I’m sure many of you of a certain age fondly recall thumbing through the latest Sears catalog, a printing large enough to be used as the cornerstone of a NYC high-rise. Inside were images of practically everything imaginable—coats, shirts, shoes, shotguns, furniture, cookware, bedding, and toys, and more toys, toys and toys. The catalog was definitely the source of many kid’s dreams and holiday and birthday wish lists.

Well, cops and other public safety officials had their own book of wish list items. For them, it was the Galls catalog that initiated dreams of shiny new doohickeys. There was page after page of boots, clothing, sparkling new handcuffs, badges, flashlights of all types, knives, pepper spray, duty belts, survival gear and, well, the array of the latest “toys” and cool things was practically endless. And secretly we salivated over nearly every item.

Today, it pleases me to introduce you Lauren Hoyt, a marketing specialist for Galls, the company behind the catalog of public safety items. Lauren generously offered to explain why police use different siren tones, instead of all using the same ear-splitting warning sounds. And yes, for less than the cost of attending most writers conferences, public safety agencies may even purchase a siren of their choosing by visiting the Galls online site. They offer a wide assortment.

And now, here’s Lauren Hoyt.

Have you ever wondered why the police car speeding past you keeps changing their siren tones? You’re not the only one.

You might think that one loud siren was enough to get your attention, but that might not be the case for other drivers and pedestrians around you. Depending on the circumstance, police officers choose siren tones based on what they think will work best in that situation.

Siren tones are arbitrary, and certain tones do not indicate specific emergencies. However, certain siren tones can be more advantageous for a police officer to use depending on the incident.

Types of Siren Sounds

Sirens consist of many different parts. Adjusting sirens’ amplifiers, circuits, modulators and oscillators (electronic currents that produce periodic signals) create many distinct tones and rhythmic patterns. These rhythmic patterns have many variations that can be controlled as well as their sound output, allowing pedestrians to differentiate between the type of oncoming emergency vehicles. Some of the most common siren tones include (click the links below to hear the siren sounds):

Wail: Say you’re driving on an open road when suddenly, you hear a speeding police car not too far off in the distance. You’re most likely hearing a wail siren tone, a pattern of slow, automatic increasing and decreasing frequencies.

Yelp: As that police car gets closer, you notice the sound has changed to a louder and more rapid tone. In many cases, the officer has switched out the wail siren tone for the yelp tone to alert you they’re quickly approaching.

Airhorn: If you somehow missed that yelp siren, you’ll get an unpleasant earful of the airhorn – a deep, low sound that’s much like a car horn, but 10 times louder. If you hear this siren, that means you really need to move out of the way. The airhorn tone is especially useful at intersections and can come out in short, medium or long bursts.

Piercer: In heavy traffic, you’re likely to hear the piercer tone, a pattern of short, high-pitch frequencies in a high-speed cycle. This siren has a much higher frequency and breaks through the noise of running cars, music and horns.

Howler: Have you ever been in a situation where you can hear and feel the vibrations of an incoming siren? It’s more common than you think. What you’re experiencing is the howler tone, a pattern of deep, low frequencies used in conjunction with another siren. It’s made as an added layer of warning that the driver can both hear and feel.

These are some of the most common examples of emergency vehicle siren tones, but there are many other tones from a variety of manufacturers.

Functions of the Police Siren

Some might think that police take advantage of their sirens to run red lights or get home quick, but that’s not the case. They use them to safely navigate traffic when an emergency or crime is occurring. Depending on the severity of the situation, one or more siren tones may be necessary to use. Some of these situations include:

Crime: Just the sound of a siren can deter a crime in progress. This not only scares the criminal away but also avoids a potentially dangerous situation where lives are on the line.

Traffic: When traffic is heavy, officers tend to alternate between sirens to make sure they are heard through the hustle and bustle of rush hour.

Traffic Violations: In the case of a minor traffic violation, such as running a red light or speeding, it’s common for officers to use one siren or just their police lights.

Multiple Cruisers: Some calls require multiple police officers on the scene. When units are near one another, each officer will use a different tone to alert drivers that there’s more than one incoming police vehicle.

Safety: In order to avoid dangerous collisions, officers will use both their lights and sirens – especially when going through intersections. Sirens also alert pedestrians when it’s not safe to cross the street until all incoming police cars have gone by.

What to do When You Hear an Emergency Siren

At the sound of an emergency siren, what do you do? Panic? Veer to the left while others veer to the right? No, this is a common mistake made by many drivers and is considered dangerous.

When you veer to the left, the emergency vehicle is forced to split through the middle of the lane. First responders don’t like having to do this because they run the risk of a car in the left lane pulling back to the right and possibly causing a collision.

When you see an emergency vehicle approaching from the rear, your best course of action is to safely pull to the right when you can and come to a full stop. By having everyone shift to the right, this clears the left lane and allows emergency vehicles to safely pass through.

Another error to avoid is running a red light. Some drivers will run a red light when they feel they’re in the way of the emergency vehicle. This is a very dangerous move that can endanger yourself and other drivers. It’s up to the first responder to find a way around you, so if you can find a way to move to the side without entering the intersection, that’s the best course of action.


