Ready on the left? Ready on the right? Ready on the firing line. Commence firing!

Those words, or something similar, are heard by officers all over the country as they attend their annual mandated firearms qualification. Yes, at least once or twice each year all officers receive word to report to the range to qualify with their duty weapons.

Many officers, for the first time since the last mandatory qualification, pull out their handy-dandy gun cleaning kits to spruce up their sidearms. Then, with pistols all clean, shiny, and properly oiled, a few begin to feel a bit of anxiety creeping up. Suppose I don’t qualify? What happens if my scores aren’t high enough? You know, my eyesight is a bit weaker since last year. What if I miss the entire target? Will I lose my job?

Well, those are worries that should never arise because officers should be required, or at least encouraged to shoot more often. Practice by repetition is the key to firearms proficiency. Budget woes should never affect or stand in the way of an officer’s ability to defend himself/herself.

However, ammunition and training time are often one of the first things to go when funds grow tight. But that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’ll probably remain. So cops deal with what they have, which sometimes isn’t much.

Firearms In-Service Training

Some departments do little more than have their officers line up on the range, wait for the command to fire, and then blast away at stationary paper targets, hoping they’ll punch enough holes in them so they can pass the minimum qualification requirements. Then they call it quits until the next year. Short, sweet, and cheap. But is that enough to survive in today’s increasingly dangerous world? No, it’s not.

How Many and What Kind of Attacks?

Each year the FBI collects data regarding the number of law enforcement officers who were assaulted during that particular 12-month period. For example, In 2018, from the 546,247 officers working for a total of 11,788 law enforcement agencies across the U.S., a whopping 58,866 officers were assaulted while performing their duties. To break it down a bit further, that’s 10.8 officers assaulted per 100 sworn officers.

Attacks With Injuries Received

  • 24.7 percent of the officers who received injuries in 2018 were attacked with hands, fists, or feet (personal weapons).
  • 8.4 percent of the officers were attacked by persons wielding knives or other edged weapons.
  • 6.1 percent of officers were attacked with firearms.
  • 16.0 percent of the attacks on officers who were carried out by subjects using weapons other than those listed above.

In the years from 2009-2018, 9,857 were injured by edged weapons, 439,719 by personal weapons, and 80,692 were injured by suspects who used “other” dangerous weapons to carry out attacks. During the same time period 21,954 officers were injured by firearms.

Many of the over 21,000 officers who were victims of firearm attacks were killed during shootouts with armed suspects, NOT in gun battles with stationary paper targets.

Now, I’m not saying those officers weren’t properly trained. Nor am I suggesting they didn’t respond appropriately to the threats to their lives. Not at all. Sometimes you do everything right and the worst still happens. What I am offering is that there are numerous techniques and tactics that could and should be taught to each and every officer. Things that could help them in the field.

Classroom time is great, and necessary, and goodness knows there’s a mountain of wonderful books and research material available.

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Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide for Writers, is a how-to, behind the scenes book designed especially for writers. The book can be found in public schools and university libraries all across the world, on the shelves and desks of thousands of writers, including many top, bestselling authors, on the nightstands of fans of police TV shows and people who’re interested in learning about police officers and procedures, in police departments, police academies, and more.

Book “learnin'” is great, however, it’s a must to incorporate hands-on exercises into police training whenever possible. This is also why the Writers’ Police Academy came into being—so that writers can experience the same training as what’s offered to and required of police officers and investigators.

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International bestselling author Tami Hoag, Writers’ Police Academy 2016.

As I stated earlier, officers learn some skills best through repetition, and it’s the “over and over again” training that helps officers learn to react almost instinctively to various threats and situations. Then, when/if those events present themselves, officers will revert to their training and react appropriately.

Therefore, it is an absolute must that officers spend at least some time training under “threat” situations. After all, suspects on the street are simply not going to stand perfectly still with their hands hanging at their sides so that officers can squeeze off 50 or 60 rounds at them. So why should officers train as if they’re going to someday face a one-dimensional faceless paper bank robber?

Believe me, facing a live person who’s shooting at you is far different than shooting at an ink-blotted paper rectangle. Everything changes when a human suspect pulls the trigger, sending a bullet toward your head. Your brain has to suddenly shift from “it’s only a paper target (paper-man, or flat-man, syndrome)” to HOLY S**T HE’S TRYING TO KILL ME! mode.

Sure, some practicing with stationary targets is necessary. That’s how cops learn the basics. But what else could they do to better prepare themselves for the real bad guys?

Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter, Writers’ Police Academy 2015 – Firearms Simulator Training

1. Shoot in low light situations. Not all firefights are going to happen at noon. In fact, many, if not most shooting situations occur at night. So why practice all shooting in the bright sunshine? And practice shooting while holding a flashlight!

2. Tactical reloading. Spend lots of time practicing reloading while under fire (pretend of course). When performing reloading drills, officers should practice discarding/dropping the empty magazine. You do not want your hands full, trying to reload while bullets zip by your head. However, when/if possible, shooters should place the empty magazine where it’s easily accessible for future reloading, if necessary.

3. Practice shooting while using various objects as cover. The practice will then come naturally when in the field. Always use cover!

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4. Officers should  always face their target (never turn their backs on the shooter!). However, some departments have the officers first shoot from closer ranges (5 or 7 yards), and then when they’re finished at that distance they turn around and casually walk back to the next firing point. NO! They should back up to the next point. This instills the habit of always facing their aggressor.

5. Strong and weak hand shooting. Always, always, always practice shooting with either hand. The possibility of entering into a firefight with an injured strong hand is always a possibility. If it does, officers certainly want to be able to at least hold, point, and shoot their firearms with some degree of accuracy.

6. Practice shooting at moving targets. Bad guys do not stand still. Neither do cops when they’re in a firefight. So why always practice shooting at stationary objects? I cannot stress this point enough.

7. Spend time on firearms training simulators. Simulators are great tools for preparing officers for real-life scenarios. They’re also great for pointing out weaknesses in stressful situations. I’d rather correct my errors in a classroom, not after I’ve caught a couple of rounds to my torso.

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Firearms simulations training, Writers’ Police Academy 2010.

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International bestselling author Lee Child and, to his left, world-renowned forensic anthropologist Elizabeth Murray—firearms simulator training, Writers’ Police Academy 2012. Th shooter to Lee’s right is Dr. Murray’s sister.

Finally, and this is to the officers out there, practice, practice, practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition! What you do during training is what you’ll do on the street. I guarantee it. So even if your department doesn’t offer extra time on the range, you do what it takes to find somewhere to practice shooting. Your life may soon depend on your ability to use your weapon effectively.

Be safe! Your lives matter to a lot of people.

A cry for help

“I’m going to kill both of you, and then I’m going to blow my brains out, right here!”

Philadelphia had the ball and were one score away from winning the game against Washington. It wasn’t that I was a big fan of either team but I’d watched the game from the opening kickoff, therefore I had a good deal of time invested in watching and I wanted to see it through.

“Sit. Down!”

There it was again. That voice. One of our kids must’ve had their tv volume turned to high. If it continued I’d have to speak to whichever teen culprit was hard at work damaging their young eardrums.

It was somewhere just shy of halftime when I’d kicked off my shoes, popped a bowl of popcorn, and poured myself into the couch. Denene occupied the end of the sofa on the opposite side of the container, and occasionally our hands met at mid-bowl.

I’d been working on a  particularly pesky case and my day had been long and it felt as if I’d walked a million steps and had questioned as many suspects and witnesses. Therefore, a night in front of the TV with my wonderful wife, with no thoughts of murder, guns, and wacked-out suspects, had been a most welcome thought. Until, that is, I once again heard the voice, the one I hadn’t been positively sure I heard the first two times.

“Sit your ass down so I can get this over with.”

