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 Road Runner, the writer 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 the writer to stimulate their senses. They want and need to know your characters on a personal level. You want readers to step into the pages of your books. 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 an officer position themselves when making an arrest?

Answer– Always, always, always stand with your gun side 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. 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 knives), I started at the top, beneath hats, and then worked 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 jammed inside pants and underwear.

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 do officers look for when dealing with unknown people?

Answer – There are many, so I’ll mention 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 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 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. So officers should always, always, always watch the hands of a suspect/subject. Next, watch the feet. They, too, can be used as powerful weapons.

Officers are forever scanning their surroundings, Ambush attacks are common, and deadly.

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

Call for backup!

What do cops do wrong that could be a hazard to their safety?

Answer – Officers should maintain their weapons in excellent condition. They should make certain that firearm operates properly and they should practice their shooting skills on a regular basis. This practice should include scenario-based training, not simply going to the range and popping 60 holes in a stationary paper target. 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?

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.

This isn’t so much “overlooking something” as it is being careless, but 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, and even second or third jobs. And, obviously, a job where your life could be threatened at any time requires a person to be on top of his/her game.

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 you. 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. Do not let down your guard. Never.

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

 


TODAY’S MYSTERY SHOPPER’S CORNER

Since the holiday season is nearly here, I’ve decided to feature a few fun items for your mystery shopping needs and wants. I’ll post these regularly throughout the remaining weeks of 2018.

So, for day four of MSC, especially for those of you who’re shopping for writer friends who enjoy a bit of research and/or relaxation, here are my picks. By the way, someone asked why I post all Amazon links for the books I recommend. The answer is that they work well for and with this site, but by all means feel free to purchase books anywhere you like. But why not here by simply clicking the links I provide?

First up, the Police Blue/Black folding knife. It’s also a firefighting rescue tool.


The Thin Blue Line flag.


LEGO’s City Police Mobile Command Center


Uniden Handheld Police/Fire/Rescue Scanner. I had one of these in my police car. In fact, I still have it.


The Book Corner

I’m on and off with Stephen King’s books, but I just completed this one and found it enjoyable.


Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors and I especially enjoy reading her books at night while snuggled beneath the covers. I read this one a couple of weeks ago.

I’m currently reading this one on my Kindle and it, like her others, is a wonderful read.


My friend Lisa Gardner has attended the Writers’ Police Academy both as Guest of Honor and as an attendee on a return visit. The second time she attended was a research trip for one of her bestselling books, Crash and Burn. The event provided her with the accident reconstruction material needed to write a believable make-believe story.

Fun fact – Lisa also wrote a hit short story that was set at the Writers’ Police Academy. In the tale, her protagonist, D.D. Warren, was an instructor at the WPA.

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly eleven years and I have to say, it’s sometimes tough to come up with a new topic each and every day. However, as long as writers continue to write stories about cops and crime, I suppose there’ll always be questions that need answering.

Today, though, I thought I’d put the shoe on a different foot and have you, the blog reader, answer the questions. I want you to see just how much you know about the world of cops and robbers. After all, it’s what you write … right?

So here’s a little self-test. The answers are highlighted. Would you have selected the correct responses?

(By the way, I’ve seen each of these used incorrectly in at least one book, or on someone’s blog)

1. Revolvers eject spent brass with each pull of the trigger. T or F

2. Thermal imagers can “see” through black garbage bags, allowing officers to identify the contents without opening the bag. T or F

3. How many locks are on a pair of handcuffs? One, Two, Four, or Six?

4. Speed Loaders are competition shooters who are extremely skilled at loading their weapons in a very short amount of time. T or F

Read about speed loaders on a past blog post at  https://www.leelofland.com/dump-pouches-v-speed-loaders/

5. Vehicles almost always explode when hit by gunfire. T or F

6. DNA evidence is used to convict defendants in nearly every case. T or F

7. The FBI can take over any case from local police, at any time. T or F

8. Kevlar vests worn by officers (or similar types) are designed to stop punctures from knives and other sharp objects. T or F

9. Are cops required to advise a suspect of Miranda (you have the right to…etc.) the moment they’re arrested? No, only when suspects are in custody AND prior to questioning. No questioning = no advisement of Miranda. Some departments, however, may have policies that require Miranda advisement at the time of arrest.

10. Are police officers required by law (in every state) to wear seat belts while operating a police car? No. In fact, some state laws also allow certain delivery drivers to skip buckling up (USPS letter carriers, for example).

11. Are all deputy sheriffs sworn police officers? No, normally deputies who work in the jails are not police officers.

12. Some California sheriffs also serve as county coroner. T or F

13. Small town police departments never investigate murder cases. T or F

All police officers are trained to investigate crimes, and small town officers investigate homicides all the time.

14. Robbery and burglary are synonymous. T or F

15. Narcotics dogs are fed small amounts of cocaine at an early age to get them used to the drug. T or F

16. Shotguns and rifles are basically synonymous. T or F

17. It’s fairly easy to knock someone unconscious with a quick blow to the back of the head, or neck. T or F

18. No one has ever escaped from death row. T or F

19. CornerShot is a bendable device that allows officers to shoot around corners. T or F

Read about CornerShot https://www.leelofland.com/corner-shot-who-says-bullets-dont-bend/

20. Cops are trained to aim for arms, legs, and/or to shoot a knife or gun from a suspect’s hand. T or F

Officers are taught to shoot center mass of their target. It is extremely difficult to hit small, moving targets while under duress. Again, officers DO NOT shoot hands, legs, elbows, or weapons (well, not on purpose).

21. Officers always shoot to kill. T or F

Police officers are NEVER trained to “shoot to kill.” Instead, they’re taught to stop the threat. When the threat no longer exists the shooting stops, if it ever starts. Often, the threat ceases before shots are fired.

22. It would be fantastic if the Writers’ Police Academy could feature a Guest of Honor who’s published in over twenty-five languages, has written over 200 novels, and has a whopping 60 million books in print.2019 event. T or F ?????


Today’s Mystery Shopper’s Corner

Since the holiday season is nearly here, I’ve decided to feature a few fun items for your mystery shopping needs and wants. Hopefully, I’ll post these regularly throughout the remaining weeks of 2018.

So, for day two of MSC, especially for those of you who’re shopping for writer friends who enjoy a bit of research and/or relaxation, here are my picks.

First up, a handy guide book used by police officers in the field. Each recruit in the academy where I taught received a copy during their basic training. It’s full of useful information for writers who write about cops. I purchase a copy each year so I have current laws and regulations at my fingertips …


Of course, like my bony friend at the top of the page, all crime writers should have a copy of Police Procedure and Investigation.


The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh, THE cop author, was a police officer with the LAPD for 14 years. His bio states – “the author of more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, all written in his gritty, distinctive noir-ish style. He’s won multiple Edgar Awards, and several of his books have been made into feature films and TV movies.”

Wambaugh also wrote The Onion Field and The Blue Knight, among other wildly successful books. He’s been a supporter of the Writers Police Academy since our early days. Do yourself a favor and read a Wambaugh book as soon as you can get your hands on a copy.


One of the first books recommended to me during my police academy train was Street Survival, offered by Calibre Press, the publisher who specializes in cop training books. It’s still widely read and studied by police officers.


On a different note, if romance and suspense are your favorites, then you should crack the covers of Pale as Death by Heather Graham.


Finally, the original police flashlight, the Mag Lite. I carried one (still have the first one I owned) and it was a tool that served me well. I used it, of course, as a flashlight to illuminate the interior of cars during traffic stops, to guide my way side buildings while searching for bad guys, and I’ve even used it as a tool for self defense. It’s a lifesaver in many ways.

Detective Pete Gitterdone had a spotless attendance record, never missing a day for sickness during his entire thirty-three years with the department. He was so proud of his achievement, in fact, that he refused to stay at home on this particular day, a time when his fever hovered at 102.

Coughing and sneezing fits forced him to spend the majority of the morning with his mouth and nose buried deep into a crumpled, crud-dampened, and extremely yucky handkerchief.