Lauren Hoyt is a marketing specialist for Galls, LLC, a leading provider of police and public safety uniforms. For over 50 years, Galls has serviced the needs of America’s public safety professionals with a full range of duty gear and apparel from top brands, as well as uniform fittings and customizations.

*Photo credit – © Galls, LLC / Wood, Cameron US15

Ray Krone: Decade on death row

It’s my please to introduce you to Ray Krone, a man who served ten long years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Ray was … well, I think I’ll sit back and post Ray’s tale as he told it to me. The floor is yours, my friend.

Ray Krone

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Cheryl read a novel by Polly Iyer about a man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder, released, and then framed for a series of murders. As with all good fiction, there were elements of fact in this story. Polly’s description of the impact of wrongful convictions struck a chord with Cheryl, and she sent Polly an email saying so. That email started an exchange that led to me posting on this blog today.

My story isn’t much of a mystery, but it has twists and turns that wouldn’t make it past a fiction editor’s red pencil. Lee thought that it might be of interest to you, so here goes. I’m not a professional writer but I hope that I’ll be able to provide some useful insights into the ripples that result from sloppy police work, ineffective defense counsel, and overzealous prosecutors.

I won’t go into details about my life prior to my arrest and wrongful conviction. It was unremarkable as most lives are, except to the people who live them. I sang in the church choir, was a Boy Scout, and played team sports throughout my school years. I was never in any trouble, never even had detention in school. I grew up in a small town, joined the Air Force, and following my Honorable Discharge remained in Phoenix, AZ, my last duty station. I got a job with the United States Postal Service as a letter carrier.

Ray before his arrest for a crime he didn’t commit

At 35, I was single and living the good life. My salary allowed me to buy my own home and have lots of big boy toys—sand rail, Corvette, swimming pool. I had a loving family back in PA, and loyal friends all over the country. Little did I know that I was about to find out just how important those people were.

I’d always enjoyed team sports, and still do. A bar in my neighborhood sponsored volleyball and dart teams, and I played on both. On December 29, 1991, the owner found his night manager, Kim Ancona, on the men’s room floor. She’d been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. A co-worker told police detectives Kim had said someone named Ray was going to help her close up that night. I had a casual acquaintance with this woman, and knew her only as a bartender and occasional dart player. She was living with a man and as far as I was concerned, that was as good as married and made her off-limits.

Detectives found my name and phone number in her address book and came to see me. It’s important to note at this point that my name and phone number were not in my handwriting or in Kim’s. How they got there remains a mystery to this day. I was questioned by the Phoenix Police, and cooperated—until I realized they were trying to pin this murder on me.  The legal wrangling is public record—you can Google my name and read countless stories about my case.

Being the one hundredth person to be wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die, only to be found factually innocent after spending years on Death Row and in prison, put me on the radar of a society that was beginning to question the value of capital punishment. My conviction was based solely on bite mark evidence. Because I refused to show remorse for a crime I didn’t commit, I was sentenced to death. After almost three years on Death Row, I was granted a new trial. I was again convicted, and sentenced to 23 years for the kidnapping, and 25 years to life for the murder. Only a random series of events would free me. Court-ordered DNA would finally free me and identify the real killer. I spent a total of ten years, three months and eight days in prison for something I didn’t do. I was 35 when arrested and 45 when I was exonerated.

Ray as an inmate at Arizona State Prison in Yuma

The life events that other people take for granted were stolen from me, and no amount of money, sympathy or accolades will ever give me a chance to experience them. They are gone forever. Am I bitter? I try not to be—the family and friends who stood by me have helped me adjust and appreciate what I do have. I try not to focus on what I’ve been denied in this life, but what I’ve been given. I’ve learned the hardest way possible the true meaning of “you find out who your friends are.” Despite the love and support of friends and family, I still have moments when I feel rage at what happened to me, even after more than ten years of freedom.

Billboard on I-83 in Harrisburg, Pa.

There have been millions of words written and hundreds of television shows about the impact on men and women who were sentenced to die for a crime they didn’t commit. There are well-documented studies about innocent men and women who were executed in the name of justice. There are other victims of a legal system that penalizes the poor and rewards prosecutors for conviction rates without examining the accuracy of those convictions.  Not just the families of the wrongfully convicted, who often lose what little they have in the defense of their loved ones, but the families of the original victim, the new victims created by the guilty party who remains free, their families, the jurors who are denied access to all of the evidence in a case. The list goes on and on—I misspoke when I called it a ripple—it’s a tsunami, wreaking havoc and destruction, and in many cases, is preventable.

I’m part of a nationally-known group called Witness to Innocence. We have only one membership requirement, but it’s a tough one. You must have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die for a crime which you did not commit. Although many of us are unable to speak publicly about what happened to us, many others find it therapeutic to do so. We have spoken in front of groups ranging from high school students to Congress to the United Nations. We share our experiences at law schools, forensics conventions and gatherings of legal professionals—anywhere that telling our stories will help provide insight, and hopefully inspiration.

