed by a judge (yes, officers had a search warrant). The opening paragraph of the warrant included, as most search warrants begin, by stating that probable cause to search existed, and that officers were COMMANDED by the court to search a particular location named within the body of the warrant.

After a search warrant is approved and signed by a judge officers are ordered to carry out the service. Without a judge or magistrate’s signature on the paperwork there will be no warrant. More about this in a moment.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the search warrant for Breonna Taylor’s residence at 3003 Springfield Drive #4 Louisville, Ky.

“TO ALL PEACE OFFICERS IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY:
Proof by affidavit having this day been made before me by: Detective Joshua C. Jaynes (7627) a peace officer of Louisville Metro Police Department, that there is probable and reasonable cause for the issuance of this Search Warrant as set out in the affidavit attached hereto and made a part hereof as if fully set forth herein; you are commanded to search the premises known and numbered as:

St. Anthony Gardens
3003 Springfield Drive #4 Louisville, KY 40214 Jefferson County Kentucky and All Surrounding Curtilage.”

The address above was that of Breonna Taylor.

In the next article I’ll describe the facts regarding the search at Breonna Taylor’s residence, and the events that took place during the service of the warrant, including the shooting. Today, though, in preparation for the discussion of the search warrant served at Taylor’s home (Part 2), I’d like to refresh your memories about search warrants and how they’re obtained by law enforcement.


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


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.

Our laws demand that searches and seizures of property and people must be reasonable and based on probable cause, not mere suspicion. Actually, the 4th Amendment is 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 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 first complete a form, a sort of application. This “application” is the affidavit and it must clearly explain the facts (probable cause) as to why permission to search a particular place, or person, should be allowed and 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.

Swear, Under Oath

Normally, the officer must swear (under oath) that the facts listed in the affidavit are true.

Detail to Include in the Affidavit

The 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).

The affidavit for the Breonna Taylor search warrant described the property to be searched as follows:

A multi-family, two-story apartment complex that consists of beige vinyl siding, multi colored brick, and brown shingles. The numbers “3003” are in black lettering arranged vertically on a single column ofthe apartment building. The specific apartment has a sliding glass door that opens to a small patio on the first floor of the complex. The specific apartment has a green door with a gold-plated number “4” in the top center of the front door. The apartment complex is located within St. Anthony Gardens.

Proof

If a judge or magistrate decides the evidence is proof of probable cause, they approve and sign the search warrant and hand it over to investigators for service. (Keep in mind that some courts allow electronic submissions).

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 prior to entering a residence. (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—.”

Exceptions to Knock and Announce

Typically, search warrants are to be served in the daytime unless specified differently within the body of the warrant.

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 search warrant for Breonna Taylor’s residence was a no-knock warrant approved by the judge.

The best case scenario is, of course, 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. But, bad guys rarely play by the rules. Therefore, safety is a top concern which sometimes means no-knock entries are the best and safest method for officers.

No One’s Home But Us Chickens!

When using the knock and announce approach, 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. However, this all depends upon the circumstances at the scene. For example, when officers announce their presence and then hear sounds—people running, overturning furniture, toilets flushing, glass breaking, etc.—those actions would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence is being destroyed and officers may enter immediately.

A Search Warrant in Hand Means Cops Can Search Everywhere, Right?

Once they’ve entered a property, officers may only search for the item(s) listed on the warrant, and they may only search in areas where those items could reasonably 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.


Next up – Part 2, The Full Search Warrant for Breonna’s Taylor’s Home (see the document).

1140 Hours – September 18, 2020

“Slow night?”

“Pretty much,” Sergeant Collins said, as he leaned to the passenger seat to retrieve his hat and what was probably once a full thermos of coffee. “Same old crap over on Elm Street—”

“They at it, again?” said Sergeant Martin, the oncoming shift supervisor. “What’s that, the third time this week?”

“Fourth, actually. He finally put her in the hospital this time, though. Broken arm, probably a fractured cheek, and a concussion.”

