We’ve all seen, heard, or read about crime stats and their comparisons to previous years, such as the number of homicides committed in 2018 as opposed to those committed in 2017.

These are the numbers used by elected officials, and others, when they tell concerned citizens not to worry about the latest killings and robberies in their areas because violent crime is down by, say … 15%, for example. Yet, Sally Sue is too frightened to go to the store because the medical examiner visits her neighborhood nearly as often as the post office letter carrier. So why and how is it that a city’s crime rate can be down by so many percentage points, yet crime is still as rampant as ever in some areas of town?

Before we address Sally Sue’s woes, let us first examine the official nationwide reporting system used by law enforcement.

Uniform Crime Reporting System (UCR)

In the late 1920’s, the International Association of Chiefs of Police started a system of crime data collection called Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR). The program was officially implemented in 1930, or so, and participation was voluntary. The National Sheriffs’ Association also signed on to the program and encouraged all sheriffs across the country to participate. To this day, UCR reporting by law enforcement agencies still isn’t mandatory. But most agencies do submit data.

UCR reporting is not rocket science. Data is gathered from police reports and subsequently submitted to the FBI for compiling. However, not all crime data is reported. Instead, it is the most “popular” and violent offenses (Part I Offenses) that receive the most attention—murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. These are the stats we most often see listed in our local papers and in travel guides (Sugarcoatville is Now the Safest City in America: Violent Crime Down by 87%).

Part II Offenses are also reported for inclusion in UCR data, and they include simple assault, curfew offenses and loitering, embezzlement, forgery and counterfeiting, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, drug offenses, fraud, gambling, liquor offenses, offenses against the family, prostitution, public drunkenness, runaways, sex offenses, stolen property, vandalism, vagrancy, and weapons offenses.

Now, let’s go back to where the data originates, and we’ll start with the crime, such as a rash of B&E’s in town and the police haven’t had any luck catching the suspects. Therefore, a bad guy, feeling confident he won’t be caught, decides to break into a home to steal whatever he can find that’ll bring a few dollars at the local pawn shop. So Mr. Crook pulls out a window air conditioning unit (this, by the way, is like providing bad guys with a personal key to your home) and slips inside. Fortunately, a vigilant neighbor, Sally Sue, witnessed the incident and called the police who showed up in time to catch the thug in the act. Thanks to the quick-thinking neighbor Mr. Crook wasn’t able to steal anything, but he still committed a burglary, a UCR Part I offense.

But … the town has a chief who’s been in the hot seat with her mayor due to a number of unsolved crimes and angry residents who want to see a stop to the rampant crime spree. After all, the front pages of local papers are filled with stories of the local high crime rate. So, the chief decides to make her numbers look a little better before the next council meeting, and all it took was to record a few of the B&E’s (Part I crimes) as trespassing, a non-UCR crime and, abracadabra, hocus-pocus, the crime rate just went down.

Hmm … she thinks. Why not switch a few aggravated assaults to simple assaults, and what about changing a couple of larcenies to possession of stolen property? Remarkably, all it took was a few strokes of an ink pen to magically reduce the city’s violent crime rate by a few percentage points. No harm no foul, right? After all, checking a few boxes doesn’t seem too bad. There’s nothing to write. No narratives. No explanations. So it doesn’t seem like lying. Just a checkmark in a box.

The papers are now reporting a lower rate of violent crime. Citizens feel safer. The mayor is happy. Birds are chirping. Children are back playing in the parks. The sun is shining. Rainbows paint the sky with happy colors. More importantly, to the chief, she keeps her job. In the meantime, thugs are are still stealing, robbing, and assaulting. And Sally Sue and her neighbors must still step across chalk outlines of dead bodies on their way to the nearby Piggly Wiggly. But the numbers are down … Hallelujah, the numbers are down!

Of course, falsifying these numbers is a rarity, not the norm.

Another way low UCR data/crime rates offer the public a false sense of security is because the figures we see blanket an entire city. In other words, crime could be seriously out of control in certain sections while nonexistent in others. But, the data is compiled and averaged over the entire municipality.

If the ” low crime” areas saw a reduction in crimes committed (a bunch of bad guys moved out and were replaced by honest folks) while the high crime area numbers remained stagnant, the city would show a decrease in its overall crime rate. And this is while the residents of the high crime neighborhoods are still living in fear.

Those who don’t live in or visit the dangerous areas never see the troubles; therefore, they believe all is okey-dokey in the La-La-Lands created by a bunch of not-quite-so-accurate and slightly misleading numbers—numbers politicians often love to toss out as bones to voters (“On my watch, the city saw a 17% decrease in violent crime.”).

