Weekend Road Trip: Kayaking the Parker River

Last weekend, Denene and I paddled ten or twelve miles up the Parker River starting near the mouth of the Merrimack. We began the trip at high tide with little or no wind. The river was calm, with a texture almost pudding-like.

By the time we reached halfway we were paddling into 40 – 50 mph wind gusts. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the water temperatures in New England are still quite frigid. The spray felt like ice crystals hitting our faces. The water became so rough I elected to leave the camera in the waterproof container. Besides, if I’d stopped paddling long enough to take a picture I’d have been blown backward, losing what little momentum I had. It was a blast!

The trip started out calmly.

These two were nesting. They allowed me to get fairly close, but the expressed their displeasure quite loudly.

This pair wasn’t as cordial. They took to the air, circling my head until I moved on.

This guy didn’t care how close I got.

Love was definitely in the air.  We saw dozens of “pairs” of horseshoe crabs along the water’s edge.

The wind started to pick up about halfway through the trip, bending these reeds.

We ran into a group of young kids on a guided kayak tour. The instructor/guides began to frantically get the kids to the nearest shore when the wind started pushing waves over the tops of the boats. They all made it out safely. (These photos were taken before the winds struck).

The wind was starting to pick up. This was the last photo I took. Waves began to splash over the bow soon after.

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Police Rumors, Scandals, and Scoops

– Outside looking in: A distraught man barricaded himself inside a New York sheriff’s office. The building was evacuated after the suspect fired a shot.

– Bite me!: A Connecticut police instructor was arrested on reckless endangerment charges for biting a co-worker. The female employee and the instructor were engaged in horseplay when she said, “Bite me.” So he did.

– A rural N.C. police department spent $20,000 for two police dogs, and another $10,000 for training, a sum that drained their budget. Officials had originally hoped to purchase bullet and stab proof vests for the animals, but couldn’t scrape up the additional $1,600. However, local citizens have begun a fund raising campaign to purchase the vests.

– NYPD forensic investigator, Michelle Lee, was stabbed to death in her home. An ex-boyfriend was arrested for Lee’s murder. Forensic evidence left at the scene – evidence normally collected by Lee – was used to learn the identity of the killer.

– A Miami teen escaped from police custody by running away from the arresting officer. The police officer managed to get one cuff on the lad’s wrists before the kid made his break. The boy was charged with stealing the handcuffs.

– A jail inmate in St. Mary’s, Florida escaped from jail, stole several packs of cigarettes from a nearby convenience store, and then attempted to break back into jail. He was nabbed during the re-entry, and was later charged with escape and burglary.

– A man in Wingerworth, England was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison for repeatedly whistling the Addams Family theme at his neighbors. Prosecutors say the behavior was absolutely intolerable.

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Lt. David Swords: Interview and Interrogation – Part Two


Lieutenant David Swords (ret.) is a thirty year veteran of the Springfield, Ohio Police Department. Nearly half of Lt. Swords’ police career was spent as an investigator, working on cases ranging from simple vandalisms to armed robberies and murders.

The Interrogation

Body language
One of the primary things an interrogator must do is watch the suspect. A veteran once told me, “You’ll learn more by watching a man’s eyes then by listening to his words.”

Kinesics is the study of body language in communication, including eye movements. One field of study concerning eye movements went so far as to suggest one could determine truthfulness or deception by watching which direction the eyes moved in response to questioning. I’m not sure of the exact information, but examples of what I mean might be looking down and to the left could indicate deception, while looking up and to the right might show thoughtful consideration of the questions. If your story takes place in recent years, you can probably find detailed information on this system.


In any event, eye contact is crucial during an interrogation and has been known and used by officers probably since Marshall Dillon questioned Black Bart. Think about questioning little children when the cookie jar gets broken. Where are their eyes when you ask what happened? Looking straight at their shoes, of course. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to look someone in the eye and lie to them. Even if the eyes flick away for just a split second, it’s there. The deception. You can see it in the eyes.