Gitterdone, feeling all achy and fatigued, was busy collecting suspected blood samples (brownish red stains for the official record) at a particularly brutal homicide scene, alternating between hacking and achooing, when his partner, Detective I. Lergictowork, told him he looked sickern’ a dog, like death warmed over, and asked if he needed a break.

Gitterdone promptly turned his head away from his partner and fired off a round of wet sneezes directly into the large paper bag of already-collected evidence. “No,” he said. “I’ll be okay. Besides, I’m almost done. Just a couple of prints to lift and I’m outta here.”

He tipped his head toward a desktop where a few sheets of yellow legal pad paper sat among a scattering of pencils, pens, and colored paperclips. “Looks like the suspect might’ve touched these papers,” he said. “How ’bout handing me a can of Ninhydrin. There’s one in my kit.”

Ninhydrin reacts with amino acids to produce a purple reaction product called “Rhuemann’s Purple”. It is useful on porous surfaces—especially paper. ~ Sirchie

So, did you notice anything particularly wrong with Gitterdone’s method of evidence collection? If so, what?

After watching these two work, well, it might be a good idea to have both Gitterdone and Lergictowork read this list of Crime Scene Do Nots. It might help to have your protagonist take a peek as well.

Crime Scene DO NOT’S

1. Do Not blow away excess fingerprint powder! Doing so adds your DNA to the surface.

2. Do Not use Styrofoam to package electronic devices (computer parts, etc.) because it can cause static charges. Instead, use foam padding or bubble-wrap.

3. Do Not alter or add anything to a crime scene sketch after leaving the scene. Memories are not quite as accurate as we may think.

4. Do NOT place bloodstained evidence in plastic bags. Plastic bags and containers can serve as incubators for bacteria, which can destroy or alter DNA. Rule of thumb – paper bags/containers for wet evidence (blood, semen, saliva, etc.) and plastic for dry evidence.

5. DO NOT collect DNA evidence samples (saliva, blood, etc.) from a criminal suspect without a court order, the suspect’s consent, or during exigent (emergency) circumstances.

6. Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, etc. over any evidence sample. This also includes talking over a sample. With each word spoken comes your DNA that’s instantly transferred to the sample.

7. Do NOT fold wet documents. Leave that to the professionals in the lab.

8. Do NOT use fingerprint tape or lifters to collect bits of trace evidence. The adhesion on print lifting tape is insufficient for picking up tiny bits of evidence.

9. Do NOT use dirty digging tools when collecting soil samples. Always clean tools thoroughly after each use to avoid cross contamination.

10. Do NOT use fingerprint lifters in lieu of gunshot residue (GSR) collection materials. (see number 8 above)

441

Fingerprint lifter – Sirchie image. I used Sirchie lifters all the time during my career. In fact, I still have a few leftover from my crime-solving days.

11. Do NOT allow shooting suspects, victims, witnesses, etc. to wash their hands or rub them against other surfaces until after GSR tests/collection have been completed.

12. ALWAYS remember #6 – Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, talk, etc. over any evidence sample.
Hapci-fr


Bonus – Transferred Prints

Do NOT write a transferred fingerprint scene without first giving it a ton of serious thought. Here’s why:

Yes, it is indeed possible to transfer a fingerprint, even accidentally. However, a skilled examiner should be able to spot duplicates since they tend to appear very thin and thready. Also, the background area surrounding the “new” print may not match the surface of the place where the transferred print was left. Background pattern(s) transfer along with the print.

Here’s where writers often make their mistakes when setting up characters to “take a fall” for another character. Transferred prints are mirror/reverse images and would be easily recognized by a skilled examiner. It’s possible, though, that an inexperienced print examiner, one who’s new to the field, may not catch it right away. But that scenario is highly doubtful.


BIG, BIG, BIG Writers’ Police Academy news is on the way. The 2019 WPA is a special event, one unlike anything we’ve presented in the past. And when I say special, I mean it’s over the top S.P.E.C.I.A.L.! I am so pleased and thrilled to present such an exciting opportunity for writers. This has never been done before, not ever!

For now, though, I’d like to share the dates and the location so you can make plans to attend. Please keep in mind that due to the nature and location of this unique program space/slots are limited. We’ll soon begin to announce more specific details but, for now …

Date – August 1-4, 2019

Location – Raleigh, N.C.

 

This week, The Rookie failed to dazzle me. Parts of it amused me, sure. But I didn’t love the episode like I did the first two. I’m sure Lee will point out the plethora of procedural mistakes—if he has the time or space, because there were so many. I’m certainly not a law enforcement professional, but my ten years of WPA attendance has taught me that Tim—Lucy’s TO—would not have challenged that biker to a fight in real life.

Yeah, Tim came back to work too soon after being shot, but having him pick a fight on duty in order to “prove himself” was just too far out there, IMHO. His wife, a drug-addicted ex-cop, had just popped back up in his life before he got shot—and he obviously has a type A personality—but that’s no excuse for the writers to make him look stupid. In real life, he’d probably be out on his aching butt after pulling a stunt like that.

John and Lucy are still seeing each other despite Angela’s warning to Lucy, telling me they must truly care about each other. But they’re doing a poor job of hiding their relationship, especially from West, their fellow rookie. I predict that everyone will know pretty soon, and they’ll have to make a tough decision. Sigh. So predictable.

Much of the plot centered around the three rookies—and the other cops, when they first started out—having a plan B in case their plan A career plan in law enforcement went south. John Nolan (Nathan Fillion), of course, is on plan D in his life, because he’s the oldest rookie in the history of the LAPD and has already reinvented himself multiple times. His bid at being a cop is only his latest venture. West, on the other hand, only has one plan: to be a cop like his father. Whether he’ll succeed or not is still up in the air.

The verdict isn’t in on Nolan, either. He assumed that a former military helicopter pilot they were after had stolen a hospital’s medivac copter and fled, only to have the woman come out of hiding and press a gun to his neck. His fast talking made her pause long enough for Angela to taze her, but in real life she probably would have shot Nolan.

The procedural mistakes sidetracked me this week, but I will continue watching to see if the writers ever get a clue—and if one of the three rookies washes out. My guess is that none of them will—especially not Nolan, because Fillion is the star of the show.

We’ll see what happens next week. 🙂


Lee Lofland

I’m liking the show less with the passing of each episode. I grew weary of the sergeant’s contact badgering of Nolan during week one, so to have this constant piling on is way up there on the list of things that annoy me—nails on a chalkboard, bamboo beneath the fingernails, and people who clip their toenails while onboard jet airliners at 33,000 feet. And the sound of a dentist’s drill.

Come on, Alexi Hawley, you can do better than to deliver a constant barrage of stale insults about growing older. As a result of the age-battering and cliché-tossing, perhaps a better title for this week’s episode would’ve been “The Not-So-Good, the Pretty Bad, and the Ugly, Ugly Writing.”

I get it, the show, and Nolan, needs conflict. That’s Writing 101. But real-life cops have enough drama and potential injury to their flesh and bone without intentionally wading into the midst of a mass of brawling outlaw bikers all while calling out one of the mean and nasty dudes who’s in the process of “earning his patch.” This was, as were several of the mini scenarios were saw this week, totally unbelievable.

I’m not sure why Alexi Hawley decided to write this show as he has, but for me it’s simply not working. He said early on, though, “We try to approach it from how we think cops should act in these situations.” I suppose this is the reason why the show rings so untrue and is practically unwatchable for me, because it’s coming across as how the writer, someone not involved in law enforcement, believes police officers truly behave and how they should perform their duties instead of how they’d react and perform in the real world.

This sort of thinking and writing is what sets this show so far from center of other more believable shows, such as Southland. I know, “The Rookie” is not meant to be an accurate portrayal of police work. It’s meant as entertainment. But in this day and time, many people fall for television hook, line, and sinker, believing what they see is the real deal. Therefore, a good portion of a TV audience will think officers pick fights with members of the public, act in a totally unsafe manner, disobey the rules as regular practice, etc.

