Shoot to Kill or to Wound? The Answer May Surprise You

Police officers are not trained to shoot to kill, nor do they shoot to wound. That, my friends, is the answer to the question.

Confused? I thought you might be so let’s dive right in and clarify those seemingly, but not, conflicting answers to “the question.”

While we’re at it, we’ll also address the questions and statements we all see time and time again during the aftermath of police-involved shootings—“Why didn’t he shoot the gun from the bad guy’s hand?”

Or, “Shoot ’em in the knee. That’ll drop the guy like a lead balloon.”

And the ever popular, “I wish I’d have been there ’cause I’da shot the murderer in his gun hand. Then the crook couldn’t have shot anybody else and he’d still be alive to complete his dream of becoming a minister AND director of puppy petting at the local Ima Good Boy Charity and Feed the Homeless Sea Urchin Center.”

Police officers are trained to stop a threat to human life.

U.S. police officers are not soldiers and criminals are not enemy combatants. Contrary to the belief of some people, U.S. streets are not battlefields where cops shoot first and ask questions later. It cannot and does not work that way.

In a perfect world there would be no crime and we’d all be safe, all the time. But our world is FAR from perfect; therefore, cops are tasked with arresting those who break the law. Unfortunately, some bad guys choose to not be arrested and will do whatever it takes to remain free, including trying to kill police officers. They may also choose to seriously harm or kill others during the commission of their crime(s). These two scenarios force officers to resort to deadly force to stop the threat to the lives of others, and to themselves.

Back to the earlier statements—police officers are not taught to kill anyone, nor are they taught to “wound” anyone. Officers do not aim for hands, feet, knees, firearms, knives, etc. Instead, during a deadly force confrontation—when lives are at stake—officers are taught to shoot center mass, meaning the center of their intended target. If all they see is the suspect’s head, then that is their target. If they see the entire body they then aim for its center (center mass).

Why aim for center mass? Common sense answer – because it is the largest available target, which makes it the easiest area to hit when under extreme duress during an incident that sometimes happens within a fraction of a second.

The reason behind not shooting to wound is pretty simple, actually, and here’s why. Most police officers are not skilled award-winning sharpshooters. Not even close. To expect them, or anyone, to hit a fast-moving target, such as an arm or leg, while under duress, is unrealistic. Hands and arms can move across the body as quickly as 12/100th of a second. From hip to shoulder in 18/100th of a second. The time it takes a police officer to pull the trigger on one of the faster reacting trigger pulls, that of the Glock, is a slow 1/4 of a second. And that’s if the officer has already drawn his/her sidearm and has it pointed at the suspect.

New Picture (4)

Glock 17

It’s nothing short of impossible for an officer to see the threat, react appropriately, unsnap the holster, perform the required series of motions to free her weapon from the security holster (I’ll bet many of you didn’t know there was a combination/series of actions required to remove an officer’s pistol from a security-type holster), think about what she’s doing, decide whether or not the threat is real and, if so, pull the trigger. Oh yeah, she’d also have to take time to aim for the arm, hand, or leg. Impossible. No way. No how. Can’t and won’t happen, not even on her/his best day.

Another point to remember regarding how quickly shooting situations unfold. In many, many instances, there is not a single portion of a second to spare, including enough time to shout, “Drop your weapon!” Or even to yell, “Stop!” 

To give you an idea as to how quickly a shooting can occur…

Then there’s this. Suppose the officer somehow manages to hit the suspect’s arm, or hand, or foot? Well, that leaves the suspect’s free hand to continue his attempt to kill the officer or other potential target, such as a wife, husband, a bank teller, a child, and, well, you get the idea. Wounding someone, hoping that’ll stop them from killing is stuff you see on TV. It’s just not that way in real life situations.

I’ve seen bad guys continue shooting after being struck by several rounds. Actually, I was in a shooting situation where the bad guy continued to shoot after being shot in the head once and in the center of his chest four times, and he still got up and ran several yards. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I was the detective who shot him. I was also the detective who ran him down and tackled him. So being wounded, even severely wounded, does not necessarily stop a threat to human life.

Now, back to shooting to kill. I’m not aware of any police agency in the U.S. that teaches/trains officers to kill. Not one. Besides, how many sane people would sign on with an agency if they were told they must kill people as part of their daily duties—write speeding ticket, respond to kids playing in traffic, kill the guy standing in front of the Piggly Wiggly, go on lunch break.

During a shooting situation, officers typically do not have time to aim. Instead, they revert to their training—draw, point, and shoot for the center of the target.

Shootings involving police officers most often happen in a matter of seconds or less, and usually at very short distances—a mere few feet. In fact, these close-range situations occur so often that officers train quite a bit at shooting from short distances, without taking aim. They’re taught to draw and point their weapon at the center of the target, or as close as they can get to the center.

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Again, even at greater distances, there’s still no time to stop, take a proper stance, draw a weapon, take careful aim, ask the offender to stand still so the officer won’t miss and hit an innocent bystander, and then fire. So officers shoot for center mass, the largest portion of the body they see. That’s it. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Keep this in mind. Rounds that strike center mass could certainly cause the death of the suspect, but death is not the intended outcome. The goal is to stop the threat. If a bad guy surrenders the moment he sees that the officer has drawn her weapon and fully intends to use it, the threat is then over and the officer must take the suspect into custody.