The Witness to Innocence photo above is of only some of the members. Left to right: Ray Krone, Albert Burrell, Kirk Bloodsworth, Gary Drinkard, Randy Steidl, Ron Keine, Delbert Tibbs and Derek Jamison. Each of these men (and our one female member, Sabrina Porter) have stories that defy belief, as do all of the members.

I’m honored to have been invited to address the readers of this blog. For more information about Witness to Innocence, stories of exoneration or speaker’s schedules, please visit www.witnesstoinnocence.org


I’d like to say thanks to Ray for sharing his story with us here on The Graveyard Shift. As a former police detective who witnessed an execution via electric chair, well, I’m at a loss for words when I think of the possibility that an innocent person could die such a violent death at the hand of the government. Supposedly, the death penalty is carried out in the name of justice. I wonder, though, how many innocent people have been put to death based on human error? One is far too many, right?

Perhaps, though, Jerry Givens, a former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia—the man who executed the serial killer I saw put to death—best put it into perspective when he said, “If I execute an innocent person, I’m no better than the people on death row.”

Givens, after executing 62 people, now strongly opposes the death penalty.


Bite-mark Evidence. Just Say NO!

Not so long ago, within the past few years, the Presidents  Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) announced that forensic bite-mark evidence is not scientifically valid, nor is it likely to ever be validated. In other words, bite-mark evidence is simply more junk science and the reasons are many. for example, skin may slip and move during decomposition, skin and flesh are not stable material—may not hold a precise pattern, etc. Patterns and injuries are also open to human interpretation, which is sometimes unreliable as it’s based on opinion, not fact.

Writers should not use bite-mark evidence in their stories, UNLESS they’re using it to create tension by falsely arresting and/or convicting a potentially innocent character.


 

Attention!

I am pleased to announce that Ray Krone will present his story at the 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. Ray will discuss his case, the now-known-to-be-faulty bite-mark evidence that was used to convict him and others, exonerations through DNA, and what it was like to spend 10 years serving time on on death row, waiting to be put to death.

Ray’s is a story filled with compelling detail and emotion. It’s life-changing. It’s the precise kind of information writers need to add those extra and intricate bits of information to their tales.

Registration for this one of kind experience opens in February, 2020. Event details are coming very soon! Believe me, the workshops are amazing.

Space is limited so please register early!

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

Police officers put themselves in harm’s way, repeatedly, over the entire length of their careers. It’s the nature of the job. A typical day can include serving and protecting the public, dealing with civil unrest, and even having to face man-made and natural disasters. Most police officers prefer to live in a city that minimizes their personal risk of injury in the line of duty, that pays a good wage, and where the typical officer’s workload is reasonable.

Analysts at Safety.com have studied nearly 300 cities and regions across the nation to find the top 20 cities for police officers in 2019.


Key Takeaways

The coast of the United States accounts for less than 10 percent of the country’s land mass, yet it is home to nearly 40 percent of the population, some 55.8 million people. [28] With a few exceptions, coastal or near-coastal regions offer police the best career opportunities. For those not interested in living near the coast, three regions offer favorable alternatives …

To continue reading Sam Carson’s full article, please visit him at …

2019’s Top Cities for Police Officers


Sam Carson handles community relations and content creation for Safety.com. Sam previously worked in the telecommunications industry and has over two years of experience. He’s now bringing his home services expertise to the home security industry with a goal of helping families secure what matters most.

Safety.com is a trusted hub of information about your home and family’s safety that provides a good customer experience through in-depth research, reviews and recommendations from industry experts to educate consumers on home safety products and give customers the power of choice when securing what matters most.”



Tickets are selling fast!

Please do hurry to reserve your place at this exciting one-of-a-kind opportunity for writers, readers, and fans. It’s never been done before and most likely will not occur again.

This is your chance to attend the actual hands-on classes taught to some of the best homicide investigators in the world, with all sessions taught by renowned instructors and experts.

This is not a citizens academy nor is it a collection the typically run-of-the-mill classes offered at so many writer events. In fact, even the Writers’ Police Academy, the premier law enforcement training event for writers, has not presented this extremely high level of intense and detailed instruction. Yes, MurderCon is that good.

This is as close as it gets to investigating an actual murder

This year we’ve gone over the top by carefully and painstakingly designing and offering a never-before-available opportunity for writers, readers, and fans. It’s the ultimate homicide investigation training event.

To sweeten the pot, immensely, we’ve arranged to host this event at the very source of much of the equipment, tools, and techniques utilized by homicide detectives …

SIRCHIE

You all know the importance of setting in your books, right?

For example, when your protagonists use Supergluing tactics to develop latent prints …

MurderCon attendees will work and train in the very setting where the fuming chambers were developed, brought to life, and then manufactured. Fingerprinting powders and brushes? Designed and made there too. Fingerprinting powders of all types, and there are many. Check. DNA testing? Check. Alternate light sources and RUVIS technology? Check. Evidence collection tools and kits and methods. Check. Buried body investigations. Check. Bloodstain patterns? Check, and some of the best investigators in the business teach those classes at the remote Sirchie compound just outside of Raleigh, N.C.

This seemingly endless list of top investigation education goes on and on and on. And you, non-law enforcement outsiders, have the rarest of rare opportunities to train there, at Sirchie, the global leader in crime scene investigation and forensic science solutions.

