The Importance of Effective and Safe Person Searches

August 3, 2020

| The recent internet post on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, “LEO Near Miss – Report of the Week: The Case of the Diaper Guns” provides a realistic and significant learning experience for law enforcement personnel (1).  The acknowledged lessons learned by the involved peace officers from a real-world incident included the following:

  • The potential threat posed by a paraplegic wearing a diaper who needed a wheelchair.
  • The officer’s gut instincts that provided several warnings that something did not feel right.
  • The danger signs involved – 0203 hours, dealer plates, probation violation for a weapons offense, drugs in plain view, the arrestee becoming quiet, etc.
  • The discovery in the paraplegic’s diaper of a loaded handgun that lead to another search that found a second pistol.
  • A search of his sock that revealed a ½ ounce of marijuana and over $1,700, mostly in twenty-dollar denominations.
  • The value of search and search again with different officers involved.

Why should I review this information?

This incident is a classic reminder that vehicle pullovers whether traffic enforcement, investigative, or high risk may pose deceptive criminal behavior with serious safety challenges.  Complacency and underestimating an individual based on any physical condition can lead to serious bodily injury or death.

A violent reminder of this occurred in California on Thursday, May 13, 1982 at 0830 hours, that involved another paraplegic who was a convicted bank robber who decided not to appear for a 13-year prison sentence.  The Riverside Police Department’s Warrant Detail of Officers Dennis Doty and Phillip Trust located him inside a home and a shootout inside the house resulted in both officers being killed and his escape.  He was later captured and sentenced to death for their murders.

It is recommended that officers consider subscribing to The Police Foundation’s LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) Near Miss articles.  Reviewing these stories from other LEOs will remind everyone of the lessons learned by peace officers involved in policing actions that could have been tragic.