Officer Safety During Interviews

by Paul Francois & Enrique Garcia

While officer safety is usually at the forefront on our minds while working street patrol, it is easy to let it slip when working on the investigations side of things. Obviously, we're not typically in the same sort of potentially threatening situations working investigations compared to patrol duties. But that doesn't mean that threats don't exist and that we should let our guard down.

For example, how many of you are routinely conducting pat searches of suspect's before conducting a voluntary, non-custodial interview? In polling our classes, we typically see that less than half the class regularly conduct pat searches of suspects prior to non-custodial interviews. When the interview subject is a witness or victim, the numbers drop to almost zero. Most officers cite reasons of not wanting to damage rapport as their rationale for not searching. Fair enough, but what's more important in the long run - good rapport, or living to see your family again?

Many suspects agree to come to the police station to talk to investigators believing they can either outsmart the cops or at least learn what evidence exists against them. A suspect facing a long term prison sentence may judge that he has very little to lose if the interview begins to turn against him. A victim who is filing a false police report could very easily turn into a suspect on the turn of a dime. If we haven't previously searched either of these people, we could be in a very precarious situation.

Most of us have seen the video of the subject arrested down in Southern California who pulls a loaded .45 from his waistband and offs himself inside a departmental interview room. What if that fellow had had the inclination to shoot the interviewing officers instead of himself? Or, God forbid, the non-sworn personnel working just outside of the interview room door?

Our suggestion is to always put officer safety first. Give some thought as to how you could preserve your safety AND maintain rapport. Perhaps when your subject first enters the building, explain that for his safety and yours you would like to ensure he's not entering with any weapons. At your agency, it may even be a matter of following department policy. Either way, get his buy in and permission to conduct a quick pat search. Chances are, you can be done with it in a matter of seconds, thank him for his cooperation and understanding and be no worse for wear. Something to think about.