Fun Times: Testing for Blood, Semen, and Urine

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Television and film has ruined humans. Totally destroyed them. Hollywood turned what used to be upright-walking mammals with keen minds into people who believe cops can look at a bullet wound and immediately know what the shooter had for breakfast last Thursday. TV has turned our brains into boiling and roiling and festering soups of forensic mush.

Please, allow me to explain… Cops don’t taste suspected drugs. CSI folks do not rappel from skyscrapers to chase down a suspected serial killer (they collect evidence, not create it by falling 80 stories to the pavement below). And no, writers should never, ever use TV as a catchall research source. NOT EVER.

I know, TV portrays the job of CSI’s and forensic scientists as extremely glamorous and exciting. They show these characters driving cool cars and conducting fancy tests in darkened rooms, producing instant “aha” moments that lead to the immediate arrest of the dreaded three-headed-destroy-the-world boogeyman du jour.

Well, the reality is…and this is between us…that’s NOT reality. In fact, forensic scientists work in brightly lit labs and offices where they do this…

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Laboratory Testing of Suspected Blood Sample

  1. Moisten a cotton swab with distilled water and use it to gently rub suspected stain.
  2. Add one drop of ethanol.
  3. Add one drop of 1:5 dilution of phenolphthalein.
  4. Add one drop of 3% hydrogen peroxide.
  5. Note any color change. An immediate pink color is expected if blood is present.
  6. Add one drop of tetramethylbenzidine stock solution.
  7. Note any color change. An immediate blue-green color is expected if blood is present.

Time to interpret the results:

Positive for blood = Immediate pink color at step 5 followed by an immediate bluish-green color at step 7.

Negative results = no color change at steps 5 and 7.

Inconclusive = any results other than the above.

Laboratory Testing for Blood Using Luminol and/or BlueStar

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  1. In darkened conditions, spray suspected bloodstain with Luminol or Bluestar
  2. Areas containing blood will luminesce immediately. If not, the test result is negative. Weak luminescence is an inconclusive result that could be caused by the chemical contacting  copper, some bleaches and paints, plant matter (carrots for one) and even horseradish, all of which cause a reaction when exposed to luminal or BlueStar.

Toxicology

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A common misconception that’s often found in books and on TV and film is that toxicology tests return results for every known chemical, poison, and drug known to man. Not so. Testing is specific. For example, here are the more commonly “tested for” drugs based on a predetermined panel. Anything else is extra and must be specified. Otherwise it will remain as unknown. (Panels may vary depending upon laboratory policy).

Postmortem Tox Panel

Barbiturates Benzodiazepines Carisoprodol
Cocaine metabolite Fentanyl
Methadone Methamphetamine/MDMA

Uncontrolled

Opiates

Oxycodone/Oxymorphone

PCP

Zolpidem

Extra Panel

Amphetamine
Acetaminophen
Acetylsalicylic acid (salicylate)

Analytes run individually by request

Buprenorphine

Fun Forensics Facts

  1. Prior to testing material for the presence of semen, spermatozoa  must be extracted from the substrate. The process involves a spatula, a bit of teasing and soaking, a pair of tweezers, and a dissecting needle. You are free to use your imaginations.
  2. Tools used in the lab to detect the presence of urine – tweezers, litmus paper, scissors, a scalpel, and some corks. Again, let your imaginations take it from here.

 

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Shoot to Kill or to Wound? Here’s the Answer

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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 taught/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.

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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!

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4/20 Day: Are You Celebrating?

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Today is 4/20, the unofficial national holiday for pot smokers. It’s their birthday, Christmas, anniversary, Hanukkah, and kindergarten recess all “rolled” into one smoke-filled day.

The precise history of how April 20 became widely known as “National Weed Day” is not totally clear (surprising…not really). But the most popular notion is that in the early 1970’s a group of Marin County, Ca. students, known as the Waldos, met every year on 4-20 at 4:20. Next thing you know, 420 was the code word for smoking weed. High Times magazine picked it up and, well, the rest is a bit haaazzzyyyy.

