Imagine that you, the police detective, have arrived at the scene of a murder. Patrol officers, after their hurried, blue-light-and-wailing-siren response, immediately secured the area and have ten potential suspects standing by to speak with you. And that’s where you shine. You’re well-known for your abilities as an interrogator. But how exactly do you begin an interview or interrogation? What are your first words? How do you know they’ll be the right words?
Well, we all know that no two people are exactly alike, right? Therefore, the ten suspects most likely have stark differences in personalities, backgrounds, physical characteristics, habits, hobbies, and likes and dislikes.
Speaking of dislikes, you can safely assume that one of the more common hostilities will be an aversion of police officers. Yes, believe it or not, there are actually people out there who just don’t think too kindly of the men and women who wear badges and uniforms (What a surprise!). And, along with the basic hatred of the blue polyester clothing and shiny shoes comes a huge portion of distrust. I know … more surprising news, huh?
A good interviewer, though, finds ways around all that hatred and lack of trust. And, by possessing the remarkable ability to overcome those obstacles, professional interviewers/interrogators are nearly worth their weight in gold when it comes to crime-solving. How do they do it? Well, for starters, to be a really good interviewer one must be a fantastic listener. I’ll repeat that for the “motor-mouths” out there. A good interviewer must be a good listener. A Good Listener. Good listener. Listen. Shhhh ………… listen. Stop talking and what? Ah, there you go.
A savvy interviewer is also a human chameleon, a person who’s able to change tactics and topics as quickly as the suspect formulates and weaves new lies and new alibis. Good interviewers are also good actors.
The successful interviewer must possess the ability to detect subtle changes in a suspect’s voice, mannerisms, and attitude. The investigator must also know to never judge a person and their capabilities by his/her appearance. After all, criminals come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life.
This also works in reverse. Investigators should never assume the worst about someone. Shabby clothing and a disheveled appearance are not positive indictors of criminal behavior. Likes, a suit and tie are not solid indicators of successful and honest success. And this differences are part of why interviews and interrogation are often extremely important aspects of police investigations.
So let’s try a little exercise to see how you measure up as an interviewer. I think most of you will find that you’re already quite good at it, and you’ll soon see why.
The body of 26-year-old movie starlet Iona Porche was found in a walk-in closet, not far from the bathtub in her bedroom suite. She was quite dead, and most definitely squeaky clean and embarrassingly nude. Well, except for the bath towel draped across her right leg.
Iona Porche on the set of her hit movie “IRONY VII: Strange-Looking Man Kills All Bad Actors Who Take Showers and Then Walk into ‘That’ Dark Room.”
Ms. Porche’s personal assistant told you that she’d been concerned about the assortment of “weirdos” hanging around her boss in recent weeks. The assistant also stated that Ms. Porche was extremely naive, and that perhaps some of the odd folks had been taking advantage of her boss’s generosity.
The really odd thing, she’d said, was that she’d overheard Ms. Porche involved in what sounded like a bitter argument with at least two males and one female (it was, after all, difficult to make out the voices with her ear tightly pressed to the wall). And, for the life of her, the assistant couldn’t understand why on earth Ms. Porche would allow those people in the room with her while she was taking a bath. “That sort of thing should be kept private,” were her exact words.
After thanking the assistant for what was basically a gossip-fest, you begin the interviews of the ten suspects. You know it’s important to first establish that you’re in charge … but you’ve also got to make the suspect feel comfortable with you. In other words, you’ve got to be the boss while assuming the role of best friend, mother, father, brother, cousin, and even their drunk uncle, if that’s what it takes to solve the case.
Yes, good investigators must have the ability to “walk the walk and talk the talk.” Finding common ground can definitely help start the dialog flowing. In fact, it’s a must in most instances.
If the suspect is a green lizard-like man with horns, bumps under the skin where eyebrows should be, head to toe tattoos, and a forked tongue, then the good detective could possibly begin to build rapport by speaking about the silly Bugs Bunny tattoo he’d gotten on his right butt cheek after drinking one too many tequila shots the night of his twenty-first birthday. Doing so could be the ice-breaker needed to start the wagging of Mr. Lizard’s tongue.