Remember, too, that UCR reporting is voluntary. Law enforcement agencies are not required to participate. I’m not sure of the exact number of departments who do not send data, but whatever the number, it could be enough to skew the data one way or another. Add that to administrators who don’t mind “fudging” the numbers a bit, especially during election years, and, well …

Again, changing a number here and there is not the norm. Not by any means. In fact, it’s a rarity. But, as we all know, there’s always a few bad apples who’re waiting to spoil the bunch. Fortunately, when these badge-soilers manage to slip through the cracks they do not remain in office for very long. Bad acts generally find a way to bite these folks in the place where the sun rarely shines.

For example, according to a 2016 article in the Tucson Sentinel, written by Rebekah Kearn, six officers Arizona State University’s Police Department testified in court that they were ordered to change crime statistics or otherwise falsify the crime statistics to make ASU appear safer, and to prevent local citizens from seeing the crime that occurred on or around the campus.

Kearn’s report also detailed similar actions of agencies falsifying UCR reports, such as an audit in 2003 that found 22,000 unreported crimes in Atlanta in 1996 during the Summer Olympics. New York City and Broward County, Florida were also mentioned in the article.

Kearn wrote, “In 1998, the Philadelphia police department was blasted for sitting on thousands of rape and sexual assault cases, choosing to handle them with ‘an eraser’ rather than investigation …”

The Fudge Factor

In 2012, former state and federal prosecutor Val Van Brocklin addressed the issue of falsifying UCR and other police reports in an article for Police One titled Fudge factor: Cooking the Books on Crime Stats.

In her article, Van Brocklin mentioned, of course, the incidents and departments addressed in the Tucson Sentinel piece, but she dug even deeper to include, for example, four New Orleans officers and a district commander were fired for downgrading hundreds of serious crimes. To rub salt in the wound, the fired commander won both quarterly and annual crime reduction awards offered by the department. He “cooked the books” to show a favorable reduction in crime in his district, and so that he’d win the top honor for the faux achievement.

Van Brocklin’s article lists several ways stats could be altered, such as simply not filing a report, undervaluing property so that the crime drops from felony status, shooting attempts not listed as attempted murder and are instead classified as criminal mischief, classifying burglaries as simple trespassing or merely misdemeanor theft, and on and on and on.

Murder Stats are Accurate

Still, UCR stats are most likely accurate regarding the number of homicides committed and the weapons used to carry out those crimes. This is so because those numbers are nearly impossible to hide. Dead bodies do not go away on their own, nor do the things that caused the death—guns, knives, fists and/or feet, poisons, etc. Besides, it would be extremely difficult to downgrade a murder to any other crime.

By the way, each year the FBI releases their UCR report data, such as the numbers I posted yesterday regarding the weapons most often used to kill.

National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)

NIBRS differs from UCR in that details of each crime reported are expected—where the crime occurred, how it occurred, who was involved, characteristics of the perpetrators, time of day, gang involvement, drugs involved, or not, victim data, was the crime an attempt or a completed offense, relationships between victims and offenders, arrestees, and property involved in crimes, time of day, and whether the incident was cleared, etc.

NIBRS is scheduled to replace the UCR program in 2021. The transition includes a partnership with the Bureau of Justice Statistics on the National Crime Statistics Exchange, and working with advocacy groups whose goal is to ensure proper collection of and reporting of accurate data.

Hopefully, NIBRS will discourage or perhaps even eliminate the Fudge Factor.


The basics of home electrical wiring are fairly straightforward— the hot (“live”) wire delivers power (120 volts) to lights, receptacles, etc. and is easily identified by its covering of black sheathing; the white-colored wire is the neutral conductor that carries energy away from the lights and receptacles, and a bare copper ground wire whose purpose is to conduct excess energy that might be a shock and/or fire hazard.

Of course, as in law enforcement, there are exceptions to the rule, such as the wiring for appliances that require 240-volts—water heater, clothes dryer, ranges, or well pump. But even these exceptions are clearly defined in electrical guidelines as set by the National Electrical Code (NEC)—both black and white wires are used as “hot” wires with the bare copper still serving as ground wire.

So, as you can clearly see, there is a defined and organized set of rules when it comes to electrical wiring. But what happens when, say, the conductor inside a black “hot” wire touches that of a white neutral wire, or the bare ground wire? Easy answer … a short circuit which causes a breaker to trip or, in the old days, a fuse would “blow.” And that’s sort of what happens when damage occurs to a section of the human brain called Wernicke’s area.