Stop the threat. That’s the intended outcome of the use of deadly force.


*As always, I’d love to hear your comments and questions, but please do not turn this into a debate on gun control, politics, race, or cop-bashing. Instead, let’s stick to the factual information in the article. Thanks!

Friday’s Heroes: Remembering the Fallen – 9/22/17

Officer Elias Martinez, 56

Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department

September 17, 2017 – Officer Elias “Sonny” Martinez succumbed to injuries received in a motorcycle crash one week earlier. He is survived by his wife and two children.


Trooper Timothy O’Neill, 28

Michigan State Police

September 20, 2017 – Trooper Timothy O’Neill was killed in a motorcycle crash while on patrol. He is survived by his parents, sister, brother, and fiancee.

It’s HAD Day! (Happy Acronym Day)

It's HAD Day

“Yep, it’s an ABLE BOLO for a WM. Yes, A/B, well, really it was a case of ABWIK during a B&E. You know, I think the guy’s a SO, too.”

Have a little trouble following that sentence? Well, don’t feel bad. Even the experts can’t keep up with all the acronyms used by the various law enforcement agencies across the country. So, I’ve compiled a short list of them to help you better understand that aspect of cop speak. (Remember, these may differ from agency to agency. Always check with the authorities in the area where your story is set).

ABLE – Airborne Law Enforcement

AAG – Assistant Attorney General

ABH – Actual Bodily Harm

A/B – Assault and Battery

ABH – Actual Bodily Harm

ABWIK – Assault and Battery With Intent to Kill

ACHILD – Abandoned Child

ACU – Animal Control Unit

ADW – Assault with a Deadly Weapon or Assault with a Dangerous Weapon

AEW – Airborne Early Warning

AFTE – Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners

AKA – Also Known As

ALS – Alternate Light Source

ASU – Air Support Unit

ATL – Attempt To Locate

BAC – Blood Alcohol Concentration

BAU – Behavioral Analysis Unit

BCA – Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

BCI – Bureau of Criminal Identification or Bureau of Criminal Investigation

BDU – Bomb Disposal Unit

B/E – Breaking and Entering

BEO – Bicycle Enforcement Officer

BLS – Basic Life Support

BOLO – Be On the Lookout (Not APB!)

BOP – Bureau of Prisons

BRD – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

CART – Child Abduction Response Team

CBPE – Certified Bloodstain Pattern Examiner

CBR – Chemical, Biological, and Radiological

CCF – Citizen Complaint Form

CCSI – Certified Crime Scene Investigator

CDE – Certified Document Examiner

CFN – Criminal File Number

CHINS – Child in Need of Services

CID – Criminal Investigation Department, or Criminal Investigation Division

CLT – Crime Laboratory Technician

CO – Commanding Officer or Correctional Officer

CWP – Concealed Weapon Permit

DA – District Attorney, or Domestic Assault

DARE – Drug Abuse Resistance Education

DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

DB – Dead Body

DBV – Dog Bite Victim

DC – Death Certificate

DCJS – Department of Criminal Justice Services

DIP – Drunk In Public

DL – Driver’s License

DNR – Do Not Resuscitate

DUID – Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

DW – Dangerous Weapon

FEL – Felony

FLETC – Federal Law Enforcement Training Center

FOP – Fraternal Order of Police

GBH – Grievous Bodily Harm

GDC – General District Court

GL – Grand Larceny

GM – Gang Member

GNG – Gang-Related

GSR – Gunshot Residue

GSW – Gunshot Wound

HAZMAT – Hazardous Materials

HME – Home-Made Explosives

HO – Habitual Offender

IAD – Internal Affairs Division

IAU – Internal Affairs Unit

IBIS – Integrated Ballistic Identification System

IBR – Incident-Based Reporting

ICD – In-Custody Death

JDC – Juvenile Detention Center

JPO – Juvenile Probation Officer

JT – Jury Trial

K & R – Kidnap and Ransom

LKA – Last Known Address

LS – License Suspended

L/S – Lost/Stolen

LSA – Leaving the Scene of an Accident

OP – Life Without Possibility of Parole

MC – Medical Center

MCV – Mobile Command Vehicle

MDT – Mobile Data Terminal

Misd. – Misdemeanor

MU – Murder

NCIC – National Crime Information Center

NFI – No Further Information

NG – Not Guilty

NVG – Night Vision Goggles

OC – Oleoresin Capsicum (pepper spray)

OIC – Officer in Charge

OIG – Office of the Inspector General

OIS – Officer-Involved Shooting

OR – Released on Own Recognizance

PC – Passenger Car or Probable Cause

PCU – Property Crimes Unit

PEND – Charges Pending

PERK – Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (rape)

PIO – Public Information Officer

POB – Place Of Birth

POC – Point of Contact

POD – Place Of Death

POE – Port Of Entry

POI – Person Of Interest

RLSD – Released

SMT – Scars, Marks, Tattoos, and other characteristics

S/N – Serial Number

SO – Sex Offender or Sheriff’s Office

TF – Task Force

TOD – Time Of Death

TS – Top Secret

UC – Under Cover

UF – Use of Force

V/C – Victim / Complainant

 

Daubert, Frye, and Using Bacteria Found in Soil to Solve Criminal Cases

For ten long years, David Foran, a molecular geneticist and forensic scientist at Michigan State University, has worked to turn the bacteria found in soil into permissible evidence in criminal cases. It was a former student, though, a microbiology major, who first came up with the idea.