They could at least have the officers wear protective vests beneath their uniform shirts.

Anyway, Melanie’s right, there were so many procedural wrongs this week that I’m not going to begin to try to point them out. In fact, the number of eye-rolling and glaring goofball things written into a single episode was way over the top.

One tactic mentioned during the briefing by the SWAT commander, however, was an actual police procedure (I know, something “real” was a surprise). He mentioned using a tactic called “Break and Rake.”

For those of you who don’t know, Break and Rake/Rake and Break is sometimes used during dynamic entries of buildings where the the danger level is high, such as was the case in this episode where they believed armed suspects were hiding out in the place to be searched.

Break-and-Rakes typically utilize teams of two or three SWAT members each, who break windows to distract the people inside the target house. Once the glass is broken and raked away the officers then point their rifles inside to provide cover for the entry team.

While “hitting” the front door a secondary team will also break through a second entrance. However, they typically stay put and hold the doorway safe and secure to prevent occupants from escaping and to guard against intruders who could come inside to engage the officers. Also, if the second entry team were to move further inside they’d run the risk of crossfire with the first entry team who’d breached the front door.

Entry teams may also use flash-bang grenades to further distract the bad guys.

Example of the devices police could/would use as breaching tools are:

Gerber Downrange Tomahawk [30-000715]

These devices/tools are actually perfect for motorists to store in the trunks of their cars, and for truckers. They also come in handy around the home for chopping branches, nail removal, as pry bars, and more. It’s not too late to order your Christmas gifts! 🙂

Trucker’s Friend Demolition & Multitool

Professional Fire & Rescue Tool

I’m surprised at the writing of “The Rookie,” because Hawley wrote some of the better “Castle” episodes. In fact, he pulled the show out of more than one ridiculous storyline funk. But now, for some reason, he’s opted to go the goofy route.

However, I fear that the goofy is not intentional and that it could be the way Hawley believes police officers should and do behave. That this show is his opinion of the good and brave men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe is a bit troubling, especially if that’s a sign of how others believe officers should carry out their duties. If so, well, that’s nothing short of scary and disturbing. I say this because several “goofy” things we’ve seen on this show would land a real-life police officer in a pine box six-feet underground while a bagpiper serenades the surviving family members.

Again, in Hawley’s own words … “how we think cops should act in these situations.”

Yeah, that’s truly bad, and ugly. Good … not so much.

I’ve seen a few oddities over the years, especially during Halloween, the night when both kids and adults dress up as their favorite characters. It’s also a night that a few ghoulish folks believe is the perfect time to commit the usual plethora of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. But there’s one Halloween crime from my old case files that stands out a bit from the rest and, as always, I have to tell the story. I do so, as irritating and long-winded as it may be, to help you with details for your own writing. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up and believe me, I read a lot and I write a lot, and most of what I see in fiction doesn’t compare to, well, this …

It was late one Halloween night, after costumed trick-or-treaters were long back at home gorging themselves on sugary treats—M&Ms, Whoppers, mini candy bars, Lemonheads, Candy Corn, and Skittles—when I knocked on Miss Evelyn’s front door, a wide plank of weathered wood with rusty strap hinges.

Through the square glass near the top of the door I saw a small slice of yellow light that started in a backroom to my left and stretched across the narrow hallway floor where it disappeared into another room on the righthand side of the passageway.

At the sound of my door-rapping, a shadow moved across the light, first one way and then back.

While waiting for the owner of the shadow to respond to my presence, I had a look around the porch. Nothing unusual … a one-gallon vegetable can (absent its label) filled with sand and topped with a handful of cigarette butts, a rickety old rocking chair, five plastic flower pots with each containing the remnants of some sort of unidentifiable plant—all dead, dried up, and crispy—, a well-worn green cloth sofa, and a portable radio that was missing a knob.

A foil-wrapped coat hanger poked up from a hole in the top of the radio’s plastic casing. It replaced the former antenna that, at some point, had broken off and was either lost or discarded as trash. Either way, the radio, in it’s present condition, had been there for as long as I could remember.

And, as always, smack-dab in the center of the front door were three fairly fresh chicken feet that were tied together at their bloody stumps with a piece of bright red twine. The collection of gnarly toes and bony knuckles dangled from a bent 4d finishing nail. Chicken feet, according to Miss Evelyn, bring good luck and, as a bonus, they also prevented evil spirts from crossing the threshold. Nope, nothing odd at all … for Miss Evelyn. The porch “decor” hadn’t changed in all the years I’d gone there. Not a thing.

I knocked again. She yelled from the back of the house. “Just a minute!”

I’d met Miss Evelyn after arresting a man for burglary and, while searching his pockets for weapons and other illegal items, I discovered a small flannel pouch tucked inside his wallet. I figured the contents could possibly be drugs, probably marijuana or hash, or something of that nature, so I asked the kid to level with me so I’d know what to expect.

I was surprised to hear him say that what I held in my hand was not was I’d suspected. Instead, he said, it was his “medicine bag,” a ground up mixture of chicken bones, tobacco, human hair, and herbs. Its purpose was to keep him safe. This was my first contact with a medicine bag. However, it was far from the last.

Root doctors make medicine bags containing plant and animal matter, such as human or animal bone, sage, garlic, and even dirt from a grave. The purpose of the bag is, for example, to provide safety, heal and prevent illness, and to help ignite or halt romances, etc. Another practically endless list.

This young burglar purchased his bag from Miss Evelyn, a local root doctor. Since this was a totally new experience for me, I decided to pay this so-called root doctor a visit. And, long story shortened a bit, Miss Evelyn “knew all and saw all” and she soon became one of my most reliable informants.

Her customer base was massive and many were criminals, so I basically kept her on speed dial. I also dropped off the occasional gift—a turkey or ham at Christmas, or a turkey in liquid form (Wild Turkey bourbon), her preference, as a sign of my appreciation.

This particular Halloween night a young man, Miss Evelyn’s nephew, answered the door and led me to the kitchen where his aunt stood at the head of six-chair red formica-topped table, hard at work assembling her latest batch of medicine bags and other concoctions. Behind her, a large black kettle was at full boil on the wood stove. A foul-smelling steam wafted my way. I didn’t ask.

If I had to guess I’d say Miss Evelyn weighed at just under a hundred pounds. She was so thin that the blood vessels on her arms and hands were visible and looked like someone had draped a squirming knot of skinny earthworms there, much like hanging tinsel on a Christmas tree.

As always when “working”, her face was peppered with tiny beads of sweat. Her fingernails were bitten to the quick. She wore a simple and faded housedress that was three sizes too big, a Winnie the Pooh apron, age-yellowed white socks, and pink Flip-Flops with the rubber thong jamming a wad of sock material between the first and second toes of each foot.

When she smiled it became instantly obvious that dentists were not a part of her clientele, nor had she ever, not once, crossed the threshold of any tooth doctor’s office. Her breath smelled like a rotting animal carcass, an even worse scent than the pungent odor emanating from the pot on the stove.

Miss Evelyn was quirky, to say the least, and she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met.

I’d gone there that particular night to see if Evelyn could offer any insight about two bodies that had been dug up in a local cemetery. The vaults had been damaged and the caskets broken open. The grave-robbers took the same thing from each coffin—bones from the lower right arms and hands.

She said she’d heard about a couple who used human bones as part of their religious rituals. Before exhuming remains, though, they had sex atop the grave sites.

Coincidentally, the man and woman visited Miss Evelyn earlier in the night to ask if she knew where they could get heir hands on a fresh corpse because, in order to complete their ritual, they needed blood and they knew that to get it they’d need to reach a body prior to embalming. Well, Evelyn was having no parts of their nonsense and sent them on their way. And that was the purpose of my visit. Miss Evelyn called me the second the grave robbers left her house.

I finally caught up with the couple when I discovered their car parked near a funeral home. They’d planned to break in to steal someone’s dearly departed loved one. Fortunately, we stopped them before they committed the act.