Wernicke’s area is located in the back part of the temporal lobe which is positioned most frequently in the left hemisphere of the brain, but not always (sounds eerily similar to the “gray area” operations and function of U.S. courts and laws, doesn’t it?).

The aftermath of an injury to the Wernicke’s area of the brain—Wernicke’s aphasia—, be it caused by a stroke or physical injury, is a language disorder resulting in a loss of the ability to produce meaningful, understandable language, both spoken and in written form.

I’ve seen the result of this sort of damage caused by a stroke. The individual simply could not manage to find the proper words for various items. Their sentences were a jumble of words in no particular order that made no sense and often had no relation to what it appeared they were referencing. They often know what they want to say but cannot produce the correct words to say it.

In time, I understood what they were trying to convey, sometimes, but it took a long time to reach that point.

To give an idea of the effects of Wernicke’s aphasia, here’s a video of a stroke victim who suffers from it.

Brain Injury and Criminals

Neuropsychologist Kim Gorgens’s research shows that a whopping 50 to 80 percent of people in the U.S. criminal justice system have suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury (TBI). In the general public, though, that number is less than 5 percent.

Simply put, a TBI is a disruption in brain function caused by an external blow to the head. When speaking of the TBIs of criminal offenders, the 50-80 percent group mentioned above, these injuries are the kinds that required hospitalization, not merely a small knock to the old noggin. Severe injuries. The kind experienced by professional athletes, for example.

Gorgen reports that nearly all women in the criminal justice system have been, at some time, been exposed to interpersonal assault/violence and abuse, with more than half having received repeated brain injuries.


We all know about MRI technology (magnetic resonance imaging) and the clunking, bumping, and thumping of those hulking claustrophobic chambers of horror, the devices that use a magnetic field and radio waves to create incredibly detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body. They see our insides and then capture those images for later review by medical professionals.

But there’s another type of MRI—fMRI—that’s capable of measuring tiny changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) may be used to detect which parts of the brain are handling critical functions and to assess the effects of stroke or other disease.


Neurolaw, as an interdisciplinary field which links the brain to law, facilitates the pathway to better understanding of human behavior in order to regulate it accurately through incorporating neuroscience achievements in legal studies. ~ U.S. National Law of Medicine

In capital murder trials (death penalty cases), MRIs have been used to evaluate brain injury. The purpose of this testing is to ensure that there’s not some underlying medical cause for the defendant’s criminal behavior. For example, the case of John W. Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Ronald Reagan and three other people back in 1981.

Hinkley’s attorneys argued that he was insane. They also introduced scientific evidence to help explain and support their claim—a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan that suggested their client had an atrophied brain. They said his brain appeared shrunken, or smaller than it should have been. As a result, this evidence helped convince the jury to find Hinckley not responsible by reason of insanity.

Today, there’s a push to use fMRI to help to identify differences in the brain between a rational and knowing state of mind and one that’s reckless/devil-may-care. The former may help judges impose lighter sentences or treatment options in lieu of the harsher penalties reserved for criminals who absolutely know right from wrong but knowingly opt for wrong.

Who knows, perhaps someday in the near future there’ll be no need for courts and trials and attorneys. Instead, at the point of arrest, officers will use series of wires and cables to connect a suspect’s mind to a handheld device that’s capable of instantly determining guilt or innocence or not guilty by reason of crossed wires … a short circuit. The result of a black wire touching a white one somewhere near the point of the brain where good and evil are the closest.

“I’m stopping a vehicle on Highway 68 northbound, just past exit 142. Black Dodge Charger, Virginia registration T-Tango, X-X-ray, P-Paul, 444. Two occupants.”

“10-4, 2122. Do you want a 10-28, 29 on that vehicle?”


“Stand-by. 0730 hours.”

Thirty-nine seconds pass.


“Go ahead.”

“10-99 on that vehicle. Vehicle was reported stolen in Ashland, Virginia. Driver’s wanted for an armed robbery of a convenience store in Richmond, Virginia. Suspect is armed with a dark colored, possibly black handgun. I’ve dispatched 2370 and 2447 to assist. ETA seven minutes. 0733 hours.”

“10-4. I’ll stay behind them until 2370 and 2447 arrive. Notify county and state. I’m getting pretty close to the line.”

“10-4. They each have someone en route.”

Two minutes pass.