Imagine your senses being activated in ways they’ve not been in the past. That’s what’s going to happen at MurderCon, you know.

After MurderCon you’ll have the added knowledge of the very real odors associated with buried body and arson scenes.

Your eyes, ears, fingers and hands and noses and emotions will finally be able to join in with the writing of your next murder scene, because you’ll have had first-hand experience instead of relying on something you’ve read or heard someone say.

What you can expect upon graduating from MurderCon

A Fantastic Value!!!!

Browse Sirchie’s training schedule and you’ll see many of the sensational classes offered at MurderCon. Then peek at the cost of those sessions and you’ll quickly discover what a fantastic value it is to attend MurderCon.

MurderCon registration—the low fee of just $425—covers all classes, lunches, transportation to and from Sirchie, and more. Sirchie’s fee to attend, for example, just two classes—Clandestine Grave Search and Recovery and Arson Investigation for Law Enforcement—is just under $800. That’s the cost to attend only two of their outstanding classes (an extremely low fee for law enforcement, by the way).

MurderCon attendees have the opportunity to attend FIFTEEN different classes for nearly the same price as it would be to attend two at Sirchie.

What. A. Huge. Deal. For. YOU!

Sign up today at …

MurderCon Registration

 

I’m celebrating the June 5 release of PICKED OFF, the 2nd humorous Brie Hooker Mystery, with a drawing for a FREE Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) registration. You can enter the drawing anytime from noon (EST) May 15 to noon June 9. Rafflecopter will randomly draw the winner: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/92ed2c4c1/ 

 

So why this giveaway?  I dedicated PICKED OFF to my Writers’ Police Academy “family.” Since I started attending the annual WPA six years ago, each mystery/thriller I’ve written includes insights, inspiration and information gleaned at the Academy. Though PICKED OFF is a cozy mystery, it’s no exception. The WPA inspired its exciting drone chase and other scenes. (Want to read it? Here are e-book pre-order links: https://www.henerypress.com/author-lovely-linda ) 

This August will be my sixth WPA—five as volunteer staff. The WPA is a fabulous resource for anyone who writes or reads mysteries, thrillers or suspense. It’s the WPA’s 10th anniversary and Lee Lofland has pulled out all the stops to make it the best ever. As usual, it will be held at a real, internationally-accredited police academy. Instructors are the same folks who train law enforcement and EMS pros. WPA attendees can choose from dozens of courses and High-Intensity Training (HIT) hands-on training options that offer insight into the emotions law enforcement professionals experience in stressful encounters. Emotions you can share on the page to make your characters more real. 

For example, in Shoot-Don’t-Shoot scenarios, I had to make split-second decisions on whether I should fire my gun, knowing my action or inaction could cost lives. On a mock SWAT raid to clear a building, my adrenaline pumped knowing an armed suspect could lurk behind any corner.  

I’ve asked questions of a former Secret Service agent, an undercover cop, a psychologist who’s interviewed some of the scariest serial killers ever caught, plus experts in bioterrorism, gang violence, constitutional law…and the list goes on. To see the full WPA schedule for 2018, click on this link: www.writerspoliceacademy.com  

The 2018 WPA will be held in Green Bay, Wisconsin, from August 9-12. My FREE registration prize does not include hotel or travel.


To learn more about Linda Lovely and her books, please visit her at www.lindalovely.com

It meant a bunch of greedy banks did too much borrowing and had too little capital until they were all about to collapse and the government bailed them out because Congress only cares about the fat-cat friends who make campaign contributions, right?

Not quite that simple. To begin with, when is a bank not a bank?

A commercial bank is where we average people have our savings and checking and maybe get a car loan or a mortgage. The spread between what the banks pays us in interest on our accounts and what it takes in in interest from our loans is the bank’s net interest income. Deposits are insured by the FDIC and the bank is regulated by either the Office of Comptroller of the Currency or the Federal Reserve (the banks can choose). Of the ‘bailout banks,’ JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are commercial banks.

An investment bank doesn’t offer a checking account but does offer underwriting, investment products like bonds, stocks and derivatives, facilitating mergers and other corporate reorganizations, and also acting as a broker for institutional clients. Some commercial banks, such as Citibank and JPMorgan Chase, also have investment banking divisions. Investment banks are regulated by the Securities Exchange Commission, which is an enforcement agency, not a regulatory one. Of the ‘bailout banks,’ Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs were investment banks.

The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 prevented banks and depository institutions from underwriting securities, in order to safeguard customers’ deposits. But the lines blurred over the years and Congress essentially repealed this act in 1999.

A bank holding company usually own banks but doesn’t operate them, especially smaller banks. The advantage to this arrangement is increased flexibility in raising capital. These are regulated by the Fed. Of the bailouts, Citigroup is a bank holding company.

The ‘bailout bank’s group also included outliers like AIG, which as an insurance company wasn’t regulated by any financial regulator, and two clearing and settlement banks, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street Corporation. Then there was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, overseen by the Federal Housing Oversight Office, which also bought mortgages from banks, packaged them into securities and sold them to investors. The agencies made mortgages easier to get for lower-income home buyers, a goal encouraged by White Houses of both parties. However these securities were not guaranteed by the government, though everyone behaved as if they were and they were quite profitable until stock prices began to fall.