So you see, folks, bizarre and morbid and spooky crime does not always come in the form of murder. Nor are the macabre criminals always the odd characters who reside at the spooky house at the end of the street.

This particular couple, the grave robbers, were as normal as your neighbors. Both were professionals with public jobs. They lived in a typical neighborhood and drove a normal car. However, the contents of their trunk was a bit different than most—shovels, picks, tools for prying open caskets, and a few human and animal bones scattered about. Other than that … as typical as you and I.

Well, perhaps we’re are not the best examples of normal, but you get the idea …

Happy Halloween!

How could feeding a pet lead to police searching your home, without a warrant? Well, let’s look at the case of Greg Imakiller, a serial murderer who’d eluded capture for a long time until a sharp police detective figured out an end-around way to gain access to the bad guy’s house. Here’s how it went down, followed by supporting law. And, by the way, this is a cool thing to feature in a work of fiction.

The Case

Greg Imakiller is a person interest in a string of homicides in and around Usedtabsafe, Delaware, a tiny town a short car drive over from Philadelphia. Detectives in Usedtabsafe had their eye on Imakiller for several months, watching his every move. They’d learned he follows a strict weekly routine. They made notes and I was lucky enough to get my hands on them. Here’s a copy.

Case File #666

Surveillance – Greg Imakiller

Reporting Investigator – Bucky B. Watchin

Monday is Imakiller’s day for feeding the ducks in the Quacky Park Pond. Tuesdays he hangs out at the gym where he mercilessly and unsuccessfully flirts with Donna Darlin, the shapely redheaded receptionist. Wednesday is the day reserved for eight hours at the town library to make eyes with Rhonda Reads, the chief librarian. Again, he has no luck. And, he receives a parking ticket for overstaying the time limit in the spot.

Thursday he visits his mother, Beretta Imakiller, at the state prison where she’s serving time for a bank heist. Beretta and her coconspirator, Betsy Rimfire, robbed the Third Eighth Bank over on Sycamore. The pair was caught two hours later while counting the loot—less than a thousand George Washingtons—in the parking lot of a nearby pancake joint.

Each Friday, Greg Imakiller sits on a bench seat inside the shopping mall where he people-watches and whistles at young girls as they pass by. He does this from 10 A.M. until noon at which time he purchases two corn dogs, a large order of onion rings, and a Cherry Coke. After lunch he moves to the second floor of the mall in front of the “As Seen on TV” store to do more people watching and catcalling. He’s back at home in time to catch the 5 P.M. airing of Judge Judy. He adds another parking ticket to his collection for overstaying the limit in his favorite spot out on the street.

Saturday he mows the lawn and does handyman-type stuff around the house. Saturday nights are for partying at the Jiggly-Wiggly Gentleman’s Club. There, he’ll drink until his eyes spin or until the bouncers toss his butt outside for getting a little too touchy-feely with the nearly topless women who bring him watered-down twelve-dollar-each mugs of  beer.

Sunday is football day. He sits in front of a big flatscreen eating corn nuts, cooked-from-frozen pizzas, drinking can after can of PBR, and farting so loudly that it nearly pops the eardrums of my partner whose listening in on the bug we planted in a lamp made from a lower-leg prosthesis that sits on the end table that holds the bowl containing the corn nuts and beer cooler. We heard rumors that he’d taken the wooden leg as a souvenir from a guy he whacked back in the sixties. Had an electrician friend turn it into a lamp a couple of weeks later.

You could set your clock by his routine, including the two things he does every single morning. One, he smokes a single cigarette at 7:45 A.M., sharp. Two, he feeds his pet iguana at 8:04, on the dot, immediately after the three minutes it takes him to puff on the Lucky Strike and then stomp out the remaining burning butt on the concrete stoop.

We needed more evidence relating to Imakiller’s latest homicide. We knew he was good for it but our crook-loving judge wouldn’t grant a search warrant. Here’s how Imakiller’s pet iguana helped solve the case.

We decided to make our move at 8:03 because we had to catch him outside, but near enough to the house so the plan would work. Using the unpaid parking tickets as probable cause, we obtained a warrant for his arrest. It was a BS arrest, but it was worth a shot

With no hope of obtaining a search warrant to look for the murder weapon, at 8:03 A.M., on a Monday morning, my partner and I, with misdemeanor arrest warrant in hand, walked up the sidewalk and placed Greg Imakiller under arrest and cuffed him. Hands behind the back.

Imakiller cried and screamed and struggled and squawked until he finally quit squirming after realizing we meant business. Then he yelled for his attorney, of course.

As we slowly (stalling a bit) walked him toward our unmarked surveillance van, Imakiller asked if he could feed Ruben, his pet iguana, before we took him to jail to wait for his high-priced attorney to get him out. It worked. The plan was in motion.

We took Imakiller to his front door, still handcuffed, of course, and we stepped inside the home. Yes, we were in.

Imakiller told us he kept Ruben’s food in his bedroom, in a closet. I took him here there, looking over the house as wet. So did my partner. In the bedroom, we observed a pistol on the nightstand, one that matched the caliber used in the murders. We also saw photos of the murder victims tacked to a wall. On the floor were items taken from the murder scenes.

Bingo. Case solved and all without a search warrant, and all because of a hungry iguana.

Why is the Search Legal?

First, Courts have ruled that, incident to arrest, officers do not need a warrant to conduct a search of a person and the immediate area around them, including containers.

The premise is that officers have the right to protect themselves by searching for weapons and to guard and preserve evidence that the suspect might attempt to destroy.

These absolutely legal warrantless searches include vehicles, homes, offices, etc. Anywhere a subject is arrested is fair game.

See – Chimel v. California (click here)

The same is so in a situation such as in the case of our fictional Greg Imakiller. The moment he asked to go back inside his home to feed his pet iguana, knowing the officers must at that point accompany him, was an invitation for them to enter his home. Therefore, anything in plain view is subject to seizure by officers.

Th choice was either let the officers inside, or to allow Ruben’s stomach to start growling from hunger. Well, Ruben was the apple of his eye, so Ruben and his hungry belly won. Imakiller was not as fortunate.

However, had Imakiller not asked to go back inside, officers could not have legally entered the home.

Searching Cellphones

An exception to the rule is a cellphone.

Since cellphones are not “typical containers—cigarette packs, boxes, luggage, tupperware, etc.—” something that officers may search incident to arrest, police must obtain a search warrant to examine the device.

See:

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

RILEY v. CALIFORNIA

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/13-132


No. 13–132. Argued April 29, 2014—Decided June 25, 20141
Badge Contact Lee

It’s Wormhole Thursday, a time to journey back to a time before TASERS and prior to the CSI Effect.

It’s memories of what it was like to be a cop way “back in the day” and I share this with you for two reasons. One: The information contained within are details that could add that extra touch of realism that’s sometimes missing in a crime story. Two: To help those not involved in the real world of coppers better understand that cops are more than just someone in uniform who writes traffic tickets and locks up the bad guys.

So please join me as we wander into the Thursday Wormhole. Oh, and please keep your hands and feet inside at all times. We’re approaching Halloween and you never know what or who is lurking out there in the shadows.

Sheriff’s Office

First, a bit about the office of sheriff. Sheriff’s are elected officials and they’re like the CEOs of their departments. Most operate under a county government. However, a few cities also have sheriffs which, I believe, occurs mostly in Virginia where some cities are legally not a part of the county that surrounds them. The law there states that only a sheriff may serve civil process (jury summons, divorce papers, lien notices, etc.), meaning a sheriff is needed in those locations since, by law, a police department may not serve those papers.

Wearing “the Star”

I worked as a patrol deputy, riding county roads doing double-duty, as we all did, serving civil papers between answering criminal complaints and keeping our eyes open for bad folks doing bad things. In our “spare time” we investigated crimes resulting from those complaints. There were no detectives. Our sheriff didn’t believe in having them, just like he didn’t believe that female deputies should carry guns. In fact, our department didn’t have women working the roads. Not a single female deputy was a sworn police officer. There were female jailers, of course, because our jail, like others, housed women prisoners. We also had female dispatchers.

