Searching female subjects: Do it 'right' every time

Just as you visually and physically confirm that a firearm is safe, you have to visually and physically confirm that a person is 'safe'

Editor’s Note: I speak about five words of Spanish, so for this particular item I had a Spanish-speaking colleague also review the video embedded below. According to her, the TV reporter — who just happened to be present at the station at the time of this incident — apparently also did not notice what you will almost surely see right away. Why the camera operator failed to say anything to any of the coppers present is utterly incomprehensible, and in my humble estimation, borderline criminally negligent — at the very least, staying silent like he did shows a total lack of the most basic human self-preservation instincts. If you are fluent in Spanish and hear anything in this report that merits inclusion here, please post that information in the comments area below.

A few weeks ago, I wrote up a tactical tip related to female subjects and concealed firearms based upon a video that had cropped up on the Internet. For a variety of reasons, it got considerable attention from Police1 Members. Another video has come to my attention — this one from a Spanish-language news broadcast — that warrants our serious attention. Now, I don’t speak Spanish, but you don’t need to speak Spanish in order to get a pretty complete appreciation for what’s happening here (pictures, after all, are worth thousands of words). A couple quick things, right up front. The video involves a female subject, a firearm, and what appears to be a fairly significant mistake on the part of the California Highway Patrol. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in pointing fingers at (or piling on) anyone at CHP. I have great respect for that agency and personal friends who work there. The point of this column is to use this video as a jumping-off point for a discussion around the specific subject of searching females (anyone, really) as well as the broader issue of inattentional blindness.

Okay, disclaimers out of the way, go ahead and check out the clip (either below or here), then scroll down to access the remainder of this column in which I’ll relay to you some of the thoughts from a handful of Police1 expert commentators.


Oh, Dios!” is right! Or, as Captain Cary McGagin said in the news clip, “That’s a serious error.”

Again, this column is not about CHP — it’s about reinforcing safe, sound, tactical procedures. To that end, I spoke today with my outstanding friends Gary Klugiewicz, Dave Grossi, and Travis Yates. I’ve summarized some of their thinking below, but invite you to add your thoughts in the comments area below. Here we go...

Searching Females
Dave Grossi is a retired police lieutenant who for a dozen years was the lead instructor for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. I shared the above video with Grossi, and then spoke him via phone. “Officers are covered by applicable U.S. Supreme Court case law — even if there’s not probable cause for an arrest, all you need is reasonable suspicion for a Terry pat down,” Grossi offered.

Grossi said too that while there’s no law that says male officers can’t search a female subject, there are certainly some agency procedures that precludes it (absent exigent circumstances). “Some officers get really hung up on that,” Grossi said, “and say to themselves, ‘I’ve got to wait for a female cop’.”

No court has said that a male officer can’t search a female subject in the case where there’s no female officer around. You simply have to do it correctly. The definition of “correctly” is going to vary from agency to agency, but in general terms we’re talking about using the backs or edges of the hands to do the search, not the palms. Needless to say, please consult your company P&Ps for specific guidance.

Briefly, let’s get back to the specifics of the above video. “Notice in that video that her pockets are turned out?” Grossi inquired toward the end of our conversation.

“The front pockets on either side have been turned out — the white insides of the pockets are plainly visible and sticking out — so somebody had to have been down there and done some sort of search. Either they were so focused on another parts of her body and didn’t see the gun — I mean, they were an inch and a half away from it if they turned her pockets inside out — or they did see it and were just intimidated to reach in there and get it because it was in the pubic area. I’m inclined to think it’s the former,” Grossi said. 

This brings us to the matter of inattentional blindness.

Inattentional Blindness
Your brain will often tell your eyes what to see just by the definitions your thoughts are generating. The best example I can think of also goes to the issue of firearms. When you are confirming a firearm to be cleared and safe, the procedure your mind, your eyes, and your fingers should be engaged in is looking for a round (or rounds) remaining in the weapon. You’re not looking for “no round” to be there — you’re expecting to find that round and clear it!

Travis Yates wrote an outstanding column on inattentional blindness back in November. “The very definition of inattentional blindness is when you’re looking straight at something but you don’t expect to see it, so you don’t see it. If you don’t expect a gun to be there, you might not see a gun that’s there,” Yates told me.

Gary Klugiewicz is one of the nation’s foremost experts on all matters related to correctional and custodial procedures related to officer safety. When we spoke today, Klugiewicz mentioned that part of being in condition yellow at all times is to always be scanning and looking for all potential hazards. “Once you have someone handcuffed, that doesn’t make them safe. If she would have been limber, she might have been able to reach around and gotten that gun, pulled it out, and started shooting. The point is, you have to always be scanning — looking for what you missed — and not just doing that with your eyes.”

It was at this point in our phone call that I mentioned to Klugiewicz my range-safety analogy. He enthusiastically agreed.

“Visual inspection is not enough. You actually feel, actually touch, to confirm that a firearm is safe. Just as you visually and physically confirm that a firearm is safe, you have to visually and physically confirm that a person is safe,” Klugiewicz said. 

Perfect Practice
Yates said that he believes any officer is potentially able to commit the type of oversight seen in the video above. He explained, “I think a reader might quickly look at that video and say, ‘I’d never make that mistake,’ but the truth is a lot of us are susceptible to that kind of mistake because we arrest people and handcuff people all the time,” Yates said.

“This could happen to any one of us at any time,” Klugiewicz agreed. “One of the most likely places for a weapon is in the beltline, so you should always be checking that,” said Klugiewicz.

Yates offered a different twist on the plus-one rule — that whenever possible, multiple officers should search a suspect. “We need to have multiple people searching cars, searching subjects, searching anything or anyone. You have multiple X-Ray technicians look at X-Rays for this very reason. Same thing with airline pilots — why do you think they have two people up there in the cockpit?”

Grossi added, “It’s not practice that makes perfect — it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. If you do something correctly every time, you’re not going to make mistakes. If you do something sloppily all the time, or even some of the time, well, then you’re likely to make mistakes.”

“The bottom line,” Klugiewicz concluded, “is that no prisoner is ever safe!”

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