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.

Like reading a really well-written novel, it’s easy to step into the fictional worlds of crime TV shows. I mean, I’m there. I can hear the sounds of the police stations. I smell the gun oil. I hear the creaking of gun leather and the jingle of keys. And I feel the sudden tightening of the suspect’s muscles when they’re about to resist arrest.

I’ve been there, so I know what it’s like. Therefore, when I switch on one of those tension-filled dramas I know there’s a chance I’m going back, even if it’s only for an hour.

After reading one or two of my blog posts, a few diehard TV fans have written me to say that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to certain areas of police procedure, and that I could learn a thing or two about it from the writers of popular cop shows.

Yeah, I know, that’s why TV and film writers attend the Writers’ Police Academy, because they know more about cop stuff than, well, actual cops. AND, I’m sure it’s my extreme lack of cop knowledge that actors, writers, and directors sometimes call on me for advice.

Oh, and there’s THAT book … 🙂

PP&I cover

One repeated complaint that shows up when I mention the nonsense of a TV cop “racking” the slide on their pistol before entering a dangerous situation. Now, for those of you who do not know, the racking of the slide serves two purposes (three if you count TV writers thinking it looks cool).

One – when a shooter racks the slide the action ejects the round that’s in the chamber, leaving the gun short of one very important bullet. And, that foolishly ejected live round is sent to the pavement where it becomes as useless as a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Since we never see a round eject when TV cops rack a slide, well, then it’s safe to assume there was not a round in the chamber. More on this in a second.

Two – racking the slide delivers a round from the magazine to the chamber. Until a bullet is seated in the chamber a pistol will not fire. And why won’t it fire? Because there’s no bullet in the chamber. Duh!

Revolvers, however are a different story. To learn more about the differences between semi-automatic pistols and revolvers and the workings and parts of each, go here.

That’s right, without a bullet ready to fire (in the chamber) the weapon is practically useless. Unless, of course, you want to use it to whack someone on the head, or as a doorstop, a bookend, or paperweight. And this, a pistol with an empty chamber, is how many TV detectives and uniformed officers carry their sidearms … not ready to fire/unable to fire when needed.

Actually, a couple of chronic complainers/armchair cop experts have written (sometimes in ALL CAPS) that it’s AGAINST THE LAW, even for a police officer, to carry a live round in the chamber. One person said I was an idiot and should have my blogging license revoked. WHAT??? And give up all of this???

Well, I suppose they got the idiot thing right, but not the part about police officers unable to carry a round chambered in their weapons. Cops DO (see, I can use all caps too) keep a round chambered at all times (with the safety OFF, if equipped). In fact, chambering a round comes almost second nature to cops when loading their weapons.

When you ask an officer how many rounds he/she carries in his/her weapon they’ll often respond with an answer something like, “Fifteen plus one.” This means they have a full magazine containing fifteen rounds plus one round in the chamber. Some officers take the answer one step further and include, “Plus I’m carrying two full magazines on my belt. That’s fifteen rounds in each magazine, for a total of forty-six rounds, including the chambered round. Yep, I’m carrying forty-six rounds, four short of an entire brick.”

Brick = a full box of ammunition. The cardboard box containing the plastic insert and ammunition is shaped like a small brick.

New Picture (3)

When loading their weapons, officers first insert fifteen rounds into the magazine (the number depends on the weapon carried). Then they shove the full magazine into the pistol, pull back the slide and then release it, which loads a round into the chamber. Then they eject the magazine, which now contains one less bullet (14) and replace the round that was previously loaded into the chamber. They now have a pistol that’s loaded to 15+1, or whatever number of rounds their particular weapon holds.

Glock_19_Generation_4_9mm_Pistol

Weapons loaded to the +1 capacity (a full magazine plus one in the chamber) decreases the amount of time an officer needs to react when involved in a deadly shooting situation. The time an officer spends placing a round into the chamber could be the amount of time it takes to save his/her life, and that’s IF they’d remember to “rack the slide” when faced with a split-second need to use deadly force.

Carrying a semi-auto pistol without a round in the chamber would basically be the same as showing up to a gunfight with an empty gun. Besides, when under fire, the last thing you want to do is to use up precious time chambering a round. The same is true regarding the safety. Officers carry their sidearms with the safety switched off. Again, having to take the time to find and fiddle with a switch, if they remember to do so, could very well mean the difference between living and dying.

So yes, officers always carry a fully loaded weapon, and that means with a round in the chamber and with the safety OFF. There’s no slide-racking or safety-switching in real life.

Again – U.S. officers carry with a round in the chamber and the safety off.

Okay, you’re at your desks with hands poised above the keyboard. Thoughts of murder, chaos, and of your 100th six-figure book deal churn inside your head like the winds of an F-5 twister that’s just touched down in a midwestern mobile home park. This. Is. Your Best. Story. And it is exciting.

Now it’s time for the call to action. The time when it’s your job duty to coax, draw, persuade, and perhaps even drag readers throughout the hero’s journey until they reach the final page of your book.

Along the way, of course, you’ll concoct dangers and thrills, twists and turns, and risks far more convoluted and sometimes more perilous than those undertaken by the average human. Readers do sometimes enjoy the fantasy of living life through the eyes of fictional characters, right? After all, being Jack Reacher or Kay Scarpetta for a few hours could be fun and thrilling.

So off you go, clacking away at the keyboard, transforming the tale you’ve spent months creating a saga, either on paper for you plotters or stored in your mind for those of you who’re pansters, that’ll sit on the top shelf in bookstores all around the world.

In your mind you picture the blurbs and promo ads sent out by your publisher and publicists. Each of them promise your fans “It’s THE book of a lifetime.” “A book you can’t put down until the final page is turned.” “Lock your doors before reading this thrilling ride into the unknown!”

“The crime of the century.”

“It’s THE PERFECT MURDER!”

Dr. Edmond Locard’s Exchange Principle

Creating a murder based upon terminological inexactitude, one that’s committed by a pretend villain in a make-believe world, a crime that’s to be solved by a fictional hero, can be a daunting task for many writers. This is especially so when the writer is clue-challenged when it comes to first-hand knowledge of actual death scenes. But help is on the way and it comes in the form of your imaginations, along with a little help from Dr. Edmond Locard.

So, whether you’re a panster or a plotter, my advice to you, the writer of twisted tales, is to carefully consider Dr. Locard’s Exchange Principle (see below) before writing the first word. Doing so could elevate your stories to levels you never thought were possible to achieve.

I know, you’ve done quite well in the past, but readers are changing. Their knowledge of forensics and police investigations is growing with each passing day and with with each new TV show featuring brilliant experts who really know their stuff. And those folks don’t hesitate to share their expertise with an eager viewing audience, an audience who’ll later pick up a book to read for enjoyment only to find that the author doesn’t know the difference between cordite and kryptonite. By the way, neither cordite nor kryptonite should appear in crime fiction set in modern times.