Now I was certain  that “the voice” was coming from someone on the outside of our home and not from a blaring television speaker. And, before I could get to the window to see who it was that felt to yell and scream and disrupt the entire neighborhood during Monday night football, and why they were doing so, the living room curtains came alive with winking and flashing blue lights.

This, in MY neighborhood. My quiet and peaceful southern quintessential neighborhood with large, gnarly and stately oak trees , a lazy river that ambled and snaked its way behind the homes on our side of the street, a small country-style church with an A-frame tin roof and tall steeple, and residents who took the time to stop whatever they were doing to smile and wave at passersby. It, by golly, was a neighborhood where baker Jason “Honey, the cow done gone and laid an egg in your molasses patch” Smith would feel right at home.

“Put down the gun! Put it down now!”

I parted the curtains and peered outside. Our normally quiet street was littered with several marked patrol cars parked at various angles. Their strobes flickered and fluttered, with side-mounted spotlight beams stretching from each car until they all came together at the front porch of our across-the-street neighbors, an elderly couple who spent a great deal of their days there rocking and sipping iced tea from Mason jars that most likely once held vegetables from the meticulously maintained garden in their backyard.

I stepped out onto our front porch to have a better view of the goings-on. Yes, I, too, had become a member of the the looky-loo club, the folks who worm and squirm their bodies into position for a peek at whatever action that attracted the men and women who maintain absolute control of the “blue lights.” But I had to see. The force pulled my attention to the action. Besides, it was kind of nice watching the events unfold without being a part of it. Had I been involved I would have been the ranking officer and charge of the scene would have fallen to me. So I watched, standing in the cool fall air, wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and no shoes.

Uniformed officers  positioned themselves, as they should, behind their vehicles. Youngsters, the entire lot of them. One, a young rookie who’s haircut had the still-fresh buzz-cut look of an academy recruit, held a position at the rear of his car. A female officer who stood no taller than five-feet when wearing a pair of Bates tactical boots, had one foot inside an open car door with the other planted on the pavement behind an angled front tire. She used the space where the door met the car as a prop for her weapon. The expression on her face was a serious one.

Other officers were scattered about, willy-nilly, with one using an in-car microphone to bark out orders to the armed man who, at that point, paced the porch like a caged circus lion. His white-haired mother sobbed while his frail father rambled on about not having any money to give, especially to supply a drug habit.

“Put down the gun!”

The standoff went on for a while,—too long, actually—before I decided to stick my nose in it. I’d arrested the across-my-street gunman a couple of times in the past, mostly for minor crimes to support his drug habit. I knew him and he knew me. It was a start and that’s a place where we often begin … a start.

I walked across our front lawn (shoeless) and then out onto the street where a couple of the officers recognized me. I’d taught them officer survival and defensive tactics during their time at the training academy. I asked one of them to use their radio to let the others know I was there and planned to contact the subject. In other words, DO NOT SHOOT THE OLD GUY FROM ACROSS THE STREET.

I began my move by first calling out to the gunman from a position that was away from his parents. He turned to face me, with the gun, a .357 revolver, down at his side. I took a step out into the light so he could see me, and what a sight that must’ve been—t-shirt, running shorts, no shoes, and…that’s when I realized I had not grabbed a weapon when I left the house. I was unarmed. What a D.U.M.B.A.S.S. thing to do. And here I was, the veteran who taught officer survival tactics to other officers. This stupid move was more like officer suicide. Absolutely in sharp contrast to all rules, regulations, training, and above all … common sense.

I started talking to the young man. “Donnie (not his real name), how can I help you tonight?”

“Nobody can help me this time, Detective.” Good, he recognized me.

“I don’t know about that, Donnie. Tell me what’s bugging you and we’ll go from there.”

I moved a bit closer to the porch. Twenty feet to go. His face was peppered with beads of perspiration, in spite of the chilly night air, and his eyes were wide, wet, glossy, and rimmed in red. He constantly licked at his lips, and used his non gun hand to pick and scratch and rub the opposite arm.

“It’s going to stop tonight. I’m tired of it! Everything. All of it.” he yelled.” Tears leaked from his eyes and eased down his cheeks until they fell one by one to the concrete floor.

A few more steps. Five feet to the porch deck. Another six or so to where he stood. I tried not to look directly at the gun.

“If you’re tired of it (I was sort of certain he meant the drug addiction) let’s sit down and talk about it. I may have the answers you need. I think I can help.”

His finger slid into the trigger guard. His shoulders trembled. The slow trickle of tears had morphed into rivers. He glanced toward the street and then back toward his parents. I had to move, so I walked toward him. “Donnie, let’s talk. But first I’ll need the gun.”

The silence was deafening. The only sounds I remember were the faint clicking of the light mechanisms on the patrol cars as they controlled the flashes spins, and whirls, and that of my heart as it thumped against the inner wall of my chest.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Whir, spins, blink, wink.

Thump, thump, thump.

I held out my hand as I walked (faster now).

He took a step back, but stopped and slowly began to raise  the hand holding the handgun.

There was no turning back at this point, so I continued my forward march.

Donnie raised his hand and turned the gun backward, handing me the butt end. It was over and I felt myself exhale. Officers ran to the porch to escort Donnie’s parents inside. EMS personnel followed them into the house where they tended to the distraught couple.

I remained outside where Donnie and I sat on a porch swing. We talked for quite a while before patrol officers handcuffed him and then led him to one of their cars.

A magistrate committed Donnie to a temporary stay in a psych unit where he was evaluated and released after a few days. He was charged for the incident at his parents’ house but the same magistrate saw no reason to hold him in jail, so Donnie was released on a PR bond.

Two weeks later I was working a controlled drug buy and heard a call come across my radio about an unconscious man lying among the leaves in the wooded area next to a trailer park. I was nearby so drove over to see if I could help out. It was Donnie, and he was not breathing and he had no pulse. I started CPR and, to my surprise, he came to after only a few minutes (seemed like hours to me). EMS arrived and whisked Donnie off to the hospital. Doctors told me he’d overdosed but would be fine in a few days.

I stopped in to see Donnie one afternoon and sat beside his bed for an hour or so. We chatted between bouts of his crying and forgiveness-begging. I wished him well and told him to call when he was released and I’d see to it that he received help for his addiction. As I headed to the door a couple of nurses playfully teased us about the “sexy” lip-lock Donnie and shared during the CPR. He laughed and I took his good spirits as a sign of better days to come.

Two weeks later another radio call came in about a possible overdose. This one was at Donnie’s apartment. I flipped on my blue lights and siren headed over. When I arrived on-scene, the lack of urgency on the part of the officers and EMS workers told me all I needed to know.

After a chat with the EMS folks and M.E., I got back in my car and drove to the house across the street from ours. The walk from the street to the front door was an extremely long one, and when the door opened and the faces of Donnie’s parents appeared, well … you know.

1030 hours.

Radio transmission – Theft from jewelry store. Items taken – two diamond rings with value exceeding $10,000.

Subsequent Traffic Stop

Weather – Sunny. 84 degrees.

Probable Cause for stop – Vehicle matched description provided by jewelry store owner. Plates – out of state. Unknown numbers/lettering.

Weapon(s) involved – Taurus .380 recovered from beneath driver’s seat. Fully loaded with spare magazine in small cloth bag. No weapons used in connection with the crime.

The Case

My partner and I were pros at playing good cop/bad cop. In fact, we were the go-to guys for eliciting confessions. But these two, the man and woman suspected of taking two expensive diamond rings from a local jewelry store, were also pros. In their line of work—stealing and con games—they were some of the best in the business and their racket was an old one. They’d pretend to shop for engagement rings. She tried on several, asking to see first one then another and then back to this one and then the other and so on and so on until the clerk has an assortment of sparkly bling scattered about the glass countertop like a spattering of snowflakes on a frozen lake surface, much like the winter wonderland appearance of our backyard this morning.