The movement of the eyes is not the only thing a detective watches for in an interrogation. All physical mannerisms can betray persons as they are being questioned. You can find these in books or on the Internet, so I won’t go into great detail on each, but I’d like to point out some of the more common movements and what they might mean.

– The arms folded across the chest. Arms across the chest can indicate a closed mind or defiance.

– One I always loved to watch for was an almost imperceptible drop of the shoulders, sometimes accompanied with a sigh. This showed resignation and often indicated the suspect was about to give up his resistance.

– Head nodding or shaking. An officer knows he is close when the suspect begins to, very slightly, nod or shake his head in agreement with what the detective is saying. Another sign that you are close to a confession.

– Grooming, or repeating a question. Both are common stalling tactics. By grooming, I mean the suspect will pick at lint or brush something off their shoulder.

And as for repeating, we’ve all heard it and done it. “Where were you last night?” “Where was I last night?” They’re stalling, thinking quickly for an answer, when the real one might put them in jail.

All of the above, and scores of other bits of body language, can mean something. A detective needs to watch closely to know when to “make his move.”

What do I mean by make his move?

There comes a point when a person is close to confessing and needs a little nudge to get him to cross that line. One thing an officer might want to do is slide in closer to the suspect. It invades the man’s personal space. It’s a way to say to the suspect, ‘I’m in your space and in your head, we know the truth, it’s time to say it.’

At this point in time, you’re not asking the suspect what happened, you’re telling him, and you don’t let him disagree. You’re probably also speaking very softly, not yelling or in the guy’s face, so to speak. “You took that TV last night, Bob.” And when he shakes his head no. “Yes you did, we all know you did. You need to tell me about it.”

Notice the detective said “took” and not “steal.” It’s important to try to express the accusation in soft words, not harsh ones. It’s easier to admit “taking” something and not “stealing” it. Once the suspect crosses that magic line and kicks into the crime, you can clear up details.

He didn’t break in, he went in. He didn’t steal, he took. He didn’t rape, he had sex with. It might seem trivial, but the differences can mean success or failure.

An important point to add is the use of accusation to get a response and see if you’re on the right trail. An officer will often make an accusation just to see how the suspect reacts. An innocent person will react with indignation when an outright accusation is made, while the guilty party will still deny it, but with much less vigor.

“You had sex with that with that young girl,” can be answered with eyes dropped to the floor and a rather calm, “No, no, I did not.” Or it may be answered with an emphatic, “I DID NOT!” while the suspect looks straight in your eyes. You can see the difference.

Officers may also use an over-accusation to gain information. I once had a detective who worked juvenile tell me of a man he was questioning on an accusation that the man had stopped two schoolgirls and offered them fifty cents to pull up their dresses and show him their underwear. The man denied any wrongdoing until the detective said that he had been told the man had given the girls five dollars each, to which he replied, “I did not, I did not, I only gave ‘em fifty cents.” Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but the officer had his confession.

Street officers can use a form of accusation just to find out a person’s name. An officer who holds a warrant for Joe Smith won’t walk up to someone he believes to be the suspect and ask, “Are you Joe Smith?” Rather, he will ask, “Are you Bill Brown?” When this is denied, he’ll say, “Oh, yes you are, you’re Bill Brown.” What he will often get is an indignant, “I am not, I’m Joe Smith!” And off to jail he goes.

Something else that can work wonders, especially when dealing with a homicide or violent crime, is to bring the victim into the room. Now, I don’t mean you send your partner to the morgue to drag in a corpse. But, you can bring in a personal item that belonged to the suspect, perhaps a piece of bloodstained clothing. Once it’s time to make your move, such an item can serve to bring the victim into the room to point the finger of accusation at the suspect. Hand it to him, allow him to touch it. You can imagine the effect it can have.