This could be an earth-shattering breakthrough since the goal of the research is to establish an objective standard, backed by solid statistical data, that could link soil found on a particular item to soil from a crime crime. The technique uses the DNA of bacteria from a sample, say on a digging implement—shovel, pick, spade, etc., to that found in soil from the scene of the crime. Of course, numerous factors could alter/influence each sample—temperature, foreign substances such as blood, sweat, chemicals, etc.—and each of those would be studied, classified, and categorized to allow for inclusion or exclusion (sample matches a known soil and substance, or not).

Once the research is perfected courts may then allow the testing method and soon after crime labs would then add it to their crime-solving toolboxes.

Daubert, Frye, and Using Bacteria Found in Soil to Solve Criminal Cases

So how does a procedure become suitable for courtroom and legal proceedings? What are the rules regarding who may testify as an expert witness?

Narcotics investigations

I was once put through the ringer in a courtroom before being declared, by a superior court judge, as an expert witness on narcotics and how they’re made, packaged, and sold.

This was during a time when my major focus as an investigator was on major drug cases.

Typically, judges make the final decision as to who or what is allowed in their courtrooms, and that includes which evidence is admissible and who may or may not testify as an expert witness. And, they normally rely on either the Daubert standard or Frye, both precedent setting case. Some states follow Daubert. Others follow Frye. And a small handful use either.

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals 

 

Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923)

 

Daubert is by far the most widely used standard in courtrooms across the country, and the rules according to Daubert are:

Per Cornell Law School (law.cornell.edu) – “Standard used by a trial judge to make a preliminary assessment of whether an expert’s scientific testimony is based on reasoning or methodology that is scientifically valid and can properly be applied to the facts at issue. Under this standard, the factors that may be considered in determining whether the methodology is valid are: (1) whether the theory or technique in question can be and has been tested; (2) whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) its known or potential error rate; (4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation; and (5) whether it has attracted widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The Daubert standard is the test currently used in the federal courts and some state courts.  In the federal courts, it replaced the Frye standard.”

Now, back to the soil sampling. Here’s a nugget for your research files. I once investigated a murder where I collected soil samples, among many, many other pieces of evidence, hoping to find the needle in the haystack. Without a bit of good luck this case could’ve quickly gone cold.

Fortunately, scientists matched a single, unusual plant seed I found and collected at the crime scene to one found in dried mud stuck to the accelerator pedal of the killer’s car (I also collected this sample). The plant grew in only one location in the area, at a particular spot near a river—the very spot where the body was found. I had a hunch and it paid off.

That one tiny seed was the icing on the cake in this case. I also matched tire tracks and I eventually obtained a confession from the suspect.

Here are the details of the sad case case (above) told in a brief writeup you might find interesting. A Dead Woman Crying: Murder in the Rain.

Test Your Knowledge: 17 Facts About Police, Evidence, and Equipment

Think you have your police procedure correct? No mistakes? Well, here are 17 Facts About Police, Evidence, and Equipment. Let’s test the knowledge of your protagonists, starting with …

1. Revolvers do not eject spent brass with each pull of the trigger. Semi- and fully-automatic firearms, however, do eject spent brass.

Revolvers v. Pistols

2. Handcuffs are equipped with two locks. The first is the automatic lock that connects when the pawl hooks to the ratchet. This allows the officer to apply cuffs to the wrists of combative suspects without having to fumble around while trying to locate a lock, insert a key, etc., while the bad guy is throwing punches to the officer’s nose and jaw.

The second lock (double-lock), a button inset, is found on the underside of the body of the cuff near where the end of the ratchet exits the cuff body.

3. Speed Loaders https://www.leelofland.com/dump-pouches-v-speed-loaders/

4. Vehicles rarely, if ever, explode when hit by gunfire.

5. DNA evidence is NOT used to convict defendants in every criminal case.

DNA Facts:

Identical twins have identical DNA.

Humans are genetically 99.9% identical. Only 0.1% of our genetic makeup is different.

It takes about eight hours for one cell to copy its own DNA.

Red blood cells do not contain DNA.

DNA is used to determine pedigree in livestock.

DNA is used to authenticate wine and caviar.

Detergent and Alcohol will not destroy DNA.

DNA can be transferred from article of clothing to another, even in a washing machine. This is called secondary and tertiary transfer.

DNA testing is not 100% accurate.

6. The FBI does not take over cases from local police. They do not have that authority. Besides, they have their own cases to work, which do not include local murder cases. Those cases are worked by local police.

7. Kevlar vests worn by patrol officers (or similar types) are not designed to stop punctures from knives and other sharp objects. There are, however, other types of vests designed for those purposes, such as the vests worn by corrections officers working in jails and prisons.

8. Cops are not required to advise a suspect of Miranda (you have the right to … etc.) the moment they arrest someone. Instead, Miranda is advised only when suspects are in custody AND prior to questioning. No questioning = no advisement of Miranda. Some departments may have policies that require Miranda advisement at the time of arrest but it not required by law.

