Friday’s Heroes: Remembering the fallen

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Deputy Sheriff Curtis Allen Bartlett, 32

Carroll County Virginia Sheriff’s Office

March 9, 2017 – Deputy Curtis Bartlett was killed in a vehicle crash while responding to assist other deputies and Virginia State Police Troopers who were in pursuit. The offender was apprehended and charged with driving on a revoked license resulting in death, and other crimes.

Deputy Bartlett is survived by his parents and four siblings.

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The Language of Cops and Crime Scene Investigators

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The language of cops and crime scene investigators is certainly something that can be incorporated into works of fiction for an added layer of realism. Of course, the writer’s work shouldn’t read like a law enforcement dictionary, but the use of proper terminology, when appropriate, is definitely a nice touch to any crime novel.

Here are a few terms you may find useful to your works-in-progress.

ABFO scales (often referred to as “scales”): “L” shaped plastic pieces used in crime scene photography. The scales are often marked in millimeters for size comparison(s). Circles, black, white, and gray bars on the scales are there to provide exposure determination, and to assist in distortion compensation. AFBO = American Board of Forensic Odontology.

Image – Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories

ALS (Alternate Light Source): Lighting equipment used to enhance/visualize potential evidence.

Image – Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories

Case File: Collection of documents pertaining to a specific investigation. The case file specific to a particular homicide investigation is sometimes called the “murder book.”

Case Identifiers: Specific numbers or alphabetic characters assigned to a specific case for the purpose of identification. For example – Case #ABC-123 or #987ZYX

Chase: Empty space inside a wall, floor, or ceiling that’s used for plumbing, electrical, and/or HVAC ductwork. A chase is a common hiding spot for illegal contraband and/or evidence (murder weapons, narcotics, stolen items, etc.).

Chain of Custody: Legal process of documenting the chronological history of pieces of evidence. The documentation includes the signature/initials of each person who at some time or another had possession of a particular piece of evidence. Dates and times of possession are also recorded.

Pre-printed chain of custody label – Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories

It is not unheard of for each person in “the chain” to be summoned to court to testify that they indeed had possession of a particular piece of evidence at the time documented. And, they’re often asked to explain their purpose of having and handling the evidence.

For example, a laboratory scientist may be in the chain of custody for a suspected marijuana case. Her purpose of possessing the item on, for example, January 12, 2013 was to conduct scientific testing to determine the identity of a green, leafy, plantlike material found inside a wall chase in the bedroom of a suspected drug dealer.

Dying Declaration: Statement about a crime made by a person who is about to die.

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Electrostatic Dust Lifter: Device that electrically charges a piece of plastic film that’s placed over a print made in dust (a shoe or palm print, for example), which in turn causes the dust to adhere to the film. The result is a perfectly captured print that’s ready for photographing.

Author Donna Andrews moves in for a closeup shot of an electrostatic dust lifter at the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy.

Latent Print: Print that’s not readily visible to the human eye.

Outsole: The portion of shoes or other footwear that contacts the ground.

Paper Bags: Used for packaging wet evidence (items containing blood, semen, saliva, etc.). Cardboard boxes and paper envelopes, too. Paper is porous, allowing the material to breathe and not breed harmful bacteria.

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Patent Print: A fingerprint that’s easily seen/visible with the naked eye, without the use of powders and/or chemical or other enhancements.

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Plastic Evidence Bags – Used for packaging dry evidence. Plastic bags are excellent incubators for bacteria, and bacteria can and does destroy or degrade DNA evidence.

So no wet evidence in plastic bags, unless the goal is to make a home for this guy …

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Plastic bags/containers often serve as incubators for DNA-destroying bacteria.

Projectile Trajectory Analysis: The process used to determine the path traveled by a high-speed object (bullets, arrows, etc.).

Trace Evidence: Small bits of evidence, such as fibers, hairs, glass fragments, gunshot residue, etc.

Gunpowder particle test kit – Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories

Evidence vacuum for the collection of small/trace evidence – Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories

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Homicide Investigators Should Do … What?