Cordite manufacturing CEASED somewhere around the end of WWII. I’ll say that again in case you weren’t listening, or in the event the radio was playing too loudly and caused you to miss it.

Cordite manufacturing CEASED somewhere around the end of WWII.

They don’t make the stuff anymore. It’s not used in modern ammunition. Nope. Not there. Don’t use it. Don’t make it.

So no, your cops can’t smell it! That’s not what’s hitting their noses when they enter a crime scene.

Getting “IT” Right

As a former police investigator, I’m often asked what I think would be the perfect murder and my response is typically quick and always the same … “there’s no such thing as a perfect murder.”

I say this because I’m a firm believer in Dr. Locard’s Exchange Principle, a theory stating that always, without fail, when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects take something from the other or leave something behind. According to Locard, “It is impossible for a criminal to act, especially considering the intensity of a crime, without leaving traces of this presence.”

Locard’s Principle was on my mind throughout every case I investigated. It helped me to maintain my focus on the tiniest of details so that nothing went overlooked, not even the smallest of fibers.

Therefore, writers must, and I emphasize the word MUST, consider keeping this simple rule of thumb in mind when creating crime scenes and scenes of crimes, IF you’re going for realism. You do know there’s a difference between a crime scene and a scene of a crime, right?

Crime Scenes

Crime Scene and scene of the crime are not always synonymous. A crime scene is anywhere evidence of a crime is found (a dumpster located five miles away where a killer dumped the murder weapon, or the killer’s home where he deposited his bloody clothes, where the body was found if removed from the scene of the crime, etc.). Scene of the Crime is the location where the actual crime took place (where the killer actually murdered his victim).

 

Crafting the Perfect Murder

We’ve all heard about the killer who stabs someone with an icicle, a murder weapon that melts, thus leaving no trace evidence. Well, this is far from the truth since the killer had to approach the victim and he/she had to leave the scene. Therefore, he either left something behind or he took something with him (soil on the shoes, DNA, etc.).

There is trace evidence of some sort everywhere in every crime scene—again, footprints, DNA, fibers, tiny shards of glass, blood, etc. The weak link in a case would be, unfortunately, the detective who doesn’t dig deep enough or long enough or hard enough to find the evidence. This is true in all cases. The evidence is ALWAYS there, somewhere, begging to be found. It’s up to the savvy detective to locate it.

Disposing of bodies in clandestine grave sites are a fantastic means to hide a big piece of evidence … the body. Still, the killer was at the scene of the crime, therefore he left evidence. He had to move the body to the burial site. More traces of evidence—footprints, toll receipts and images captured by cameras at toll booths, gas purchases, purchases of burial equipment, and on and on and on. And then there’s the hound dog who drags a human femur to his owner’s back doorstep. He, the killer had to arrive at and then leave the scene. Again, the evidence is there for the taking—tire tracks, footprints, a leaf, a unique plant seed, a hair, or mud stuck to the soles of his shoes, etc. The list is practically endless.

The Almost Perfect Crime

Embalming fluid

What if a killer committed the murder in a funeral home embalming room, a place that sees hundreds of dead bodies pass through its doors. It’s a place where death “evidence” is routinely and efficiently scrubbed away.

Think about it for a moment. A funeral home where tons of body fluids and DNA have the potential of co-mingling and are routinely cleaned away using chemicals that can and do eliminate the typical clues searched for by investigators.

Yep, blood, saliva, nitrous and other fluids are scrubbed from the room, and all other physical evidence (breaks in bones, gun shot and stab wounds, etc, are totally destroyed during cremation. It’s the perfect It’s the perfect spot for the perfect crime, right?

Well, not so fast. Remember Locard, “when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects will take something from the other or leave something behind.” The victim had to arrive at the funeral, therefore evidence of the trip there would generate some sort of evidence trail. However slight it may be, it’s there.

Still, an inexperienced investigator could miss the clues in a funeral home setting.

To make it even more difficult for the detective, there’s this …

Cremation: The Process

Coffin materials are generally selected so as to minimize pollution generated when cremation takes place. Non-combustable coffin do-dads are removed (handles, knobs, hinges, etc.). PVC, heavy metals, solvent-based paints and other toxic resins are also removed or not at all used.

Cremation containers should be completely enclosed, rigid, leak resistant, and definitely combustible. They may be made of cardboard or particle board, wooden, or even a those nice and shiny, highly polished caskets, as long as they’re combustible and non-toxic. Metal caskets cannot be cremated.

Implants of any types which contain power sources are removed from the remains. Also removed are prostheses, jewelry, and non-combustible parts of clothing.

Cremation takes anywhere from 30 minutes in the case of the very small, to over two hours. The human body contains between 65% and 85% water by weight, so a temperature high enough to facilitate the combustion process—up to 2,000 degrees F is where the cremation process typically occurs.

Not for the Squeamish!!

Combustion in the cremator occurs in two steps

  • The primary combustion in the main chamber. It’s here where tissue, organs, body fat, ligaments, tendons, and the casket itself burn off as gases.
  • The secondary chamber, where they continue to undergo combustion (bone fragments remain in the primary chamber). Inorganic particles, usually from the cremation container, settle on the floor of the secondary chamber.  The gases formed as a by-product of combustion—carbon dioxide, water, oxygen, etc.—discharge into the sky through a stack.

When complete, funeral home employees (or the villain of your story) sweep the remains into a tray where they’ll sit to cool. This step is similar to when grandma baked a pie and then allowed it to cool on the sill of an open window before slicing it into individual serving sizes.

Once sufficiently cool, the employee, or bad guy, sifts through the ashes to remove bit of metal, if any (evidence). Any bone fragments are pulverized until all until the remains are less than 1/8” in size.

The cremated and squashed remains are then transferred to a plastic bag and placed into an urn. Or, if this step involves a murderer, the remains would most likely wind up scattered in a field down by Old Man Kelsey’s creek.

The “Other” Cremation: Human Soup

Alkaline hydrolysis, AKA “water, or green cremation”, is a water-based dissolution process that uses alkaline chemicals, heat and pressure and agitation to speed up natural decomposition. Once complete, all that’s left behind is bone residue and a liquid … human soup. This “human broth” is, believe it or not, considered sterile and is simply discharged with into local sewer system and is then treated as any other wastewater product (the stuff that goes down the drains of your home).

Leftover bone material is then pulverized and placed into an urn. Since there is more leftover bone material than with cremation by fire, these remains require a larger urn. And, by the way, due to the larger amount of “leftovers,” it would be more difficult for the villain of your story, if this setting is your thing, is someone who most likely works in a funeral home, to hide the remains created by this method of cremation.