Now, with a conversation underway, the detective can ease into the real purpose of the meeting by asking simple questions, such as, “How did you know the victim? Was she your friend? A lover? A co-worker?” The idea is to establish a connection between the victim and the suspect, if there is one.
Okay, you have the basic concept. So what could you say to this next suspect that could be the start of a trust-building conversation?
Did you offer him a soft drink and candy bar because his breath smelled like root beer and chocolate? Sure, that’s a start. And please do look for the little things, not just an overall survey of the property. What you probably wouldn’t want to say to the suspect is that you own a plaid cover for your motor home that’s practically the same size as his shirt. Besides, common courtesy goes a long way in police work, and in life in general. A badge is not a license to be mean.
How about this next suspect? How do you get inside his head? Hmm … maybe that was a poor choice of words, but you know what I mean.
A great ice-breaker could be telling him about your cousin Sammy “The Nose” who used to entertain the neighborhood kids by shoving sewer rats up his nostrils. And yes, it is okay to tell a fib at this stage of the game—“I used to have a pet snake who looked just like yours. I named him ‘Slim’ after my dad. His nickname was Slim Jim.”
All of this is solid and basic information for a police detective, but did you notice that it’s also a great tool that could help writers add depth and personality to their characters? Readers want a personal connection to the people who live inside your books. They want to know them. To know what makes them tick. Why do they do what they do? When do they do it? Is is a compulsion? Are they obsessed? And it is the writer’s job to deliver answers to those questions by allowing the reader to follow the characters as they travel their daily journeys throughout a normal and believable world.
So, try it for yourself. Have your characters “sit” in a chair across from you and then find that one big thing that defines them—the forked tongue or the candy bar and root beer. Then continue to question your “suspect” until you “know” them as a person. You’ll soon find that with each question comes another layer, until soon you have a very real but fictional character sitting across from you. Of course, you may want to do this when no one else is at home to avoid being carted off by the net-wielding folks who run Nervous Hospitals.
For now, you can practice your interviewing skills with this next potential suspect. Oh, I almost forgot, always remember to watch the eyes. They tell 70% of the suspect’s story. 10% is up to you. The other 20% lives in the imaginations of your readers. It’s up to you, though, to set those minds in motion.
Science is great, isn’t it. Especially if we want to set aside myth and learn the truth about something. After all, science is all about facts, right?
Proving something to be right or wrong is part of good science, and that’s why using sound fact-finding methods plays such a huge role in the truth-finding aspect of law enforcement. We absolutely need to know the truth about crimes and criminals before sending someone to prison for a portion of his/her life. Or, sentencing a person to death.
But, does law enforcement always rely on science to “get their man?” The answer is simple … no. Especially when it comes to police lineups.
The truth is, on one hand lineups are often not very accurate. On the other hand they are. Here’s why.
First of all, there are two basic types of police lineups, live and photo. Obviously, the live lineup is when eyewitnesses view a group of five or six people, hoping to pick the suspect from the group. Police use photos instead of live people when conducting a photo lineup.
Both lineup types contain subtypes—sequential lineups and simultaneous lineups. In simultaneous lineups, witnesses see all potential suspects at the same time, either in person or in photographs. In sequential lineups witnesses see the suspects one at a time, individually, or in individual photographs.
More than 75% of wrongful convictions of the first 183 DNA exonerations in the United States were caused by misidentification by eyewitnesses (American Judicature Society).
The least scientifically accurate lineup method is the simultaneous lineup, because human error and emotion is more likely to come into play. For example, when viewing a group of potential suspects at once, the witness may have a tendency to compare one person to another (relative judgement) instead of relying on their memory of specific details. The problem worsens if the actual suspect is not in the lineup, because the witness is apt to falsely choose a person who may only closely resemble the perpetrator of the crime in question.
Sequential lineups eliminate those scenarios. Instead, during sequential lineups witnesses must make a decision about each photo or person before moving on to the next (absolute judgement).
Another method to increase the accuracy of lineup outcomes is to have the lineup conducted by an officer who is not involved in the case, and does not know the identity of the perpetrator (a double-blind lineup). A double-blind lineup eliminates the possibility of an officer of inadvertently/unintentionally transmitting the correct response(s) to the witness (“Are you sure he’s the right one? What about THIS man?”).