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There are nearly as many different ways to approach and investigate a crime scene as there are cops in line at coffee shops. But there are things that should be done at all murder scenes. For example …

Homicide investigators should:

1. Document air temperature at the scene (ambient air).

2. Document body temperature (if medical examiner is not on scene, document description – cold, warm, frozen, etc.). Detectives do not insert thermometers … well, anywhere. And definitely not THERE!

3. Document livor mortis (lividity). Was livor mortis present, and at what stage? Was it fixed? Was body position consistent with the stage of livor mortis?

4. Document rigor mortis. What stage of rigor? Was the rigor consistent with the crime scene?

5. Document degree of decomposition – skeletonization, putrefaction, mummification, etc.

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6. Document animal activity – was the body altered by animals?

7. Photograph the body exactly as it was found. The ground beneath the body should be photographed once the body has been removed.

8. Document victim’s physical characteristics (description of the body, including scars, marks, tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and obvious wounds).

9. Make note of the type of on-scene emergency medical care, or the lack of treatment. The names of everyone at the scene should also be recorded.

10. Document presence of body fluids and where they’re found (mouth, nose, beneath the body, etc.). Also note if there’s no indication of body fluids.

11. Bag the victim’s hands (and bare feet) in clean, unused paper bags.

12. Collect, or arrange for, the collection of trace and other evidence.

13. Determine the need for alternate light sources and other specialized equipment.

14. Photograph the victim’s face for future identification purposes (remember, most present-day identifications are done via photograph or video).

15. Make note of the presence of insects. Photograph and collect samples of each.

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16. Protect the body from further injury and/or contamination.

17. Supervise the placement of the body into a body bag, and install the proper seal/securing.

18. Ensure the proper removal and transportation of the body.

19. Who, What, Where, How, and When – Who discovered the body? Who was present when the body was discovered? Where was the body discovered? How was the victim killed? When was the body discovered? Who witnessed the murder? Etc. Document all, no matter how insignificant it sounds at the time.

20. Document EMS records/activity. Obtain a copy of the EMS call sheet/report, if possible.

21. Document witness statements – What they observed, the victim’s actions prior to death, killer’s description, etc.

22. Note medical examiner’s comments.

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23. Obtain witness statements and contact information.

24. Document the names and contact information of everyone present at the scene (officers, EMS, medical examiner, witnesses, etc.).

25. Be certain that all evidence has been recovered before releasing the scene.

* Images are not actual crime scene photos.

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Helpful Hints for the Accident-Prone Police Officer

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Yes, police officers look sharp in their neatly pressed and properly-creased uniforms, shiny shoes, and polished hardware. They stand straight and tall. They move with purpose. They’re as steady as a boulder and have nerves of steel. They’re fearless.

Well, most of them.

However …

Did you know there are cops who have two left feet? You know what I mean … clumsy cops. Every department has them—butterfingered badge-wearers, klutzy K-9 handlers, ungraceful undercover officers, lumbering lieutenants, stumbling sergeants, and, well, you get the idea.

Police officers are no different than anyone else. They’re human. They trip. They stumble. They spill and drop things. And they sometimes fall.

So what happens when one of the “bumbling blue” has a slight faux pas while at work?

Let’s dig into this unusual topic and see what we can uncover …

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Shallow grave workshop – Writers’ Police Academy

Everyone has their own secret weapons for fixing life’s little problems, right? You know what I’m talking about … problems such as removing candle wax from a tablecloth by placing the soiled material in the freezer for a couple of hours, and then … presto! The wax scrapes right off.

Wait! What if the wax dripped onto your brand new carpet? No problem. Simply fill a metal pan with ice cubes and place directly over the wax. Soon, the wax freezes and you’ll be able to whack it a few times with a hammer, breaking the hardened wax into bits and pieces. Pick up the shattered wax and discard.

Okay, I understand the confusion. you want to know what in the world household hints have to do with cops? Well, we already know there are cops who encounter “problems” and must be ready to tackle them on a moments notice.