It was a requirement that all jailers/corrections officers were certified to carry firearms, and they received training at the range. The women who worked in our department also received the training (had to to become certified jailers), but when the training was completed the she sheriff made them turn in their weapons.

In Black and White

Our shifts were divided by race. White deputies were assigned mostly to work with other white deputies, and African American deputies were assigned to work with African American deputies. I was the exception to the rule. I was a crossover deputy. The sheriff called me into his office one day to tell me he was trying the experiment of mixing us (yes, he actually said this) and he thought I had the personality to get along with everyone. Well, duh …

Anyway, that’s the flavor of how it was during the early days of my career in law enforcement. Obviously, things changed over the years, but gradually. This was the South and change and progress in many areas there were slow to come, especially within the sheriff’s office.

Moving Ahead to 1984

August 25, 1984. 2330 hours (11:30 p.m.)

I tucked my daughter in bed for the night and told the overnight sitter I’d see her in the morning, and to call my office if she needed anything. Someone there, I said, would contact me by radio to relay the message. And, if I wasn’t in one of the many “dead spots” in the county I’d respond right away. Then I headed out the front door and to my patrol car, a brown and tan sheriff’s vehicle with a red light bar on top and a long whip antenna that frequently struck and trimmed low hanging branches and leaves from the trees that lined some country roads.

I’d repeat my message to the sitter message each time I worked the night shift. Thankfully, the sheriff understood that I was single dad raising a daughter, so I was fortunate in that I worked mostly day shifts. But, nights were a part of the job so I rolled with the punches.

My attire for the evening, as always, was the standard dark brown shirt, khaki-colored pants, shoes shined until they looked like polished mahogany, a straw campaign hat, a deep brown basketweave-patterned gun belt that held a Smith and Wesson .357 with a 6-inch barrel, a pair of Peerless handcuffs, and two dump pouches that contained a few extra rounds of hollow point ammunition. And a Maglite.

My left rear pocket was weighted slightly by the spring-handled lead and leather SAP I’d slipped inside just prior to leaving my bedroom. It was my secret weapon in the event someone got the best of me and there was no other way to survive the encounter.

This was any and every night back in the late 70s and early 80s. We weren’t issued vests, semi-autos, shotguns, TASERS, or chemical sprays of any type. There were no cages/partitions in our cars either, meaning we’d have to place the crooks in the front passenger seat and, as a result, when we arrested an unruly suspect we’d often have to wrestle with them, while driving, all the way to the jail. On more than one occasion, simply for a bit of relief, I handcuffed the guy to the bracket that held the carseat to the floorboard.

Other times I’d call for backup and that poor deputy would have to ride in the backseat and tussle with the a-holes until we arrived at the jail.

Some of us kept a baseball bat tucked between the driver’s seat and door, in that narrow space on the floorboard. It’s purpose was to equal the odds a bit when facing a group of people who were hellbent on bashing in the brains of a solo deputy. To paint a better picture, imagine yourself facing a crowd of 100 drunk people in a nightclub parking lot who’re in the midst of fighting, cutting, stabbing, and shooting and it’s your job to break it up. Then many of them decide it’s time to attack the cop and that cop is you and you’re the only cop there. Yes, a baseball bat came in handy, believe me.

We were required to wear the Smokey Bear campaign hats any time we were outdoors. If the boss drove by a traffic stop and the deputy’s head was bare, well, there was a good chance by afternoon he’d no longer be a deputy. And you’d as soon be caught dead as to have your photo appear in a newspaper story without the hat perched atop your dome. Goodness, NO!

The same was true about the shine on our shoes, and that meant after rolling in a mud hole with a dangerous suspect, trying to handcuff him while he constantly punched, kicked, and bit you, well, the moment you were once again upright you’d best be wiping away the mud from your shoes and buffing them back to a glossy shine. Otherwise, you risked being sent home for good.

As I briefly mentioned above, there were several radio dead spots throughout the county. In those areas calling for backup was absolutely impossible. Remember, cell phones weren’t around back then. Therefore, we answered dangerous calls there with the mindset that we’d do whatever it took to come back. It was a bit like entering the Twilight Zone.

It’s not a good feeling to respond to a murder scene, knowing the killer was last seen entering a dark and big old abandoned building, knowing you’ve got to go in to get the guy, alone. Just you, your revolver, a Maglite, and a heart that’s jackhammering against the inside of your chest wall.

To make things worse, those were often the areas inhabited by people who loved to make and guzzle moonshine, fight the police, and who didn’t mind spending a few nights in a jail if it meant getting in a few good punches on a cop’s face.

Neighbors were no help to us either, because many of them enjoyed seeing a good brawl, scuffles that sometimes included being bitten by dogs of questionable intelligence who were defending their owners with every tooth in their snarling mouths.

Wives and shoeless and shirtless kids also liked to dive on the “beat-a-cop” pile.

The good neighbors, well, most of those folks didn’t own a phone so they were useless when it came to calling for help. They’d have to get in a car, if they owned one, and drive to the home of the nearest neighbor who had a “telly-phone.” Sometimes the closest phone was a located many miles away inside a country store, the places where large jars of pickled pigs feet and eggs sat on plywood counters near the old-timey cash registers, just a few feet from potbelly stove.

Somehow, and it’s difficult to fathom how, we’d almost always come out on top and bring in the person we’d gone out to get. And, sometimes we’d bring back an extra man or woman, depending upon how badly they’d beaten us.

Then, after tucking the offenders away in a nice warm jail cell and at shift’s end, I’d drive home facing a rising sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After parking my car and signing off for the day, I’d open my front door, thank the babysitter, pack my sweet little girl’s lunch, usually a peanut butter grape jelly sandwich (her favorite), and then watch her run to meet the bus and her little friends. She never failed to grab a seat at the window so she could toss me a kiss and a wave goodbye.

Me? Well, I had shoes to polish and uniforms to wash, and a warm, soft bed and pillow waiting for me whenever I was ready to … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


More about the office of sheriff.

The duties of a county (or city) sheriff differ a bit than those of a police chief. In fact, not all sheriffs are responsible for street-type law enforcement, such as patrol.

In many areas the sheriff is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county.

Remember, this information may vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another.

Who is a sheriff?

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1) Sheriffs are constitutional officers, meaning they are elected into office by popular vote.

2) Generally, sheriffs do not have a supervisor. They don’t answer to a board of supervisors, commissioners, or a county administrator. However, any extra funding that’s not mandated by law is controlled by county government.

Sheriffs are responsible for:

1) Executing and returning process, meaning they serve all civil papers, such as divorce papers, eviction notices, lien notices, etc. They must also return a copy of the executed paperwork to the clerk of court.

2) Attending and protecting all court proceedings within the jurisdiction.

– A sheriff appoints deputies to assist with the various duties.

3) Preserve order at public polling places.

4) Publish announcements regarding sale of foreclosed property. The sheriff is also responsible for conducting public auctions of foreclosed property.

5) Serving eviction notices. The sheriff must sometimes forcibly remove tenants and their property from their homes or businesses. I’ve known sheriffs who use jail inmates (supervised by deputies) to haul property from houses out to the street.

6) Maintain the county jail and transport prisoners to and from court. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting county prisoners to state prison after they’re been sentenced by the court.

7) In many, if not most, areas the sheriff is responsible for all law enforcement of their jurisdiction. Some towns do not have police departments, but all jurisdictions (with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut) must have a sheriff’s office.

8) Sheriffs in the state of Delaware, our new home, do not have police powers.

9) In California, some sheriffs also serve as coroner of their counties.

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10) In the majority of jurisdictions, sheriffs and their deputies have arrest powers in all areas of the county where they were elected, including all cities, towns, and villages located within the county.

*In most locations, deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, meaning they can be dismissed from duty without cause or reason. Remember, in most areas, but not all, deputies are appointed by the sheriff, not hired.