9. Police officers are not required by law (in every state) to wear seat belts while operating a police car. In fact, some state laws also allow certain delivery drivers to skip buckling up (USPS letter carriers, for example).

10. Not all deputy sheriffs are sworn police officers. For example, most deputies who work in the jails are not police officers.

11. Some California sheriffs also serve as county coroner. However, they are not medical doctors. They employ pathologists who perform autopsies.

12. Small town police departments investigate murder cases that occur within their jurisdictions. Not the FBI or Jessica Fletcher. If they need additional resources they reach out to the local sheriff’s office or state police. Again, this is not the job of the FBI. Sure, if they’re needed they’ll assist.

All police officers are trained to investigate crime, and small town officers investigate homicides all the time.

13. Robbery and burglary are not synonymous.

Many people confuse the terms robbery and burglary. I see the misuse of those two terms everywhere, including in books written by some of my favorite authors. I also hear the terms interchanged on TV and radio news. They are not the same, not even close.

Robbery occurs when a crook uses physical force, threat, or intimidation to steal someone’s property. If the robber uses a weapon the crime becomes armed robbery, or aggravated robbery, depending on local law. There is always a victim present during a robbery.

For example, you are walking down the street and a guy brandishes a handgun and demands your money. That’s robbery.

Burglary is an unlawful entry into any building with the intent to commit a crime. Normally, there is no one inside the building when a burglary occurs. No physical breaking and entering is required to commit a burglary. A simple trespass through an open door or window and the theft of an item or items is all that’s necessary to meet the requirements to be charged with burglary.

For example, you are out for the night and someone breaks into your home and steals your television. That’s a burglary. Even if you are at home asleep in your bed when the same crime occurs, it’s a burglary because you weren’t actually threatened by anyone.

14. Narcotics dogs are NOT fed drugs of any type during their training. Never. Not ever. NO. No. And NO!

15. Shotguns and rifles are not not synonymous.

Rifle v. Shotgun

16. Police officers are NEVER trained to “shoot to kill.” Instead, they’re taught to stop the threat. When the threat no longer exists the shooting stops, if it ever starts. Often, the threat ceases before shots are fired.

17. Cops are not trained to aim for arms, legs, and/or to shoot a knife or gun from a suspect’s hand.

Instead, officers are taught to shoot center mass of their target. It is extremely difficult to hit small, moving targets while under duress. Again, officers DO NOT shoot hands, legs, elbows, or weapons (well, not on purpose).

Shoot to Wound? No Way!

*Click the highlighted links above for additional information.

Graveyard Shift: Feral Dogs, Cats, Raccoons … and Junior, Jr.

Working the dreaded graveyard shift is bad enough as it is, but when you add the extra stress of working it alone, well, then it sometimes becomes downright dangerous. But I’ve done it and so have many police officers across the country who work in small towns and counties. In my case it was a county—my first law enforcement assignment—and the land area wasn’t all that small. But, our sheriff had his way of running things and no one was brave enough to contradict the larger than life man behind the curtain. So working alone it was.

Often, working the midnight shift is slow and lonely, especially after 2 a.m. (10 p.m. – 2 a.m. are the action hours, usually). You spend your late-night patrol time fighting sleep while listening to anything you can find on the radio. Even AM radio farm reports about the latest hog feed options or manure spreading techniques are better than total silence.

Then there’s the constant battle with that mandatory piece of equipment worn by all graveyard shift officers—the invisible string attached to the eyelids, the one that attempts to yank them down much like pulling the cord on grandma’s old-time window shades. By the way, the force generated by the eyelid-string-pull is somewhere in the range of three times the earth’s gravitational pull.

So you’re out there in the wee hours along with packs of feral dogs and cats and raccoons who, for their tasty evening meals, raid garbage cans and dumpsters. A drive along a town’s main street reveals back-lit mannequins—some headless and handless—standing watch in storefront windows, the only objects remotely resembling another human.

Wispy tendrils of steam rise out of the storm drains, twisting and winding their way upward toward the black sky. Out in the county, your spotlight reveals “things” hiding between silos and tractor sheds that may or may not be there. Only your mind knows for sure … sort of.

Images of a nice, warm, soft bed and pillow play on a never-ending loop inside your mind.

But there are some moments of excitement and action that  and working an entire county alone poses some interesting problems … like getting to a crime scene before your shift ends in four hours.

The trip across our county from east to west, with blue lights and siren wailing and flashing ,respectively, and gas pedal to the floor, was 30 minutes or so. That’s nonstop as the crow flies. North to south was even further. Much further. Diagonally, though, if a deputy was patrolling in the far southwest corner and received a call in the far northeast, well, let’s just say that we hoped the complainant knew how to shoot or had a pack of viscous attack dogs handy, because we’d have to stop for gas twice and to pull over at least once to enjoy a bag lunch before we’d reach the location.

And that’s if our radios were capable of receiving a signal in the deepest, darkest corners of the county. To make matters worse, since interstates do not run diagonally, that meant dodging deer, ‘possums, and and other critters, maybe even an occasional cow who’d slipped through a broken fence, while traveling on winding and roller-coaster-like country roads for a good portion of the trip.