Their goal, of course, was to confuse the clerk so that they could pocket a few gems and then make their getaway after not seeing the “perfect” ring, bracelet, or necklace. It worked. When the frustrated clerk/owner returned the collection of items to their respective spots in the cases, she noticed two valuable rings were missing. So were the two “customers.”

The responding uniformed officers asked for a description of the pair of thieves, but the owner simply couldn’t offer any solid details. They’d so thoroughly confused her that all she could remember was that one was male and the other was female. She was able to recall their race and that both wore nice clothing … she thought.

However, she wasn’t sure if it was the man wore a blue shirt or if it was the woman whose top was blue. She was confident the man had on khaki pants, though. No doubt about that detail. She was also certain about the description of the getaway car—it was a dark colored vehicle with out of state plates. Not sure which state, just not the familiar blue lettering on white background of Virginia plates.

For the record, the actual color of the man’s shirt was green; the woman had selected a red and white striped top as her shirt du jour. Both were wearing blue jeans at the time of the traffic stop, a stop that took place within 30 minutes of the theft. There was no other clothing inside their car. The owner’s descriptions were not even close and, unfortunately, the store’s surveillance cameras were switched off. “Oh, we don’t bother with that thing,” she later told me. “Far too much trouble.”

Surprisingly, the store owner was correct about the license plate.

Perfectly Legal Little White Lies

Questioning the two suspects was going nowhere. We had them in separate rooms and we alternated between the two, trying every trick in the book, including telling perfectly legal little white lies. You left fingerprints. The clerk ID’d you. Witnesses saw you. Yada, yada, yada. But we were spinning our wheels because they’d readily admitted to being in the store.

They simply weren’t talking.

They said they’d looked at and tried on rings. However, they didn’t like what they saw and left. But they didn’t take anything. It was their word against the store owner’s and we had no evidence. They’d allowed us to search both them and their car and we found nothing but the gun, which was illegal—he was a convicted felon and the gun was concealed.

We tried every legal card up our sleeves, but no dice. We had nothing.

Frazier v. Cupp is the case that permits police to tell little white lies during interrogations.

So, with the pair remaining as silent as Mr. Bean during one of his comedy sketches, I took a walk around the hallways, trying to think of some sort of angle to help garner a confession.

As I passed by the door to the dispatchers’ room one of them called out with a cheery “Good morning,” so I stepped inside. I noticed a small stack of new videos (VHS tapes at the time) beside her terminal. The top one was a collection of Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny’s image plastered on the front. He held a carrot in one hand and his rabbit lips were split into his typical buck-toothy grin. The video was a gift for her child’s birthday.

I had an idea and asked to borrow the tape for a few minutes.

After a quick stop in my office for a bit of artistic trickery, I returned to the interview room where the female suspect sat waiting. When I opened the door and stepped inside she smiled and asked if she could leave.

I took a seat in the chair across from her and returned her smile. Then I slid the tape across the tabletop. “We have a video,” I said. What I didn’t say was that I’d removed the Bugs label and replaced it with one I’d handwritten in my office before returning to the interview room. The new label simply read “Tape – June 6, 1994.” (June 6 was the current date, and Tape…well, it was a tape, right?).

“When I show this tape to a judge…well, you know what’s going to happen, right?” I said.

Tears quickly formed in the corners of her eyes. Then she looked down toward her feet and nodded. “I know,” she said. “Yeah, we did it. He took them, though. Not me. You saw that on the tape, right?”

Suddenly she wouldn’t shut up, telling me they’d dropped the rings out of the car window when they saw me pull out behind them. I sent a patrol officer to the approximate location where he found both rings. She also confessed to other thefts in other cities. The gun, too, was stolen. They’d broken into a home and found it while searching for valuables. The necklace she wore that day was stolen, as was the watch on her boyfriend’s wrist.

When I entered the room with her boyfriend/partner in crime, with the tape in hand, my first words to him were, “What’s up, Doc?”

An hour later we had signed confessions from both suspects.

And that’s how Bugs Bunny helped me solve the Case of the Missing Jewelry.

And, well…

Like all patrol officers and police detectives, I’ve seen a lot of horror. The real-life kind, though. Not the kind that sprouted from an idea that once lived in a dark, dank corner of Stephen King’s twisted mind.

Sadly, quite a bit of the terrifying gruesomeness stemmed from domestic violence, and some of the acts were far beyond the comprehension of the typical human being. The brutality discovered during many investigations were both heartbreaking and stomach-turning.

For example, one night we received a call to be on the lookout for a pickup truck with oversized tires, the kind used for off-roading. The caller said the the driver was a white male with short hair. She went on to say that he appeared to be heavily intoxicated and that had physically assaulted and abducted a white female from the parking lot of an area nightclub.

Witnesses at the scene told us that the man was known to be armed with a handgun and his truck was equipped with a gun rack mounted behind the seat and was clearly visible through the rear window. The rack contained both a rifle and shotgun. He was an avid hunter and an equally avid drinker.

Just minutes after dispatch received the initial call, they received another about the same incident. This caller, though, shed more light on the situation. The abducted woman was the girlfriend of the man who’d taken her and he’d returned home after a day of deer hunting and liquor drinking to find her gone. They surmised that he’d noticed her favorite party outfit was missing along with her “dancing shoes” and then, in a rage, set out to search for her. This would not be the first time this had happened.

A few miles from their home, the angry drunk, with a pistol tucked into the waistband of his faded Levi’s, indeed found his girlfriend on the dance floor of a local club, cheek-to-cheek and belly-to-belly with a city slicker from out of town.

After promptly decking the rosy-cheeked man who wore a crisp button-up shirt, creased khaki pants, and brown leather shoes, the boyfriend pulled the woman from the parquet floor and dragged her out into the parking lot where he punched her a few times before ripping her polkadot mini dress from her body. She’d worn nothing but her birthday suit beneath.

He pulled her across the rocky lot and then shoved her inside the cab of his truck. Witnesses said he’d caught her long blonde hair in the door when he slammed it shut and, as he tore from the parking lot spraying cars and bystanders with stones and bits of fine gravel dust, they saw her hair fluttering and waving in the breeze.

Every cop in the area was watching for the truck. Officers checked the homes of the couple and those of their families and friends. They searched the man’s hunt club, and other night clubs in the city. They drove down dirt roads and along side roads and country roads. In the city they made passes through alleyways behind shopping centers and malls and grocery stores. Beside railroad tracks and in city parks and cemeteries.

Then we received the call we didn’t want to receive. A young couple were traveling along a country road a few miles from the city when they saw something in the road. At first they thought someone had perhaps struck a deer. Could’ve been anything, though. Maybe an old mattress, a garbage bag, or even a hippopotamus for all they knew. After all, “seeing things” was a possibility since the purpose of their super-slow drive in the countryside was to smoke weed, enjoy a bit of acid, and listen to good music.

When they drew closer they realized what they’d suspected to be a deer, or a hippo, was actually the bloody body of a nude woman. They guessed her age as somewhere around 22 or 23. She was dead, of course. Her entire body was one single hunk of road rash.

We finally located the man sitting in his truck parked at the edge of river. The place was a favorite of teens and young adults. They went there to drink, swim, smoke dope, and party. The spot was in the middle of nowhere. So far out, actually, that when you reached the middle of nowhere you took a left and traveled 10 additional miles to get to this place.

The boyfriend confessed to the abduction. He also said that he and his girlfriend had argued. He told us that he’d held a gun to her head, but it was just to scare her. He also said he’d ordered her to perform sex acts on him while he drove. When she refused he hit her repeatedly with the barrel of the pistol. Then, suddenly, she managed to open the truck door and jumped out. At the time he guessed that he’d been driving at a speed of approximately 70-80.

The man said he saw her body, in his side mirror, as she tumbled along the pavement. He stopped and backed up to check on her, but decided not to get out of the truck, thinking there was nothing he could do for at that point. So he left her there, like a chunk of roadkill.