The above list is not all inclusive. Sheriffs and deputies are responsible for duties in addition to those listed here.

It was a Saturday morning, a day when the temperature had already reached the mid 80s and the southern air with was packed with enough humidity to make it appear as if a quick rain shower had passed through. Condensation on the windows of the county jail, the red brick building that also housed our offices, was dense enough to obscure the view outside. Even our brown patrol cars appeared to be perspiring. Moisture dripped from the leaves of the tall oaks that had lived on the courthouse lawn since the days of the Civil War. In fact, one of those trees served as the “hanging tree” back in the day. Jail inmates sat in their cells wearing nothing but sweat-soaked boxer shorts and white socks. The day was indeed on track to be a real scorcher.

I know, never start a story with the weather, but this is real life, not fiction. I’m not writing that first line, the hook, to grab your attention.

This day, the one mentioned above, was brutally hot. I mentioned the temperature because, as is with most instances involving police, it’s important that you know that temperatures and weather conditions often play a huge role in their profession.

It’s also important that each and every word in your tales has meaning and that each one has a purpose. For me, based on personal experience, weather can be “a character” in a story and it’s sometimes as important as the hero, the villain, or the victim. I say this because …

Words Melt Everyone

“Man it’s a hot one
Like seven inches from the midday sun
Well I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone
But you stay so cool” ~ “Smooth” by Santana, featuring Rob Thomas

Weather conditions are part of the equation, just as are criminals, courts, judges, and guns, including being a part of the smallest of details of a murder scene. Winter, spring, summer, fall, snow, sun, rain, and wind all play a role in the real world of cops and robbers. It has purpose and it has meaning.

Such as the mid August day in Savannah, Ga. when heat and humidity make you practically gasp for every breath like it could be your last, and when bending over to have a look at a victim’s body at the precise moment when that lone drop of sweat reaches the tip of your nose and you absolutely must prevent its fall to stop your DNA from commingling with that of the killer.

Or when preparing to enter an abandoned warehouse to search for the armed robber who was last seen going inside. It’s 10 degrees outside and the grip of your gun is ice-cold to the touch. Your hands are nearly numb and you can’t feel your toes because you’re standing in three feet of freshly-fallen Boston snow. The combination of fear, frigid temperatures, and freezing digits cause your hands to tremble ever so slightly. Will you be able to shoot straight and accurately if the time comes and if your very life depends upon that first shot?

The wind howls outside, concealing the sounds of a bad guy’s movements. Is he in front of you, to the side or to the rear? You don’t know because the only thing you hear is the sound of your own heart thumping wildly against the inside of your chest wall. That and the limbs of the old hackberry tree scratching and scraping across the weathered clapboard siding with each gust of swirling air.

So yes, weather is an important aspect of police work.

Saturdays are for Fishing, Not Killing

There were only two of us assigned to patrol the county that hot day, which was not a big deal because Saturdays were typically slow. Weekend nights were the times when the action jumped off. I suppose that most trouble-makers’ daytimes were reserved for rest, fishing, lawn mowing, recuperating from hangovers, and driving out to the back forty to plink a few rounds at tin cans and discarded refrigerators and rusty clothes washers. Fun times.

Some folks visited community swimming pools and a few teens would head out to the old gravel pit to swill cheap beer and to smoke weed and for dip in the water. It’a place where at least one kid drowned each summer and usually within the next day or two we’d find the bloated body tangled in the branches of fallen trees, if a state police diver wasn’t able to immediately locate the victim in the incredibly deep water.

Sometimes we’d interview a sobbing 15- or 16-year-old girl who reeked of stale beer and pot smoke, a doe-eyed kid who’d stand on the ledge and weep and point to where she last saw him, right after she’d begged him to not leap of into the water from the rocky cliff. He’s a good swimmer, she’d say, but we’d been drinking and his buddies dared him to do it. So he did. Of course, she wouldn’t mention the weed or that her top was on backward or that her shorts were on inside out.

The 911 Call

My fellow deputy and I began our shift at 0800 that Saturday and we’d decided to catch up on a bit of paperwork at the office before going our separate ways, making ourselves seen throughout the county. Nothing much happened before noon on Saturdays anyway.

It was 9:30 when a man called the dispatcher to say he’d just killed his sister-in-law and that the “911 lady” should send “the Po-leece” right away. Then he hung up.

So each of us sprinted to our patrol cars and left the front of the jail with red and blue lights winking, spinning, and blinking. Throughout the city streets we blasted our sirens at intersections and when we drove up behind the Saturday morning Q-tips who were in town to do their weekly shopping—the older ladies of a certain age to get their hair styled and molded into those blueish helmet shapes, and the men who stopped in the barbershops for a snip here and there and to have the barber apply enough tonic to keep the combover in place while they visited the feed store to browse through the rows of shiny red or green mowers and tractors. Then, when enough time passed the tractor-lookers would toss their canes into the backseats of their Ramblers or Buicks and head back over to Betty’s Cut and Curl to pick up the wife so together they could do their grocery shopping and perhaps have a bite to eat at the diner before traveling at a snail’s pace back to the farm.

They were slow drivers who never, not ever, looked into their rearview mirrors. So we’d follow behind with full lights and sirens until we caught a break in traffic so we could pass.

This day, though, we pushed the limit, zipping through town until we reached the main county road that led us in the direction of the alleged murder. The location was 30-40 minutes away when driving the speed limit. We reached scene in less than 20. As the truckers’ used to say, it was pedal to the metal all the way. We straightened curves by taking advantage of “the racing line” of the roadway.

For those of you who don’t know, a driver who follows a racing line greatly reduces the angle of a curve by entering it at a the far outside edge of the roadway and then crosses over to the inside edge, the apex. The apex is the point at which you are closest to the inside of the corner. The turn/curve is then completed by moving back to far outside edge of the roadway. This maneuver is sometimes called “hitting the apexes.” It reduces braking and “straightens the curve” which allows the officer to drive safely through curves at a much faster speed. However, it is a must to constantly remain alert for oncoming traffic since some of the officers’ curve-straightening involves driving on the opposite side of the road.

Standing beside a mailbox at the end of a long dirt drive was a man dressed in a red and white striped shirt, white pants, and brown work boots. As we turned into the driveway I noticed what appeared to be a significant amount of blood spatter on his clothing and shoes, so I stopped. He was obviously agitated, excited, and he rambled on incessantly about that fact that he’d just arrived to earth from Mars. I handcuffed him, placed him in the seat beside me (we didn’t have rear cages), and hurried to the house.

My coworker and I raced to the door and went inside, yelling “Sheriff’s Department!”

What we found in the home, in the master bedroom, was nothing short of the stuff horror movies are made of.

Blood ran down the painted drywall in narrow but rapidly drying convoluted trails. Spatter of various sizes and shapes was everywhere—ceiling, walls, the floor. A severed human hand lay next to one wall. I’d later count 13 chop marks in the hardwood next to it. Pools of rusty-red blood separated by drag marks of the same color and substance led to the body of a dead woman, a female who died a brutal death caused by the repeated blows of an ax.

The woman’s forearms were badly cut, signs that she’d attempted to stop dozens of strikes of the ax. A large gash to the right side of her head revealed the white of her skull, bone that had been hacked and chipped away, revealing brain matter. Some of it was found stuck to the ceiling.

Small bits of splintered bone were scattered across the floor.

Blood spatter was also on the furniture, including a king-size bed. It’s dull brownish-red hue was in sharp contrast to the crisp white sheets. More spatter was on the faces, hands,  legs, feet, and kids’ pajamas worn by the woman’s four small children who sat huddled together on the center of the mattress. They’d witnessed the entire act, a murder that occurred for the simple reason that the killer had asked his sister-in-law for enough money to purchase a pack of cigarettes. She didn’t have it so the man walked outside to the woodpile where he picked up the ax and went back inside to kill her.