“Let me guess. He didn’t mean it and she said it was an accident,” said Martin as he poked his fingers between the rear seat and seat back, a bad practice that he really should stop. Used needles and other nasty things can wreak havoc on bare flesh. But, all was well, this time. A quick look under the seat and he was done. No hidden contraband left behind by any of the bad guys arrested on the previous shift.

“Everything okay?”

“Clean, as always,” Martin said, moving to the driver’s seat to begin the routine—checking the lights, radio, siren, shotgun, and a quick calibration of the radar unit.

“The usuals were out and about in “The Bottom.” Lots of traffic down there too. I stopped a few cars as they were leaving. They make it so easy—running stop signs, speeding, throwing bottles at my police car as they pass by. You know how they are.”

“Find anything good?”

“No, if they were holding, I didn’t see it,” said Collins. He stood beside the patrol car holding his hat and a half-empty gear bag in his right hand, waiting patiently for Martin to finish the mandatory pre-shift vehicle and equipment inspection.

“There was a new guy hanging out with the drug runners on Reynolds Street,” Collins said. “Never seen him before. Tall, really dark skin, long braids, and a gold star on one of his front teeth. I stopped and talked to him. Most of the guys scattered, but he never flinched. Smart mouth on him too. Had an accent that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Sounded a little like that old guy who works at the motor pool. He’s Haitian, right? Anyway, the guy said he was Popcorn Bajolière’s cousin from New York. Claimed his name was Reggie Jackson. He also claimed he lost his ID last week.”

“Think he’s the guy bringing the stuff in?”

“Could be.”

“I’ll head down there in a few minutes to keep the pressure on,” said Martin. “Maybe I’ll get lucky.”

“Maybe so,” Collins said. “Well, if you’re all set, I’m going inside to finish writing up my reports and go over a few notes. I’ve got court in the morning. You?”

“No, but I do have to be at the range at ten for qualifying.”

“Man, is it that time of the year already?”

“Yep. They haven’t let you know when you’ve got to shoot?” Martin asked.

“Not yet, but I’m sure it’ll be on one of my days off, as always.”

“Administration doesn’t know any other way. They want us married to the department.”

“I guess,” Collins said, giving his old friend a pat on the arm, a habit he’d never been able to break. “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow night. Stay safe out there.”

“Always.”

0001 Hours – September 19, 2020

“All south-side units. Shots fired in The Bottom at the corner of Reynolds and Parker. One suspect down, possibly wounded. Caller reports several men fighting in the street. She believes there are numerous guns involved. I heard four shots fired while the caller was on the line. Rescue has been dispatched.”

“10-4,” said Sergeant Martin. “I’m en route. Have the ambulance hold back a few blocks until we have a chance to see what we’ve got. Send a couple of backup units. Going to The Bottom is never a good thing.”

“10-4, 1234.”

0002 Hours – September 19, 2020

“All south-side units. Shots-fired call at Sunset Acres, the mobile home park near the old railroad depot. Caller is advising that it’s her husband and he’s standing in the front yard, totally nude except for a pair of sweat socks, firing his shotgun at passing cars. She states the husband has been off his meds for two days. The caller’s address is 312 Tall Pine Lane. Residence is a white trailer with satellite dish in the front yard. A black Ford pickup truck is parked in the driveway. Suspect is a white male, approximately six-two, reddish-brown hair, and nude.”

“10-4,” said Martin. “See if someone from Precinct Four can take that one for us until we clear from The Bottom. We’re still sorting out this mess. Call out SWAT. We’re gonna need them.”

“Dispatch to 1245, 1263. 1267. Copy?”

“10-4. 1245 and 63 are thirty seconds from the trailer park. I hear gunfire already. I think we’re going to need some additional assistance with this one. Sounds like a war zone down there. Dispatch, ask county and state police if they can spare anyone.”

“67 is en route. ETA five minutes.”

“10-4.”

0348 Hours – September 19, 2020

“Thanks for coming back to help out,” said Martin.

