Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Plate Readers, Jammers, and…Butt Bombs

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I follow a few online forums where writers post questions that are answered by a variety of professionals such as police officers, firefighters, physicians, explosives and poisons experts, etc. As a result, I often see popular cop-type questions pop up time and time again. So, I thought it might be a good idea to compile a few of those topics in one centralized location…here on this blog.


1. No, not every state in the U.S. allows the use of license plate readers. However, there is only one that does not…New Hampshire. I guess that means we cannot track Lisa Gardner’s every move. Well, maybe we can, thanks to Facebook. Yes, after a quick peek I see she will be in Oslo, Norway next week for Krimfestivalen, to promote Fritt Fall (Crash & Burn). Cool! See, I found her without using a plate reader.

Note: Politicians have repeatedly introduced bills that would require all states to permit the use of plate readers. So far New Hampshire has won their battle.

2. Writers, you can no longer get away with having your bad guys dye their hair to avoid having police positively ID them. Technology is currently available—Raman spectroscopy (SERS) with a portable Raman spectrometer—that allows investigators to instantly analyze hairs found at a crime scene. Not only does the technology confirm that hair dye was used as a coloring agent, it can also reveal the dye brand. In addition, the process is capable of detecting even minute amounts of drugs, explosive material, body fluids, and gunshot residue.

3. Yes, it is indeed possible to use signals (hundreds of them) from TV, WiFi, and cell phones to triangulate someone’s position. BAE Systems’ “system” even uses signals from GPS “jammers” to help perform the search, which is pretty darn unique since jammers are used by the enemy to hack and take control of drones and other sensitive equipment. No longer, though, thanks to BAE.

4. Believe it or not, scientists do have the capability of extracting bits of information from the human brain. Of course, at the present time the subject must be a willing participant in the process. I wonder if this could help me remember where I put the…wait, what were talking about??

5. Faking DNA evidence to throw police off the trail? Yes, it can be and has been done. Israeli scientists have proven they can fabricate samples of blood and saliva containing DNA from a person other than the person who actually donated the sample. Furthermore, the scientists say they could easily manipulate DNA databases, or construct a totally false crime scene that would implicate someone who’d never been there.

6. Al-Qaeda has distributed a 22-page manual on how to construct a “better butt bomb.” The explosive device is designed to be inserted into the rectum, which could avoid detection by airport screeners since that’s an area generally not probed by the agents.


– Cops are not trained to shoot hands, feet, fingers, toes, weapons from the hands of bad guys, or apples from the heads of, well, anyone. Instead, they’re taught to shoot the center of the largest target available (center mass). A large target is far easier to hit while moving (hands and feet are typically in motion during shooting incidents).

– Cops do NOT shoot to kill. When they shoot it’s to stop a threat.

– Police officers are NOT responsible for the outcome of Grand Jury proceedings. Their only involvement is to testify.

– Police officers have absolutely no authority to release someone from jail or prison. That act falls squarely on the shoulders of a prosecutor or judge. So the “revolving door” thing everyone complains about…it’s not cops who’re letting them out.

– Cordite…NO, NO, and NO! (unless you’re writing historical fiction).

PostHeaderIcon Murder Really Bugs Me…and so do stories that get it wrong!

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I was in Sacramento, Ca. last Saturday to present a workshop to the Capitol Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime. The room was packed, the audience was great, and we had a ton of fun discussing cops, bad guys and, of course, murder. Naturally I named my presentation…

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During the two-hour session we discussed things often found in books that aren’t always totally correct. Here’s a brief sample of the discussion.

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Do you know the answer? No? Well…

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For example, a man kills his business partner in their office. Then the killer drives to a nearby fast food restaurant where he tosses the murder weapon into the bushes near the parking lot.  A few minutes later a group of kids find the gun and call the police.

The office where the murder occurred is the scene of the crime, which is also a crime scene because evidence can be found there. The place where the weapon was located is a crime scene because evidence (the weapon) is there. But the wooded area at the fast food establishment is NOT the scene of a crime.

What about Homicide?

We see many media headlines that, by design, are intended for shock value, hoping to either attract readers or to ignite raw emotion. Papers and online news sources often use the word HOMICIDE to make every single death, especially one that’s at the hand of a police officer, seem as if the person has committed a premeditated and cold-blooded killing.


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Well, they’re not always the same. For example…

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That’s right, every single death that’s caused by another person is a homicide, including those listed above—state executions, when you’re defending your own life and your attacker is killed during the act, and even when a psycho-wacko serial killer grabs your child and you kill him while saving the person most precious to you. Yes, each of those deaths are homicides. Likewise, anytime a police officer kills someone during a shootout, while defending his life or the life of another, etc., he/she commits a homicide.

A homicide can most definitely be a legal act, and is, unless the act is unjustifiable or without a legitimate and reasonable excuse. An unjustifiable homicide is a MURDER, and murder is illegal.

A justifiable homicide is NOT an illegal act. So those “Coroner Rules Death A Homicide!!” headlines are nothing more than words used to have you click to read a story, or to incite some sort of emotion, because ALL killings of one person by another are HOMICIDES. Please do not take the media’s bait.

However, when a headline reads, “Police Charge H.E. Killder With Murder,” well, that’s a crime story you may find of interest, especially if H.E. Killder is the mayor of your town, or your family doctor.

Time of Death

Writers often ask questions about determining time of death. Here’s a quick-reference pocket guide your protagonist should keep handy. It, like most other methods, is not 100% on the money, but it provides a good starting point.

Obviously, Body Condition in the chart below refers to a dead body. Time Frame refers to hours after death.

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By the way, if your very-much-alive date is cold/not rigid then you can definitely expect to never, ever hear from her/him again. You should also strongly consider working on your people skills, dance moves, small talk, and/or bad breath.

Shoot/Don’t Shoot

I presented the SinC group with this scenario. You’re an officer who’s received a call and during your investigation you encounter this woman in an alley. You’re in uniform, your badge is shining brightly in the sunshine and, therefore, it’s totally obvious that you are a police officer. In the photo below, would the officer be justified to use deadly force? Should he shoot, or not?

What would you do, and why?

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