Some things that affect the outcome of police lineups:
Telling the witness that the perpetrator “may or may not” be in the lineup reduces instances of mistaken identity.
Using people (fillers) in the lineup who are not close in size, shape, age, etc. to the perpetrator.
When the actual perpetrator is NOT in the lineup, the elderly and small children have a tendency to commit mistaken identities.
*Interestingly, people are much better at picking out faces (identifying) of people within their own own race.
“Tater” Jenkins done killed Uncle Billy Buck Robinson. Quick, call the law afor’in’ that son-of-a-biscuit-eatin’ coward gets clean away!”
And so it goes—Aunt Ruthie Mae runs next door to use Lula Belle’s rotary phone to call the police—four men and women of varies sizes and skin tones—who drop their newspapers and circular, creme-filled morning breakfast food and trot out to their cars to make the treacherous drive up Banjo Mountain. But not before stopping by the drive-through at Percy’s Pork Skin Palace to grab a sack lunch for the long trip. Along the way, they pass by mountain goats, a few deer, a limping beaver, and a cross-eyed bear.
The determined officers motor across three creeks and over a series of large logs used as a makeshift bridges over both Falling Car Gulch and the Killzemall River. Then, after stopping for lunch and seven breaks behind assorted species of trees (NOT an easy task for the two female officers), the patrol officers finally reach their destination, a grouping of six obviously homemade houses nestled into the hillside. Curb appeal was limited to crooked eaves, sagging beams, and lopsided stone chimneys that blew and belched smoke the color of squid ink. Several red-headed children ran to and fro, playing with a stick. Their dirt-smeared faces and arms were spattered with summer freckles.
A three-legged mutt lifted its head, slightly, when the police cars pulled to a stop, dragging clouds of white dust in their wakes.
A man with a single tooth sitting slightly askew in a mouth as dark as a cavern called out, “Over here, Five-Oh!” He shooed a few chickens from their new perches atop the forehead of one very blue and very cold Uncle Billy Buck Robinson. “He’s right here … the man, not the rooster.”
Later, the lead officer would include in her official report, a description of that remarkable tooth as “shaped exactly like the state of Delaware.” However, she omitted all references to the chickens, a decision that would come back to haunt her when a savvy defense attorney pointed out to the jury that the presence of chicken prints on the forehead of the deceased raised the possibility of “murder by rooster.” The jury agreed and “Tater” Jenkins walked away from the trial a free man. The rooster, however, was sentenced to community service. The hens, obviously brainwashed by their leader, were not charged, citing Stockholm Syndrome as their defense.
So, what really happens once patrol officers arrive on scene? Well, for starters, much of the above could be sort of true (minus the rooster serving community service). However …
Uniformed officers are normally the first police officers on the scene. It’s up to these front-line cops to take charge, calm the chaos, and make things safe for citizens in the area, EMS and firefighters, and for the arriving investigators, medical examiner, etc.
Sometimes, crime scenes are large and complicated; therefore, it may be necessary to set up a command post—a central location for coordinating police activities.
Many police departments use some sort of mobile command centers, such as converted motor homes and travel trailers. Some patrol supervisors drive vehicles designed to quickly transform into a fully functional command post.
This Oregon police sergeant drives a marked SUV that also serves as a command post during emergencies and crime scene investigations.
A command post could be, however, anything and anywhere—a local store, store parking lot, an officer’s patrol car, and so on.
Crime Scene Investigation facts:
Patrol officers often assist investigators/detectives with the recovery and collection of evidence.
Not all crime scene investigators are sworn police officers. Many police departments employ specially trained civilian crime scene investigators/technicians. Non-sworn crime scene investigators do not:
(As seen on TV)
interrogate or question suspects
participate in, or conduct autopsies
engage in foot of vehicle pursuits
handcuff criminal suspects (What goes on during their free time is of no concern to us. Unless, of course, you’re writing a scene involving hot, steamy … you know).
All police officers are trained to properly collect and preserve evidence. After all, sometimes detectives are unavailable; therefore, in those instances, uniformed officers assume the duty of investigating the crime.
A police sergeant assists a detective with the collection of a firearm.
Crime scenes may be as small as a single room, or they can be as large as several city blocks, or more. There are no set boundaries. Investigators on the scene make this determination, as needed.