The first blow was from behind, to the head. We pieced together that at that point the woman went down but turned and held up her arms and hands to fend off the onslaught that followed.

When I questioned the killer, he claimed to have come to earth from Mars and that voices from a tower told him to kill the woman. He also said he’d cut off her hand because it kept pointing at him.

He’d been tucked away in a psychiatric care hospital until two weeks prior to the murder. His release came when a sympathetic judge found him competent to return to life outside, placing him in the care of his brother. Fourteen days later the brother’s wife was dead and his four kids were scarred for life.

The killer was found to be not competent to stand trial for the murder and has remained in an air-conditioned psychiatric facility since.

 

 

Evidence = The thing or things that furnish proof.

Proof = Something that establishes the validity of truth.

Truth = A body of real things.

Real Things = Evidence.

Okay, now that we’ve established the fact that evidence is/are real things that offer proof of the truth, let’s examine a few places where police investigators sometimes find those real things.

Above all, though, before beginning the death scene investigation detectives should first check for signs of life. There’d be nothing worse than wrapping up a crime scene investigation and then have the victim sit up and tell you that you’d missed the most obvious clue of all … a heartbeat.

The savvy detective knows to always look up, down, and all around. After all, tunnel vision can be a cop’s worst enemy in more ways than one. Detectives also know to never smoke, chew gum, eat, or drink while inside a crime scene, and that’s because doing so could deposit “real things” that crime scene techs could be confuse with actual evidence, such as cigarette ashes or a gum wrapper.

And, since there are no “do-overs” with a crime scene, you only have one shot at it before the scene is forever altered. Remember Locard’s Principle from yesterday’s article—“always, without fail, when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects will take something from the other or leave something behind.”

A head-to-toe visual exam of the body/victim includes making note of its position and if there’s something abnormal, such as an arm or leg in an unnatural angle. The eyes. Are they open or closed? Any obvious signs of a struggle. Defensive wounds on the hands?

Check for lividity. Is it fixed? If so, where does it show up. Lividity, when present, should appear at the lowest points of the body. If not, that’s an indication that the body was moved after death.

Lividity

Lividity, aka Livor Mortis is the pooling of blood in the lowest portions of the body. It’s caused by gravity and begins immediately after death. The telltale signs of livor mortis, the purplish discoloration of the skin, begins the moment the heart stops pumping. This process continues for approximately 6-12 hours, depending upon surrounding conditions, until it becomes fixed, permanently staining the tissue in the lowest parts of the body. When large areas become engorged with lividity, the capillaries in those areas sometimes rupture causing what’s known as Tardieu spots. Tardieu spots present as round, brownish blacks spots.

Lividity can help investigators determine an approximate time of death. The staining of tissue normally begins within the first two hours after death. The process reaches it’s full peak (fixed) in eight to twelve hours.

If the victim is moved during the first six hours after death the purplish discoloration can shift, causing the new, lowest portion of the body to exhibit lividity.

After a period of six to eight hours after death, when lividity becomes totally fixed, the patterns of discoloration will not change. Therefore, investigators know a body found lying face down with lividity on the back, has been moved.

Rookie officers have often confused lividity with bruising caused by fighting.

Remember, ambient air temperature is always a factor in determining the TOD (time of death). A hot climate can accelerate lividity, while a colder air temperature can slow it down considerably.

Missing Jewelry

Before bagging the hands (use paper bags) to preserve any evidence that may be located around and beneath the fingernails, investigators should carefully examine the hands and wrists, visually, making note of marks or other indications that jewelry had been worn, such as a tan line or indentation on the ring finger. This is a sign that robbery could have been the motive for the death. And that the missing items may appear on an upcoming pawn shop daily report. In most areas, pawn shops are required to submit a daily list of all items purchased. This aids police in tracking down stolen merchandise.

Paper bags are used for bagging the hands because plastic aids in the incubation process of bacteria and, as you know, bacteria growth accelerates decomposition. Bacteria can also destroy DNA.

Alternate Light Sources (ALS)

The use of various alternate light sources are used to detect stains and body fluids, fibers, and even fingerprints, all evidence that’s often not visible to the naked eye.

ALS equipment/RUVIS – Sirchie ~ 2018 Writers’ Police Academy

 

 

 

RUVIS (Reflective Ultraviolet Imaging System), a system of locating latent (invisible) fingerprints) without the use of powders, fumes, or chemicals, was developed by Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories, a sponsor of the Writers’ Police Academy, and the U.S. Army. The system focuses on one specific section of shortwave ultraviolet light, the germicidal spectrum of light, which cannot be seen by the naked eye.

A particularly unique feature of RUVIS technology is that it works in both total darkness and in bright sunshine, a must for use by police investigators.

Sirchie’s Krimesite Imager uses RUVIS technology to detect invisible residues from fingerprints. Those residues reflect UV light projected from the device, which immediately captures the reflections with a 60mm UV lens. A built-in scanner then converts the images to visible light, allowing the investigator to see the fingerprint. All this is done instantly, in real time. And, the detective is able to see images from up to fifteen feet away.

Once the print is located, the investigator uses the Imager to photograph it and, with the use of a micro-printer, print a copy of the desired evidence. All this without the messy powders that never seem to wash away. The KS Imager can also be used to greatly enhance prints developed using cyanoacrylate fuming (Super Glue).

*By the way, keep your eyes and ears open for a major announcement regarding the Writers’ Police Academy and Sirchie. You are going to lose your minds when you hear the news!

Bloodstain Patterns

Characteristics of a blood drop

  • blood drops are formed by gravity
  • blood drops cannot break apart unless contacted by an outside force
  • larger drops travel further than smaller drops (due to mass, not size)
  • blood drops always travel in an arcing path (impact injuries)
  • size ranges from a few millimeters to few centimeters
  • volume of a drop of blood is in direct proportion to whatever it’s dropping from (ax, stick, arm, leg, etc)

Crime scene investigators typically measure bloodstains that hit surfaces on the way up, not stains made by blood that’s on its way back down. Stains made when traveling upward are much more accurate for use as evidence because gravity is not as much of a factor in the pattern’s formation.

Types of Bloodstain Patterns

Impact – caused by high-velocity or medium-velocity wounds—gun shots or blows by an object such as a baseball bat or hammer.

Swipes (Wipes)Caused by a bloody object being wiped across another surface. These stains are the reason for changing the name of the examination from “blood spatter” evidence to “bloodstain” evidence (not all patterns are caused by airborne drops of blood). Remember that in your writing. Patterns caused by spattering, splattering, or wiped-on blood is no longer called “blood spatter.”

Therefore, your characters should reflect the change, as have their real-life counterparts. An example of the change:

Detective Sergeant Catchemall studied the bloodstain pattern on and next to the ticking cow clock hanging on the kitchen wall. He stood there, staring, for what seemed like an eternity before turning toward his partner, Ridley Perkins. Then he tipped his bald, oval-shaped head back toward “the cow wall” where reddish splotches and dots of once-oozing blood contrasted sharply against the freshly painted, snow white surface. The cow’s tail moved from side to side with each tick-tock of the timepiece.

Tick Tock …

“I believe, Ridley,” he said, “that our killer was right-handed, shorter than your own meager five-and-a-half feet, and was standing, not sitting, quite close to our victim, poor Mrs. Ima Ghostnow, when he pulled the trigger on what was most likely a revolver. That, my friend, is what I believe happened to our unfortunate victim.”

Tick Tock …

*Terminology could vary from one area to the next.

 

The Lingo

Cast-Off– Caused by slinging blood off objects in motion (a swing of a bloody hammer, or arm).

Drip and Flow– Caused when blood drops off one object onto another.

Projected– Caused by arterial spurts. Often seen in stabbings and cuttings.

The ability to effectively interpret bloodstain patterns is a science and an art. But, before investigators can dive into a crime scene, they must learn a bit of terminology, such as:

Angle of Impact– the angle formed between the direction of an individual drop of blood and the surface it strikes.

Back Spatter– blood that’s directed back towards the source of energy, such as a hand holding a firearm, or hammer.