Daytime shifts in rural areas present their own challenges. You know, like when you’re running full lights and sirens because someone has just been shot, and suddenly find yourself behind a large farm tractor pulling some sort of bright green farm machinery that covering the entire roadway and both shoulders? And, of course, Bubba Jenkins is chattering away on his CB radio while scooting along at a breath-taking 4 miles-per-hour. He can’t hear your siren over the roar of the equipment and he never, not ever, turns around to see what’s behind.

So you’re left with no choice but to find a shallow spot in the ditch and crash through it sending everything inside your car flying—coffee cup under the brake pedal, papers on the dashboard, handcuffs under the seat and, well, you get the idea. Then you plow through an acre or so of corn in order to pass the plaid-shirted tobacco-chewer who turned and spat a nice wad through your open window just as you finally made your way past his mammoth tires.

Then, to top off the trip, you arrive at the scene, a grassless front yard littered with empty beer cans, used diapers, a couple of tractor tires painted white and filled with half-dead pansies, and a Ford engine block with four-foot weeds growing up and through the cylinder block. There, you discover an entire family, along with several shirtless friends, fighting like they’re the feature “act” in one of those ridiculous TV wresting matches. And, they’ve chosen large hunting knives as their weapons du jour.

So you yell out, “Junior!” at the top of your lungs, knowing that at least half of the crew will stop fighting long enough to see who’s calling their given names (Yes, I knew a man whose actual, honest-to-goodness name was Junior. And, of course, his son was … wait for it … Junior, Jr).

The name-yelling was sometimes enough to scatter the ones who had outstanding warrants or who were parole or probation violators. Then you could arrest the remaining half-dozen, or so. Of course, first you’d have to stand toe-to-toe and argue with the wives of each of the offenders, and you don’t want to arrest them because each one has at least one snotty-nosed diaper-wearing kid hanging from a hip. And there’s always a one-eyed, three-legged dog named Bear or Blue or Lucky nipping at your ankles during this entire mess.

Just as you’re about to ratchet the cuffs on the largest of the suspects (if you only have one pair of cuffs, always handcuff the behemoth who’s most likely the one who could inflict the most amount of pain on your already battered and tired body), your radio crackles…”Shots fired … unintelligible …. at the unintelligible … use … unintelligible … 10-4?”

Anyway, that’s how it goes sometimes when you’re working an entire shift, alone. Other times, especially at night, it can be downright nerve-wracking not knowing what’s at the other end of that driveway, the one where you hear gunshots echoing off dented aluminum siding and rusty tin roofs.

But you do what you gotta do to keep your sanity, even if it means finding the end of a long dirt road, stopping the car, turning out the lights, and closing your eyes for a few minutes as Delilah tells some poor love-sick guy, “She’s gone for good, but here’s song that’ll make you feel better about yourself …”

ZZZZZZZ……

Police radio crackles. Eyes open, wide.

“Automobile crash at the intersection of …”

And so it goes … hoping you’ll reach the crash scene before daylight, because it occurred at the far top corner of the county, the area you just left 30 minutes ago.

Back in the Day: The Thin Blue, Black, White, and Female Line

Back in the day

I’m an old-timer. An “old guy” as today’s cops would say when referring to me or any other long-time serving officer or retiree from law enforcement—male or female. The use of the word “guy” in this instance is not gender specific.

I’m one of those dinosaurs with tons of stories to tell to anyone who’ll listen. Yes, I’ve pretty much seen and done it all.

Fortunately, for me and loads of other “old guys,” writers make the perfect audience. But I’m a bit different than most with the telling of my tales in that I have a goal in mind when I speak, and that’s to provide good and solid information about the world of law enforcement.

I’m not a journalist, which means I have no “papers” to sell. And that, my friends, means you get the facts—how things are in the real world. I try not sugarcoat, and I try not to show bias toward anyone or anything. On the other hand, I wholeheartedly try to avoid political correctness. Naturally, I don’t want to offend anyone, but sometimes, as they say, truth hurts. But the truth is what writers need to hear. How else would they get their facts straight?

By now, I’m sure you can tell that I’m about to tell a story about a couple of touchy subjects—race and gender.

I’ll start by saying this … if you think racial issues and unequal treatment for women is bad today, well, you are one of two things—young or extremely forgetful. Keep in mind, though, that I’m only addressing these two issues as they’re related to law enforcement.

Let’s go back to the early to mid 1980’s (picture one of those hazy, smoky TV “thinking back” screens) when cops still carried revolvers and patrol cars all featured red lights. Blue lights were a thing of the future, as were cell phones.

Okay, the picture is now in focus and we find ourselves inside a law enforcement department in a southern state. We’re all cops and we’re attending role call and receiving our assignments. First of all, there are no women present. Not one. They’re all in another room preparing to serve as dispatchers or jail matrons. Neither of them wears a gun because the boss doesn’t allow “his girls” to wear guns. “If there’s any shootin’ that needs doing the men will take care of it.”