Still, these methods of hiding and/or destroying evidence are far more effective than merely shooting Bill Imdead and then leaving his corpse on the living room floor to be found by cleaning company workers.

The perfect murder? No, but pretty darn close.

*Someone who commits a murder inside a crematorium by hastily shoved the body into the cremation chamber, and then flees the scene, leaving the body to reduce to ashes, would leave behind a mound of clues—bone, teeth, jewelry, implants complete with serial numbers, etc. Sure, the majority of the body parts would be gone, but it would still speak to investigators … if they took time to listen.


Click the link below to discover …

6 WAYS TO TRANSFORM A BORING CRIME SCENE INTO FASCINATING FACTUAL FICTION

Police work is certainly filled with unknown and unseen perils. Without a doubt, it’s a job that comes with a long list of hazards. Aside from the obvious dangers—fights, stabbings, car crashes, shootings, etc.—one of the most gut-wrenching threats to officers is known universally as the dreaded “Open Mic.”

Open Mic – When an officer unknowingly presses the transmit button on his portable radio and is broadcasting everything he/she says and does to anyone and everyone.

And this, one cold, winter night, is when an open mic caused a bit of embarrassing grief for Captain “Jim” and a young female dispatcher I’ll call Geraldine for the purpose of this post. You see where this is going, right?

I was working late that night, wrapping up after a successful raid on a crack dealer’s house, when I heard the “dead air.” A sound, or lack thereof, that’s unmistakable and easily recognizable to officers everywhere. It usually starts out with a bout of silence, followed by faint traffic noises, a car radio playing somebody’s favorite tune, or maybe a conversation. This faux pas often occurs when an officer leans over to one side and accidentally depresses the talk button on his belt-mounted walkie-talkie. Seat belt connections are notorious for pushing the button inward. However, when the officer moves the button is released and all is well. No problem.

Sometimes, though, what comes spewing from the speaker is downright porn. You know, the officer is at home for lunch with the spouse and things get a bit heated and the next thing you know off goes the gun belt. The officer drops the belt to the floor where the radio talk button becomes jammed against the point of a high heel or a chair leg. And, well, “lunch time” is instantly broadcasted to everyone with a police radio and/or scanner. Not good. No, not good at all. No, sir.

Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 1.26.04 PM

Anyway, back to Captain Jim’s troubles.

I heard the dead air followed by the sound of voices, a man and woman. It quickly became apparent that the male was our boss, Captain Jim. The female’s voice was difficult to pinpoint. Familiar, somewhat, but I had a hard time figuring out who she was because of all the screaming … “Oh, Jim! Oh, Jim! Yes, Jim! Oh, Jim! Yeeeesssssss, Jiiimmmm!!!!

Next, I heard a bit of light smooches and then a few odd, indiscernible clicks and rattles.

Then … silence.

Suddenly, an exasperated voice spewed from the speaker in my car, and from, I’m sure, every police car radio in the entire network—city police, county deputies, state police, and every household where a police scanner sat perched on somebody’s grandpa’s nightstand. Even worldwide should someone happen to be listening in on their computer or cell phone from Padooky, Kansas, or Fryonion, Nevada, or Crookedfoot, Alaska. Or even as far away as China, Russia, or Australia. It’s possible.

“S**t! The door’s locked,” said Captain Jim.

“What?” said the female voice who I immediately recognized as that of Geraldine, one of the night shift dispatchers. “Stop joking,” she said.

“I’m not kidding,” said Captain Jim. “I forgot about not being able to open the back doors on patrol cars.” A pause, then, “I knew I should’ve driven my own car, dammit.”

“What are we going to do?” said Geraldine.

“I’ll have to call someone … oh, s**t, the mic’s open.”

That’s the precise moment when the hot microphone died and regular radio traffic resumed.

The next voice I heard on the radio was Captain Jim calling me, asking if I was available to come to his location. He told me he was at an old abandoned runway out at the county’s private airport. Meeting an informant is the reason he gave for being there. Yeah, right.

I ten-foured him and headed out to the airport, grinning all the way as I imagined the captain and Geraldine trapped in the backseat area behind the partition, waiting patiently for me to come rescue them. I also had thoughts of all the folks who’d urinated or puked or bled in the backseat currently being used as a cozy little love nest.

I drove to the end of one runway and then turned left onto the cracked and pot-hole littered asphalt of the abandoned runway, and there, parked among a stand of tall weeds and overgrown shrubs and sycamore trees, and rusty, old appliances someone had discarded, is where I saw the police car. No one was visible in the vehicle. Not that I could see, that is, because the windows were heavily steamed.

I parked my unmarked car, got out, and walked over to the rear door on the driver’s side where I grabbed the handle and pulled it open. Then I turned around and went back to my car and drove away.

Neither Captain Jim nor I ever spoke about that night. I figured what happened out there was none of my business. I do know, however, that I was never denied a single vacation request from that night forward.

 

Lynching laws across the country vary, but the one thing they all have in common is that most people believe the crime and its legal definition absolutely must involve a tree and a rope.

So here’s a shocker—contrary to popular belief, one does not need a rope to commit a lynching, nor does one need a tree or other sturdy platform from which to hang the rope. And, speaking of hanging, it’s not always necessary to “string-up” a human being to commit a lynching.

First, before explaining the laws, let’s explore a tiny bit of history regarding lynchings by rope and tree. Please bear with me because events like the following helped set the stage for modern lynching laws.

In Virginia, between 1880 and 1926, over 90 people—mostly African Americans—were lynched. The last lynching occurred in Wytheville, a small town situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Wytheville, you may remember, is the town where a man named Warren Taylor entered the post office pushing a wheelchair he said contained explosives. Taylor then took hostages and fired a few wild shots before police convinced him to surrender. The town was also the site of a large polio outbreak in the 1950’s. Seventeen people died and nearly two-hundred were hospitalized. Since there was no hospital in Wytheville, ambulances and even hearses from local funeral homes were used to transport the sick 80 miles to a hospital in Roanoke. Black townspeople, however, were denied care at the Roanoke hospital and were forced to travel to Richmond, some 300 miles further.

My only connection to Wytheville was becoming friends with a trooper from there during our time training at the Virginia State Police academy. He, too, was a canine handler and our two dogs quickly became best buddies.

But back to the Wytheville lynching. A black man named Raymond Bird was accused of having sex by force with a 19-year-old white woman, Minnie Grubb, the daughter of his employer.

Actually, Byrd and his quite willing white lover were having an affair (Bird was married), and she became pregnant with his child. Well, her parents were appalled at the notion and wanted their daughter to say Bird raped her. Long story short, she refused but others came forward to back the rape claim and Byrd was promptly arrested and jailed.

While sleeping in his jail cell, an angry mob of masked men stormed the jail, removed Bird and shot him. Then they tied him to a truck and dragged his body for nearly ten miles where they left him hanging from a tree. A local farmer was the only person charged and tried for the lynching. He was acquitted after a ten minute deliberation by the jury.