“No problem. You’d have done the same,” said Collins. “Besides, I hate paperwork. And, ten minutes earlier and it could’ve been me instead of you taking that shotgun blast.” Collins reached over to pat Martin’s arm. “The doc says you should be fine in a few weeks, though. Maybe even back to work in a couple of months. Depends on the rehab.”

“Well, this is one way to avoid going to the range on my day off.”

Collins’ lips split in a slight smile. “I think I’d rather spend a few hours at the range than five minutes in this place.”

“Honestly, me too,” said Martin. “Me, too.”

1400 Hours – September 22, 2020

Sergeant Collins sat in the second row, holding his hat in his trembling hands. He was listening, but not hearing the words the chaplain spoke to a standing-room-only congregation. Officers had come from as far away as California to pay their respects.

Collins used his sleeve to wipe a lone tear from his right cheek.

Ten minutes earlier and it could’ve been him.

Cue the bagpipes.

Officer Martin. End of Watch – September 19, 2020


The tale above is fictional, of course. However, the story is based on the reality faced by law enforcement officers every time they sign on for duty.

A&B: Assault and battery

AKA: Also known as.

Aikido: Police defensive-tactics techniques developed from this particular style of Japanese martial arts. 

Abscond: To secretly leave the jurisdiction of a court or to conceal one’s self from law-enforcement officials.

Accessory: One who aids or assists in the commission of a crime.

Aid and Abet: To voluntarily assist another person in the commission of a crime.

Alternate Light Source: Equipment used to enhance potential items of evidence, either visible or invisible light at varying wavelengths.

Amicus Curiae (Latin): A friend of the court; someone who is not a party to court proceedings that supplies information to the court that otherwise may not be readily available.

Arrest: To deprive someone of his liberty, or to seize a person suspected of a crime.

B&E: Break and enter

Bench Warrant: An arrest warrant issued by the court.

Bindle Paper: Clean paper folded to contain trace evidence such as hairs or fibers.

Biohazard Bag: A red, plastic bag used to contain materials that have been exposed to blood and other body fluids and parts. The container will be clearly marked as Biohazard Material in bold lettering.

Biological Weapon: Agents used to threaten or destroy human life, e.g. anthrax, smallpox, E. coli, etc.

Bloodborne Pathogen: Infectious, disease-causing microorganisms found in biological fluids.

Blow: Cocaine.

BOLO: Police acronym for Be On The Lookout.

Bread Slicing: The method of slicing of body organs by a medical examiner. The organs are sliced into sections resembling a loaf of bread.

Breaking and Entering: Any act of physical force in which obstruction to entrance of a building is removed. Simply pushing a door open or raising a window can be considered “breaking.” Breaking and entering are two of the elements of burglary.

Bullet: A one-year prison sentence.

Burglary: Breaking into any dwelling in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony.

CI: Confidential informant

Capital Murder: The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person in conjunction with the following:

  1. Abduction, when the abduction is committed with the intent to extort money or a pecuniary benefit.
  2. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person by another for hire.
  3. The killing of any person by a prisoner of a state or local corrections facility or while in the custody of an employee thereof.
  4. The killing of another during the commission of a robbery or attempted robbery, while armed with a deadly weapon.
  5. The killing of any person in the commission of and subsequent to rape, or attempted rape, or forcible or attempted forcible sodomy.
  6. The killing of any law-enforcement officer when the purpose interferes with the performance of his duties.
  7. The killing of more than one person as part of the same act or transaction.
  8. The killing of any child under the age of twelve during the commission of abduction.
  9. The killing of any person during the commission of or attempting to commit a violation of Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Laws.

(Capital Murder offense laws can vary from state to state. Please check the laws governing your state).

(See murder below)

Carnal Knowledge: Sexual intercourse.

Case File: Collection of documents pertaining to a particular investigation.

Case Identifiers: Alphabetic or numeric assignment of characters used to identify a particular case.

Chain of Custody: A chronological history of the evidence. This is a list of all persons handling, holding, or having possession of a piece of evidence. The document will contain all pertinent information such as names, dates, victims, suspects, etc.