The police are in charge of crime scenes. Coroners and medical examiners are in charge of the bodies of murder victims.
NOTE: Not all medical examiners and coroners show up at crime scenes. In those instances, EMS or a local funeral home typically transport the bodies to the morgue where the M.E. will have a look as soon as possible.
*As always, rules, policies, and procedures vary from area to area and agency to agency. If 100% accuracy is your goal then you make a quick phone call to the public information officer (POI) at your local police department. This is often the officer you see providing official updates on your evening news.
When is a police officer required to advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings? Well, I’ll give you a hint, it’s not like we see on television, and in many books. Surprised? Not me. After all, some authors still insist on writing about cops smelling cordite, or writing about a wonderfully-crafted and efficient pistol, but use the wrong ammunition in it. It’s lazy writing and it shows. AND, today’s readers know this stuff, and when they see those errors in your books, well, a writer’s credibility levels decline rapidly.
In fact, just yesterday a literary agent, one who believes in accuracy in novels, (one of my favorite agents) contacted me about a passage from a book he’d read. In the piece, the author described a character holding what he said was a .40 Glock Model 19. The character went on to tell his adversary to move away from his door or he’d “bust a cap in his his “a**.”
There are two things I see wrong with the brief scene. 1) The Glock model 19 is a 9mm, not a .40 cal. Totally wrong and not even close. 2) Next, who says “bust a cap in your a**?” Is that even a thing these days? The last I heard it was waaaaayy back when bellbottom pants, platform shoes, and disco balls were the rage. And it was the time when this song (below) was at the top of the charts. So no, it’s not a modern term. Sure, there are holdovers, like old-timers who call all soft drinks “Cokes” and are still waiting patiently for Elvis to climb out from behind the cheesecake in the refrigerator to take his rightful place on a Vegas stage.
… you know who you are …
Bust a Cap, the History
Bust a cap = to shoot someone … typically used in the 1960s and early 70s, and … However, the Extra Globe from 1839:
“On the 22nd instant about forty half and full blood Cherokee Indians came to the house of John Ridge, esq. a distinguished Cherokee, and just about daylight entered the chamber of Mr. Ridge unperceived by any of the family, and bursted a cap at his head, which awoke him, who then saw and felt his impending fate, no doubt, and called on his assailants for mercy.”
From a 1907 murder trial – “Dave Grant testified that’ between 11 and 12 o’clock, at Landon’s barber shop, he heard Henry Cooley say ‘he would bust a cap In somebody’s …”
John Wayne in a 1939 film, speaking of Bonnie Parker (Bonnie and Clyde) – “I hated to bust a cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down, but if it wouldn’t have been her, it would’ve been us.”
The “percussion cap,” introduced around 1830, was used to make muzzle-loading rifles fire reliably under any weather condition. (It replaced the flint.) The firearm’s hammer would strike the cap, which would ignite the gunpowder, which would expel the bullet. The percussion cap gave way to the primer in modern breechloaded (rear-loaded) firearms. The primer is attached to the back end of the cartridge. ~ Wikipedia
The only thing the author of the problematic Glock .40 cal./9mm left out of his book was that his steampunk .40/9mm rounds were crammed and jammed full of cordite. Now that would have completed a full circle of nonsense.
Cordite is gone, folks. Finished. Over. Done. The fat lady finished the final verse many years ago. They just don’t make the stuff anymore! Haven’t since the close of WWII.
Cordite rods and piece of round cardboard.
Left to right – casing, cordite rods, cardboard disc on top, and bullet.
Television depicts officers spouting off Miranda warnings the second they have someone in cuffs. Not so. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I chased a suspect, caught him, he resisted, and then we wound up on the ground fighting like street thugs while I struggled to apply handcuffs to his wrists. I can promise you I had a few words to say after I pulled the scuz to his feet, but “Miranda” wasn’t one of them. Too many letters. At that point, I could only think of words of the four -letter variety.
Two elements must be in place for the Miranda warning requirement to apply. The suspect must be in custody and he must be undergoing interrogation.
A suspect is in police custody if he’s under formal arrest or if his freedom has been restrained or denied to the extent that he feels as if he’s no longer free to leave.
This fellow is not free to leave.
Interrogation is not only asking questions, but any actions, words, or gestures used by an officer to elicit an incriminating response can be considered as an interrogation.
