Archive for the ‘Police Procedure’ Category

PostHeaderIcon 10 Tips for the CSI in Your Life

Lee Child Marcia Clark shallow grave

Every crime scene investigator works from a checklist, even if it’s an imaginary one they’ve tucked away in a far corner of their mind. Their mental wheels are in constant movement—What do I collect first? Should I take a photo of that object? Fingerprint the light switches? Collect the creepy crawling things? And, those real-life Sherlocks, well, they leave no stones, sticks, boards, mattresses, carpets, or dead bodies unturned.

Writers, too, often operate from a mental checklist when crafting their tales. Hmm…did I mention both writer and mental in the same sentence? Was that a slip of the tongue. Is it possible that our brains are… Anyway, here’s a quick set of ten must-do tips for the CSI in your life.

1. Clear firearms before packaging. If the firearm is contaminated with blood and/or tissue, then mark the outside of the container with a biohazard label. No surprises for the lab tech! And whatever you do, do not package firearms in plastic containers/bags. Plastic can act as an incubator for bacteria, and you all know that bacteria can destroy DNA, right?

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Arrowhead Forensics photo

2. Collect a sampling of all maggot sizes. But the largest ones will be the ones that normally indicate the time of death.

3. If the dirt is moving, collect it. There’s a bug in there that could make your case.

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Entomology evidence collection kit – Arrowhead Forensics photo

4. Record the temperature at the scene. Certain insects grow at certain temperatures.

5. Don’t forget the small stuff! Paint chips, plant seeds, leaves, soil, broken glass, tiny scraps of paper, etc. Either of those items, or a combination, could play a crucial role in identifying a suspect.

6. Photograph, photograph, photograph! And then take a few more pictures. You can never have too many.

7. Take impressions of tire and tool marks. BUT, do take a photograph of the impression before you cast it in case something goes horribly wrong with the casting material.

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Arrowhead Forensics photo

8. Map the scene. Fortunately, this can now be done electronically. Unfortunately, not all agencies have that luxury, therefore a hand-drawn diagram will have to suffice. By the way, 2015 Writers’ Police Academy attendees will have the opportunity to see 3D Crime-Mapping in action!

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Arrowhead Forensics photo

9. Search, search, search, until your feet simply refuse to take another step. Then, you may want to consider crawling. Do not leave any evidence behind!

10. Take your time. Don’t rush!

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PostHeaderIcon As Seen On TV: Lies

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Many of you think I’m pretty hard on the TV show Castle. I’m not, really. I just use the show as a tool for teaching how “it’s” really done in the real world. Seeing the flaws in the show’s police procedure is a great way to learn the correct way to write about cops. Besides, it’s more fun to learn about stuffy procedures when you have Nathan Fillian and Stana Katic as visual aids.

But, there are other shows out there that have absolutely killed the way the public perceives police procedure and investigation (great title for a book, huh?).

So, let’s look at my top ten list of fictional facts that TV writers have gotten wrong for years.

10. Undercover officers must identify themselves if challenged by a criminal.

Not true. In fact, if this were indeed fact, there’d be no undercover operations. Every crook in the world would then simply ask the new guy, “Are you a cop?” The officer would then be forced to respond affirmatively, the deal would be over, and there’d be one less officer at the next Christmas party.

9. Officers must read a suspect his rights the moment he’s arrested.

No. Police officers are only required to advise bad guys of the Miranda warnings when they’re in custody and IF they’re going to question them. That gobblety-gook about spouting off the warnings the second the officer slaps on the cuffs is just that—gobblety-gook. Although, some departments may require their officers to do so at the time of arrest. But it’s not a law.

8. The law says all criminals must be allowed to use the phone.

No. Most departments have a policy that allows a phone call, but there are no laws that require it. In jail, the use of the telephone is a privilege. In fact, the telephone is used as a tool for disciplinary action. You screw up, they take your phone privileges. End of story. The same is true for family visits and shopping at the jail commissary. Those privileges may also be taken away.

7. You can be charged with obstruction of justice for not talking to the police.

No. You have the constitutional right not to incriminate yourself—the right to remain silent—because anything you say WILL be used against you. However, there are laws that require you to answer basic questions, like, “What is your name?” and “Where do you live?” I guess I should mention that you’re also required, by law, to tell the truth when answering those questions.

6. Police officers have the authority to order someone to remain in town while they conduct their investigation.

Nope. Without a signed order from a judge, police officers do not have the authority to enforce this demand.

5. Officers have the authority to make deals with criminal suspects, such as how much prison time they’ll receive if they cooperate.

No. Only a prosecutor or judge has the authority to offer a deal to criminal suspects.

4. Officers have the authority to “drop” charges on a suspect once he’s been formally charged.

Another NO. Only a judge or prosecutor may reduce or dismiss a defendant’s charges.

3. Officers can obtain a search warrant with simple phone call to a judge.

In most cases, a phone call, especially to a judge, won’t net you a search warrant. However, it is possible, especially in this day of electronic documentation. Typically, though, search warrants are signed by a judge or magistrate, which requires a face-to-face meeting and a raising-your-right-hand-swearing-to-the-facts sort of thing.

2. Most criminal cases are solved by the use of forensic science, such as DNA and fingerprints.

No. Most crimes are solved the old fashioned way, by knocking on doors and talking to people. DNA and fingerprints are rarely the smoking gun in criminal cases.

1. Police officers leave the scene of the crime with lights and sirens going full blast.

No. Officers use lights and sirens when heading TO the scene of a crime. Not when leaving. The use of emergency equipment is only permitted during an actual emergency. Once the bad guy is safely cuffed and stuffed in the rear of the patrol car the emergency is over and the lights go off. However, if the suspect is injured and requires medical care officers sometimes transport them to the hospital. They’ll use lights and siren in those instances.

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