In 1928, Virginia Governor Harry Byrd, Jr. signed the first the Anti Lynching Law in the Commonwealth.

But not all lynchings/hangings were of African Americans. For example, in 1900, two men, Brandt O’Grady and Walter Cotton, were wanted for a string of brutal killings. O’Grady was white and Cotton was black. The two men, after escaping a Portsmouth jail, also killed Justice of the Peace John Saunders and Deputy Sheriff Joseph Welton who were part of the team of men out searching for the murderers. The two lawmen and a citizen tracked O’Grady and Cotton to a cabin near the North Carolina state line. Deputy Walton entered first and was immediately shot and killed. Saunders turned to retreat and was shot in the back of the head. The citizen managed to get away to seek help.

O’Grady and Cotton were eventually captured and subsequently held in the county jail. Citizens were angry over the murders of their local lawmen, and threats of lynchings grew louder by the day. So the Virginia State Militia was dispatched to protect the prisoners. However, the protection detail was withdrawn by order of the governor and, while awaiting trial, a group of those angry citizens stormed the jail and took the two men out to the front lawn of the courthouse where they hanged Cotton, the black man, from a cherry tree.

The mob was comprised of both blacks and whites, and the moment Cotton was put to his death the black citizens demanded equal justice for O’Grady. So they went back inside to pull O’Grady from his cell and then hung him next to his conspirator.

The cherry tree was eventually cut down sometime in the mid to late 1970s. Several county employees and townspeople took pieces of it as souvenirs. The old jail was later demolished and replaced by a newer facility.

Okay, with that bit of history under our belts, let’s explore lynching laws.

Of course, those laws do indeed include include murder by hanging, which is a topic of interest to many writers. But lynching laws are often broader in scope and don’t, as I stated earlier, necessarily include a rope and tree. For example, in Virginia (I often use Va. as my “go-to” since I’m most familiar with the laws there), the definition of the crime of lynching is:

§ 18.2-39. “Lynching” defined.

Any act of violence by a mob upon the body of any person, which shall result in the death of such person, shall constitute a “lynching.”

§ 18.2-40. Lynching deemed murder.

Every lynching shall be deemed murder. Any and every person composing a mob and any and every accessory thereto, by which any person is lynched, shall be guilty of murder, and upon conviction, shall be punished as provided in Article 1 (§ 18.2-30 et seq.) of this chapter.

§ 18.2-43. Apprehension and prosecution of participants in lynching.

The attorney for the Commonwealth of any county or city in which a lynching may occur shall promptly and diligently endeavor to ascertain the identity of the persons who in any way participated therein, or who composed the mob which perpetrated the same, and have them apprehended, and shall promptly proceed with the prosecution of any and all persons so found; and to the end that such offenders may not escape proper punishment, such attorney for the Commonwealth may be assisted in all such endeavors and prosecutions by the Attorney General, or other prosecutors designated by the Governor for the purpose; and the Governor may have full authority to spend such sums as he may deem necessary for the purpose of seeking out the identity, and apprehending the members of such mob.

 

California omits “lynching” from law

Until 2015, California’s Lynching Law (California Penal Code 405a) defined “lynching” as the crime of removing someone from the lawful custody of a peace officer by means of a riot.

What constitutes a riot per this section of California law?

  • Use force or violence;
  • Disturb the public peace; or
  • Threaten to use force or violence with immediate power to execute the threat.

Therefore, (per California law) – Lynching: “to take someone from lawful police custody by means of a riot means to engage in the use of force or violence, disturbing the public peace, or threatening to use force or violence with the immediate power to do so in order to free someone from the custody of a law enforcement agent.”

However, in 2015, then California Gov. Brown signed legislation removing the word “lynching” from the law after a member of the Black Lives Matter group was arrested for interfering with the arrest of a fellow activist during a rally against police brutality. Her arrest was for the crime of Lynching and had nothing to do ropes or trees or even murder.

Still, while having other meanings and legal implications, the term “lynching” is, and will likely always be most commonly associated with the brutal hangings of African Americans, especially those that occurred in the south. According to numbers from the Equal Justice Initiative, nearly 4,000 African Americans were lynched by racist mobs between 1877 and 1950.


Strange Fruit

Here’s Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, a song that was closely aligned with the anti-lynching and American Civil rights movements. The song is definitely chilling and quite visual. It was originally written as a poem by Abel Metropol.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

 

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

scent of magnolia

sweet and fresh

then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

 

Here is a fruit

for the crows to pluck

for the rain to gather

for the wind to suck

for the sun to rot

for the tree to drop.

Here is a strange

and bitter crop.


*Please, this is not an article about race or politics. Please do not make it so. The information contained in this post is strictly that, information. It’s not an op ed piece nor is  it an invitation to argue personal views about race, police, politics, gun control, the NRA, school shootings, etc. I’ve grown weary of the constant bickering so often seen on social media. But I do wholeheartedly welcome questions and comments.

The writer, a lovely woman who writes as Esther Neveredits and who shares her office with seven cats of various sizes and personalities, opened the first chapter of her first book with the following passage.

“Detective Barney Catchemall followed the cop killer, a man named Folsom Blue, across seven states and forty-eight jurisdictions, to a house in Coolyville, California where he shot Blue in the arm with a single round fired from his department-issued semi-automatic revolver. He bandaged his prisoner’s wound (just a nick) and then brought him back to the city where the homicide took place and where he’ll stand trial before the Grand Jury on a charge of Homicide 1.

He’d been tried for the Homicide 1 charge once before but was found not guilty and set free with a clean record. However,  the vindictive DA decided to try him again, hoping for a more suitable outcome, a conviction, which was practically guaranteed the second time around since the hardworking prosecutor personally handpicked the jury members … twelve badge bunnies. And, as soon as the paperwork was complete, he had plans to seize Blue’s oceanfront condo and his yacht. It was a good day. A good day indeed.”

So, did Ms. Neveredits have her facts straight? Yes? No?

Fortunately, and unlike Esther (bless her heart), most writers are pretty savvy when it comes to writing about cops and criminals and everything in between. And those who have questions … well, they typically ask an expert to help with the details. Or, they attend the Writers’ Police Academy where they’ll receive actual police training—driving, shooting, door-kicking, crime scene investigation, classes on the law and courtroom procedure, and so much more, and it’s all designed for writers.

But let’s return to Esther’s paragraph. What did she get wrong? The better question is how many things did she get wrong and in so few words?

  • Is there an official charge of Homicide I?
  • Are police officers permitted to cross jurisdictional boundaries, shoot a suspect, and then bring them back to stand charges?
  • Do Grand Juries try criminal cases?
  • Can a defendant be tried twice for the same crime?
  • Can a prosecutor continue to bring charges against someone over and over again until they get the results they seek—a conviction?
  • Semi-auto revolver? Is there such thing as a semi-auto revolver?
  • What the heck is a badge bunny?