By the way, women in law enforcement, even those who worked “back in the day” receive the same training as their male counterparts—driving, shooting, etc. This boss, however, did not believe in women carrying guns or driving patrol cars.  In fact, the moment a female officer completed her training she was immediately required to hand over the weapon she’d used during her time at the academy. The course certification she’d just completed was also to become moot, because her permanent assignment was to be inside the office handling the phones and radios, typing reports, and making coffee so the men would have unlimited access to fresh caffeine.

This was a department that also ran a jail, and jails need supplies from time to time. So, the boss would allow a female officer to use a patrol car—the only time a woman was allowed to drive a patrol vehicle—to go to the store to pick up things, such as cleaning and office supplies, and canteen items for inmates. In other words, she did the shopping. She did this while in uniform, but without a gun. A sitting target is what she was. Luckily, there were no incidents.

To add insult to injury, the boss of this department divided his sworn officers into two groups—blacks and whites, as he called them. As always, the black guys were assigned to work together. White guys were also lumped together. To save on expenses he assigned two men to a car—two whites or two blacks, and the patrol districts were divided by race as well. Black guys patrolled “their” areas while white guys patrolled the neighborhoods of “their” people.

A black captain headed up his group of men and a white captain was in charge of his.

There was very little interaction between the two segregated teams of officers, and that was by design. However, the white guys were expected to handle/work calls in “both” areas, because the boss felt it was best that the black guys not respond to white areas unless they were needed during an emergency—a white-guy-in-trouble call.

I vividly recall one white officer (I think you may know the guy) who bucked the segregated system and took it upon himself to work with the black officers. Together, they made a pretty good team. And, as a result, many barriers were broken down. In fact, it wasn’t long before the boss began to mix things up a bit by integrating the shift assignments and patrol areas. Believe me, the benefits were huge. Morale increased greatly. Crime rates went down while smiles around the office went up.

The biggest smile, I believe, erupted the day the first female patrol officer hit the streets. She even had a gun strapped to her side when she rode off into the moonlight. Sure, she was stuck on permanent graveyard shift, but it was a start.

The change was big for everybody, in fact, because the men suddenly had to learn how to make their own coffee.

True story …

6 Tips For Conducting A Solid Crime Scene Investigation

The little things often go unsaid, even though those details are quite important to help make a story ring true. Yes, sometimes writers fail to capture what really goes on beyond the yellow tape, using what they’ve seen on TV or in the movies as a basis for their knowledge of police procedure. This is understandable because most creators of written fiction have never once set foot inside an actual murder scene.

But what are authors missing when they use television as their sole source of cop-type information? Well, did you know that investigators really do use those futuristic scanners that capture the entire scene in 3D? Still, the process and equipment are not quite like utilizing those fancy-smacy things used by movie stars. How about the chain of custody of the body? Is that really important? I mean, is the body really a piece of evidence?

Well, here’s a six-pack of helpful hints for those characters whose duty is to investigate a crime scene.

1. Death Scene Documentation, Evidence Collection, and Chain of Custody of the Body – Before the medical examiner enters the scene, be sure to preserve any evidence that may be altered, contaminated, or destroyed. You certainly wouldn’t want the M.E.’s footsteps to wipe out the suspect’s shoe prints, alter blood stain evidence, or mar tire impressions. Document the M.E.’s time of arrival, who called him/her and when, and what time the body was removed from the scene. Also, make note of the seal number placed on the body bag, if a seal was used. If not, note that the M.E. did not seal the bag. Have an officer escort the body to the morgue, if possible. This simple act keeps the chain of custody intact.

2. Water Scenes: What’s Important? – Always document the water type (pond, river, lake, creek, etc.). Record the water temperature and the depth of the water where the body was found, if possible. Make note of and photograph the surroundings.

The victim could’ve been swinging from the rope you saw hanging from a large overhanging tree limb, slipped, and then fell onto a jagged rock jutting out of the water. Everything is a clue.

Record the position of the body in the water.

Was it face down, or face up? Totally underwater, or floating? That could help determine how long the body had been in the water.

3. Shoes – Everyone entering a crime scene should wear shoe covers. If not, pay particular attention to their shoes. Yours included. Take a photograph the bottoms of everyone’s shoes so you’ll be able to recognize the tread patterns when comparing impression evidence back at the office or lab.

4. Photograph Impressed Evidence – Always take a picture of impressed evidence (tire tracks, footprints, etc.). If something were to go wrong while you’re processing that evidence and you hadn’t photographed before you started … well, you’re, as they say … SOL.

5. Fingerprinting Wet Surfaces – Don’t let a little rain stop you from lifting fingerprints. There are a couple of ways to obtain a good set of prints from wet surfaces – Wet Print, a spray on mixture that develops black prints instantly, and SPR, another spray on product that requires a little mixing before applying.

6. Gloves – Use a different pair of gloves when handling each piece of evidence. This is an important step that prevents cross-contamination. You certainly don’t want to transfer someone’s DNA from room to room, especially if that makes an innocent person appear to have been somewhere he hasn’t! And, it is possible to leave your prints on a surface even while wearing thin, latex gloves. Cotton gloves eliminate this problem.