Chemical Enhancement: Use of chemicals to aid detection and documentation of evidence (e.g. semen, blood, fingerprints, narcotics) that may be difficult to see with the human eye alone.

Conspiracy: Two or more persons working together to commit an illegal act.

Contra Pacem (Latin): Against the peace.

Corpus Delicti (Latin): Body of the crime; the proof that a crime has been committed.

Crimen Falsi (Latin): Literally a crime of deceit or fraud.

Criminal Mischief: A crime committed against property.

CSU: Crime Scene Unit

Drop A Dime: To snitch on someone.

Drowning:  Water and mucus in the airway of a drowning victim create a foamy mixture as the victim struggles to breathe. The foam is discovered during an autopsy and confirms that a drowning has occurred.

Dying Declaration:  Statement given by a person who believes he is about to die, concerning the cause of the circumstances surrounding a specific crime or chain of events, usually about his own impending death. A strong piece of evidence highly regarded by courts as truth. A dying declaration is important evidence, but courts no longer accept this type of statement alone as sufficient evidence for a conviction. There must normally be other supporting evidence.

EDTA:  Anti-coagulant in purple-topped blood vials.

En Banc (French) By the full court. A matter heard by the entire appellate court.

ETA: Estimated time of arrival.

Exclusionary Rule: Protects against the use of evidence in court that was seized during an illegal search by police.

Exigent Circumstances: Emergency conditions

Felony: A crime punishable by either death or confinement in a state correctional facility.

First-Degree Murder: Murder by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and pre-meditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate-object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction. (This definition varies in different states.) All other murder, other than capital murder, is defined as second-degree murder.

Fishing: The use of a long piece of string or elastic from the waistband of underwear by a prisoner to retrieve an object from an adjoining cell.

GSW: Gunshot wound.

Habeas Corpus (Latin): You have the body. Tests the legality of imprisonment or confinement.

Homicide: The killing of any human being by another.

Hot Pursuit: The action of pursuing or chasing a suspect in a crime. Hot pursuit allows officers to cross jurisdictional boundaries in order to apprehend a suspect, however the suspect must remain in sight for the chase to be justified as a hot pursuit.

Impression Evidence: Objects or items that have retained identifying characteristics of another object that has been pressed against them (footprints, tool marks, etc.).

Ink: Tattoos.

Latent Print: A print that is not visible to the naked eye, made by contact with a surface by hands, or feet transferring human material to that surface.

Jailhouse Lawyer: An inmate not licensed to practice law who assist other inmates with legal matters, such as appeals.

Lying in Wait: Hiding for the purpose of committing a crime.

Lynching: Any violence by a mob upon the body of any person, resulting in the death of that person.

LZ: Landing zone (typically used when referring to helicopters)

Misdemeanor: All crimes not deemed as felonies and punishable by fines and/or incarceration in facilities other than state or federal institutions (county jails, halfway houses, home confinement, etc.).

Modus Operandi (Latin): The manner of operation. A specific means or method of accomplishing an act.

Murder: An unlawful homicide.

MVA: Motor vehicle accident.

NCIC: National Crime Information Center.

Nolo Contendere (Latin): I do not wish to contend, fight, or maintain (a defense). A plea of not wishing to present a defense in a criminal matter.

Parole: Allows a prisoner to serve the remainder of a sentence outside prison walls. He will serve the sentence under the supervision of a parole officer. If the conditions of parole are not met, the offender will be returned to prison to serve any remaining sentence. Parole is not a part of a sentence.

PD: Police department.

Personal Protective Equipment: Items such as latex gloves, masks, and eye protection used as a protective barrier against biohazardous materials, disease, and to avoid human contamination of a crime scene.

Petechiae: Tiny purple or red spots on the eyes, neck, face, and/or lungs, indicating death by asphyxiation. (Bleeding does not have to be present. See Petechial Hemorrhage below.)

Petechial Hemorrhage:  Tiny purple or red spots on the eyes or skin caused by small areas of bleeding. (See Petechiae above.)