I’d previously arrested this same man for domestic violence—threatening his family with a shotgun and later pointing that same firearm at me. The woman, his wife at the time, was not the blonde who’d leapt to her death from his truck. This was a different woman—his former wife—who he’d beaten more times than I can remember. And each time, she took him back and refused to testify against him in court. It was only after he’d fired the shotgun in the direction of their children that she’d decided she’d had enough and left him for good. Still, the judge merely ordered a fine, no jail time, and he was back at it again with other women. I guess shooting up his house and threatening people with a loaded firearm, and pointing that loaded firearm at police officers, well, I guess that was simply not a big deal to the judge.

This last time, though, he was charged with manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend.

Finally, the man would get what he deserved; however, the judge, the same as before, found the man guilty as charged but let him go with time served. He’d been in jail for only a few months prior to his release.

 

Working the graveyard shift on weekend nights comes with a special worry … closing time of local bars. Before streets and highways become obstacle courses for pin-balling drunk drivers, comes last calls and the traditional bar fights. And, with those last calls for alcohol and final, desperate pitches for late night encounters, some inebriated patrons find themselves involved in physical altercations.

Sometimes barroom brawls are nothing more than shouting and shoving matches; however, there are times when the action involves weapons and bloodshed and even murder.

Club brawls are a unique breed of fighting. They’re where typically everyday people who, with the irresistible goading of alcoholic beverages, are suddenly transformed from the meek and mild of fuzzy kittens to someone who believes they’re ten-feet tall and bulletproof. And why wouldn’t they feel so invincible? After all, they’ve spent several hours chugging drink concoctions with names such as Cobra’s Fang, Mind Eraser, Corpse Reviver, and Death in the Afternoon.

The transformation from quiet librarian or gentle mystery writer to a beast who eats rusty nails for breakfast”is a slow one. Their speech grows louder and their eyes wilder and wilder as time and drinks pass. Tongues grow thick and nerve grows bold.

Vision becomes blurry. Rooms spin and sometimes the transformers even see things that aren’t there.

Live bands and DJs add to the frenzy by playing music that turns even the tamest hearts into pulsating and throbbing, blood-pumping workhorses.

The combination of noise, music, alcohol, drugs, flashing and blinking and whirling lights, and people frantically dancing like a gathering of rabid Tasmanian devils, stimulates emotions and hormones to chart-topping levels far beyond the tolerance level of the average man or woman.

Bar fights are caused by, well, anything and everything, or nothing at all. When inside a drinking establishment, people don’t need a justifiable reason to punch another person. This, my friends, is an unwritten rule. People feel free to punch, bite, scratch, kick, or whatever, as long as they do so within the four walls of a club that serves “adult” beverages. At least that’s the belief of bar-goers who take offense to whatever they deem is the offense du jour.

Bo Bo Juice

Could be that they, the bar fighters, don’t like the way you belt out the chorus to Peter Framptom’s “Show Me The Way.” You know, instead of “I want you, to show me the way,” you’ve always, for your entire life, thought Frampton was singing, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” Or they don’t like the way you left eye wanders toward their significant other while the other attempts to focus on the mole in the center of their forehead. Whatever.

(80s rocker Greg Kihn once told me that, for years, he thought Frampton was saying, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” True story.).

Anyway, to get to the point of this tale, nightclub fights often involve multiple people and such was the case one particularly warm Friday night (early Saturday morning) at 2 a.m.

Fight in Progress!

My partner and I were wrapping up a drug deal, a buy-bust, in a pretty bad section of town when we heard the call come in over the radio.  “10-10 in progress. Billy Bad Ass’s Bar and Grill (name changed to protect the guilty). Weapons involved. Shots fired.”

Buy-Bust – a police sting-type operation where undercover officers purchase drugs from individuals and then arrest the dealers once they’ve handed over the drugs.

By the way, in our area 10-10 was a fight. In the neighboring locale 10-10 was code for “negative.” This is why agencies shy away from 10 codes.

Imagine the confusion if you were on the other end of a radio when you heard someone say, “10-10. 10-4?” Now, in plain speak, to his coworkers this officer stated, in 10-code, “There’s a fight in progress. Do you copy/yes, you understand my message, right?” However, you being an officer from an agency whose 10-code is entirely different, heard, “Negative/No. Yes.” Therefore, your hope for backup to respond would go unanswered.

I know, I’m rambling and I’m all over the place, but I see things in the telling of this event that could add tidbits to your fiction, such as the term “buy-bust, so I stop to emphasize and explain.

Okay, back to the fight. My partner and I were pretty close to the scene so we activated our emergency equipment (that’s cop speak for we turned on our blue lights and siren) and headed to the bar. When I turned the final corner and the bar came into view, I saw several small fights—two to four people here and there, and one large fight—at least thirty people in a big pile—and all were in full slug fest mode.

I pulled my unmarked car into the middle of the lot and gave a couple blasts of the siren. The piercing and unmistakable sound normally clears out a few people, especially those who are holding contraband, such as dope and illegal weapons. It also sends the probation and parole violators running like scared rabbits. In their wake are the people with outstanding warrants. Siren blasts are an easy and effective way to cull the herd.

We parked near the largest pile of fighters who looked like an army of ants, all squirming to get inside their hill at once. We tried to pull off the outside layer but didn’t have much luck because new people dove onto the pile every few seconds. So, we began to spray the entire pile with pepper spray. In fact, we let loose like we were spraying a large infestation of insects.

A nice side-to-side motion of the canisters worked well because the mound of people slowly began to dissipate. Lots of moaning and groaning, tears, and mucus. Remember, before you say our actions were overkill, there were only two of us and 30-40 of them. We had to even the odds.

When that group finally had enough we turned our attention to a smaller, but more dangerous fight that had erupted to our right, near the front door of the club. An older, biker-looking guy was waving a knife of sword-like proportion at two younger men.

My partner and I gave our cans of pepper spray a couple of good shakes to make sure all the good stuff hadn’t settled to the bottom, and headed toward biker dude.

We’d worked together for so long that our arrest techniques came naturally. I went for the knife hand (I’m still not sure how I always got stuck with this duty), and he went for the other. I quickly disarmed the guy and took control of the knife, but he was a little stronger than we’d bargained for. Actually, he was a lot stronger than we’d bargained for because, as they say, it was on! We had a real struggle on our hands. Getting cuffs on that clown was really tough.

Fortunately, like the finely-tuned arrest team that we were, we each went for our pepper spray. Unfortunately, the biker dude saw it coming and ducked. Yep, we sprayed each other squarely in the face. Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever been pepper-sprayed, but let me be the first to say it ain’t pretty.

Neither of us could see, so we just held on to our guy and slowly slid to the ground, maintaining our grip on biker-dude, and waited for backup to arrive. Of course our fellow officers gave us a really hard time. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.

By the way, the effects of pepper spray stop immediately if you dunk the affected body part in ice water. However, once the ice water is removed the burning starts all over again.

Lee Lofland

Help, my name is Lee. I’ve been pepper-sprayed. 

I think I’ll stick to writing. It’s much safer …

 

 

Age Prediction based on bodily fluids

Lucky Thomas got himself nabbed by a day-shift flatfoot after his latest job, a quick little “in-and-out” B&E of Linda’s Ammo Depot.

The eager copper spied Lucky climbing out of Linda’s office window with a bag of “goodies” in hand. The beat cop yelled, “Stop!” but the word merely shifted Lucky’s feet into high gear, setting the stage for an early morning foot pursuit.

rocky the raccoon

The officer, with keys jingling and jangling and holster slapping and popping against his outer thigh, chased the career bandit down Pleasant Street, two blocks on Happy Lane and then eight blocks up Freedom Way before Lucky ducked into the alley between Ida Sue’s Thrift Store and Rosco’s Rib Shack.

