Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And The Hunt Is On !

By Bryan Avila,  Backgate Contributing Author

One of the most crucial aspects of working in a correctional facility is the search for contraband. We all know that it is there. But where is it? The hunt for contraband is just like a game of cat and mouse. Offenders have it and they don’t want us to find it. We want it and don’t want offenders to have it. So how do we find it? By getting down and dirty.

One thing that we must always keep in mind is that offenders are going to hide the contraband in the most disgusting places they can think of: inside the toilet, in trash, dirty and soiled clothing, and any other place that would make a normal person say “I am not going to put my hand in there!”

I never ceases to amaze me how many officers forget where to look. Before we even start working for corrections we already know how to shakedown a cell or a common area. We just didn’t realize that we knew. Think about all the places that you hid things from your siblings, parents, and spouses (gifts, etc) that you did not want them to find. The next thing that surprises me is that officers don’t use the proper gear when searching.

Think about gloves for a minute. What good is a pair of non-latex gloves going to do for you if you come across a needle or razorblade? The only thing that those gloves are good for is not getting your hands too dirty. Make sure you get a good pair of tactical Kevlar gloves. There are many brands out there and the small expense is worth it’s weight in gold if you never get injured. You can always put on the non-latex gloves over them for searching toilets and other disgusting things. DO NOT LET THEM WIN!

When searching an area, always use the same pattern that you have for yourself. Start at one end and work your way around. It does not matter if you go left to right or right to left; top to bottom or bottom to top. ALWAYS USE THE SAME PATTERN. This will avoid any confusion on what is left to do if you have to stop for any reason.

DO NOT forget food items! They love to hide contraband in containers and then make them look like they have never been opened. They are really good at doing this. Use spoons or tongue depressors to search things like peanut butter or fluids. Do not look with big things in mind (cell phone, weapons, etc). Instead, look for the smallest things that you can think of. If you search in this manner, you will find the big things as well as the small things.

Make sure that you crawl under beds, over beds and move things around. If it comes apart, take it apart and look in it. If it looks strange, take it! You can always give it back later if you have to. Do not take the shortcuts that a lot of officers like to take.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. Where would I hide it? 2. Am I satisfied with the job that I did? 3. Do I know my agencies policies and procedures to know what they can have? 4. Do I know what they can purchase from commissary?

If you can answer those questions honestly to yourself and are satisfied with the answer, you will be in great shape.

And most importantly, BE SAFE!

Editor's note: and  Backgate Website Contributing author, Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  - Note; the views expressed within this article are opinion and do not reflect those of  the TDCJ (Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice) in any way. 


  1. The only problem with that is a two tray sergeant that don't back his CO's when they find documented or non dangerous contraband on a inmate. They cry and bitch that sergeant so and so said they could have it. Then your rank is dumb enough to come in and say OK to the inmate. We have a book of rules to fallow and when rank tells there bossman/bosslady oh its OK let them keep that item. That takes the power from a good boss (police) and makes them get sloppy at there J.O.B.

    1. Refuse to give it back tothe offender before speaking to his supervisor. We have one who once told the shift we needed a warrant to search an inmates lockerbox. When I corrected him, because th LT did not, he tried to say we had to have a warrant to search their leagal material.

    2. He might have meant the I-186 signed by the warden that you need to have to scan(read) the legal material for documentary contraband.

  2. Don't forget to ask others where they find contrband! I always ask, and I find more than anyone else on my unit. Few people ask me.

  3. Do like rank does, just ask a inmate. Then payoff the inmate with coffee or zoos zoos and zam zams.