PO: Probation Officer.

POV: Privately owned vehicle.

Presumptive Test: A test used to screen for the presence of a specific substance, such as a narcotic. The results of a presumptive test cannot be used for evidential confirmation, or as a certification in a court of law. A presumptive test adds to investigators’ reasonable suspicions and is considered to be probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant or a warrant of arrest. The final, legal, testing must be completed in a certified laboratory by certified personnel.

Pro Bono Publico (Latin): For the public good or welfare. Without a fee. An attorney working for free is said to be working Pro Bono.

Projectile Trajectory Analysis: The method used for determining the path of travel of a high-speed object such as a bullet or arrow.

Probation: A sentence in lieu of imprisonment. A probation officer supervises a subject on probation.

Purple Top Vial: A vial used for blood samples, which contains EDTA, an anti-coagulant.

Res Judicata (Latin): The thing has been decided.

Seg: Prison segregation unit.

Shakedown: A search of a prison cell.

Shiv: A homemade knife.

SHU: Special Housing Unit. A special lockup facility within a prison that’s usually reserved for housing violent offenders.

Slimers: A prison inmate who throws urine or fecal matter at people passing by the prisoner’s cell. They sometimes pack the offensive substance into toothpaste tubes and squirt it at their intended targets.

Stop and Frisk: Allows a police officer to search a person for weapons without a warrant. It is a pat-down search of the person’s outer clothing only.

Trace Evidence: Evidence in small quantities, such as hair, fibers, gunshot residue, and particles of glass.

Transient Evidence: Evidence that can be easily lost or destroyed by conditions at a scene if not protected or preserved (evidence exposed to the elements).

Venue: The place where a trial is held.

Voir Dire (French): To speak the truth. An examination or questioning of potential jurors conducted by the court or attorneys to determine truthfulness and ability to serve for jury duty.

Warrant: A written order directing someone to do something.

Yard: Outdoor recreation area of a prison.

 

Domestic and neighbor disputes, and traffic stops are only three circumstances where officers often face extreme danger and sometimes death.

Even seemingly nonviolent situations, such as loud music complaints, serving civil process (summons and other court papers) can quickly transform into a life or death situation for officers, especially when alcohol and/or drugs are involved at the source of the complaint.

I know first-hand just how quickly and unexpectedly violence can erupt at each of the above scenarios. Actually, one of the worst fights for my life came about at the scene of a loud music complaint, but that’s story for another blog article.

Yet, many people are demanding that those types of calls be answered by unarmed community members with backgrounds in social work, mental health, and/or as victim advocates. Sure, I’ll be the first to agree that in some instances a mental health provider or one of the other community members skilled at social work would be a fantastic asset, and that those folks could help calm some individuals into a state that could negate the use of force.

Domestic Disputes

Domestic violence calls are dangerous for responding police officers. The situation has already exploded before they arrive. Tempers and emotions are at their peaks. Children and other family are often in the home when the violence erupted. Pets are frightened and excited. Neighbors sometimes gather outside the home.

Normally, suspects in violent crimes flee before the police arrive; however, at the scenes of domestic violence calls it’s typical that both the perpetrator and the victim are present, which creates a unique situation for responding officers. To add to the chaos, it’s not unusual that the victim decides to physically defend the husband, even after calling 911 for help.

I, like most officers, have been in my share of tussles. But one of the the hardest hits I’ve received was delivered by a woman who, when I tried to handcuff her husband for beating her, she nailed me in the head. She’d been crying and telling me how badly she was treated. How regular the beatings had been. How she was a prisoner in her own home. And how frightened she was. Too frightened to leave.

When I placed her husband under arrest, he resisted and we went a round or two before I finally managed to getting a cuff on one of his wrists. Then, out of nowhere and before I could hook the other wrist, I was blindsided with what felt like a cinder block. That little lady and her bony fist caused me to see the “bright light” we often hear about.