What does all this mean to us average joes? Only that there was no one government agency responsible for overseeing the maelstrom that eventually degenerated into the 2008 financial crisis. There was no one group of regulators asleep at the switch or one board of directors scheming to take over the world.

The banks weren’t too big—they were too interconnected. They had gotten too dependent on ‘overnight financing,’ short-term lending with which banks would supplement their insured deposits. When the collateral, such as subprime mortgage securities, began to wobble, everyone tried to pull their cards out before the whole house fell, and then, of course, there was no house at all. Investors shied away from any type of credit product, even credit cards and auto loans, which were perfectly stable areas. Credit is the oil that keeps the engine of an economy moving, and when banks stopped lending to anyone, even each other, the engine seized. At this point, housing prices had fallen only four percent, and yet a panic ensued that lost us 6.2 million jobs in ten months between 2008 and 2009.

Enough, you’re thinking. What has been done now to make sure this won’t happen again?

Regulation has been firmed up. Merrill Lynch was bought by Bank of America and changed from being an investment bank to strictly a wealth management firm. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley changed from being investment banks to being bank holding companies, bringing them under Fed regulation instead of SEC monitoring.

All institutions have tougher capital and liquidity requirements, meaning they have to have enough money on hand to avoid the overextensions that made them unstable. Legal tools have been established to take over and dismantle failing banks so that they neither fail nor require a bailout. Bailout loans made to the banks have been paid back with interest. (The Fed’s annual profit goes to the Treasury, where it reduces the national deficit.) Some of the ‘bailout banks’ didn’t even need the loans, but had to take them—otherwise the banks which need help would look even worse to investors.

Does this mean we’re all good and the future will always look rosy? I am not a pessimist by nature, but I wouldn’t let my guard down. The Dodd-Frank bill vs. the Choice Act battle staggers on. But remember we’ve survived the Savings & Loan crisis, junk bonds, the dot-com bubble, and now the worst financial crisis not only since the Great Depression but ever. I think we’ll continue to, even if when it comes to money, there will always be another trick up the human collective’s sleeve, another tent of cards to add to the stack.


Lisa Black has spent over twenty years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into six languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s list and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

 

 

 

 

 

www.lisa-black.com

@LisaBlackAuthor

In 1892, the small mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts, was shaken to its core by the hatchet murders of a prominent citizen, Andrew Borden, and his wife Abby. His daughter (Abby’s stepdaughter) Lizzie Borden was accused of the murders and stood trial a year later. She was acquitted, but the intervening century and a quarter have seen many people convinced of her guilt.

If she was guilty, one of the things that helped her mightily was the way the crime scene was treated. No yellow tape protected the integrity of the scene. A photographer confronted with the body of Mrs. Borden, half hidden by the bed she crawled under to escape the hatchet, simply pulled her out and rearranged her to get a full-body image. No images were taken of the exact position in which she lay.

Curious neighbors felt free to walk through the home and view the corpses. Lizzie, her sister, her uncle, and a friend spent the next few nights in the home where they could have easily tampered with evidence or hidden a weapon better. (The bodies rested in the dining room at least one night until taken away). Officers were posted outside, but no one kept a firm eye on Lizzie. Several days after the murders, she burned one of her dresses in the kitchen stove. Whether covered in blood or not, the dress was part of an active crime scene.

In the trial transcripts, we find proof of what a circus the crime scene was. Witness Thomas Barlow testified that he and a friend went to the Borden house as soon as they’d heard about the murders. They tried to get inside, but weren’t allowed in. So instead, they went to the backyard barn. Lizzie claimed the barn loft as part of her alibi, so this again was an active part of the scene that was not protected as it should have been.

Here’s Barlow:

“Went into the barn and right up to the hayloft. Looked out the west window, then looked in under the hay, and then came downstairs and went out (he and his friend were looking for the murderer!)…Went to the south side of the house; tried to look in window. There were several people looking in the windows.”

Barlow said he stayed at the house, milling around the yard, until dinnertime. He went home to eat and returned to the Borden house, where he stood in the street until midnight.

He and his friend were only boys, which perhaps explains why they couldn’t gain admittance to the house, unlike hundreds of others who gamely tromped through the house. The Borden home is very close to the street, so undoubtedly Lizzie and other family members were well aware of the hooting townspeople clustered on the street watching and waiting for anything worth seeing.

There are so many ways in which the police department didn’t effectively secure the crime scene. An officer admitted that the attic was not searched. Other than maid Bridget Sullivan’s bedroom and another chamber, the attic was basically a wide open space filled with boxes and trunks—the perfect place to hide a weapon. Nor was the kitchen searched, nor the cupboard from which Lizzie plucked the dress she burned. It seems the “female” or “servant” areas were not considered worthy of examination.

A spool of yellow tape could’ve gone a long way for this case.