So…

It’s Saturday night, Dark Side of the Moon is on the turntable, and bags of M&M’s and Doritos stand ready for…wait a minute. Before we go any further, to help set the proper mood you absolutely must click on the video and crank up the volume.
 

 
Okay, that’s better.

Now, if the previous mention of Pink Floyd and delicious snack foods took you back to the days of black light posters, Janis and Jimi, 8-track tape players, and spilled bong water, well, you already have some understanding of the mechanics of pot smoking. However, it’s a whole new world out there today and, as you know, in some states marijuana is approved to treat certain medical conditions, such as glaucoma, depression, and even cancer.

In other states recreational use of marijuana is absolutely legal. Well, it’s legal with the tiny exception that the federal government still classifies pot as having no medicinal value, which makes it a Schedule I drug—the worst of the worst along with heroin and LSD. Cocaine, interestingly, is a classification lower, a Schedule II drug. To be clear, this translates into the federal government saying that marijuana is, without a doubt, illegal.

Therefore at any time anyone is caught with marijuana in their possession, even when a state’s law says it is legal to do, federal agents could swoop down from one of those spiffy black helicopters and cart the evil pot smoker off to a secret federal prison where they’d spend the next 100 years working in a prison factory making Kevlar helmets or office furniture.

You, as writers and researchers, should know there are two main types of cannabis (marijuana)—Indica and Sativa.

Sativa plants are tall and loosely branched, with narrow leaves (leaf pictured above). Indica plants are short, densely branched, with wide leaves (the appearance is similar to the above photo, but the leaflets are much broader).

By the way, a marijuana leaf is a compound leaf, a leaf composed of individual leaflets. The top photo of the marijuana leaf shows a single leaf with seven individual leaflets (cannabis leaves will have between 5-9 leaflets with serrated edges).

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two main ingredients in the marijuana plant.

THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It’s the component that makes you high. CBD is non-psychoactive (CBD does not make you high) and is the ingredient that’s most attractive as a medicine. Both, however, are used in medical marijuana.

Uses of Medical Cannabis

Sativa is said to be uplifting, therefore it’s used to treat mild depression, social anxiety, ADD, fatigue, and migraines. It’s also thought by some that Sativa helps increase creativity. Sativa is best used during daytime hours.

Indica promises to be relaxing and calming and is used to treat conditions such as, anxiety and panic attacks, pain, glaucoma, muscle cramps, asthma, complications associated with AIDS, epilepsy, gastric disorders, MS, cerebral palsy, Crohn’s Disease, Fibromyalgia, and insomnia. Experts say Indica is best used at night.

There are numerous methods of consuming medical cannabis. For example, smoking, vaporizers, tinctures or tonics, topicals applied directly to the skin as a salve (for joint pain, etc.), and edibles, to name a few.

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Since most of you are probably familiar with pot smoking (you’ve at least heard about it…yeah, right), we’ll address edible cannibas and its many forms and products. Remember, cannibas edibles are not the meek and mild pot brownies of days long ago. Edibles today are much more potent.

Sure, it’s said that edibles do a great job of reducing anxiety and helping to induce deep, restful sleep without the medicated feeling that one experiences after consuming pharmaceutical medications. However, dosing of edible cannibas can be a hit or miss situation. The perfect amount for one person may not be right for another. Therefore, a bit of trial and error can come into play before a user/patient finds the correct size “bite/dose” that best suits their needs.

Of course, should you prefer to not purchase your 420 supplies readymade…

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…you could always prepare your own.

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420 has actually turned into a rather large deal, with big businesses capitalizing on the “holiday.” Companies such as General Mills (Totinos Pizza Rolls) erected huge billboards in Denver where marijuana use is legal (per state law, not federal) that read, “420 is Better on Pizza Rolls.” And another touting the pizza bites- “Stock Up B4/20.”

And let’s not forget Ben and Jerry’s “Half-Baked” ice cream.