Once the female version of Mike Tyson join the scuffle, I was then struggling with two violent people. He was trying to flee and she was pummeling me with everything in her arsenal, from fists and fingernails to knobby knees, sharp elbows, and bare feet, all while screaming, “Run, Honey Biscuit, run!” Fortunately, another officer and a civilian arrived to assist, and in short order both “Honey Biscuit” and his lovely wife were in handcuffs.

Replacing Police with Civilian Social Workers

Sending lone, or even a team of social workers into a violent domestic dispute is akin to using a water pistol to battle a raging California wildfire. As I stated above, I know what it’s like to step inside a home where the wife is battered and bloody, children are crying and screaming, all while the husband, soaring high on meth and who knows what else, is pacing about the house holding a loaded shotgun in one hand while punching holes in the walls and doors with the other.

At that point, once the drugs, alcohol, adrenaline, extreme anger, and roiling emotions have sent him over the cliff, there’s no collection of feel-good, sing-songy words that will stop this person. They’re violent and wild and are likely to seriously harm someone.

This is a man who simply is not rational and often sees any outsiders as a threat and often acts accordingly, by attacking, shooting, taking family members as hostages, etc.

No, this is not a situation that should be handled solely by a unarmed social worker who’s never been in a physical confrontation. And if they haven’t, well, they’re about to learn the hard way what it’s like to tangle with a person who feels no pain and who’s as strong as an angry bull on steroids.

Please don’t misunderstand, though. I’ve seen instances where people other than police were precicely the right people to talk the violent person down. Sometimes a female officer is a better choice than a male officer, or the other way around. But not every violent person would greet a responding social worker with open arms and a nice cup of tea.

Yes, I have no doubt there will be some success stories, and I hope there are many. Of course, truth be known, there are a vast number of happy endings involving police officers that occur each day. Unfortunately, it’s the unhappy stories that make the headlines.

My fear is for the social worker who enters the wrong house at the wrong time to face a person who’s determined to harm or kill someone. It’s a roll of the dice as to who lives or who dies, because the worst will happen at some point. Bet on it. At least police officers are trained to handle themselves during physical confrontations.

Traffic Stops

There’s no other feeling in the world like stopping a speeding car with dark, tinted windows and loud music with its bass rumbling so hard you feel it in your chest before you step outside the patrol car. Add to the scenario, a moonless night on a lonely stretch of highway with not a single house in sight. Backup is twenty minutes away, should you need it.

Your spotlight cannot penetrate the dark window tint making it impossible to see if there’s one person inside, or four, or six. No idea if the occupants are armed, wanted, or simply a couple of teens out for a drive in the country.

The bass thumps, rattling and shaking the car’s muffler. The vehicle wiggles and shakes a bit—someone’s moving around. But you can’t see where they’re located in the car. Again, how many people are inside?

You form a plan.

With all of your lights on—spotlight and takedown lights—to provide a bit of blinding cover, you decide to approach the car slowly from the passenger side, hoping for the element of surprise

Thump, thump, thump goes the bass, and your heart.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

You knock on the window.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Then, nothing.

The music stopped.

Silence.

Your hand automatically reaches for the gun holstered to your side. The grips and cool blue steel are slightly comforting.

The thumping is soon replaced by night sounds—frogs, crickets, and buzzing mosquitoes who’re attracted to the compounds released in your breath and from the pearls of sweat careening along your spine.  Your forehead and the space just beneath your eyes are peppered with tiny dots of perspiration. Nervous sweat, as my grandmother would say if she were still with us.

The passenger side window slowly creeps down a couple of inches. You pause slightly before aiming the beam of your Maglite inside to take a peek. That’s when you see the young man who’s gripping the steering wheel with both hands. He’s alone and cooperative. His license, registration, and insurance are all valid. He apologizes for speeding, explaining that he was nearly late for curfew and wanted to make it home in time so his parents wouldn’t yell at him.

Your heart rate, now normal, the fear/pucker factor gone, and with the nervous sweat disappearing, you let the kid go with a warning. As the car pulls away you release a lung-emptying sigh of relief knowing the situation could have been a polar opposite, with the driver setting up to kill a police officer.