If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, Erika has several Murderer’s Maid events taking place this weekend. In particular, you might enjoy the launch at the (haunted) Pardee Home Museum, 6-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, 672 11th Street. A rare chance to tour the home after sundown, plus a slideshow of the Borden house (where Erika spent the night last year) and wine, refreshments and book signing. Ticketed event: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3101152?date=1790973


Erika Mailman

Erika Mailman is the author of The Murderer’s Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel, as well as several other historical novels. Visit www.erikamailman.com.

My protagonist is former police detective turned college writing professor. (Hey, we have to have some stuff in common!) Because I share her disabling hearing loss but not her police experience, the Writer’s Police Academy is the perfect place to put myself in my character’s shoes.

I know TV is not the place to learn correct police procedure and even the best authors can make mistakes. Writers need to learn as much as they can so they write about police procedure correctly.

So what did I learn?

1. Police gear is heavy, bulky, and hot (and sometimes smelly).

Yup, it looks cool, but it’s bulky and heavy. Notice that that duty belt is mostly empty. It needs extra ammo, a night stick, extra handcuffs, extra pouches of miscellaneous stuff (like medical gloves and tourniquet), etc. These make the belt so bulky you can’t comfortably lean back in a chair or car seat – and female officers have to take the belt off to go to the bathroom. (Ask Tami Hoag about that.)

And it’s HOT. In the photo I’m comfortably dressed in shorts and t-shirt. In her patrol officer days, my protagonist would have worn long pants and a uniform shirt over that t-shirt and vest. Did I mention how hot that would be? The vest doesn’t breathe well so you sweat more. That means your t-shirt, vest, and even your uniform shirt become sweaty in no time.

Now imagine how hard it is to get in and out of a patrol car in all that gear, without snagging it on the seat belt, steering wheel, car door, etc. It impedes other movement too, like chasing bad guys and tying your shoes.

The equipment changes your stance, too. The first couple hours I wore a duty belt, I was busy trying to figure out what to do with my arms. I ended up putting my hands on my hips or resting them on the duty belt. Now I understand why some people find the cop stance threatening or intimidating.

2. But wait, there’s more!

(Photo by Angi Morgan)

In some situations, officers carry a Break Out Bag (BOB) with extra gear. That way if they’re stuck in a stand-off they have extra ammo, snacks, water, first aid stuff, cargo straps for hauling injured office to safety, and any extra equipment they might need. In this photo Matt Ninham is showing just a few things from that BOB: a mirror on a stick, a selfie stick (for looking in attics, etc.), a pry bar, first aid gear, etc. The BOB is carried on the officer’s non-weapon side. Yup, even more added weight. My protagonist definitely does her push-ups and weight lifting.

3. There’s MUCH more to training than you might think.

Need to use your night stick to get a suspect to back up? Don’t aim for the head!

(Photo by Annette Dashofy)

When searching a building for an armed suspect, can you walk quietly and safely using a roll-step? Communicate silently with your fellow officers? Go though doorways without whacking your weapon, duty belt, etc., on the doorframe? It’s a good thing my protagonist knows this stuff!

That doorframe probably has marks from my weapon and duty belt whacking it. The bad guys would definitely hear me coming.

Can you anticipate an attack?

This was an example of how fast a suspect could draw a knife and kill an armed officer.

Writers Police Academy 2017 Knife Vs. Gun

It’s one thing to read about that on The Graveyard Shift; seeing it in action is an eye-opening experience.

This was also a good example of other skills my protagonist needs, like dealing with Emotionally Disturbed Persons (EDPs) and having a basic understanding of languages used by local populations (like Spanish in Green Bay). Hmm, what language does my protagonist need to learn?

4. Practice, practice, practice.

I thought hitting a target on a shooting range meant I was a good shot. During Shoot/Don’t Shoot training I learned that hitting a moving target is NOTHING like hitting a stationary target at a range.

I also learned that If my life depended on drawing a Glock from the holster on a training duty belt, I’d probably die. Officers have to practice drawing their weapon tens of thousands of times so they can do it quickly and smoothly when their lives depend on it.

Shoot/Don’t Shoot training really gave me insight into what a shooting situation feels like. I knew it was just a training scenario and that I was completely safe but I felt my heart rate increase when the countdown started. (“Your scenario will begin in 5 seconds… 4…. 3…” Yikes!) In my second scenario I even experienced the stress-induced slow-motion effect. It was like the bad guy reaching for that revolver was moving underwater. (Too bad for him that all but one of my shots hit center mass.) I was so focused on being ready to shoot that I forgot all the other things I should have done like speak, move, and take cover. This give me a lot more to work with when I have to imagine what my protagonist is experiencing in a shooting situation.

5. So much to learn, so little time to learn it.

WPA is only four days. I’d love it if it were at least two day longer so I could take all the sessions. Here’s a smattering of what learned in the sessions I haven’t mentioned yet:

  • Handcuffing another student is much easier than handcuffing a training dummy.
  • Tasers don’t cause convulsions, drooling, or any of the other amusing affects seen on TV or in books. They do cause muscle stiffness and involuntary screaming but not permanent harm.
  • TASER stands for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle. (How cool is that?!)
  • You can leave behind touch DNA (from sweat and skin cells).
  • You can leave fingerprints behind even when using latex gloves. (Who knew?!)
  • Fingerprints can be recovered from the sticky side of duct tape, even if when two sticky sides stuck to each other.
  • Bad guys are more likely to give up when they see police dogs, even when the human cops are visibly armed.