Ry Brooks: A First-timer at the Writers’ Police Academy

I admit, I was not aware of the Writers’ Police Academy until Longmire author Craig Johnson posted the upcoming event on his Facebook page. My curiosity led me to check out the WPA website, and I was hooked. As an aside, it is my dream to become a successful crime/mystery author. I grew up in a law enforcement family, and my role models as a boy were deputies and state troopers. More lacking in my repertoire is actual hands-on training in police procedures and methods, so the prospect of just such an experience was exciting, to say the least.

During the registration process, I had some choices to make, including the purchase of souvenir items, meal selection for the closing banquet, and an optional entry in the “Golden Donut Short Story Contest” (more on that later). The registration sells out quickly, I might add, as well as the block of rooms reserved by the conference, so procrastinators may come up short!

Ry Brooks

The real challenge came when my wife noticed I had signed up for the 2017 WPA conference.

“You’re doing WHAT?”, she asked.

“I’m going to the Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”

“Umm hmm.”

“No, seriously. It’s a great way to learn the details of police procedure. Also, I might get to drive a police car in emergency scenarios. Every kid’s dream!”

“So, is it a course on writing?” She was confused.

“No, not exactly. It’s a learning environment for authors to help them inject more reality into their writing.”

“Shouldn’t you get established as a writer first?”

“What’s the fun in that?”

I was registered for the conference, had requested my preferences from among the most popular workshops, and had just one thing left to do. The “Golden Donut” short story contest entries are strictly limited to exactly 200 words, not 199 or 201. My first draft was exactly 200 words, counting contractions, and it was a great story (in my mind) but for one thing – I had somehow overlooked the requirement that the subject of the story had to follow a specific provided photograph. That first effort thus was deemed a practice run, so I wrote a couple more for submission that fully met the contest rules. Truth be told, I had some concern that my fledgling foray into mystery writing might prove an embarrassment. It was comforting, however, that the identities of the submissions are kept anonymous from the judges, so if my entries were bad, I would be anonymously awful.

The first day of the conference opened with a choice of workshops, the Kooky Cop Carnival or Drones!, and I chose the latter. I later heard I’d missed some comic moments involving famous authors’ hijinks in the other workshop. Never mind, the drone presentation was awesome!

Opening ceremonies included a blessing and wonderful ceremonial dances from the Oneida nation representatives.

Oneida Nation dancers

The conference hotel, along with many of the training facilities, are situated on Oneida native lands and many of the instructors are associated with the Oneida Nation police. Host Lee Lofland opened the conference with introductions and orientation, and we were treated to writer Lisa Klink (Star Trek), who related how she went from a wanna-be script writer to having her work produced on screen.

Day two began in earnest on the campus of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, with an exciting traffic stop takedown and wounded officer extraction demonstrated by the police instructors. After things calmed down, I proceeded to the Blood Spatter Analysis workshop (shades of “Dexter”!) — and discovered most of what I “knew” was wrong!

Bloodstain pattern investigation workshop #2017WPA

This was to be a recurring theme, and that is part of why the WPA began. We were able to participate in a realistic simulation that graphically demonstrated the way blood droplets can indicate height of the assailant, the type of weapon, even whether an attacker was right or left handed.

Bloodstain pattern session. Dexter-style

I noticed some, if not all, of the invited presenters were also participants in the WPA workshops. Many of them are published writers themselves with years of experience, but the lesson is, what you think you know may not be what you should know. I heard over and over, from conference attendees and seasoned authors, “Wow, I wish I’d known that before I wrote…”.

Over the course of the Academy, I had the chance to learn the history of police firearms, techniques of fingerprint analysis, and arson investigation scenarios, including a live demonstration fire set deliberately and surreptitiously. I got to fulfill the fantasy of driving Pursuit Intervention Technique maneuvers and received hands-on training in emergency driving situations and arrest takedown techniques.

PIT Maneuver – #2017WPA

In fact, I enjoyed being a passenger in the PIT target vehicle so much, I volunteered for extra rounds. If there was a ride at Disney World like that, it would have a five-hour waiting line.

One evening, we heard from master interrogator Paul Bishop. You guessed it, most of what we see and read of police interrogation is less than accurate. Following that was a sobering presentation of officer-down scenarios and the equipment used in those situations.

Our last full day culminated in the banquet and “An Evening With Craig Johnson”. I have had the privilege of hearing Mr. Johnson speak before, and it is always entertaining, humorous and thought-provoking. Frankly, I am a big fan of the Longmire Mystery novels and the opportunity to meet authors such as Craig Johnson and Tami Hoag was a big draw for me.

Craig Johnson and Tami Hoag

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. My “Cinderella story” as a first-time participant in the Writers’ Police Academy wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the results of the “Golden Donut” short story competition. No, it wasn’t a Hollywood ending — I didn’t win the top prize. I got Third Place, which was a Pulitzer, far as I’m concerned. See, even if you haven’t been to the WPA before, you can have beginner’s luck! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Seriously, Keep Your Shirt On … OMG!

You’ve had a long night answering call after call—he-saids, she-saids, chasing a Peeping Tom through back yards and alleys, a couple of drunks arguing over a near-empty bottle of Ripple, kids spray-painting Smiley Faces on stop signs, and the guy who insisted he was Jesus and attempted to prove it by damning you to hell a few dozen times after you refused to give him ten dollars.

Yep, a looonnnggg night and it was only half over when Jimmy Bob “Peanut” Lawson, Jr. decided to join forces with his good friend Jack Daniels to blacken both of his wife’s eyes.