For example …

1. You’re on patrol in the “rough” part of town when you roll up on a couple of guys who’re in the midst of a pretty good fist-fight. So you call in your location, asking for backup, and then dive in to separate the two. As always, the little one is as slippery as an eel swimming in a vat of cooking oil, and the big one delivers a jackhammer-like punch with his left hand. Unfortunately, he’s right-handed and the blows coming from that ham-size fist feel like incoming missile strikes. But, you’re a survivor and you somehow manage to get cuffs on both men. Afterward, you’re sitting in your patrol car telling your backup to slow down, you’ve got everything under control (as if they were hurrying), and you notice your name tag is hanging by only one metal clasp.

So, what do you do? Easy fix.

Tear the eraser from one of the pencils you keep in the console and push it over the end of the pin. It’ll hold the name tag snugly in place until the end of the shift.

 

2. You’re parked on the side of the interstate waiting for an approaching pursuit. The last report from the state to your south indicated their officers were headed your way, chasing a silver Honda driven by a murder suspect. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could somehow contact the drivers of those two passing tractor-trailers and ask them to occupy and block both lanes and then slow down to a near crawl? Then the suspect would at least have to hit the breaks for a minute or two, giving the officers time to catch up to him. Well, why don’t you use the handheld CB radio you picked up at the yard sale a few weeks ago. Power it up and give a good ‘ol “Breaker, Breaker, Smokey needs assistance,” shout out. The operators of those eighteen wheelers are normally more than happy to help out the driver of a “plain brown wrapper.” 10-4?

3. There’s nothing worse than being on the losing end of a fight, especially when you’re wearing a police uniform. Well, maybe there is one thing that’s just a wee bit worse than a black eye and bruised ego. And that’s losing a fight and getting handcuffed with your own cuffs! Imagine the teasing that’s headed your way. Can’t let that happen. No way!

You’ve got to get out of the cuffs before your co-workers find you sitting in a dark alley with your hands bound behind your back.

Be prepared, guys.

A little preventive medicine here and you’ll never be caught with your pants down again. Simply duct-tape a spare handcuff key to the inside of your duty belt, where it meets the small of your back. That’s the best spot because you can reach it with either hand. It might take a few minutes to wiggle the key from beneath the tape, but what else have you got to do? By the way, some duty belts have small cuff key pockets fitted into the back of the belts.

Also, a handcuff key could easily attach to a belt keeper.

Belt keepers loop around the duty belt and the belt holding up the officer’s pants.

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Belt keeper

Without belt keepers the duty belt would easily and quickly fall down to the ankles, especially when running/chasing someone through a dark alley.

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Two belt keepers positioned between handcuff cases

4. Don’t you just hate it when you finally get the big man under control and suddenly learn that your cuffs are too small to fit his tree-trunk-size wrists? So what do you do? If you let go he’s going to start pounding on your sore head, again.

Here’s an idea. Send your partner back to the car (while you’re hanging on to the thug like a rodeo clown trying to calm a buckin’ bronco) to retrieve a pair of leg irons, the ones you use for transporting dangerous criminals to court. They’re large enough to hold anyone, including the guy who’s now about to toss you through your own car window if your partner doesn’t hurry.

5. And then there’s a guy whose wrists are so small they slip free of the cuffs no matter how tightly you ratchet them. Again, there’s a solution. Hold his arms together behind his back (hands facing opposite directions) and lock one single cuff over both of Skinny-Minnie’s tiny wrists. Then attach the second cuff to the little fellow’s belt or belt loop.

6.  At night (stakeouts, etc.), when you need to use light, keep one eye closed to preserve your night vision.

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Finally, you’ve just left a particularly gruesome murder scene and notice another pesky blood stain on the sleeve of your uniform shirt. Now what do you do? After all, the department only issued you five shirts and four pair of pants.

First, calm down. Next, simply break out the emergency can of meat tenderizer you keep in the glove compartment and apply a fair amount of it to the stained area.

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No, silly. Not that kind of meat tenderizer. This …

Then, with the shirt material properly pounded treated, rush home, using lights and siren, if possible, because time is not a friend in this situation, and immediately toss the garment into the wash. I’m kidding, course, about the use of lights and sirens. They’re for real emergency use only. You know, murders, robberies, and the times when sudden restroom urges hit and you’re three miles from the nearest public facility.