I learned so much more about procedure, mind set of cops, interview and interrogation, etc. than I could possible describe in one short blog post.

After thinking about all I learned at WPA and how little I have in common with my protagonist, I’m now working on making her a more realistic, well-developed character. It’s working, too. For the first time, I feel like my character is telling me things I need to know about her, like what her name really is (which is not the name I chose for her).  Either I’m starting to get the hang of this writer thing or I’m becoming an EDP – and I have WPA to thank for it. I can hardly wait for next year!



Cathy is a college writing instructor at the University of Michigan-Flint. In her copious spare time she’s working on her first mystery novel and enjoys attending mystery writing conferences and the WPA. She can be reached at cathyaj@icloud or cakers@umflint.edu.

Police and Reporter Relationships

Relationships between Cops and Reporters

In this hectic digital age where editors don’t have time to wait for confirmation lest another outlet beats them to the finish line of a glowing tablet screen, reporters can no longer buy the neighborhood flatfoot a cup of coffee to get the inside scoop on whether Mrs. McGillicuddy offed her old man or whether the lush really did ‘accidentally’ fall out of his bedroom window.

Now, a reporter has to hustle to keep up with the bloggers and the 24 hour cable shows, do anything he or she can to win the few moments of a customer’s attention from an overwhelming amount of other options … and nothing gets attention more than fear. Your kid’s school bus may have bad brakes, your diet soda may be poisoning you, terrorist cells are operating in nice neighborhoods just like yours, and somebody shot somebody else two blocks from where you work. So while the cops are trying to assure the locals they’re responsible for that things are fine, nothing to see so let’s move it along, the news media is trying to convince every single hard-working, tax-paying, mouse-clicking viewer that the exact opposite is true.

Venice_Police_Station,_ca.1920But it didn’t used to be that way. Back in the first half of the last century, reporters and cops had much more interactive working habits. From roughly the 1930’s to the 1950’s were the golden years of newspapers and bosses like Hearst and Pulitzer had deeper pockets than the local constabulary. Reporters were not tasked with rules of evidence and could mislead, con and flat-out impersonate in order to get witnesses to talk. They could then trade this information with the cops to get other information; thus the cops received tips they might not have otherwise. Reporters wanted a scoop and cops, especially the higher-ups, liked to strike an Elliott Ness pose in the papers.

Reporters had many advantages over the cops—they didn’t punch a time clock and could work irregular hours for a boss who wasn’t above paying a witness for their story. Afterwards they’d be happy to turn the information over to the cops, and even hold back part of it if the investigation required it—provided they eventually got to scoop their rivals. A city became a trading floor of information, with each side working the other to their advantage. There would be toes trod on and feelings of annoyance, but the next day the bell would ring and it would all begin again.

Investigative Reporting is on the Decline

When did this change? Hard to say. Rules in all lines of work have tightened, so perhaps cops are no longer so comfortable with spilling a tip over a cup of joe. Certainly the deep pockets have disappeared. Revenues from newspapers and other media plummeted over the same decades in which owners and shareholders came to expect higher profits. And as one of my reporter characters tells us, “You know what is first to get the ax? Investigative reporting.

reporterIt’s the least cost-effective type of content in any newspaper—any news outlet, period. Editors and producers can pump months of salary, overtime and expenses into a topic and then it doesn’t pan out. They never get a usable story—wasted money, in their eyes. Corporations hate to waste money that could be going into shareholder dividends instead.” The period of mutual cooperation has given way to a leaner, meaner, more desperate milieu.

And in that cauldron of pressure forensic scientist Maggie and homicide detective Jack have to solve a series of murders for which, this time, Jack is not responsible.

So far.

Lisa Black

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Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

 

 

 

 

Unpunished

www.lisa-black.com

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Jack Renner is a vigilante, I suppose, in the strict definition of the word, but I don’t think of him like that. He is more a serial killer who believes he is working on the side of the angels, except that unlike serial killers he is not deranged and derives no pleasure from killing. He doesn’t go after those who have personally affected him and he doesn’t sneer How do you like it, punk? as he dispatches them. To him it’s purely a matter of practicality. He empathizes with his victims to a certain extent—the world is a rough place and turns innocent children into snarling brutes with regularity. So he ends their life the way a responsible farmer might regretfully shoot a rabid fox.

vigilante patch

Being a responsible author, I researched the subject of vigilantism for my book That Darkness—or at least tried to. I read books on topics ranging from the history and progression of superhero comic books to books on prison reform. I couldn’t find—anywhere–a real life example of a Paul Kersey, the character Charles Bronson famously played in the movie Death Wish. Cases such as Bernard Goetz and George Zimmerman don’t count for my purposes, since they acted only when they felt personally threatened whereas Jack Renner believes his actions are not remotely personal. Whether he’s lying to himself or not is a question for a therapist.