Nighttime traffic stops are not for the faint of heart. I’d rather wade into a nasty bar fight any day.

I was a field training officer (FTO) way back during my time working in the patrol division. It is the FTO’s duty to supervise new officers who’ve recently graduated a police academy. FTO’s provide on the job training until the rookie officers meet necessary criteria and are able to take to the streets on their own.

One Wednesday morning, around 7 a.m., I, and the rookie who was working under my tutelage, found ourselves behind a car that was slowly swerving back and forth between the yellow center lines of the city street to the white line separating the travel lane from the bike lane. Several times the vehicle crossed each of the lines.

The rookie was driving while I sat in the passenger seat observing. Still a bit unsure he asked if I thought he should stop the car. I quickly said, “Yes, unless you want to see a horrible crash unfold in real time.”

So the officer-in-training activated the emergency equipment (lights and siren). The swerving car pulled to the side of the road, stopping with the right front tire on the sidewalk. A drunk driver, no doubt. At 7 o’clock in the morning.

The rookie approached the driver’s window and asked the man behind the wheel, a large guy who appeared to be in his sixties, to present his license and registration. I stood at the passenger side window watching the man fumble through the glove compartment and patting his pants pockets at least seven or eight times before declaring, in a slurred manner of speech that nicely complimented his bloodshot eyes and breath that reeked of sour corn liquor, “I ain’t got no license.”. Drunk as a skunk, he was.

The rookie asked the driver to step outside, which he did.

The rookie asked if he’d been drinking, which he admitted. In fact, he emphasized that he’d consumed quite a bit of moonshine.

I moved around to the driver’s side in case problems arose, and my cop’s sixth sense was telling me to prepare for the worst.

The rookie told the guy he was under arrest and to turn around and place his hands behind his back.

This is where things became interesting because the moment the rookie grabbed the “old guy’s” wrist and arm for handcuffing, the man turned his body toward the rear of the car, in my direction. The next thing I saw was the rookie’s body go up and over the car’s rooftop, down the trunk lid, and finally to the pavement. The “old guy” was so strong that he’d used only one arm to send my young partner on the quick flight. So, of course, I grabbed the man and hung on for a terrifying ride that even Disneyland couldn’t replicate.

After we were finally able to apply handcuffs and gain control of the extremely strong senior citizen, we learned that he worked for a logging company as a laborer handling pulpwood—large trees and/or logs that’re used to manufacture paper products such as cardboard. The long sleeve shirt he wore did a great job of concealing arms the size of small tree trunks and muscles as hard as stone.

No, I do not recommend that unarmed mental health providers or other non-police conduct traffic stops. They can be deadly, and sometimes result in serious harm or death of the person conducting the stop.

Again, it’s a roll of the dice. Will it be the next driver stopped by the citizen traffic patrol who’s wanted for murder and will kill anyone who slightly resembles “authority,” or will it be the kind old bookstore owner who wouldn’t harm a flea?

Here’s how quickly things can go wrong during a “routine” traffic stop for speeding.


*Please, I beg you to not post political, racial, anti-cop, or other hot button comments. This is a factual article based on actual experiences. I worry about the safety of social workers, mental health providers, victim advocates, and citizens conducting traffic stops, responding to domestic and neighbor disputes, the folks who may someday find themselves facing life threatening circumstances such as the one in the video above. I guarantee you that bad guys will never play by the rules.

 

1030 hours.

Radio transmission – “Theft from jewelry store. Items taken – two diamond rings with value exceeding $10,000.”

Traffic stop.

Weather – Sunny. 84 degrees.

Reason for stop – Vehicle matched description provided by jewelry store owner. Plates – out of state.

Weapon(s) involved – Taurus .380 recovered from beneath driver’s seat. Fully loaded with spare magazine in small cloth bag. No weapons used in connection with the crime.

Stolen items not found.