Lucky, a former track star at the local high school, probably would have lost the chubby cop had he not slipped on a pile of yesterday’s slick-as-eel-snot collard greens and greasy ham hocks that Rosco’d left out for the pair of hungry raccoons—Rocky and Roxie—that pay nightly visits to the Shack’s overflowing maggot-laden dumpsters.

An exhausted and nervous Lucky barely had time to catch his breath when he felt the steel cuffs clamping around his wrists. The sound of the jaws ratcheting closed was all Lucky needed to hear to know that he’d been arrested, again.

But is it always that clear to people? Does an arrest always end in handcuffs?

Well …

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Lucky’s lawyer, I.M. Shady, a shyster of less-than-stellar reputation among his peers, who needs not open a door to enter a room (he slithers beneath them), argued that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest his client. However, Circuit Judge Hugh Didit, quickly delivered a guilty verdict and sentenced Lucky to twelve months in the county jail.

Judge Didit, citing the officer’s perfect eyesight and that those two perfect-peepers saw Lucky climbing out of the window holding a bag of stolen goods was all the probable cause needed. “Guilty!” said the judge, in that distinct booming voice that had been known to rattle the feet and ankles of the clerks working on the floor above the courtroom. “Take him directly to jail, and do not pass … well, you know the drill. Get him outta here. Next case! Oh, and counselor, I suggest you study the meaning of probable cause before coming back in my court.”

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Sitting in his cell at Sheriff P.U. Stink’s lockup, Lucky often wondered if things would’ve turned out differently had he ducked inside the restaurant or the thrift store. Could the officer have followed him inside without a warrant?

One of the jailhouse lawyers, a long-timer who charges a pair of tennis shoes, two pieces of cake, and a month of cell cleanings to write a Writ of Habeus Corpus, explained the law to Lucky, saying that, sure, during a foot pursuit if the officer sees the bad guy run inside a building she can indeed rush in after him. However …

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During the discussion of “what’s legal and what’s not” it didn’t take long before a crowd of inmates stopped by to listen to the jailhouse lawyer explain the various laws and scenarios. So, enjoying the attention, the self-taught legal eagle further explained why pat-downs (frisking) are legal. He said …

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In fact, the faux attorney even cited the case where it all started, Terry v. Ohio.

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Lucky, after the lecture was over, climbed onto his bunk and stared at the ceiling, wondering what some guy in Ohio had to do with his getting caught two states away. He also decided that he’d never again eat a meal of ham hocks and collard greens.

Investigating a murder can be, and often is, a methodical and meticulous slow-grind of information gathering. It’s knocking on many doors, speaking with countless numbers of people, digging in the dirt and leaves and mud, pawing through mounds of garbage, searching through closets and hampers filled with grimy and disgusting clothing. It’s collecting solid bedding and mattresses, stained underwear, and body fluids. It’s hours and days and months and years of clue-chasing rollercoasters that seem to go round and round and round and up and down and back again. All to catch a person who ended the life of another human.

In the end, it’s extremely satisfying to ratchet cuffs around the wrists of a suspect who used a weapon of some type to kill. All that hard work coming to a close leaves an investigator with a combined sense of relief, success, and satisfaction that they’ve help bring a small bit of closure for surviving family members.

Sometimes, even though mountains of potential evidence piles up during an investigation, it’s the tiniest bit—a trace—such as a carpet fiber, that serves as the cornerstone of a case. And such was the key element that helped Delaware investigators nab a serial killer known as The Corridor Killer.

A dark and story night

As it’s been said to not be said, it was a dark and story night on November 29, 1987, when 23-year-old ex-prostitute Shirley Ellis hoped to to catch a ride into Wilmington by hitchhiking along Route 40 near Bear, Delaware. She was on her way to deliver a Thanksgiving dinner for an AIDS patient who was undergoing treatment at Wilmington Hospital.

At approximately 9:25 p.m. that evening, a teenage couple pulled into a popular make-out spot to do the things teenagers do in those types of secluded locations. It was then that they discovered Ellis’ partially clothed body. Her legs were spread apart and autopsy later revealed evidence of torture and mutilation—she’d been bound at the feet and the ankles and scraps of black duct tape were still attached to strands of her hair. It was likely that the tape had been used to prevent her from screaming. She had not been sexually assaulted.

Seven months later, on June 28, 1988, Catherine DiMauro, a 31-year-old woman with a history of prostitution arrests, was walking along Route 40, near Bear, around 11:30 p.m. It’s not known if she was soliciting customers or simply using the route to go from point A to point B. But it was that night when she accepted a ride from a man driving a blue van. Her nude body was discovered by workers building a nearby apartment complex. Her wrists and ankles were bound and, like Ellis, duct tape had been used to silence her. And again, like Ellis, there was no indication of sexual assault.

This time, though, a vast amount of blue carpet fibers were found on DiMauro’s body. Finally police had a clue. A minor clue. But a clue. And the police were all over it. They assembled a 60 member task force with access to airplanes, helicopters, rental vehicles, and an unlimited budget. No stone or fiber was to be left unturned or untested.

The task force consulted with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, and they concluded that these acts were the acts of a serial killer.

The team decided to send out undercover female police officers dressed as prostitutes to walk the stretch of Route 40 where the killer had picked up the victims. They flirted with the men who stopped, and there were several, but they never got into a vehicle. In the meantime testing was underway to identify the blue fibers found on DiMauro’s body. Without fibers to use for comparison, however, these blue pieces of evidence would remain on hold.

On Aug. 22, a prostitute named Margaret Lynn Finner went missing. She was working the streets along U.S. 13, near the stretch of Route 40 connected to the crimes of the serial killer. Finner was last seen climbing into a blue Ford panel van with round headlights. The van was driven by a white male.

Roughly three months later, Finner was found dead near the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Due to the advanced stage of decomposition a cause of death couldn’t be determined. No clues were found and no one was charged for death.

Undercover Ops Begin

On Sept. 14, 1988, a 23-year-old New Castle County, Delaware undercover officer dressed as a prostitute headed out to walk the Route 40 corridor, hoping to snare the killer. It wasn’t long before a line of 5 or 6 vehicles lined up on the side of the road. The drivers of those vehicles included doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, and they all wanted to talk to “the prostitute.”

But the vehicle that caught the undercover officer’s attention was a blue Ford panel van with round headlights that drove past. Her cops’ alarm bells sounded loudly inside her head when the van stopped a little farther down the road and turned around to make another pass. The driver of the van repeated the action, driving past and then U-turning, seven times within a twenty-minute period.

The officer walked to a more secluded area, hoping to tease the driver into stopping. Finally the van pulled over and a white male opened the side panel. The officer immediately saw blue carpeting covering the van’s interior. She later said the man was different than any other person who stopped for her. His demeanor was cold and he was difficult to engage in conversation. He seemed to stare through her.

The Blue Fibers

While talking to the man, the undercover officer used the time and distraction to rub her hand on the carpeting, pulling out a few blue fibers for testing. The driver, though, demanded that she get in the van, but she refused, saying that she tired from partying and needed to sleep. The man gave up and drove away. A task force member in the area recorded and ran the plate numbers on the van. It was registered to Steven Brian Pennell, a Delaware electrician. His record showed no arrests.

Police sent the blue fibers were sent to a lab for testing. In the meantime, on September 16, Michelle Gordon, a 22-year-old known prostitute was seen on Route 40 climbing into the passenger side of a blue Ford panel van. But there was a witness and she knew both Gordan and Pennell, and she recognized Pennell’s van

This time, however, police caught a major break. The lone witness to the abduction knew both Gordon and Pennell, and she immediately identified the vehicle. Sadly, Gordon’s body was found four days later when it washed up on the banks of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal on Sept. 20. Gordon died while being tortured.