Thus I discovered that very little is known of vigilantes. They might be tremendously popular in fiction, but in real life they’re as rare no-calorie snacks that actually taste good. Most known ‘vigilantes’ are groups of people who monitor and prevent—Guardian Angels, Minutemen, the neighborhood watch.

guardian angels

Most people join these groups because they think it’s the right thing to do, a way to protect their own and give back to a society they value. Often they stick with these groups because they reflect their vision of manhood, the strong protector, the stoic sentry; it’s a way to feel virtuous about feeling potent. They don’t, of course, actually kill anyone. On the other hand most serial killers kill people because they think it’s jolly good fun and don’t give a damn for the betterment of society.

Vigilante films, if perhaps not actual vigilantes, came out of the 1970s when crime was skyrocketing (or at least growing—crime rates actually peaked in the ‘90s but the ‘70s retain this aura of chaotic lawlessness) and the police were seen as having been hamstrung by new civil rights laws such as the 1966 Miranda ruling. Feeling scared and frustrated are familiar themes in today’s world. Cops are frustrated because attorneys plead or dismiss cases that represent weeks or months of work. Attorneys are frustrated because juries want DNA and a confession written in blood before they’ll convict or exonerate. Citizens are because we have huge prisons but innocent people still get convicted and the guilty aren’t always caught. Lowlifes are because they keep getting picked up on the same piddling stuff while white collar criminals spend a few years in Club Fed. Kids are because they think adults should have figured all this stuff out by now and adults are because they think kids are never going to put down the PS3 and get off the couch. Everybody’s frustrated.

And out of this frustration, novels are born.

The question in my particular novel, of course, is what Jack will do when confronted by a fox who isn’t rabid? A fox like, say, forensic specialist Maggie Gardiner, a strong, smart, quite law-abiding woman who has discovered his pattern and begins to follow it, right up to his door.

Jack won’t stop…but neither will Maggie.

that darkness cover

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Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

When Lee asked me if I would do a guest blog entry for him and this fabulous site, I jumped at the opportunity. I figured that not only would it be a lot of fun, it would also be an opportunity to give readers a little bit of an insight into the mind of a publishing industry insider, and in the process, maybe pass along a little useful advice.

As a literary agent who represents a fair amount of both fiction and nonfiction that often deals with police procedure, crime scene investigation, and forensics—and as a reader obsessed with the genre—I often find fairly glaring errors in writers’ descriptions of the way things happen in the real world.

Here’s the question—Does it matter? Is it going to harm your chances of getting your book published if you don’t dot every “I” and cross every “T” when it comes to ensuring the accuracy of your work?

The answer: yeah, probably.

Here’s why. Publishing, to a large extent is a gigantic numbers game. Top literary agents get besieged by submissions. I would say that, on average, great agents get anywhere between 250 and 500 query letters a week. That’s a lot of letters. 500 query letters a week times four weeks in a month equals 2000 queries in a month. 2000 queries in a month times 12 months in a year equals 24,000 queries in a year.

And remember—it’s not a literary agent’s job to read query letters. An agent’s job is to sell books for his or her clients. To the extent we read query letters at all, it’s only when we have extra time, and there’s room on our client lists. Some agents like me will only sign one or two new clients a year. So when we’re looking for a needle in a haystack, we don’t have much time to spend on writers who aren’t experts in their subject.

Here’s a dirty little secret about the way I (and most of the other people in the publishing industry) read material from people we don’t have a preexisting professional relationship with, whether it’s query letters, sample chapters, or an entire manuscript from a client we’re considering taking on.

Basically, we read until we CAN stop—and then we do.

So, if your initial letter to us has a typo in the first line, that’s easy. Pass. And onto query number 12,467.

The same goes for technical details. I can’t tell you how many writers have their studly main characters using their thumb to “flip the safety off” on their Glock 17 before wasting a bad guy or “breaking open” a “Mossberg pump-action” shotgun to reload it.

glock171.jpg

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These are just the mistakes that *I* catch. I’m hardly a firearms expert; I shudder to think how many errors I *don’t* see that people who read this blog shake their heads over.

So how can you use this phenomenon to your advantage?

Well, readers of crime fiction like to feel smart. To the extent that you can debunk closely-held myths in the course of your writing, agents, editors, and ultimately readers will love it. If you can tell readers how things REALLY happen—as opposed to the way they look on TV, it will give your work a feeling of authenticity that’s often missing in crime fiction (and nonfiction.)

So—here’s my challenge to you, faithful blog readers. When you read crime fiction, what are your pet peeves? What do writers get wrong? What are the most glaring errors you’ve seen? Who are the most egregious offenders?

Scott Hoffman

FOLIO Literary Management, LLC

www.foliolit.com

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A refugee from the world of politics, Scott Hoffman is one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management, LLC. Prior to starting Folio, Scott was at PMA Literary and Film Management, Inc.

He has served as Vice-chairman of the Board of Directors of SEARAC (the only nationwide advocacy agency for Southeast Asian-Americans), a Board Member of Fill Their Shelves, Inc. (a charitable foundation that provides books to children in sub-Saharan Africa) and a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Associates Steering Committee.

Before entering the world of publishing, he was one of the founding partners of Janus-Merritt Strategies, a Washington, DC strategic consulting firm. He holds an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and a BA from the College of William and Mary.

*This article is a Throwback Thursday repost from 2008.