Lessons in nature are often humbling. For example, a friend of mine who takes early morning walks began to worry about cougar sightings in our area. As time went on, she relaxed, having seen no large cat. I asked her if she looked up in the trees, as cougars are expert climbers. She visibly shuddered at this possibility. It shattered her false sense of security. But, that is a consequence of looking outside the comfortable standing eye level range.
Consider the ceiling and the floor. Have you ever wondered if there is something hidden above ceiling tiles? Does an inconspicuous molding or ceiling tile hide bootleg? Do you ever wonder if there is a place of concealment on or just under the floor?
These are questions that we should ask ourselves as we search for contraband. If we ponder those points, we can begin to conceive different levels of concealment. We need to think of the nefarious ends that a full-time contrabandist may employ by hiding things outside of the eye level range.
Often, movement within the facility allows us only a quick visual scan of a room. This cursory glance can range from table top to just above eye level – perhaps three feet to six feet. Even when we have the luxury of time to conduct a thorough search, we should consider the range outside of eye level. Here are a dozen thoughts about searching outside eye level:
Unseen hazards can be just out of sight. Think of a cougar in a tree. Looking up and looking down is more than an exercise in rote movement. It can be a way to preserve the balance of safety in your institution by searching outside the normal visual field.
- Imagine the concealment strategy of a seasoned contrabandist. Thinking “outside the box” is like thinking outside of the range of standing eye level. Enterprising smugglers know that not everyone consistently searches outside of the comfortable range of standing.
- Crouching can be uncomfortable. It is easier to stand. Contraband hidden below standing eye level is more likely to remain concealed.
- Check out base boards, floor molding and other ornamental aspects of a room. Is anything loose that should not be loose? Can small items be hidden there?
- Are any rug tiles pulled up at a corner? Is there something small and potentially dangerous hidden under your feet?
- What is happening below chairs, tables, shelves and counters? Is anything affixed with an adhesive bandage, naturally made glues, or tape?
- Most of us do not naturally look up at the ceiling. Hiding something above the standing eye range is another way to hide in plain sight.
- Heat rises. Prison made alcohol can better ferment above ceiling tiles and on top of shelves and cabinets than at eye level.
- Looking up at a high shelf that is a foot deep is not the same as getting eye level to that top shelf. A pen shank can blend in easily if it is where the high shelf is fastened to the wall. Also, the weapon is more difficult to detect when it is the same color as the caulk.
- There is some comfort in the different levels of expertise in contrabandists. Many are sloppy opportunists that do not necessarily think outside the standing eye level. This is a false comfort. A small but significant percentage of creative offenders recognize our standard search patterns and use them against us. It is in that group where the greater danger often lies.
- Look before you touch. Use of a mirror assists in hard to see places. If you cannot see an area and need to sweep it in order to search, do not use your hand, even if it is gloved. Rather, use a small piece of cardboard.
- The covert search is usually preferable when you search difficult to reach places. With no prisoners present, you are secure to concentrate. While standing on a chair or while crouching, you are more vulnerable than when you stand firmly on the floor.
- It may seem obvious to look up and to look down. However, it is not normally that simple. Test yourself for a week. How much you look beyond standing eye level when you are at work and when you are in the public?
These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy
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