My partner and I were pros at playing good cop/bad cop. In fact, we were the go-to guys for eliciting confessions. But these two, the man and woman suspected of taking two expensive diamond rings from a local jewelry store, were also pros. In their line of work—stealing—they were some of the best in the business and their game was an old one. They pretend to shop for engagement rings. She tries on several, asking to see first one then another and then back to this one and then the other and so on and so on until the clerk has an assortment of bling scattered about the glass countertop like a spattering of snowflakes on a frozen lake surface.

Their goal was to confuse the clerk so they could pocket a few gems and then make their getaway after not seeing the “perfect” ring. It worked. When the frustrated clerk/owner returned the items to their respective spots in the case she noticed two valuable rings were missing. So were the two “customers.”

The responding uniformed officers asked, of course, for a description of the pair of thieves, but the owner simply couldn’t offer any solid details. They’d so thoroughly confused her all she could remember was that one was male and the other was female. She was able to recall their race and that both wore nice clothing … she thought. However, she wasn’t sure if it was the man wore a blue shirt or if it was the woman whose top was blue. She was confident the man had on khaki pants, though. No doubt about that detail.

For the record, the actual color of the man’s shirt was green and the woman had selected a red and white striped top as her shirt du jour. They both had on blue jeans at the time of the traffic stop that took place within 30 minutes of the theft. There was no other clothing inside their car. The owner’s descriptions were not even close and, unfortunately, the store’s surveillance cameras were switched off. “Oh, we don’t bother with that thing,” she later told me.

Questioning the two suspects was going nowhere. We had them in separate rooms and we alternated between the two, trying every trick in the book. You left fingerprints. The clerk ID’d you. Witnesses saw you. Yada, yada, yada. But we were spinning our wheels because they readily admitted to being in the store.

They said they’d looked at and tried on rings. However, they didn’t like what they saw and left. But they didn’t take anything. It was their word against the store owner’s and we had no evidence. They’d allowed us to search both them and their car and we found nothing but the gun, which was illegal—he was a convicted felon and the gun was concealed. I even tried using the weapon as leverage—we’ll cut you some slack for it if you confess to the jewelry theft and return the rings. No dice. We had nothing.

So I took a walk around the hallways, trying to think of some sort of angle to help garner a confession. As I passed by the door to the dispatchers’ room one of them called out with a cheery “Good morning,” so I stepped inside. I noticed a small stack of new videos (VHS tapes at the time) beside her terminal. The top one was a collection of Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny’s image plastered on the front. He held a carrot in one hand and his rabbit lips were split into a wide, buck-toothy grin. The video was a gift for her child’s birthday. I had an idea and asked to borrow the tape for a few minutes.

After a quick stop in my office for a bit of artistic trickery, I returned to the interview room where the female suspect sat waiting. When I opened the door and stepped inside she smiled and asked if she could leave.

I took a seat in the chair across from her and returned her smile. Then I slid the tape across the tabletop. “We have a video,” I said. What I didn’t say was that I’d removed the Bugs Bunny label and replaced it with one I’d typed in my office before returning to the interview room. The new label simply read “June 6, 1994.”

June 6 was the current date, and Tape … well, it was a tape, right?

I continued …

“When I show this tape to a judge … well, you know what’s going to happen, right?” I said.

Tears quickly formed in the corners of her eyes. Then she looked down toward her feet and nodded. “I know,” she said. “Yeah, we did it. He took them, though. Not me. You saw that on the tape, right?”

Suddenly she wouldn’t shut up, telling me they’d dropped the rings out of the window when they saw me pull out behind them.

I sent a patrol officer to the approximate location where he found both rings.

She also confessed to other thefts in other cities. The gun, too, was stolen. They’d broken into a home and found it while searching for valuables. The necklace she wore that day was stolen, as was the watch on her boyfriend’s wrist.

When I entered the room with her boyfriend/partner in crime, with the tape in hand, my first words to him were, “What’s up, Doc?”

An hour later we had signed confessions from both suspects.

And that’s how Bugs Bunny helped me solve the Case of the Missing Jewelry.

And, well… That’s all, folks.