If these two elements are in place officers must advise a suspect of the Miranda warnings prior to questioning. If not, statements made by the suspect may not be used in court. Doesn’t mean the arrest isn’t good, just that his statements aren’t admissible.
Officers are not required to advise anyone of their rights if they’re not going to ask questions. Defendants are convicted all the time without ever hearing that sing-songy police officer’s poem, You have the right to…
Officers should repeat the Miranda warnings during each period of questioning. For example, during questioning officers decide to take a break for the night. They come back the next day to try again. They must advise the suspect of his rights again before resuming the questioning.
If an officer takes over questioning for another officer, she should repeat the warnings before asking her questions.
If a suspect asks for an attorney, officers may not ask any questions.
If a suspect agrees to answer questions, but decides to stop during the session and asks for an attorney, officers must stop the questioning.
Suspects who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs should not be questioned. Also, anyone who exhibits signs of withdrawl symptoms should not be questioned.
Officers should not question people who are seriously injured or ill.
People who are extremely upset or hysterical should not be questioned.
Officers may not threaten or make promises to elicit a confession.
Many officers carry a pre-printed Miranda warning card in their wallets. A National Sheriff’s Association membership card (same design and feel of a credit card) has the warnings printed on the reverse side.
Fact: The Miranda warning requirement stemmed from a case involving a man named Ernesto Miranda. Miranda killed a young woman in Arizona and was arrested for the crime. During questioning Miranda confessed to the slaying, but the police had failed to tell him he had the right to silence and that he could have an attorney present during the questioning. Miranda’s confession was ruled inadmissible; however, the court convicted him based on other evidence.
Miranda was released from prison after he served his sentence. Not long after his release he was killed during a bar fight.
His killer was advised of his rights according to the precedent setting case of Miranda v. Arizona. He chose to remain silent and, as a result jail officers confiscated this from him during booking …
* As always, laws, rules, regulations, policies, etc. vary from area to area. For total accuracy, please contact an expert within the department.
It’s almost here … Super Bowl LI. Patriots and the Falcons. Tom Brady and crew vs. Matt Ryan and company.
And lots of food and lots of ALCOHOL.
I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but please don’t drive drunk. Designate someone sober to drive. By the way, a designated driver should not ever be the guy who consumed the least number of vodka shots. A designated does NOT drink alcoholic beverages. Not even one.
Unfortunately, drunks still get behind the wheel and drunk drivers are still killing people.
Frito-Lay to the rescue!
Frito-Lay devised a unique means to help keep drunk drivers off the road this Super Bowl Sunday …
… a combination Tostitos/Breathalyzer bag that helps users know if they’ve consumed alcohol and, if so, they should find a designated driver to take them to their desired destinations (hopefully, home to a warm bed).
The concept is simple. Consumers blow into the bag (empty) and, if the logo turns from green to red (above), they should find a ride home. And, as a bonus, Frito-Lay is also offering a $10 Uber credit with the purchase of the “breathalyzer chips” to help offset the cost of the safe ride home.
Consumers blow into an empty Tostitos bag
Now, for reality. If you’ve reached the point where you find yourself blowing deeply into a bag of chips to determine whether or not you’ve consumed alcohol … well, you’re probably at the point where you have absolutely no business driving a car.
This is simple. Really, it is.
If you drink ANY amount of alcohol, DO NOT drive. Period.
I’ve responded to far too many crash scenes in my day, where human bodies were ripped, mangled, and torn apart, burned beyond recognition, decapitated, eviscerated, and/or crushed. And those were the dead bodies of small children. Of course, death is not shy. Adults are equally mangled in violent car crashes. So please, I urge you to please think about this before drinking and driving. Please. PLEASE.
Believe me, there’s nothing worse than having to inform someone that their spouse and child were killed.
This is a bit selfish, I suppose, but it’s my wish that no officer ever need to witness another crash scene. It’s horrible to process and to have stored in your memory. And it would break my heart to hear that one of you … well, you know.
So the next time your pull into a DUI checkpoint, you’ll have no worries, right?
By the way, good intentions, Frito-Lay, but consumers, please do NOT rely on a bag of chips to save your life or the life of another. Just do the right thing and don’t drive drunk!!