Other popular 420 snack favorites include:

  • Funyuns
  • Andy Capps Hot Fries
  • Bacon Fried Oreos
  • Salt & Vinegar chips
  • In-N-Out’s Monkey Style Burger

But the award for totally weird goes to…

  • Spaghetti-Os Cupcakes with Velveeta Frosting and Goldfish Sprinkles

Finally, I certainly hope that last night, on 420 Eve, you left out a plate of pot brownies and a glass of milk for jolly old “you know who.”

WillieNelson

*Please know that I am not condoning or condemning anything. This article was meant to be both informative as well as a tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor. But, to be totally serious for a moment, if you do celebrate at anytime by consuming any intoxicating substance, please be responsible and DO NOT drive.

For help with substance abuse of any type –  www.samhsa.gov/find-help.

 

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Cop Speak: WTF Did He Say???

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I don’t know when it started, but it did and it is puzzling. After all, when did, “I got out of my car” become “I exited my vehicle.” And how is it that, “Are those donuts for Ralph and me?” is sometimes spoken as, “Are those donuts for myself and Ralph?” 

Cop Speak is a unique language that we’ve all heard from time to time, especially on television and film. We also hear officers speak in that that unusual manner during courtroom testimony, particularly when the officer who’s doing the testifying is in the early stages of their career.

Typically, the cop-speak eventually fades away quite a bit as time passes and as officers mellow with age and experience. It also tends to disappear as officers move on to other duties, such as those performed by detectives, CSI’s, etc. However, until cops somehow manage to bite their tongues and begin speaking in a a language understood by all, well, juries, judges, attorneys, and TV news-watchers will continue to mutter the universally-understood phrase, “WTF did he say?”

Again, I don’t have a clue how or when cops started speaking like robots from outer space. but they do and here’s a small sample of it along with accompanying translations.

  1. “I exited my vehicle.” Translation – I got out of my car.
  2. “I gave chase and pursued…” Translation – I ran after…
  3. “Be advised.” Translation – Listen to what I have to say.
  4. “I contacted the driver of the car.” Translation – I walked up to the car and spoke with the driver.
  5. “I detected the odor of…” Translation – I smelled pot and/or liquor, beer, dynamite, funky feet, flatulence (feel free to insert your favorite scent) in his car.
  6. “I surveilled said subject.” Translation – I watched that guy.
  7. “Myself and Officer Ralph Alsotalksfunny ascertained his location.” Translation – Ralph and I found the bad guy’s hideout.

Before moving on, let’s imagine for a moment that the officer who spoke the above phrases is in court testifying before a judge and jury, where he says…

“I surveilled said subject for one hour. I observed said subject stop his vehicle beside an unknown male subject at the corner of Syringe Street and BagoDope Boulevard. Said subject exchanged what appeared to be U.S. paper currency for a clear plastic bag containing a green leafy substance, at which time I activated my emergency equipment and effected a traffic stop.

I exited my vehicle and contacted the driver, Mr. I Didntdonuffin, a white male. I immediately detected the odor of an intoxicating substance. Based on my academy training in narcotics recognition, I believed the source of the odor to be marijuana.

I asked Mr. Didntdonuffin to exit his vehicle and when he did he fled the scene on foot. I gave chase and pursued said subject to the parking lot of Peggy Jean’s Cut and Curl and Pig’s Feet Emporium where I caught and restrained him using pain compliance techniques and two baton strikes to said subject’s right thigh area. I immediately notified dispatch of the situation. My radio traffic at the time went like this – ‘Be advised that I have said subject in custody at this time. Send rescue and a shift supervisor. Myself and said subject need medical attention. Ten-four?'”

Translation…

“I saw Mr. I. Didntdonuffin stop his car at the corner of Syringe Street and BagoDope Boulevard. A man walked up to his window and handed him a plastic bag containing what appeared to be marijuana. In return, Mr. Didntdonuffinthen handed the man some cash. I immediately switched on my blue lights and initiated a traffic stop.