Then kick back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the night. Wait a minute! Is that … yes, it’s a gravy stain on your new pants. Better sprinkle a little artificial sweetener on it to soak up the grease. And isn’t that a red wine stain? Where’s the salt shaker?

Might as well remove the green gunk from the bullets while you’re at it. A little paste made from vinegar, flour, and salt should have the brass shining like new money, all 46 rounds.

Man, are you ever going to be ready for the 0800 inspection …

Hey, hold on! This isn’t our usual inspection. What are you guys up to???

I want my lawyer!!

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OMG, Police to Use Origami Shields to Stop Bullets!

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Officer I. Aintskeert responded to back-up Ben Knowsitall, his shift partner of twenty years. Knowsitall was pinned-down behind his vehicle at a domestic violence call, where a drugged-up homeowner/professional wife beater opened fire the moment the unsuspecting officer parked in the driveway, got out, and started walking toward the house.

The situation facing Knowsitall was precisely the reason the academy training officer emphasized that responding officers should always park at the street to give themselves time to assess, and to not rush blindly into an ambush. But complacency often reigns, especially after several years on the job without a single bullet wound. Knowsitall regretted that he’d let down his guard.

As every officer within a ten mile radius raced to assist, Officer Aintskeert pulled his patrol car near his buddy to help shield him from the barrage of bullets zinging precariously close to his shaved head. “Hey, it’s sexy,” he’d told his coworkers the day he hairlessly returned to work after Miss Ethel of Ethel’s Beauty and Chitterling  Emporium spent the better part of the morning shaving, clipping, and weed-wacking on his football-shaped dome.

Between snips and cuts, she’d taken time to stir the barnyard-stench-inducing pot of boiling entrails on the stove situated conveniently beside her styling station. His buddies had feigned disgust as he told of how he’d looked on as she used a wooden spoon to fish a few of his freshly-shorn hairs from the steaming cauldron.

However, the abhorrence lasted only a few minutes, because when the noon hour rolled around, with mouths in full watering mode and bellies growling like angry lions, they’d all practically run to Miss Ethel’s place to purchase a fresh dish of yummy, slimy, and stinky chitterlings.

Miss Ethel definitely knew the way to a cop’s stomach, and their hearts. She also knew how to tickle their funny bones when it came to preparing porcine delicacies. Sure, the “pig thing” is offensive to cops, but they simply loved Miss Ethel’s cooking so much that they overlooked her quirky sense of humor …

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“Never fear, Ben, ’cause I. Aintskeert is here!” said the cocky newcomer to the firefight. He continued his attempts to calm his distraught partner while he pawed through the contents in the trunk of his patrol car. He shoved aside two shotguns, a sniper rifle, a stack of traffic cones, a lemon yellow raincoat, and a small cooler containing his lunch—two PP&Js, a bag of corn chips, and a large Zippy-Pop Orange Soda. Beneath those things was a black vinyl bag, the object for which he searched so diligently. He pulled out the container, set it on the pavement, and extracted its contents … a brand new Bullet-Proof Origami Shield.

Officer Aintskeert unfolded the shield and placed it between Knowsitall and the caveman-looking madman who was still lobbing .357 rounds in their direction. When a round pinged off the edge of Aintskeert’s left front fender, he, too, dove behind the flexible shield. Twenty minutes later SWAT arrived and terminated the threat. Well, the guy ran out of bullets and surrendered, but it sounded way “cooler” to say “terminated the threat,” right?

Okay, that was a bit goofy, but the origami shield is very real.

Designed by BYU engineers, the lightweight folding shield is made of 12 layers of Kevlar and is capable of stopping bullets from 9mm, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum pistols.

Here’s how it works.

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Simplicity is a must when on the receiving end of gunfire. Officers often have only one “shot” at getting it right!

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The new shield provides lightweight protection for one or multiple officers. The origami shield weighs only 55 lbs., whereas its metal counterparts could weigh as much as 100 lbs., or more. And, the latter does not offer as much coverage. For example …

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Author Lee Goldberg ~ 2016 Writers’ Police Academy. Notice that Lee’s lower legs are exposed to potential gunfire.