The Secret to writing about interrogations

There really is a secret to writing about interrogations and I am now going to reveal it to. Are you ready? Here it is. The secret to writing about interrogations is that there is no secret. Believe me, it is not rocket science. You have most of the tools you need, and that is your own experience in talking with people. All you need to do is close your eyes, imagine the scene, and put words to paper to describe what happens.

Take a tip from Stephen King in his book “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft.”

“When you step away from the ‘write what you know’ rule, research becomes inevitable, and it can add a lot to your story. Just don’t end up with the tail wagging the dog; remember that you are writing a novel, not a research paper. The story always come first.”

You’re doing research now, by reading this brilliant blog. (Was that a little too obvious?)

You won’t use everything in this blog, just enough to add a little legitimacy to your story.

And remember, it is not always in the details – it’s in the story.

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Lt. David Swords: Interview and Interrogation – Part One


Lieutenant David Swords (ret.) is a thirty year veteran of the Springfield, Ohio Police Department. Nearly half of Lt. Swords’ police career was spent as an investigator, working on cases ranging from simple vandalisms to armed robberies and murders.

Interview and Interrogation – Part One

Interview: a meeting during which somebody is asked questions, e.g. by a prospective employer, a journalist, or a researcher

Interrogation: thorough questioning – the act or process of questioning somebody closely, often in an aggressive manner, especially as part of an official investigation or trial
Interviews and interrogations are basically the same thing, that is, talking to someone to gain information. The differences are in their intensity, the cooperation of the subject being questioned and the legal issues involved.

Today I will concentrate primarily on interrogation, but you should remember that many of the techniques are the same. In fact, many interviews by law enforcement have quickly turned into what would be more accurately described as an interrogation.

I won’t discuss the Miranda warning. Last year, I posted a blog about Miranda here at the Graveyard Shift, which I would encourage you to look at if you have questions on that particular subject. So, I won’t get into the Miranda warning much, except to say that police officers DO NOT start reading Miranda to a suspect as soon as they get their hands on him – a little more on that in the blog.

For the novelist, interrogation may often be overlooked as a crucial element of a story, with the occurrence being “thrown in” as necessary for the story, but not critical to the action. Perhaps this is true, but for an investigator, interrogation can be the one last thing that puts the icing on the cake.

Forensics are crucial to a criminal investigation and will often point to a particular individual as being involved in a crime, but to what degree? For example, let’s say a character in your story is walking down the street and hears a gunshot. He or she runs up on the porch of the house from which the shot came, looks in the door and there on the floor is poor old Joe, flat as board and just as dead, with the apparent cause of death, a bullet hole, planted smack in the middle of his forehead. Standing over Joe, with a pistol in her hand, is Jane. Did Jane murder Joe?

Forensics can show through an autopsy that the bullet lodged in his head killed Joe. No surprise there. Tattooing will show that Joe was shot at close range. Fingerprints can put the gun in Jane’s hand. Again, no surprise. But, none of that answers the original question of whether Jane murdered Joe. Did she pick up the gun after Joe shot himself? Did they struggle over the gun? Was this an accidental discharge? These questions can be answered with an interrogation.

The Interrogation Room

Most police departments have a room or several rooms designed specifically for interrogation. Often depending on budget, imagination or tradition, these rooms run the gamut from high-tech fancy to broom closet simple. Many have two way mirrors, more and more are equipped with audio and video systems, and the room size of most is determined by what room was available when someone decided to put in an interrogation room 28 years prior.

However the room is equipped, the most important determination is to keep it simple. The less there is in a room to distract a suspect, the better detectives like it.

In the mid-80’s, I attended an interrogation seminar taught by Dick Arthur of The National Training Center of Polygraph Science. At the time, he advocated a small bare room with two chairs. The suspect’s chair being a straight metal or wooden chair, bolted to the floor, with the front legs sawed off about half an inch. The hard, lopsided chair never allowed for the suspect to be physically comfortable, which would contribute to his emotional discomfort. The chair was bolted to the floor to keep the suspect from being able to move away from his accuser who, at the right moment, may move into his personal space.

