It never ceases to amaze me how officers will continue to try and serve an arrest warrant based on a mere lead. Although I have been guilty of the same in the past, I have learned over the years that it's Deal or No Deal once you knock on that door. If your guy doesn't come to the door, and you cannot get in, chances are he will not be there if you try back later.
About two weeks ago, I made contact with a friend of mine who is a chief in a small, rural Missouri town. Retired from a prominent agency, I have always thought of my friend as one of the most reasonable, methodical and quick thinking people I know.
It was about 7:00 PM on a Tuesday night when I caught up with him on the phone. Sounding somewhat frustrated, he began to tell me about his "big lead" that led nowhere.
Having a passion for the subject area, I hung on to every word my friend had to say. Following about a 20-minute spiel, my only response to his day's account was simple. "You should have said, 'No Deal' to your lead and looked at some alternative courses of action."
Thirty-two year old male, original charge of distribution of a controlled substance, prior criminal history, known to be violent and the lead they received from a neighbor indicated he had been shacked up with an ex-girlfriend down the street for the past two weeks.
Immediately, the chief and his officers jumped on the new lead and headed off to the residence in an attempt to knock on the door and arrest their stealthy fugitive. After five minutes of knocking on the door, the chief and two of his officers left the area and returned to the station, only to get another call from the neighbor stating, "He left about ten minutes after you did."
Now, I am not one to Monday-morning-quarterback a decision by anyone, but I do feel there were at least a few other options to this scenario that would have made it more than a "learning experience."
- Speaking with the neighbor who had the "lead," and asking if they would be willing to watch the residence for movement or additional activity might have been a better approach. Always check with neighbors by phone to see if they can provide any additional information, such as vehicle descriptions, plate information, or patterns of activity. These can include when the subject(s) leaves or comes home, what visitors are at the house, etc. If the subject had been there for the past two weeks unnoticed, chances are they were comfortable and not planning on going anywhere, especially in a rural or small community with limited police presence.
- Time and time again, I find small departments leery of sending someone down a street in plain clothes or an unmarked vehicle. I realize that officers are more susceptible to being recognized in a small town versus a larger community, but sometimes you have to "shoot yer best stick" when you have limited resources and manpower. The ability to gather intelligence on an arrest warrant is just as vital as intel on a search warrant or narcotics raid.
- If you have a lead that the subject might be staying at a residence and has a history of being violent....wait. Chances are your subject is not staying cooped up 24/7, and is making short discrete jaunts to close by acquaintances. If you can gather enough intel, you could possibly make your arrest on terms that are more in your favor.