Three days later, 26-year-old Kathleen Meyer was last seen alive hitchhiking along Route 40 around 9:30 p.m. This time the witness was an off-duty police officer who saw Meyer accepting a ride from a man driving a blue Ford van. The officer ran the plates and learned the vehicle was registered to Pennell. Meyer’s body was never found.

After having to wait for evidence (carpet fibers) to be processed and Delaware Attorney General Charles Oberly to approve a search warrant for Pennell’s van, police took matters into their own hands and pulled Pennell’s van over for a routine traffic violation. This allowed them to take Pennell into court to pay his ticket.

Icing on the Investigatory Cake

In the meantime, officers searched the van and immediately discovered carpet fibers that matched those on the victims. They also found hair and blood and even the same brand of duct tape used to silence DiMauro. The icing on the investigatory cake was Pennell’s gruesome “torture kit”—pliers, needles, a whip, handcuffs, knives and various types of restraints.

Police had their suspect.

Pennell opted to remain silent and did not offer a statement.

The blue carpet fibers were indeed the cornerstone of the entire case against Pennell. Without them, the state’s case could not have moved forward because any other actions and evidence would have been ruled as fruit of the poisonous tree.

So, of course the defense attorney attacked the fibers, stating the officer did not have a legal right to remove those fibers from the van without a search warrant. However, Superior Court Judge Richard Gebelein denied the defense claims and ruled that the carpet was in plain view once Pennell opened the door to invite the undercover officer inside the van.

Justice Arrives

On November 23, 1989—Thanksgiving Day—as a massive snowstorm blanketed the area, Pennell was convicted of murdering Ellis and DiMauro. The jury, however, deadlocked on the Gordon case. They also deadlocked on the death penalty.

In 1990, Pennell was sentenced to two life terms in 1990 and, as a result, Pennell filed appeals, alleging that the fiber seizure was unconstitutional. During this time, police continued their investigations and, based on new evidence, Pennell was indicted for the murders of Meyer and Gordon. Pennell asked the court if he could be allowed to represent himself for the new charges. The court granted the motion.

Pennell then did the nearly unthinkable. Even though he did not offer a confession, he pled no contest to both murders and asked the Superior Court to impose a sentence of death.

At a hearing to determine if Pennell’s life should be spared, Pennell offered a bizarre argument for his own death –  “‘The law was developed from one book, and it’s that book I quote from,” he said. “‘In Numbers, chapter 35, verse 30, ‘Whoever kills a person, the person shall be put to death.’ “‘Also, in Genesis, chapter 9, verse 6, ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood by man, his blood shall be shed.'”

“This court has found me guilty on the testimony of witnesses. So I ask that the sentence be death as said by the state’s laws and God’s laws. That’s all I have to say.”

Perhaps it was both fitting and somewhat spooky that, on Halloween day in 1991, Pennell was sentenced to death. As part of Delaware’s mandatory death penalty appeal process, Pennell appeared before the to the state Supreme Court court on Feb. 11, 1992, where he again asked for his own execution. He remains the only person to represent himself before the state Supreme Court, and the only one, of course, to ask for death.

During the entire case, Pennell always referred to himself in the third person. Never in first person.  During the appeal, Pennell said to the court, “The perpetrator must have sensed a pleasure in the killings. Since he did not commit just one, but continued in the same depraved manner on the others, this pleasure is evident.”

On March 14, 1992, Steven Brian Pennell was the first man executed in Delaware in 46 years.

Pennell died by lethal injection, and as a result of a savvy undercover police officer who thought to grab a couple of tiny blue carpet fibers.

 

It’s often the tiniest of details that’ll pique a reader’s interest in your work. Those elements, by design, just might make a lasting fan out of someone who recognizes that you’ve done your homework, and that you know how to subtly weave fact into fiction.

Like a well-rehearsed performance of Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II by The Philadelphia Orchestra, where we as concert-goers don’t see all the behind the scenes practice time that goes into scores such as The Rabbit of Seville, and Rhapsody Rabbit, a seasoned cop’s daily motions come with ease, as should the scenes you create where officers make arrests and carry out other duties that come with the job.

Cops perform certain tactics and techniques on a regular basis—handcuffing, using the car radio, pat-down searches, etc. They do these things so often that they could almost perform them in their sleep.

They rehearse tactics and techniques at the academy through role-playing. They practice what they’re taught, in their minds. They run through scenarios in their thoughts. All of this to prepare them for the big show—the encounter with that person or people who violently resist arrest, or those who simply want to hurt or kill a police officer.

That sense of “comes naturally” is the feel that fictional characters should exhibit on the page.

Detail, detail, detail

Living, breathing, pulse-pounding detail hooks the reader by thumping their hearts and increasing their respirations. Details that cause them to grip the book a bit tighter when the danger level is high and then reduces the tension when it’s done. It’s a rollercoaster ride that hinges on a writer’s ability to conduct a harmonious symphony of words, from the first moment through the last.

So, just as conductor George Daugherty and The Philadelphia Orchestra leads the audience on a speculator journey with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Pepe Le Pew, Tweety, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, and the Road Runner, writers should compose their stories in a manner that leads the reader on an eye-popping emotional journey, a trip they want to take and won’t soon forget.

Readers want writers to stimulate their senses. They want and need to know your characters on a personal level. And you definitely want readers to step into and immerse themselves into your carefully crafted stories. It’s an escape from reality that must begin with a passion to tell a tale.

 

Ask Yourself the Important Questions

So, in order to add those tiniest of important details needed to breathe true life into your cop characters, you should ask yourself a few basic questions, such as:

How should officers position themselves when making an arrest?

Answer– Always, always, always stand with their gun sides AWAY from the suspect. This is especially important when the subject is combative/resisting.

Which areas of an arrested subject should an officer search for weapons? Is there a standard procedure?

Answer – Start with the most obvious locations first—the waistband, of course, and this is especially so when dealing with male subjects. The waistband seems to be their go-to area of choice when concealing a weapon.

Each officer should establish a routine as to how they conduct searches of a person. By doing so the chance of missing an area is greatly decreased.

For example, after searching the waist and leg areas (boot knives and holsters are good hiding spots for weapons such as small guns and edged weapons).

For example, after first handcuffing the subject and then checking those main spots—the waist and leg areas (for guns and edged weapons), I moved to the top where I began the overall secondary, intensive search, starting beneath hats and working my way down until I reached the ground, leaving no area untouched, and that includes a firm hand in the groin area. This, believe me, is not the time to be shy. I’ve found more than one handgun and or/drugs hidden inside pants and underwear.

No item should be left in pockets and no portion of the body or clothing should be left untouched!

Another point to note is that when officers hand over a suspect to another officer, the second/receiving officer should conduct another detailed search of the suspect. I know, it seems redundant, but it’s not worth risking your life by depending upon the potential sloppy search, or no search, by another human. Anyone, even the best of the best humans could make a mistake.

What are some of the danger signs officers look for when making arrests, or when simply speaking with suspects and some witnesses?

Answer – There are many, so I’ll mention only a few of the basics, such as:

A person wearing a coat during the summertime. This could indicate the subject is armed and is using the outer garnet to conceal the weapon. The same is true when a person touches an area on their waistband or moves a hand toward the area, or that a shirttail is untucked on one side. Or even when a person’s clothing “appears” a bit heavier on one side. Sometimes, the shape of a gun’s grips/an outline is noticeable  beneath the material.

Pockets that appear heavier than normal. Sagging due to a heavy object inside could indicate the presence of a weapon. Keep in mind that even heavy objects such as rocks and bottles can and are used as instruments of death. Yes, a rock can kill, and has, when used with enough force.

Many, if not most of the “killed in the line of duty” deaths occur during an officer’s initial approach to a subject. This is why it is imperative that the officer quickly, almost within the blink of an eye, size up the person and then formulate a plan. Remember, no two situations are perfectly identical nor are two people the same in every way. So quick thinking and a plan are necessary.