Well, Earlene, the wife, wasn’t about to stand for that so she poked ‘ol Peanut in the gut a couple of times with a dull kitchen knife. Didn’t break the skin, mind you, but the act was just enough to send Peanut off the deep end. Oh, he was plenty mad about it, yellin’ and screamin’ and stompin’ his Doc Martens across the linoleum, kicking at Porkchop, the family’s three-legged dog. But Porkchop, having been to this freak show one too many times in the past, knew to stay ten or twelve dog-dish-lengths away from his master’s size twelves.

After about several minutes of plate, bowl, and pot-and-pan-throwing, one of the kids, a snot-nosed, freckle-faced boy of around ten or so, picked up the cordless and punched the speed dial button for 911.

So you show up, and Peanut, a Friday night regular, meets you in the driveway, huffing and puffing like an old coal-fired locomotive engine.

Now here’s where things could get a little dicey, so it’s best to run down the unwritten checklist you keep tucked away in your head. You know, size him up. Is he armed? Is he really going to attack? Or, is all that chest-thumping and Tarzan-yelling just a show for the neighbors? Well, you’d better find out in a hurry because he’s starting to spin like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character.

How can you tell if this guy means business, or not? Well, let’s have a quick peek at the telltale signs that most crooks offer that’ll help you evaluate the situation.

Since weapons and other items that are capable of puncturing your flesh are your first concern, here are some common indicators that Peanut is carrying a hidden gun or knife. For example:

1. It’s 97 degrees outside and Peanut is wearing his heavily-insulated, blood-stained orange hunting jacket. Yes, Einstein, he’s probably wearing it to hide a sawed-off shotgun, the one Daddy gave him for Christmas when he was three. The chew marks on the stock are proof the gun was a go-to favorite during teething (his mama says he was a late starter).

2. The tail of his flannel shirt is out, but one side is riding higher than the other. A great sign that he’s wearing a weapon on the “high side.”

3. Sometimes, wearing a shirt tail on the outside is a sign that he might be carrying a weapon. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign to crooks, which means they might recognize you as an undercover officer.

Now, for the signs that Peanut is about to attempt to stomp your butt into the mud, and this one is a real doozy …

1. For some unknown reason, many offenders/would-be attackers seem to feel the need to rip off their shirts prior to delivering the first blow. Therefore, when a drunk starts ripping cloth and zinging buttons across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, well, that might be a good time to reach for the pepper spray because he has not-so-subtly announced his intentions. There’s plenty of time to grab the spray, by the way, because the shirt-ripping and cussing and hollering and posturing and yelling things about your mother takes quite a while to complete.

They sometimes decide to fight wearing nothing but …

I’ve even encountered a couple of losers who decided to fight me while wearing only their tighty-not-so-whities. Believe me, the sight is not one you can easily forget. And then there’s the uncomfortable situation of having to place your hands on a nearly naked person who’s almost always sweating profusely while smelling like like the south end of a northbound skunk.

Anyway, the shirt-ripping is usually accompanied by lots of top-of-the-lung screaming and yelling, especially nasty comments about your wife and mother. Sometimes I wonder if the latter is because theirs (mother and wife) are possibly one and the same.

Of course, if this is what you see when the shirt comes off, well, maybe it’s time re-think your career choice.

2. Another clue that Peanut is about “go for it” is when he starts glancing at a particular spot on your body, like your throat, stomach, or even a knee. Instantly, you should go on alert for a possible strike to that area. Peanut is announcing his intentions and he’s ready to pounce.

3. Peanut glances behind you, continually, or to a spot off to your right just out of your line of sight. Watch out, because his partner may be approaching for a rear ambush. And, his partner just might be Mrs. Peanut. Yes, even though her “loving husband” had just moments ago beat the ever-loving snot out of her she’ll often defend her man until the bitter end. Unfortunately, the end sometimes results in a funeral … hers.

These quick glances are also good indicators that Peanut has a hidden weapon nearby. For example, you’ve stopped Peanut for drunk driving and he’s constantly looking toward the glove compartment. Well, there’s a good chance that a weapon or other illegal items are concealed there.

The Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home

4. You arrive on scene and you approach Peanut, who is standing still, staring off into space—the “lights are on but nobody’s home” look. His jaw is clenched and he’s sweating profusely, even though you’re both standing in two feet of freshly-fallen New England snow (New England snow, to me, is the coldest snow on the planet). He doesn’t respond to you in any way, but you see the anger rising. Face is growing redder by the second. Veins poking out on his forehead. Eyes bulging. Yeah, you get the idea. Believe me, it is time to take a step back and start pulling every tool you’ve got on your duty belt because this guy’s getting ready to blow. Silence is definitely not golden in this case.

5. Peanut might be a “I’m not going to look at you” kind of personality. This is another indicator that an assault may be on the way. If he’s staring at place on the ground, refusing to listen and obey your verbal commands, then be prepared for an attack. At the very least, be prepared for a battle when the time comes to snap on the cuffs.

I guess a good rule of thumb is to always assume the worst and hope for the best, which includes delivering the bad guy to the county jail without a single scratch on either of you.

Angry prisoner