I’ve never seen that method used anywhere, except in Mr. Arthur’s description, but I agree with the basic concept. In the matter of interrogation rooms, less is best.

Too much “stuff” in a room can distract a suspect. There should never be a window. It is very hard to get a suspect to admit robbing a bank when he’s watching a mother robin feed her nestlings. Wall clocks should be taken down. If the bad guy needs to know the time, he can ask. (Of course, a classic answer to that query might be, “Time for you to tell us the truth.” Cha-ching.)

There should also be an understanding with all employees, sworn officers and civilians alike, that an interrogation is NEVER interrupted. There is nothing more frustrating than to be in the middle of an interrogation, making progress, and having someone knock on the door or just walk in to say, “Your wife’s on the phone and wants you to get a quart of milk on the way home.” I never actually had that happen, but I have been interrupted. The one exception that might qualify for an interruption is if the building is on fire. Beyond that – never.

I remember a friend of mine telling me that he and another detective were interviewing a homicide suspect and were being observed through a two-way mirror by the detective Captain (who had never been a detective before being assigned that job as a Captain.) It seems the Captain kept having brilliant flashes of inspiration and would tap on the door and then slip a note under the door. The funny part was that after a little while, when the tap came, even the suspect would look at the foot of the door, waiting on the note. The same Captain kept interrupting myself and two other detectives when we were talking with a suspect in a stabbing homicide. Fortunately, at one point, he left us alone long enough to get a confession. I mention this merely to let you know that not everyone respects the sanctity of the interrogation room. Even those who should know better.

As I said earlier, many interrogation rooms are equipped with audio or video equipment. Prosecutors love it when they have a confession on videotape. Of course, there are budget constraints and maybe the detective in your story will have to get his own pocket recorder at Radio Shack, but whatever system is in your interrogation room, it should be as hidden from the suspect as is practical. Why? Remember, less is best.
Perhaps in your novel you could have my errant Captain tap on the door and come in, adjust the camera for a better view on the closed circuit TV in his office, and leave without saying a word. It has probably happened somewhere.

Before an Interview

Like a good Boy Scout, a Detective should be prepared for the interrogation. An officer should know as much as he can reasonably find out about the suspect and the case involved, Like looking up the suspect’s record and thoroughly reading through the case and documents relating to it. You would think this was a given, but I’ve known of incidents (personally, I might admit) where a Detective is interrupted by Uniformed Officers bringing in a suspect in a case, and the Detective reluctantly agrees to help them out and jumps into an interview, not knowing as much as he should. It’s a little frustrating when the suspect knows more about the case than you do.

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James O’Neal (Born): The Future of Police Work

James O. Born is an award winning novelist with five crime novel published by Putnam. Under the name James O’Neal, he is published by Tor. The Human Disguise was just released and the sequel, The Double Human, will be released in 2010. He is currently a Special Agent with The Florida Department of Law Enforcement working in the area of major crimes and public corruption.

Visit his website at WWW.Jamesonealbooks.com

The Future of Police Work

The one quality most good cops share is adaptability. Many are smart. Many are tough. Some are smart and tough. But if a cop is adaptable then an officer can do a lot of good.

This adaptability must be short term as well as long term. If a cop is undercover, talking to someone about a potential hit and the bad guy suggests they go shoot the target that minute, the cop must adapt for safety and to salvage the case. If the cop shuts it down immediately then there may not be enough for a prosecution (I know it probably would be in this example but you never know). If the cop agrees to take it a little further, then the victim’s or the cop’s life might be in danger. Every undercover situation is a chess match of safety versus evidence. The key is being able to adapt. If all police operations went perfectly then there would be no reason to spend so much time planning and there would be almost no good stories. The interesting things come from what goes wrong, not what goes right. That’s goes for life in general.