It’s a given that it’s rude to not look someone in the eye when speaking to them. But eyes cannot hurt us. Therefore, officers should always, always, always watch the hands of a suspect/subject. Next, watch the feet. They, too, can be used as powerful weapons.

Still, a suspect’s eye movements often telegraph their next move, such as constantly glancing toward an officer’s sidearm may indicate the person could be planning an attempt to grab the gun. Or, they could searching for an avenue of escape or that a partner is sneaking up behind the officer’s back.

The combination of potential hazards explains the need for officers to forever scan their surroundings, Ambush attacks are common, and they’re deadly.

Officers should have a backup plan in case Plan A fails. And never hesitate to retreat if a situation becomes unmanageable and/or unsafe.

When in doubt call for backup!

How important is firearm maintenance?

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Coast Guard Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Cameron Hutchens of Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) 91103, deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, cleans an M-9 pistol.

Answer – Officers should maintain their weapons in excellent, tip-top condition. They should make certain that all firearms are clean, oiled, and operate properly. And they should practice their shooting skills on a regular basis. Shooting practice should include scenario-based training, not simply going to the range and popping 60 holes in a stationary paper target once each year during the required annual qualifying session. After all, how many times have you heard of an officer being killed by a non-moving sheet of paper?

The same is true of vehicles and other emergency tools and equipment. Maintenance and practice, practice, practice driving skills, as well as other tactics, such as building entries, etc. PRACTICE!!

What are some things that officers overlook when making an arrest?

Answer – Officers sometime become complacent. It’s easy to do when doing the same thing day after day after day. Unfortunately, when an officer is careless and, say, skips searching the crotch area of an arrested subject because he was too embarrassed to put a hand “there,” well, it could be the last mistake he’ll ever make when the guy reaches into his pants to retrieve a hidden .380.

Working Overtime and Second and Even Third Jobs

This isn’t so much “overlooking something” as it is being careless, but many officers often tend to work while excessively sleepy and/or tired. Their pay level is sometimes not so desirable so they work a lot of voluntary overtime to help make ends meet. Some even work second or third jobs.

When I worked at a sheriff’s office, I worked extra jobs. When I signed off after working night shifts I immediately drove to a motel where I worked another shift there performing maintenance work—repairing leaky pipes, painting, drywall, electrical work, etc.  I’d studied and took the test to become a licensed electrician. I also took care of all lawn maintenance and gardening. I did the same at a local college. And, I taught beginning, intermediate, and advance guitar lessons at the college.

Sometimes, on our days off, three of us deputies took on roofing jobs. We’d remove shingles and old paper on one day and haul them to the landfill after we’d finished (sometimes it was after dark when we were done). We’d then install new paper and shingles on the second day. It was exhausting and hot work. Making it even more tiring was that many times we were scheduled to work night shift after the second day of roofing work, or the night before the job was to begin.

I maintained this schedule for a few years, all while as a single dad. Yet, I made time to attend my daughter’s school functions and sports activities. She was a star softball player who was, during her high school years, recruited by the U.S. army to play ball for them. I can’t remember ever missing a home game, even if it meant attending in uniform with my ear glued to my radio.

I did the same (attend school function and games, etc.) when I left the sheriff’s office to work for a city police department. As a police detective, I attended many games with a gun and badge strapped to my belt with my unmarked car parked near enough that I could easily sprint to it, if necessary. I’ve left more than one game with blue lights winking and blinking and flashing.

Working a job where your life could be threatened at any time requires a person to be on top of his/her game. Working long, stressful hours with little sleep is not an idea scenario.

Everything, Anyone, and Anything Could be Hazardous!

Overlooking the obvious is something that happens a lot. Just as I suggest to you that writing important details are, well, important, officers must take that to another level. For them, everything and everyone should be considered a danger until it’s proven that it’s not.

Hiding behind things such drywall and plywood works as concealment, but not as true cover. Bullets slice through both items as if they weren’t there. So find the best possible cover to protect against gunfire.

I’ve seen officers run to a man down as if the danger ceased immediately once the suspect hit the dirt. This is an extremely perilous time. Always assume the suspect is still armed and capable of shooting and killing. Approach with caution, still using cover and concealment, if possible, until you’re certain the threat has ceased to exist. Keep in mind that the downed person may still have a hidden weapon and is pretending to be incapacitated.

Officers, never let down your guard. Not ever.

Finally, here’s Bugs to wrap up the day …

 

 

Stop and Frisk has once again worked its way into the news by way of politics, with a presidential candidate apologizing for the use of the practice in a city where he once served as mayor. Those stops, he once vehemently argued, were necessary to help curtail the city’s out of control gun violence.

Since I choose to not dip my toes into political waters, opting only to present factual information, which politics are often on the opposite end of the truth meter, let’s instead examine “stop and frisk” and the Supreme Court decision that supports its use. We’ll also have a look at why, when properly utilized, its an effective tool.

What is Stop and Frisk?

Here’s how it all began, and it’s not a newfangled practice, not by any means.

In the mid 1960’s, when I was still not quite a teenager (yes, this law has been on the books for a long, long time), a Cleveland, Ohio detective named McFadden saw two men, strangers to the area, walking back and forth in front of a store. On each pass the men stopped to look into the store window. McFadden watched the men while they made a dozen or so trips past the storefront. After each trip by the business the two men met at the street corner to chat for a minute or two. Soon, a third man joined the two at the corner.

Detective McFadden, being quite the observant and proactive officer, had seen enough to send his “cop radar” into overdrive. He was certain the men were “casing” the place, waiting for just the right moment to rob the store owner. Their mannerisms, as do many telltale gestures of criminal behavior, telegraphed their intentions.

So McFadden approached the three men, identified himself as a police officer, and then asked for their names. Someone mumbled something but no names were offered. Sensing things could quickly go downhill, McFadden grabbed and spun around one of the mumblers(John W. Terry) and patted the outside of his clothing, feeling a pistol in the man’s coat pocket.

Unable to retrieve the pistol on the street while keeping an eye on all three potential robbers, the detective ordered the men inside the store where he had them face the wall with their hands in the air. McFadden retrieved the pistol from the first suspect’s coat and then patted the clothing of the the other two men. During the searches McFadden located a second pistol. As a result, the three men were detained and taken to the police station. The two men with the guns were charged with possession of a concealed weapon.

On appeal, Terry argued that the officer had violated their constitutional rights according to the 4th amendment (unlawful search and seizure). However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the officer, stating that his search was the minimum action required to see if the men were armed, a necessary tactic to safeguard his safety and the safety of others. And, that the suspects were indeed acting in a manner consistent with the probability of robbing the store owner.

Basically, the Court did not change or add laws to the books. Instead, they upheld that whenever possible and practicable, a police officer must obtain a warrant to conduct a search and seizure. However, they ruled, an exception must be made when “swift action” is required based on the observations of an officer.

Detective McFadden’s stop and frisk tactic has since been known as a Terry Stop. It’s a proactive tactic that prevents some crime before it happens, and it helps reduce the numbers of illegal weapons often carried by criminals. Without Terry Stops (Stop and Frisks), bad guys have no fear of being caught carrying a gun.

The Terry Stop According to the Supreme Court ruling Terry v. Ohio

A Terry stop is defined as a brief, temporary involuntary detention of a person suspected of being involved in criminal activity for the purpose of investigating the potential criminal violation.

In order to lawfully conduct a Terry stop, a law enforcement officer must have “reasonable suspicion,” which has been defined as “articulable facts (articulable means able to explain in words) that would lead a reasonable officer to conclude that criminal activity is afoot—more than an unsupported hunch but less than probable cause and even less than a preponderance of the evidence.

A police officer may, in appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner, approach a person for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior even though there is no probable cause to make an arrest.