Okay, let’s dive right in.

Just say no to “Homicide 1”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is Murder that’s the unlawful killing of another person. The crime is usually deliberate or committed during an act that showed total disregard for the safety of others.

“I understand that murder is a crime,” you say, but … what’s the difference between murder and homicide? Don’t they share the same meaning? Is there a difference?

Yes, of course there’s a distinction between the two, and the things that set them apart are extremely important.

Again, murder is the unlawful killing of a person, especially with malice aforethought. The definition of homicide encompasses ALL killings of human beings by other humans. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

By the way, animals (horses, dogs, pigs, cows, chickens, etc.), do not fall into the category of “all killings of human beings by other humans.” Therefore, there is no charge of murder for killing an animal. There are other laws that apply in those instances, but not, “Farmer Brown received the death penalty for murdering Clucky, his prized rooster.”

Anyway, yes, some homicides are indeed, L.E.G.A.L., legal.

Another term/crime you should know is felony murder. Some of you attended a popular and detailed workshop about this very topic at the Writers’ Police Academy.

To get everyone’s attention, a bank robber fires his weapon at the ceiling. A stray bullet hits a customer and she dies as a result of her injury. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices could also be charged with the murder even if they were not in possession of a weapon or took no part in the death of the victim.

Also, Manslaughter – Even though a victim dies as a result of an act committed by someone else, the death occurred without evil intent.

While attending a mind-numbing car race where drivers made loop after loop after loop around an oval dirt track, a quite intoxicated and shirtless Ronnie Redneck got into a rather heated argument with his best buddy, Donnie Weakguy.

Donnie Weakguy

During the exchange of words, Weakguy begins yelling obscenities and with the delivery of each four-letter word he jabbed a bony index finger into Redneck’s chest. Redneck , a man of little patience, took offense at the finger-poking and used both hands to shove Weakguy out of his personal space. Well,  Weakguy, who was known countywide for his two left feet, tripped over his unconscious and extremely intoxicated girlfriend, Rita Sue Jenkins-Ledbetter, and hit his head on a nearby case of Budweiser. He immediately lost consciousness and, unfortunately, died on the way to the hospital as a result of bleeding inside the skull. Weakguy’s death was not intentional, but Ronnie Redneck finds himself facing manslaughter charges.

To address Ms. Neveredit’s additional missteps:

Jurisdiction – A law enforcement agency’s geographical area where they have the power and authority to enforce the law. The location is typically the area where the officer is employed and sworn to enforce the law. A city officer’s jurisdictional boundary is within the city limits (In most areas tthere is small allowance that extends beyond the city limits where officers are legally permitted to make an arrest.

Sheriffs and their deputies have authority in the county and any town or city within those boundaries, state police—anywhere in the state, federal agents—anywhere within the U.S. and its territories. To learn more about the exceptions please click over to my article titled Jurisdictional Boundaries: Step Across This Line, I Dare You.

Grand Jury – A panel of citizens selected to decide whether or not probable cause exists to charge a defendant with a crime. The Grand Jury hears only the prosecution’s side of the story. The defense is not allowed to present any evidence. In fact, the defense is not allowed to hear the testimony offered by the prosecution.

A Grand Jury does NOT try cases

Grand Jury members meet in secret, not in open courtrooms. Now you know why …

Asset Forfeiture – The government is allowed to seize property used in the commission of a crime. Many police departments benefit from the forfeiture of items such as, cash, cars, homes, boats, airplanes, and weapons. These items may be sold at auction, or used by the police.

For example, drug dealers use a 2010 Mercedes when making their deliveries. Police stop the car and arrest the occupants for distribution of heroin. Officers of a joint task force seize the car and subsequently fill out the proper asset-forfeiture paperwork. The vehicle is later forfeited (by the court) to the police department’s drug task force. They, in turn, assign the vehicle to their drug task force where officers use it as an undercover car. Other assets (again the items must be fruits of the illegal activity) are also seized and sold and the proceeds are divided among the agencies who participated in the bust and prosecution—prosecutor’s office, local police departments with officers assigned to the task force, etc.

Double jeopardy – The Fifth Amendment rule states that a person cannot be made to stand trial twice for the same offense.

Badge Bunny – A woman or man who is over-the-top romantically interested in police officers and firefighters, and pursues them relentlessly. And I do mean REE-Lentlessly. They sometimes follow officers around while they’re on duty. The eat in the same restaurants. Watch officers from afar. Bring baked goods to the police department. Call in false reports that bring officers to their homes. Stand or park nearby the police department during shift changes. Make friends with dispatchers, hoping they’ll help get them closer to the officers who make their stalking hearts go pitter-patter. They drive fast, hoping an officer will stop them for speeding, an opportunity to flirt. And, well, you get the idea. REE-Lentless.

 

There’s an old cop saying, “The badge will get you a bunny, but the bunny will eventually get your badge.”

* Badge Bunnies have been assigned a variety of nicknames by officers, such as beat wives, holster sniffers, and lint (because they cling to uniforms).

Now, a final thought …

Here’s a easy rule of thumb to remember that’ll help to sort out the murder/homicide issue.

  • All murders are homicides, but not all homicides are murder.

See, not confusing at all …

WAIT! We forgot to address the semi-automatic revolver. Is there such a thing? Well, typically the answer would be no. However …

 

See, I told you the only things consistent in police work and the law are the inconsistencies therein. And that’s a fact … maybe.

 

Many writers have never, not once, set foot inside a police car, nor have they climbed out of bed at 11 p.m. to swap pajamas for a police uniform, Kevlar vest, gun belt, sidearm, and spit-shined shoes. And they’ve not headed out into the night to spend the next eight to twelve hours dealing with the city’s “worst of the worst,” and worse.

Most people have not left home with their family saying, “Be careful, see you when you get home,” and know they’re saying it because they worry the next time they see their loved one will be at their funeral service. “Killed in the line of duty” is what the bloggers and reporters will say.

Sure, you all know what goes on during a police officer’s shift—fights, domestic calls, shootings, stabbings, drug dealers, rapists, and killers of all shapes and sizes.

But what those of you who’ve never “been there, done that” cannot honestly and accurately detail the sounds heard when someone take a shot at you. No, not the actual gunshot. Its the other noises that help bring super-cool details to your stories.

To learn about those sounds, let’s pretend we’re the officer who’s just been the target of a bad guy’s gunfire. We’re chasing the suspect through alleys and paths that wind through dark wooded areas, all while knowing the guy has a gun and he’s definitely not afraid to use it.

Can’t see your hand in front of your face, so you stop and listen. And then it happens …

That eerie calm.

It causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand tall and straight. Goose bumps come to attention on your arms. A lone pea-sized bead of sweat worms its way down your spine, easing through the space between your pants and the bare skin of your waistline. It feels oddly cool against your fear-warmed flesh.

If this occurred in a movie there would be, of course, background music. So let’s do this right. Hit the play button, take a sip of your coffee, or tea, and then read on to learn about A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

 

10-4, I’ll take this one …

The call came in as “Shots Fired. Suspect is armed with a handgun and caller advises he is still at the residence and is threatening to kill responding officers.”

I was working the county alone so I asked the dispatcher to request backup from a nearby city and from the state police. The trooper in our county was also working alone. Our roles differed, though. He was out on the interstate writing traffic tickets while I responded to the usual plethora of calls. Either way, we were alone when we approached whatever situation was before us, be it stopping a stolen car with dark tinted windows or heading toward a house where I knew a man was waiting to kill me.

The sound of a police radio is far different when it’s heard late at night as opposed to the same radio traffic during daylight hours. Its an unexplained phenomena. It could be that dark skies and night air create different acoustics. Or that working the graveyard shift forces dispatchers to work really hard to battle “the thing” that comes out at night to squeeze their emotions into submission. They typically lose the fight which results in a manner of speech that’s without feeling, inflection, and dynamics.

Nighttime radio traffic echoes and travels far. It’s weird and out of place among the stars and creamy moonlight. Dispatchers drone on like robots … “Robbery at …” “Wife says husband hit her …” “Lost child …” “Possible drug overdose at …” “Loud music at …” “Peeping Tom at …” “Customer refuses to pay at …” Shoplifter at …” “Dead body in river …” Dead body in park …” “Shots fired …” “Shots fired …” “Man stabbed at …” Shots fired …”

Back to the man who wanted to kill me

I acknowledged the call with a “10-4, I’m en-route.” Then I hooked the radio mic back into the metal “U-shaped” clip connected to the dashboard. Next I pushed one of the many red toggle switches mounted into the center console.

With the push of the button, a faint click occurred simultaneously with the eruption of pulsating blue light. I stepped on the gas and heard the engine come to life. Since I was miles out in the country there was no need for the siren. Not yet.

I pushed the pedal toward the floor until I was cruising along at 70 mph. Believe me, that was pretty fast considering the curvy, hilly road that was before me.

There are no streetlights in the country. It’s super dark. Blue light reflects from trees, shrubbery, houses, mailboxes, passing cars, and telephone poles. It also reflects from the white lines painted on the pavement.

Meanwhile, the radio traffic continues with updates for me and with traffic from city officers and the trooper out on the interstate … “Use caution. Driver of the vehicle is wanted for a homicide in …”

My car radio played in the background. Golden Earring’s bass player thumped the intro to “Radar Love” while I attempted to straighten the curves by hitting my marks—drive low in the curves, on both sides of the road. Never at the apex. Unless a car is coming in the opposite direction or you cannot see far enough ahead to safely do so. The guitar player’s eardrum piercing leads began just as I hit a rare straight stretch of the road.

Hey, here’s an idea. Why not join me for the rest of the ride. So climb in, buckle up, and hold on. And, let’s crank up the radio to start the blood flowing. It’ll help set the stage. Off we go!

The blue strobes mounted on top of the car make a clicking sound with the start of each flash. The wig-wag headlamps do the same. The roadway is very uneven with a few cracks and potholes scattered about. They cause the patrol car to dip and sway perilously in the vehicle groans and creaks with each expansion and contraction of its suspension. The extra pair of handcuffs I and many other cops keep handy by hanging them from the spotlight handle that protrudes from the post between the windshield and driver’s door, sway back and forth and bang together causing a constant click, click, click noise.

The cacophony of speed and sights and sounds—creaks, clicks, and whirling, blinking, and flashing vivid blue lights, together with the combination with the car’s groans and moans and squeaks and rattles, the dispatcher’s monotonous voice, and the frenzy of the music—are out of sync and in total discord. Adrenaline, at this stage of the game is that a feverish pitch. It’s organized turmoil.

I switched off my lights a ways before reaching the scene—didn’t want to shooter to know  we were there—and stopped my car on the shoulder, a bit down the road from the driveway. I called the dispatcher on the phone to let her know I’d arrived. The use of the phone was in case the bad guy was listening to a scanner. I turned down the volume on my police radio. Way down. Remember, the sound travels far. I wished backup didn’t have to do the same (travel far).

I opened my car door slowly to avoid making any noise. The interior light was not operational—disconnected in police cars to prevent illuminating the officer and/or blinding them to goings-on outside the vehicle.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to remain here, for now,” I say to you. “it’s for your own safety. Lock the doors, and no matter what you hear or see do not get out of the car. I’ll be back soon.” I open my wallet to retrieve a spare car key. “Here, just in case.”

As I slid from the seat my leather gun belt creaked and squeaked and groaned, as leather does when rubbed against other leather or similar material. To me, the sound was as loud as fourth of July fireworks. My key ring (in my pants pocket) jingled slightly with each step. So I used a hand to hold them against my leg. The other hand was on my pistol.

I walked up to the house to peek into a window before knocking on the front door. I wanted to see if I could, well, see anything. But, as I closed in on the side of the house a large mixed breed dog stepped into view, showing its teeth and upper gums. The animal, with matted-hair and a crooked tail,  growled one of those slow and easy rumbles that comes from somewhere deep inside. I held out a hand for it to sniff. It backed into the shadows.

A quick peek inside revealed a family of five. A woman with two black eyes and three crying children. Two girls, not quite teenagers, but close, probably, and a wiggling and squirming baby. A man stood near a tattered recliner and tall floor lamp. He held a pump shotgun in his right hand. At the moment, the barrel was aimed toward the floor. He yelled a few obscenities and started to pace. Then he looked straight at me, or at least it seemed like he looked at me.

My heart pounded against the inside of my chest. It bumped so hard I could hear the sound it made with each beat. It was that song’s intro all over again …

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

I’ve been driving all night
My hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
It’s my baby calling
Says “I need you here”
And it’s half past four and I’m shifting gear.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump—

Then, from somewhere deep in the shadows.

Grrrr …….. Growl …..

From inside the home.

A baby crying.

A woman pleads and sobs.

A young girl. “Please, Daddy. No more!”

Sirens wail in the distance, beyond the black tree line that connects sky with earth. Sounds travel further at night, right?

The air-conditioning unit beneath the window snaps on. Its compressor humming and fan whirring. The metal casing rattles slightly. Probably missing a screw or two.

A Cop’s Nighttime Melody Approaches the Finale

I knew what I had to do and started toward the door with my leather shoes and gun belt squeaking and keys jingling and heart thumping. As I reached for the knob I took a deep breath.

The expansion of my chest pulled at the Velcro that held my vest tightly against my torso.