Expirated blood – blood that’s forced from the mouth or nose where air (exhalation) is the propellant.

High Velocity Impact Spatter (HVIS)– bloodstain pattern caused by a high velocity impact, such as those caused by gunshots or fast moving equipment or machinery (saws, drills, etc.)

Point of Convergence – the point (two dimensional) where the direction of travel (blood droplets) intersect. Can be used to help determine where the victim was standing when the fatal injury was delivered.

Point of Origin –the point (three dimensional) where the direction of travel (blood droplets) intersect.

Stringing – a method used to determine the point of origin. Investigators tie strings at the blood drops, following the direction of travel. The point where the strings intersect is the point of origin. Lasers are sometimes used in lieu of strings.

 

Always look up, down, and all around

As I stated earlier, this rule of thumb is extremely important when search for evidence and it’s especially so when examining a scene for blood spatter. This includes the undersides of table tops and seat bottoms. The insides of door frames and windowsills. In fact, a peek inside a refrigerator can sometimes save the day when all else come up empty.

Yes, bad guys sometimes cannot resist the urge to grab a quick snack or something to drink while taking a break from dismembering their latest victim. Therefore, it’s not at all unusual to find a bloody fingerprint on the container of onion dip, or loose hair from the head of the killer that’s lodged between the Swiss cheese and plate of leftover hotdogs.

Spatter is often found on ceilings and overhead lighting. On doorknobs and bedroom slippers that sit by the fireplace.

Other bits of often overlooked evidence can be found under rugs or carpeting, behind light switch covers …

Removing the plastic wall cover to reveal a thumb drive concealed inside the electrical box housing wall light switch.

… inside statues, faux spray cans, sewn inside the hem of clothing and bath towels, inside appliances and handheld electrical gadgets, shoes and, well, you name it and a crook has probably hidden something there.

Locating evidence in an outdoor crime scene – this, my friends, is a topic for another day. In the meantime, remember to have the heroes of your stories to “always look up, down, and all around, because without fail, when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects will take something from the other or leave something behind.”

The evidence, proof and truth of the crime and who committed it, is always there. It’s up to the detective to find it.

 

Working the first 240 minutes of the graveyard shift—the equalizing hours—when the crazies come out to play and when many normal and sane folks allow alcohol and drugs to take over the part of the mind that controls mean and nasty, is a timeframe where the two come together to take on similar roles, spilling many a tale from the mouths of crusty old retired cops who sometimes gather at pancake houses to share breakfasts with their remaining former brothers and sisters in blue. The ones still alive and who care enough to talk about the good old days, that is.

Like weekend fishermen sometimes do, these antecedent cops tell and compare stories filled with run-on sentences detailing events of the “big ones that got away,” and of times when bullets zinged and pinged off the pavement around them as they rushed to capture wanted criminals who’d popped off those rounds before disappearing into abandoned warehouses or alleyways during nights as black as ink with air so still they could hear their own blood zipping its way through the convoluted paths of veins and arteries as nervous hearts worked in overdrive mode to keep up with the amount of adrenaline racing through their bodies.

Yeah, those kinds of jittery and sometimes PTSD-infused run-on comments about remarkable accomplishments and incredible feats of top-coppery. They’re the sort of stories that take center stage while the sounds of sizzling bacon and spattering sausage patties provide the soundtrack to the morning gatherings.

As the scent of warm toast wafts through the air, the men and women who’d instantly shed twenty-five pounds when they handed over their bulky gun belts on the day they’d received their “Retired” badges, fawningly speak of the days before semi-automatics and Kevlar vests and of car radios that weren’t capable of sending or receiving signals out in the distant areas of the county, leaving the solo officers on their own to handle whatever came their way.

The old-timers compare scars—the raised marks on the hands, arms, and faces they’d   earned when arresting the tough guys who loved to slash at cops using razor-sharp blades. Of course, occasionally, one of the balding and wrinkled retired patrol cops shows off a zig-zagged raised area on the cheek, a disfigurement caused by being on the receiving end of a downward-plunging ice pick or screwdriver.

It was early morning—2 a.m., according to the portly fellow whose once rock-steady hands tremble unmercifully these days—when he and the others stood on the non-moonlit side of a house deep in the heart of the worst area in town, waiting for the signal to kick the door, and of hearing nothing but the clicking and ticking of dried and crunchy fall leaves as they tumbled and danced their way across cracked pavement. It was cool out, but beads of fear-sweat the size of garden peas wormed their way down his spine, slipping through that void between the waistband and the hot flesh at the small of the back.

The night animals. Those three-legged dogs and wiry cats with matted fur, washboard ribs, and gangly, crooked tails and jagged, fight-damaged ears. Raccoons with eyes that burned yellow, or red, when met with the bright beam of the car-mounted spotlight. Possums that hissed and bared pointy teeth when cornered.

The old wino, the guy who wore nine layers of clothing, a filthy watchman’s cap, and toeless boots and who reeked of body odor so horrific that jailers hosed him down before fingerprinting him. He’s the guy who often had maggots wriggling around inside his ratty underwear, the BVD’s he rarely bothered to remove before using the bathroom. A waste of time, he’d said. Why bother? Yes, they’d all seen and smelled the funk when they’d arrested him and those just like him for breaking into cars or stores late at night.

A turn onto main street after checking the alley between the hardware store and the Five and Dime. Storm drains at the curbs spewed wispy tendrils of sewer steam that melted into a dark sky spattered with thousands of pinpoint lights.

Stoplights as far as the eye could see, all winking and blinking. An ill-timed discord of reds and yellows and greens.

The street sweeper who passed by, holding up a single finger as a sleepy acknowledgment that he, too, was out there in the night making ends meet the best way he knew how.

Drug dealers and prostitutes melted into darkened storefronts as the patrol cars slowly rolled past.

Yes, a refill, please. No cream. No sugar. Just like the thick jailhouse coffee that kept their motors running back in the day. Then it’s time to take the spouse’s car in for an oil change, or to stop by the market for bread and milk and eggs. One had a doctor’s appointment. The ticker’d been acting up a bit lately.

Back to the stories. There’s always time for one or two more before the lunch crowd began to drift in, those wanting to beat the mad rush, especially on Thursdays when chicken and dumplings were the $4.99 special du jour.

The radio crackles and the dispatchers’ voices that cut through the silence. A monotone voice that could’ve just as easily come from the bowels of a machine. They all remember and nod.

A moment to think.

They share silent memories, like it was just last night when they’d each slipped on the uniform and badge and gun and shiny shoes. A pen in the shirt pocket and a slapjack in the right rear pants pocket.

Sirens and red lights.

Wife beaters. Robbers, Rapists.

Murderers.

Three cups of joe in, the old timers reminisce about their war-wounds.

The missing bit of earlobe. The punk was, of course, a biter.

The loss of vision in the left eye. A 2×4 to the head, a blow delivered by a beefy, tatted-up redneck who didn’t want to see his brother carted off to jail.

The lifetime limp. A drunk driver who swerved right while the officer helped an old man change a tire.

The disfigured hand and burn marks. Rescuing a little girl from the burning car.

Closing their eyes and seeing the face of the dead guy floating in the river, the one whose eyes became a tasty snack for turtles and fish.

The decapitated head at the side of the railroad tracks. Headphones prevented him from hearing the train approaching from the rear. They were found dangling from a thin tree branch along with a clump of hair still attached to a small bit of flesh and shattered skull.

The teen with the punctured carotid artery that spurted long arcing jets of bright red blood all over you and your partner’s faces and hands and arms and clothes as they tried to help him live.

The punches, the bruises, the kicks.

The foot chase between the houses.

The struggle.

The gun.

The shots.

The blood.

The coroner.

The nights.

The long, lonely nights

The nightmares.

And then morning comes and it’s time to do it all again.

It’s all they have left.

Memories.

That, and those broken lives and bodies.

And a cup of joe.

Black, no sugar.

Just like the good old days.