Search Warrant Execution: From Zero to Sixty to … Wanting to Cry


Ah, the search warrant. Many officers can’t wait to go on their first door-kicking, flash-bang-tossing raid. Beats writing traffic tickets, right? After all, what good is all the exhausting and demanding training and fancy equipment if you can’t use it?

Sure, the excitement is there. The adrenaline rush is over the top—from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. And the danger level … WHOOSH! It’s through the roof and then some, and then add a little more.

But there’s another side to executing a search warrant, a troublesome and sad side that most people don’t see (but your protagonists should and most often don’t), and it’s after the door is breached when officers often encounter a host of unpleasantness, such as:

  •  While pawing through the kitchen drawers you notice an abundance of tiny black pellets. There are more on the counter tops, and on the stove top, especially near a large container of rendered bacon fat that’s used to season food or in lieu of olive and other costly cooking oils. A closer look reveals dozens of teeny-tiny footprints in the container of congealed animal fat, and in thin layer of slippery, slimy grease that’s coating the surface of the range.

Also present are marks indicating the dragging of a rodent’s tail, and more of the black pellets along with obvious chew-marks and tooth prints in the grease and around the edges of the container. A frying pan with remnants of the morning’s scrambled eggs sits on a rear burner. No, that’s not freshly-ground pepper dotting the top of the leftover, dried-up eggs.

Listen carefully and you’ll sometimes hear faint squeals and squeaks coming from inside the walls of the range. You don’t want to get closer, but you do it anyway. Yes, there are indeed baby mice living inside the stove, and they’re crying for their mother. And this is only the first room …

  • A favorite place to hide drugs is in or behind a toilet’s water storage tank. But there’s no bathroom in this house so you continue the search by moving to a bedroom, if that’s what you want to call it. Four walls, a tattered mattress on the floor (no bed frame), and lots and lots of filth and dirty clothes, everywhere. Chicken bones, beer cans and bottles. Yellow-gray sheets that were probably white a few years ago, a clock radio with its guts hanging out of the broken plastic casing, and ROACHES EVERYWHERE. Thousands of them. All sizes, too. On the floor, the bed, the walls, a wooden chair in the corner, the ceiling, in the closet, under your feet, and on YOUR PANTS LEGS!

But the search must go on…

  •  What’s in the white five-gallon bucket in the corner? There’s a dishtowel draped over it, as if they’re hiding something there. So you pull back the cloth and WHAM! You now know the location of the bathroom, and it hasn’t been emptied for days.
  • A malnourished skin-and-bones mixed-breed dog is backed into a corner. Most of the fur is missing from its back and around the head. Its lips are pulled back and a mouthful of plaque-coated teeth are aimed in your direction. A low rumble comes from somewhere deep inside the animal’s throat. There’s no time to call for animal control so you pull out the pepperspray. Never mind that it rarely works on dogs, but you feel better with the can in your hand. You back out and close the door.
  • In the next bedroom you discover five little kids inside playing with a few broken plastic toys—a dump truck, a tractor and, ironically, a battered three-wheeled police car. The oldest one … four, or so.

“Where’s your mommy?”

Five sets of shoulders inch upward.

No shoes. Dirty pants. No shirts. Faces crusted with food and sleep and grime. Lint in their hair.

A rat the size of a squirrel walks nonchalantly across the floor near the baseboard. It disappears into a large hole in the sheetrock. Roaches crawl across the boys’ feet and legs, marching like soldiers on a mission.

No more than five feet from where the kids are seated is a ragged microwave perched on an equally ragged nightstand. An overflowing ashtray. Two empty beer bottles. Drinking glass half full of room-temperature tea. Aluminum foil. Plastic wrap. A glass cookie sheet covered in wax paper. A plastic bag. White powder. Baking soda. And crack cocaine.

Kind of takes the edge off the adrenaline rush, huh?