When I walked up to Mr. Didntdonuffin’s car I smelled the odor of marijuana. I asked him to step out of the car so I could conduct an investigation. When he got out he ran away, but I was able to catch him when he tripped and fell in the parking lot of Peggy Jean’s Cut and Curl and Pig’s Feet Emporium. He began punching and kicking me so I used my baton to help gain control and then I applied handcuffs to his wrists. We’d both received a few cuts and bruises during the scuffle so I called for an ambulance crew and for my supervisor.”

Again, I don’t know how the odd cop speak started, or why, but it really should stop. Officers don’t talk like this when they’re engaged in normal conversation, so why switch to the weird stuff when in court or in front of a camera?

Anyway, here are a few additional words and phrases often used by cops.

  • Open Mic – Not to be confused with talent night at the local watering hole. A sometimes horrifyingly embarrassing experience that occurs when the button on an officer’s walk-talkie (“portable”) is accidentally keyed and sticks in the “talk” position, such as when the officer unsuspectingly leans against a seat belt buckle. LOTS of incriminating things are heard during these moments… “Yeah, I heard about the chief and the new dispatcher. Better than that I saw his car parked at the Sleazebucket Inn last night, and hers was parked across the street.” Cell phone rings. “Hey, you’ve got an open mic.” A pause. “Oh, s**t!”
  • Wants – Outstanding warrants. “Any wants on that guy?”
  • Negative – No. “Negative. The agent said my work was crap and that I should burn the manuscript, toss my computer into a fiery pit, and then drink a gallon of rat poison should I EVER think of trying to write again.”
  • Crotch Rocket – Lightweight motorcycle featuring the “leaned-over/hunched-over” seating style. These are the bikes often seen on YouTube videos where their riders are performing stunts and outrunning the police at super-high speeds while dangerously weaving in and out of traffic. “You’ve got a crotch rocket heading your way. I picked him up doing 140 when he passed me.”
  • Slick-top – A patrol car without a light bar on top. Typically, supervisor’s car. “There’s a slick-top parked in the alley beside Billy Buck’s Barber Shop and Snack Bar. I think he’s watching to see if we’re working or goofing off.”
  • Light Up – This one used to refer solely to activating emergency lights when initiating a traffic stop. Now it also applies to TASER use. Traffic stop – “Light ’em up as soon as he turns the next corner.”  TASER – “Stop hitting me in the head with that sledgehammer or I’m going light you up.”
  • Keyholder – Someone who’s responsible for a business. “Call the keyholder and ask them to come down to switch off the alarm. They’ll also need to take a look around to see what’s missing.”
  • Mopes – Stupid bad guys. Worthless lowlifes. “There are a couple of mopes hanging out behind the dumpster in the alley between Zippy’s Lunch and Frankie’s Wholesale Lizard Outlet. I think they’re smoking crack while figuring out how they can buy more.”
  • Hinky – Something’s not quite right. “I don’t know, man. I feel really hinky about this one.”
  • Alley Apple – Objects used to throw at police—bricks, rocks, metal, etc. “Watch out, they’re tossing alley apples from the roof of Tom Peeper’s Binoculars, Trench Coat, and Periscope Plaza.”
  • Ditch Doctor – An EMT or other ambulance crew member. “Looks like those arms and that leg belong to the guy over there. The ears, well, I’m not sure. The ditch doctors’ll sort it out while we direct traffic.”

~

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*I’m really enjoying The Graveyard Shift’s new look. The site’s ease of use is also wonderful.

There’s more on the way (something exciting!) and our website design guru is working behind the scenes to make it all come together. I wholeheartedly appreciate your patience during the transition. So thanks to Laideebug Digital for all the hard work. This was not an easy project. Oh, they also designed the brand new site for the Writers’ Police Academy.

By the way, due to a couple of unexpected emergency cancellations, we have those slots available for the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy. We have not yet advertised the openings because I wanted to give each of you and my loyal Facebook and Twitter followers a chance to scoop them up. Therefore…please hurry before they’re gone…again!

Also, the deadline to enter the Golden Donut Short Story Contest is approaching. The winner receives the coveted Golden Donut Award and a free registration to any 2017 Writers’ Police Academy event.

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Vinnie Hansen, winner of the 2015 Golden Donut Short Story Contest

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