Also known as the Common Law Right of Inquiry, this section of existing law permits an officer or agent to engage any citizen in a purely voluntary conversation (i.e. “May I speak with you a moment? Do you need any help? How long have you been here?”). In these cases, a citizen must be free to terminate the conversation at any time and go his or her way with no restrictions. This, however, is not a Terry Stop where an officer would conduct a pat-down of the person(s). Remember, this is a voluntary action on the part of the citizen. Terry Stops are not voluntary. In fact, Terry Stops are brief periods of actual detention that may include handcuffing the detained subject for the safety of the officer and others.

*The preceding three paragraphs are excerpted, with some paraphrasing, from FLETC training material. FLETC is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers.

Based upon Terry v. Ohio, what are officers permitted to do regarding pat-down searches?

Officers may, even without sufficient cause for arrest, briefly detain someone if …

  •  the officer identifies him/herself as a police officer (either by the uniform and badge, or verbally) and asks reasonable questions regarding the suspect’s current conduct.
  • the officer has knowledge of facts that lead them to believe the suspect is involved in some sort of illegal activity.
  • the person they’ve stopped does not immediately justify his actions in a manner that satisfies the officer’s suspicions.

Officer’s may conduct a pat-down search during a Terry Stop if they have a reasonable suspicion, based on personal knowledge of facts, that the person is armed.

The Terry Stop is a Search for Weapons

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Officers may not, however, go out on “fishing expeditions” under the guise of the Terry Stop. There must be facts supporting their reasons for a “frisk.”

By the way, a pat-down search is exactly as it sounds. Officers may only “pat” the outer surfaces of clothing. They may not reach into a person’s pockets unless they feel a weapon.

There is an exception to the rule, however, and that’s when an officer who has sufficient training and first-hand knowledge of narcotics packaging, “feels” what he/she suspects is a packet of drugs.

The skilled officer, one who’s extremely familiar with narcotics and how the various ways they’re wrapped and contained, may then reach into the pocket to retrieve the packet. To do so, the officer must be able to testify under oath, and verify, that he/she has the sufficient experience and training that would give them the knowledge needed to identify narcotics packaging by feel.

An example would be an officer who worked undercover or on a narcotics task force, like me. I was deemed an expert witness by the courts and, as an expert, was often called upon to testify in various cases.

If an officer’s assignment is to patrol a high crime area of the city, then it should be no problem to spot people who’re engaging in suspicious activity—drug dealers, robbers, rapists, car thieves, etc.

Those are the people, the folks involved in some sort of criminal activity, who warrant being stopped and frisked, if they exhibit signs of criminal intent. Not mom and pop and baby brother who’re on their way to church, school, or the grocery store. And certainly it is not permissible or even ethical to stop someone for a pat-down merely because their skin is a certain color.

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When used properly, Terry Stops/Stop and Frisks are a highly effective means of removing weapons and illegal narcotics from the street. When crooks know officers may approach and search they’re more apt to leave their guns at home or at least keep them hidden, out of their pockets. And, without having a firearm instantly available, the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later is greatly reduced.

Remember, Stop and Frisk/Terry Stops are still absolutely legal and constitutional, and they’re done each and every day all across the country. This, as current law states, is not debatable. Department policy, however, may differ.

In 2013, US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that New York’s stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional “as applied.”  In her decision, she stated that New York’s stop-and-frisk strategy focused too heavily on black and Hispanic people and was applied far too often without reasonable suspicion. In other words, Judge Scheindlin believed that officers in New York often engaged in racial profiling when determining who to stop and frisk. This, of course, is not how Terry v. Ohio (Terry Stops) are to be applied. Again, no fishing expeditions allowed.
Still, Terry Stops (Stop and Frisk) are absolutely legal and I can say that without a doubt these stops are an essential part of both proactive and reactive policing, and they save lives. At the very least, the practice helps remove illegal guns from the hands of those who’re likely to injure or kill others.
For politicians to use and Terry Stops as part of a political campaign is highly inappropriate, I believe, especially when they do so without first educating the public about the true meaning of the practice. Sure, using Terry Stops to simply and indiscriminately approach every Tom, Dick, and Bubba on the street is definitely unconstitutional. But to broadly paint all Terry Stops with the same brush is wrong.

You’re the Officer

If you, as a police officer, saw an agitated, nervous and sweaty person wearing a long overcoat in the middle of July, a coat with a distinctive bulge on the right side in the shape of a shotgun, who was about to enter a school, church, Walmart, sports stadium, or other location, what would you do?
Shouldn’t you be able to act based upon the coat and the mysterious gun-shaped object beneath it, along with the person’s odd appearance and actions? Wouldn’t you want to stop that person and pat them down as a precaution? After all, your suspicions as a trained and experienced officer are reasonable, right?
Suppose you didn’t check them for weapons and they went inside and began shooting innocent people?
What if you had reasonable suspicion that a person was about to enter a school with a firearm? Would you allow them to go inside without first conducted a lawful Terry Stop/Frisk? A quick pat down to check for weapons and then send them on their way.

So why tie the hands of officers? How many victims could/would be spared the horror and trauma of violence associated with gunfire that’s intended to do harm had police been permitted to do their jobs?

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*Please do not turn this article into a political discussion. It is meant as a learning tool about Stop and Frisk. Nothing more. Again, PLEASE keep politics as far away from this site as possible. I treat it like the plague. I only mentioned the politician above because they brought this topic to the attention of the media.

Politics … BAH, HUMBUG!

Footprints in the snow

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The familiar phrase above is actually from an ancient Greek work of Herodotus describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers. The phrase is also inscribed on the James Farley Post Office in New York City, and is sort of the unofficial creed of letter carriers across the country.

Another group of people who closely adhere to those words are criminals. Yes, this menagerie of lawbreakers—pickpockets, robbers, rapists, murderers, and the like—pay no attention to the weather when planning and plotting their devious acts against property and their fellow humans.

And, when the criminals do their dastardly deeds, even in bad weather, law enforcement officers must do what it takes to bring the offenders to justice. Unfortunately, crime-solving often involves traipsing around the woods in the mud, snow, sleet, and freezing rain while trying to find a footprint or two.

One method of identifying and locating a bad guy is to do as they did back in the old west, and that’s to track the thugs back to their hideouts. Sure, following broken twigs and disturbed vegetation is one method. Finding and making castings of footprints and/or tire tracks in the dirt and dried mud is another.

But what about prints in the snow? After all, we know that casting materials generate heat, which causes snow to melt and deform the impressions left by footwear.

So how do investigators overcome the challenge of melting snow in and around footprints?

Well, our good friends at Sirchie have the perfect solution to the problem.

A squirt or two of Sirchie’s Snow Impression Wax provides an insulating medium between the heat-generating casting material and the surrounding snow. Once the spray contacts the snow it locks in the impression details while the casting material hardens.

Shake-N-Cast (center in photo) is a kit containing a pre-measured water pouch and dental stone.

Apply pressure to break the water pouch and then shake to mix the two ingredients. No messy containers and no casting material on a detective’s shiny shoes. There’s enough material in a kit to cast an adult-size shoe up to 15″ long.

Metal casting frames are adjustable to fit all shoe sizes and most tire treads.

While we’re on the subject of impression evidence, the spray in the can on the left in the above photo—Dust and Dirt Hardener—is used to strengthen impression evidence (tire tracks, footwear impressions, etc.) found in loose or sandy soil.

The material keeps the soil intact under the weight of the casting material.

Finally, liquid silicone is often used for producing exact replicas of various impressions, including tire and footwear, jimmy marks, and even fingerprints.

Liquid Silicone is incredibly temperature tolerant, and can withstand cold down to -70F and heat to +500F.

Sirchie Silicone Casting Kit

The material sets within three to five minutes.

So there you go. Now your fictional CSI team need not worry about collecting evidence in the snow, or mud. Well, as long as they keep a can Sirchie’s Snow Impression Wax handy.