By John Thomas Grohn

A major aspect of officer safety is the proper and thorough search of suspects. I know a great portion of the basic academy is given to defensive tactics and searches, as it should be. It is that important. For me, officer safety is comprised of these four big cornerstones: physical fitness, firearms, defensive tactics/prisoner control (where I put searches of prisoners) and emergency vehicle operation (EVOC).

During an average patrol shift, we put hands on a lot of people. Sometimes we fight, but most of the time we’re controlling our person of interest. You know, “Turn around and put your hands behind your back. Interlace your fingers. Spread your feet … no, wider.” Simple. Right?

Routine = Complacency

This is where I start to see complacency. Because like the routine alarm call, what are we expecting to find during a search? C’mon, you know what I mean. Our attitude becomes: “There’s really nothing here to see or find. I have to do this, it’s required I search you. You probably don’t have anything on you, but I’m supposed to check, so here I go.” I think the root cause of a poor search is attitude driven. Sometimes we’re so focused on looking for other things we think may be hidden we end up missing things that are actually there.

About 7 years ago I took custody of a mentally unstable guy who was very polite. He was mostly looking for some attention from the folks at (CMH) County Mental Health. After hooking him up and looking through his pockets, along with a cursory check of his waistband and legs, into my car he goes and we drive to CMH. Once there, I remove all of my weapons, securing them in my trunk and then I walk this guy in to get him evaluated and admitted. As we sit down in the waiting are, he kind of grimaces and halfway stands up from his chair. He reaches back and pulls from his beltline a homemade ice pick with a 4″ probe. He tosses it onto the counter next to him and looks at me. “Forgot I had that,” he says. Dammit!

Am I perfect? Not by a long shot. In this situation, I was so focused on looking for dope I neglected the officer safety aspect of why I was at the call. While I try to do my best and look at each person and each situation with a renewed sense of awareness and urgency, I must continually remind myself of dangers — known and unknown.