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Building Searches – 2012 Writers’ Police Academy. Once upstairs and prior to entering the condo to search for bad guys, WPA recruits learned how to effectively utilize the shields and their weapons while safely conducting the search.

 

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Transporting Those Pesky Prisoners

Years ago, when I first went to work for a sheriff’s office in Virginia, police procedure and equipment were quite a bit different than they are today. Yes, that was back in the day when my co-workers were Flintstone and Rubble and other Bedrock friends.

In those days, we didn’t have cages or partitions between the front and rear seats to separate us from the folks we’d arrested. The lack of that piece of equipment sometimes made things a little dicey, especially when the suspects were homicidal manics who got their thrills by spitting on the back of your head. Or better still, by head-butting the back of your skull with a forehead of steal steel. Once in a while we even encountered a little darlin’ who figured it best if he had control over over our sidearms, a desire that caused us to fight tooth and nail all the way to the jail, trying to keep our pistols inside our holsters instead of in the hands of … homicidal maniacs!

If the suspect was particularly unruly we’d call on another deputy to ride in the back seat with the slime bag, typically a sweetheart who, by this time in the process, had urinated and/or thrown up on the cloth seat. There’s nothing like wrestling with one hand, holding onto to your weapon with the other, all while rolling around in a puddle of warm, fresh body fluids.

Indeed, those were the days. Sigh …

Today, though, police cars are equipped with sturdy cages and partitions that prevent prisoners from assaulting officers during transport. Partitions also provide a little bit of a sound barrier between the front and rear compartments.

Believe me, there’s nothing like a nice Saturday night drive while listening to a drunk screaming obscenities at the top of their sweet little lungs. And, did you know there are people who have the power to cause the immediate dismissal of any officer who dares to arrest them? Yes, they’re out there and they’re quick to let you know they possess this unique ability. And they typically let you know about this remarkable power by screaming subtle niceties while their onion-dip-vomit–and-cheap-beer-smelling breath gently caresses your face.

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Of course, the violent kicking of the doors, windows, and cage, and the screaming, spitting, and peeing, combined with the constant barrage of blaring radio traffic, are just enough to ensure a safe and smooth and stress-free ride to the jail. This relaxing ambiance helps to settle an officer’s nerves after struggling for twenty minutes to handcuff the intoxicated violent wife-killing window-kicker.

Many police cars also feature hard plastic rear seats and drain plugs in the floor. These two features are worth their weight in gold. Now, officers can simply hose out the entire back seat, if needed (and you now know why).

Here’s a few tips for transporting prisoners:

1) Always search the prisoner before placing him in the patrol car. This includes a visual search of the inside of his mouth, a place where handcuff keys, drugs, etc. are easily hidden.

2) Always search the rear compartment of the patrol car before and after transporting a prisoner. The same is true before a shift begins and again when the shift ends. The reason is to locate any evidence/contraband so it can’t be blamed on someone who did not leave it there. They (arrestees) leave it behind so it won’t be discovered during booking (drugs, weapons, etc.). Of course, officers should find all items when searching suspects subsequent to arrest, but things happen. They’re human.

3) Prisoners should be handcuffed to the rear, and seat-belted once inside the car. (Seat-belting is not a term for beating someone with a nylon strap).

4) Adjust the rear view mirror to an angle that allows visual monitoring the prisoner. Some officers have installed a red, or other dim light bulb, in the dome fixture to illuminate the interior of the vehicle without affecting their ability to drive safely.

5) Always remain alert, especially at the end of the trip. Many prisoners make their move to escape when the officer opens the rear door.

6) One end of a thin strap (a hobble) can be attached to leg shackles and the other end closed in the car door. This reduces the prisoners movements. Some police vehicles are equipped with a metal eye hook in the floor. The hook is used to secure cuffs or leg irons to the vehicle. However, some department policy does not allow securing prisoners to a moving vehicle because they’d be unable to free themselves if the car crashed.

Sometimes, though, the rear compartments of police vehicles are used for purposes other than transporting criminals, such as transporting dignitaries to various meetings and other high-profile functions.

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