The entry team is briefed and are in position at the front door. A second team stands ready at the back door. Other officers cover each of the windows to prevent someone from slipping away.
It’s an impressive sight, all those highly-trained police officers dressed in all black and holding enough firepower and break-and-rake tools to overtake a small country. On command, a well practiced entry team moves like an intricately designed machine.
First, the distraction, a technique used to be sure the team members at the front door are able to make a safe entry into the home. CRASH! A side window is broken by an officer swinging a crowbar. Shards of broken glass are raked away from the window frame and sill. BOOM! A flashbang is tossed into the bedroom. The cover officer aims his weapon at the inside and clears the room (Never insert the gun barrel past the window frame. You don’t want some thug grabbing it and taking it away).
Now, with all attention diverted toward the crash and explosion, the battering ram hits the front door. A second CRASH! The house is suddenly flooded with heavily-armed police officers who mean business. They’ve come for the wanted suspect and they’ve caught him with his “pants down.” Seriously, sometimes you really do catch them that way!
People scream. Men run. Woman yell. Babies cry. Dogs bark. Cellphones ring. TV roars. Radios crackle. Handcuffs click. And finally … silence.
That’s how a search warrant execution can go. They’re dangerous. Exciting. Adrenaline flows like the whitewater portion of a swift-moving river. Heart pounding against the inside of your chest. Pulse pushing against the neck.
Ah, yes … the excitement.
But not so for me on one summer night …
It was to be the largest heroin bust I’d ever made—the mother-lode. I had all details perfectly spelled out on the warrant and we were ready to make our move. I absolutely wanted no mistakes. None. So the team was briefed, re-briefed, and briefed again. Besides, we’d worked together for so long that we could practically do a safe entry with our eyes closed. Still, you never know.
Sometimes I preferred to surprise the bad guys by simply knocking on the front door (with the rest of the entry team hiding around the corner). Occasionally you get lucky and the suspect opens the door, thinking it might be Aunt Susie or one of their regular customers dropping by to re-up their supply.
I decided to go for the door-knocking this time—the polite kind, not the cop-knock where you slam the butt of your fist or end of a flashlight sharply against the door. Always use command presence, even with a door-knock, right?
Knock, Knock, Knock (gently, with my knuckles).
Since I’m highly allergic to bullet holes I stood slightly to the side of the doorjamb.
The heavy door opened slowly with a creak of the old hinges.
I was tense, prepared to grab my dangerous suspect and pull him outside.
In the opening of the doorway, however, appeared an elderly lady. White hair, round glasses perched on the end of her bird-beak nose. Faded housedress. Pink slippers.
A tiny smile split her ruby-red lips, painted with a smear of the bright red lipstick reaching a bit too high above the upper lip. A short strand of pearls hung around her neck, appearing out of place against the old paisley housedress.
The stopper was instantly pulled on the boiling adrenaline. I felt it swirling away at the bottom of the bowl.
“May I help you?” she said.
“Is Mr. Drug Dealer at home?” I asked.
“No, he’s out with some of his little friends.”
“Are you related to him?”
“No. I’m his grandmother’s live-in nurse. Her companion, actually. Madam is here, though. Would you like to see her?”
“Is anyone else in the house, besides the two of you?”
“No, it’s just us. Could I help you?”
Well, I decided to go ahead with the search, figuring I could always pick up Mr. Drug Dealer another time. So I stepped inside and explained the purpose of my visit. Madam’s companion then led me to Grandma so I could repeat the whole story again, to her.
Grandma was at least 190-years-old and shriveled like an over-ripe prune. She sat propped up in a hospital bed in a room that smelled like a mid-summer construction site Port-a-John. Ms. Companion apparently had not been attending to a few needs.
The companion/nurse asked if I’d like a nice, cold glass of iced tea?
“No thank you,” I said and then moved on explaining the search warrant to Grandma. She said she understood and asked then if I was hungry.
I told her that we needed to begin our search.
“No one is going to do any searching in my house,” she said “without first having something to eat. No man has ever left my house, hungry, and tonight will be no exception”
She called for the companion and told her to set the dining room table, buffet style.
“No Ma’am, we can’t eat. We’re here to—”
“Nonsense. You gather all your little friends in the dining room and tell them to grab a plate. Mary! Is the table ready, yet? Fetch some homemade rolls, too. And the real butter. Don’t forget the butter!”
“No, Ma’am. Really, we need to …”
She held up a skeletal version of a hand. “Hush. Now you go have a bite to eat and then you boys can go about your little searching, or whatever it is you want.”
“Ma’am, really we can’t …”
One of the team members walked into room holding half a hot, buttered roll in his left hand (at least he’d kept his gun hand free). The other half of the roll crammed inside his mouth, lumped inside his right cheek. Between chews he nodded toward the dining room. “Food’s getting cold.”
The bread smelled delicious.
He raised his eyebrows and nodded again.
I knew when I was outnumbered and accepted the cold glass of iced tea that Madam’s companion held in her liver-spotted hand. I hadn’t eaten all day and was famished.
And that was the beginning of my search warrant for the mother … um… well, the Grandma-lode of heroin, which we did find, by the way, along with cocaine, animal tranquilizer, LSD, hash, syringes, and more.
Mr. Drug Dealer was assigned a bond of one-million dollars. Yes, it was a somewhat large scale operation that he conducted under the noses of Madam and her companion. The two women were clueless.
True story …
*Break and rake is a technique used to draw attention away from the point of entry (POE). It’s a great distraction that often prevents suspects from arming themselves or from escaping custody. Catching suspects with their “pants down” (off-guard) is often the safest way to effect an arrest in a dangerous environment.Having a snack while serving a search warrant is definitely not recommended. Unless, of course, homemade bread is on the menu.
Tickets are still available to this one-of-a-kind, opportunity for writers to attend hands-on homicide investigation training, training that’s typically available only to law enforcement. Hurry while spots are still available. Crime writers should not miss this rare event!