Crackle. Crackle. Crackle.

Right behind me now.

Grrr …. Growl …

Crying.

Screaming. 

Whir.

Thump. Thump. Thump!

Jingle

Squeak.

The door.

Turn and push.

“Drop the gun!”

BANG!

BANG!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Crying.

And crying.

“10-4. Send the coroner.”

So, my friends, those are the sounds of working the graveyard shift … A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

Thanks so much for joining me. I hope to see you again, soon.

 

*This is a repeat post per request. Thanks!

 

“Shots fired! Officer down! We’re taking rounds from somewhere but we don’t know where! It’s a set up. Send help. Now!”

Ambush. It’s a nightmare scenario for police officers, and it’s a nightmare that’s difficult to predict. It’s also a nightmare that’s nearly impossible to avoid because when people call and say they’re in trouble, well, the police have to respond. It’s what they do and the bad guys know this and they use it to their advantage.

However, there are some things officers can do to protect themselves. Like assessing all situations before plowing in head first. But that’s just plain old common sense.

The best avenue for safety is to think like the bad guys. Be creative. How would a crook set up an ambush? What are some scenarios that would lure a police officer into the spider’s lair?

Well, this should all come as second nature for a cop. After all, police officers ambush bad guys all the time, and they’re quite good at it too. But most officers probably never considered that ambush is one of their best tactics.

Let’s compare a crook’s ambush plan to a police officer’s plan of attack when arresting a dangerous suspect. Any similarities?

1. Good guys –  Police officers gather intelligence on the suspect before moving in.

Bad guys – Study the habits of their police officer target before making a move.

2. Good guys – Before attempting to arrest a dangerous suspect try to get him alone, away from partners.

Bad guys – Before attempting to kill a highly-skilled police officer try to get him alone, away from his partners.

3. Good guy – When making the arrest always be in charge. Go! Go! Go! Stay on the offensive.

Bad guy – Don’t wait for the target to make a move. Be aggressive. Go! Go! Go!

4. Good guy –  Get the suspect on your turf and terms. Maintain control of arrest/take down location.

Bad guy – Get the cop off balance. Take him out of his element. Call 911 and report a crime in a deserted area. Maintain control of kill zone.

5. Good guy – Always find and use cover. Stay protected.

Bad guy – Stay hidden. Never expose your location.

6. Good guy – When the time is right go with all your might. Take ’em down fast and hard.

Bad guy – Cut him no slack. Take him out, fast.

So, you see, a cop’s arrest planning and execution is quite similar to a crook’s planning and execution of an ambush. Cops should definitely use this “inside” knowledge to help protect themselves against an attack.

What’s the best defense against an ambush?

1. Always assume that someone could be waiting to ambush you. Don’t take a risk to save time, or because it seems foolish to take an extra precaution. Being teased by fellow officers is much more appealing than having your kids grow up with only memories of a parent.

2. Habits are costly. Never stick to a routine. Change the route you to take to work/home. Don’t eat at the same restaurant every day. Don’t sit in the same booth. Don’t stop at the same coffee shop on the way to work each morning. Don’t jog the same path after work.

And never, ever sit with your back to the door. Always, always, always sit where you can see all entrances and exits. If possible, have a quick look at everyone who enters. Note their body language and demeanor.

3. Don’t enter locations/situations with only one way out. Always have a retreat strategy and plenty of backup.

4. Look for things and places you can use for cover BEFORE you need it.

5. Go with your gut. If that extra cop sense tells you not to go, then don’t. Wait for back up. A cop’s instinct is usually on the money, so believe in it. Trust your gut and trust your training!

Finally, it’s not your job to be a hero. Your duty is to protect the public. Besides, a dead hero is never anything more than, well, dead.

Let’s see how well you do with a common scenario that officers often encounter. Good luck, and remember the tips above.

AMBUSH!

The call is at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The caller, a Mrs. Munster, reported that her husband has been feeling a bit green with jealousy and has threatened her with a gun several times during the past few days. In fact, he’s waving one around right now, she says, and tells the dispatcher to please hurry before he kills somebody.

Officers respond. A neighbor meets them at the curb, telling them she heard lots of screaming, yelling, glass breaking, and what she thought was a gunshot. The patrol cops thank the neighbor and ask her to go home where she’ll be safe. Then they knock on the Munster’s front door.

Ms. Lilly Munster answers (she has a black eye) and says her gun-waving husband is now calm and is in the bedroom watching his favorite television show, COPS. She says everything is okay and then invites them inside to have a look. But she seems nervous. Very nervous.

What should the officers do? Immediately go inside to speak with Mr. Munster? Wait for back up and then storm the house? Order Mr. Munster outside? What about Mrs. Munster? What happens to her?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.


Obviously, officers cannot predict and/or prevent every bad situation. But using caution, training, and common sense are crucial elements of living to see another day.


Thanks to author Kendra Elliot for allowing me to photograph her during her time at the Writers’ Police Academy firing range. That’s Kendra at the right (and above), taking aim. I was not harmed even though Kendra is a crack shot. Of course, the rifle was not loaded nor was I standing in the line of fire. Instead, we’re simply good at staging photos.

Also on the WPA firing line was author Melinda Leigh (below left). Both she and Kendra are longtime loyal sponsors of the event and we deeply appreciate their continued support.

 

It’s four in the morning and fatigue is tugging hard on your eyelids. It’s a subtle move, like grasping the string on one of your grandmother’s window shades, slowly pulling it down. The move, so gracefully executed by the Sand Man, is such that you hardly notice it.

Thinking about your family asleep in their warm beds, you turn onto a side street trying and hoping to find a place to pull over. Five minutes. That’s all you need.

Shouldn’t have spent those three hours today playing with the kids when you could’ve been sleeping. Still, that’s the only time you could spare. Otherwise you’d never see them while they’re awake.

And, someone had to mow the lawn this afternoon, right? And repair the washer and fix the flat on the wife’s car. Oh yeah, tomorrow is the day you’re supposed to speak about police officers to your third-grader’s class. It won’t take long, two or three hours at the most. Of course, there’s the lunch in the cafeteria with your kid. Sigh …

Sleep. You need sleep

Your headlights wash over the back of the alley as feral dogs and cats scramble out of the dumpster that sits like an old and tired dinosaur behind Lula Mae’s Bakery. The knot of hungry animals scatter loaves of two-day-old bread in their haste to escape the human intruder who dared to meddle with their nocturnal feeding.

A mutt with three legs and matted fur hobbles behind a rusty air conditioning unit, dragging a long, dirty paper bag half-filled with crumbled bagels that spill and leave a trail of stale nuggets in its wake. Tendrils of steam rise slowly from storm drains; ghostly, sinewy figures melting into the black sky. A train whistle moans in the distance.