Adapting to the long-term changes is another vital ability necessary for a successful career. Procedures evolve, tactics and equipment improve. From my own experience, when I graduated from the DEA academy in the mid-eighties (gulp), I was issued a Smith and Wesson model 13 revolver. A dependable, venerable weapon not much changed from the early part of the twentieth century. After a short while I was using a Beretta 92 nine millimeter, semi-automatic with fifteen rounds.

A couple of years ago my agency required us to move to the Glock .40 caliber. I resisted, having grown used to and comfortable with my Beretta. Any cop or military person will tell you their feeling for a weapon. I didn’t want to experience the separation anxiety. The Beretta had saved my life. Literally. But I was forced to adapt and now carry the sleek, hammerless Glock.

The other form of change that requires a cop to adapt has nothing to do with attitude or equipment. It slays tough and smart alike. It lays waste to morale, thins out the ranks and occasionally pushes someone until they snap. This is the governmental and administrative change that usually seep into the culture but sometimes flop on us like a Walrus with vertigo.

The best example I can think of right now is the tax crisis here in Florida. In South Florida, smaller cities can no longer afford to field their own police departments and have been contracting out the work to the Sheriff’s Offices. The state is flat broke. If it were a relative I would avoid it. Funding has been slashed in every area. And now cops must adapt again. Resources and manpower are scarce. Overtime is non-existent. But somehow criminals continue to go to jail and the lid has been kept on a pressure cooker of unemployment, disillusionment and anger directed at any target available. Cops adapt to cooperate better between agencies, use what resources they have more efficiently and focus on the few creeps who are really causing the problems.

Time marches on for all of us and so does change.

I used my experience as a cop. My love of history and status as a native Floridian to create a novel about police work set twenty years in the future. To keep from confusing anyone who had read one of my contemporary police novels, I used the pen name ( I have a hard time spelling pseudonym) of James O’Neal. The Human Disguise, just released from TOR, follows detective Tom Wilner, a detective for Florida’s Unified Police Force, the only remaining police agency in the state, as he deals with a simmering gang war. I put a lot of effort into looking at police work when I started twenty years ago and how it had changed from police work in the late 1960s, then tried to draw a realistic, reasonable line to how things might work twenty years from now.

I wrote the book over two years ago but theorized that the state’s tax structure would one day fail. I had no idea it would be so fast. In the future the population in Florida has dwindled due to factors like terror attacks, pandemics and a severe climate change. That leaves few cops over wide areas. The first issue would be manpower. That could mean conflicts of interest are a fantasy and cops have to work whatever comes down the pike.

Weapons would evolve and use propellants other than gunpowder and calibers unknown today. Fuel of cars has changed to hydrogen with poor areas using steam or whatever they can find to power crumbling Hondas and pick up trucks.

The last piece of this future puzzle would be the judicial system. Any one involved with it today knows that it cannot continue as it is for very much longer. In The Human Disguise the future justice system sentences offenders to penal units in the military. Sentences can be for conflicts (Syria until it’s conclusion) or time. The need for combatants in all the conflicts the US is fighting is so great virtually no suspect is found guilty. That gives cops too much power.

The civil court system has been completely revised to each side being allowed a short period to present a case to a single judge who can rule immediately causing the loser to pay all costs. That has lightened the burden on small businesses constantly under siege by slip and fall attorneys. But it has also insulated large corporations that can afford to pay if they lose and hurt poor individuals without much money to risk in a loss.

All these factors would cause a police agency and a cop to adapt. I know it caused this cop turned novelist to adapt. I look at everything now with an eye toward what it might look like in twenty years. If my last twenty years are any indication, look for a very heavy set, near sighted novelist signing science fiction books at a Barnes and Borders near you around 2029.

James O, Born, the cop:

James O. Born, the author:

Jim Born, the book critic:

Jim Born’s latest book, The Human Disguise is scheduled for release today!

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