The night air is damp with fog, dew, and city sweat that reeks of gasoline and sour garbage. Mannequins stare out from tombs of storefront glass, waiting for daylight to take away the flashing neon lights that reflect from their plaster skin.

You park at the rear of the alley, stopping next to a stack of flattened cardboard boxes, their labels reflecting someone’s life for the week—chicken, lettuce, disposable diapers, and cheap wine.

Four more hours. If you could only make it for four more hours …

Suddenly, a voice spews from the speaker behind your head, “Shots fired. Respond to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Back up is en route.”

“10-4. I’m 10-8. ETA … four minutes.”

And so it goes.

And goes and goes and goes …


Were Dead Ringers Saved by the Bell?

It’s believed by some that the graveyard shift (not this blog) got its name from people who accidentally buried their loved ones while they were still alive. Thinking their dearly departed had gone on to their reward, these folks unknowingly fitted a barely breathing, unconscious or comatose Uncle Bill or Grandma with a new outfit and a spiffy pine box.

Then they buried them in the local cemetery where night workers claimed to sometimes hear the dead screaming for help from below the ground. When they dug up the suspicious coffins, they sometimes discovered scrapes and scratches on the insides of casket lids, an indication that perhaps the people inside had tried to claw their way out before finally succumbing to a lack of oxygen.

To remedy the situation, caskets were fitted with a bell, and a long string that reached from the surface to the inside of the buried coffin. This enabled the “dead” person to ring the bell should he awaken after his burial. Workers could then quickly rescue the living dead.

It’s debatable as to the validity of this tale, but it makes for an interesting story, especially for police officers who have cemeteries to patrol in their precincts.


Is Working Graveyard Shift Hazardous to Your Health?

Working the midnight shift is difficult for anyone. In fact, Circadian Technologies, Lexington, Massachusetts consultancy firm, conducted a study that showed companies operating a graveyard shift may be losing approximatel $206 billion dollars annually. Why? Because workers are simply not effective when working these late-night hours.

The study also showed a higher divorce rate among midnight shift workers, more gastrointestinal problems, higher stress related disorders, and a higher accident rate. The study also concluded that there’s a much higher turnover rate among night-shift employees.

A Hutchinson Group (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) study reports that women who work the graveyard shift may have a greater risk of breast cancer. The results of this study were first introduced in a 2001 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Anyway, working the graveyard shift is a tough assignment no matter how you look at it. So tonight, when the clock strikes twelve, please take a moment to think about all the people across the country who are out there working hard to protect us and our property so that we may sleep safely. And, there are also the folks who work nightshift in factories, convenience stores, shipyards, hospitals, EMS services, firefighters, and many more.

Okay, today is quiz day here at The Graveyard Shift. So sharpen your pencils (we’re not high tech), take a seat at your desks, and then you may begin.

Miranda. Yes or No?

  • Johnny I. Lawbreaker was arrested at the scene of a burglary. A man walking his dog, a toy poodle named Ralph, saw Lawbreaker enter the home through a side window. The witness called the police and within a minute or two a patrol car showed up and the two officers nabbed the crook as he climbed feet first from the open window. In his right hand was a money bag filled with cash. The bag was clearly labeled with the homeowners first and last name.

The officers handcuffed Lawbreaker and hauled him to the local jail. He was allowed to post bond and later appeared in court to answer to the charges of Breaking and Entering and Larceny. Prior to his testimony Lawbreaker appeared confident and even occasionally smiled at jury members, the arresting officers, and the DA. After the prosecutor finished her opening statement Lawbreaker, having waived his right to an attorney, was representing himself, stood an addressed the court by saying, “Your Honor, I’d like for you to dismiss all charges because the officers never read me my rights, and the law states that they must. They violated my constitutional rights. Thank you.”

The judge, the Honorable Tommy T. Toughasnails, said, “Motion denied. Madam prosecutor, you may continue. “Law breaker was flabbergasted. He wondered how the judge could allow such a flagrant violation? After all, he thought, it’s right there in the constitution—When a person is arrested, police officers must immediately advise them of their rights.

Question – When making arrests, are police officers required by law to advise suspects of their rights? If so, is there a specific time and/or place to do so (at the spot of the arrest, for example?) At the police station/jail?

The One Phone Call

  • Police arrested Steve Legalbeaglewannabe and are now inside the department booking area. The prisoner rants and complains and hollers about his constitutional right to a phone call. “I want to call my wife and I demand that you take me to a phone right now! You idiots are violating my constitutional right to make a phone call. I ain’t no fool. I. Know. My. RIGHTS!”

Question – Is Leagalbeaglewannabe correct? Is there a constitutional right to be allowed that “one phone call?”

Those Lyin’ Cops

  • Ronnie Wrongway tells the judge that he shouldn’t be convicted for his crime of selling a million pounds of fentanyl to an undercover cop because the plainclothes cop lied to him, stating that he was not a police officer when Wrongway asked. During the trial the drug dealer aimed a grubby and stubby index finger at the officer and declared, “He, that fibbing cop right there, violated my constitutional rights when he lied to me. Cops must always tell the truth; therefore, I demand that all charges against me be dismissed.”

Question – Is it written in the constitution that police officers must always be truthful when dealing with criminals? Must charges be dismissed if an officers lies to a suspect during an investigation?

I Ain’t Pressing’ No Charges

  • Betty Blackeye calls the police to report an assault committed by her boyfriend. She tells the dispatcher that that Billy Buck came home from work, caught her in bed with two clowns from the circus that was in town for the week, and the next thing she knew … POW! Billy socked her in the eye. He tried fighting her two lovers but each time he bopped them in the nose they simply fell backward for a second, after releasing an odd squeaking noise, before quickly bouncing back upright.

So officers drove over to nab Billy Buck with plans of charging him with assault. When they arrived they observed Betty’s recently and badly bruised eye. However, Betty had a change of heart and began crying and begging officers to let the love of her life go. “I LOVE him,” she squalled. Between sobs she said she didn’t want to press charges, but the officers handcuffed Billy and took him to jail anyway. He was charged with assault.

Question – Was it legal for officers to arrest Billy Buck even though Betty withdrew her complaint?

Peekaboo, I See You

  • Donnie Doper called the police to report a break-in at his home. He told police that a rear door was forced open and the crooks stole his Crockpot, a socket set, and a shotgun. Police officers arrived and Donnie invited them inside to have a look around. While touring the home and taking notes one of the officers spotted a 5 lb. bag of cocaine on the kitchen table. Beside it is a set of scales and a stack of plastic bags. They arrested Donnie and confiscated the drugs and associated items.

Donnie argued that the officers illegally seized the drugs and paraphernalia because they did not possess a warrant to do so. And, since the seizure was illegal then so was his arrest. He demanded that charges be dropped.

Question – Was Donnie’s arrest illegal? Do police need a warrant in this or similar circumstances?