“Shots fired! Shots fired! They’re running. I’m in pursuit! Northbound 68. We’re crossing the county line … excess of 80 mph. See if someone can get ahead of me with stop strips. We’re over 100 now and they’re all over the road. Where’s the county unit?”

“Stand by …”

Twenty seconds pass.

“2122, the county unit is headed your way southbound on 68. She’ll have stop strips in place at exit 156. 10-4? 0737 hours.”

“10-4. I’m still a few miles away … Wait, I think they’re … Yeah … Yeah, they’re making a right on … Stand by and I’ll give you a better 10-20 … Okay, we’re turning right … Oh, God! … I’m—”





“Attention all units. I’ve lost contact with 2122. Last known location just over the county line on Northbound 68. 2122 is in pursuit of a black Dodge Charger, Virginia registration T-Tango, X-X-ray, P-Paul, 444. Two occupants are wanted for an armed robbery of a convenience store in Richmond, Virginia. Vehicle is 10-99. The driver is armed with a dark-colored, possibly black handgun. ”

“2122 …”

Still no response.

The radio silence that follows the dispatcher’s desperate call is nothing short of deafening, and heartbreaking.

Pursuit Rules of Thumb

There are basic rules to follow when engaged in a vehicle pursuit. One of the first things officers should remember from their nighttime driver-training is to never follow the vehicle they’re pursuing too closely. And never ever fixate on the brake and taillights lights of that vehicle.

Sure, it’s easy to use those lights as a beacon; however, if the suspect isn’t familiar with the area and misses a curve, or runs off an embankment, the officer who’s using taillights as a guide, is sure to follow those lights all the way to the bottom of the cliff or other crash site.

Yes, it happens and with devastating consequences. Therefore, officers are trained to follow at a safe distance. Remember, the bad guys could possibly outrun a police car, but they can’t outrun a police radio. There are always plenty of cops available in the next county, town, and state.

Still, adrenaline, a dreaded bout of tunnel vision, and sometimes the “superman” effect” where the officer, especially an inexperienced rookie, feels 10-feet tall and bulletproof, takes over an officer’s thought processes which renders moot all common sense and acquired knowledge and training.

But what happens if all goes well with the pursuit and the car eventually stops? The suspect ran for a reason, right? These are very dangerous traffic stops, so what steps should officers take to ensure their safety?

  • Always, always, always call for back up. There can never be too many officers on hand. There’s safety in numbers, right?
  • Maintain a safe distance between the patrol car and the suspect’s vehicle even when stopping. Allow enough room to maneuver, and even back up (retreat), if necessary. An ambush is a very real possibility these days.
  • Angle the patrol car so that the engine block is between the officer and the suspect. Bullets normally can’t pass through the thick metal (see photo below).
  • The officer should have his/her weapon in a ready position before the patrol car comes to a stop.
  • Use whatever cover is available. Anything is better than nothing at all. Stay safe until backup arrives, even if that means to retreat. Again, ambushes are not uncommon. This is not the time to be a hero!
  • Always be strong and forceful with verbal commands. “Get out of the car, now!”
  • Distract the occupants of the vehicle with verbal commands while a partner or backup approaches from the opposite side, in a flanking maneuver.
  • Use bright lighting to the officer’s advantage. Blind the suspect by shining the spotlight and takedown lights into their eyes and rear view mirrors.
  • Use caution while clearing the car of any hidden suspects who may be hiding in the floorboard or trunk. (It’s a good idea, when approaching any car, for the officer to place his/her hand on the trunk lid. If it’s open, press it closed). Drug dealers and other criminals have been known to hide bodyguards/shooters inside the trunk. They do so for the purpose of assassinating police officers should the bad guys be stopped while in the process of committing a crime or fleeing from custody, etc.

A Hamilton, Ohio officer places her hand on the trunk lid while approaching a driver during a traffic stop.


Writers’ Police Academy – The Ultimate Hands-On Training Event for Writers

The Writers’ Police Academy is dedicated to provided actual hands-on police training in realistic settings, such as at active police academies and in top forensics facilities such as Sirchie’s fantastic compound and crime scene equipment manufacturing facility.

The Writers” Police Academy program is designed to activate the senses so that writers can in turn transfer the sights, sounds, touches, smells, and even tastes they experienced while participating in the numerous workshops and sessions.

PIT Maneuver Training

For example, a writer’s work-in-progress involves a pursuit where the officer performs a PIT maneuver in order to stop a fleeing criminal. Well, we teach writers how to safely execute the technique and then place our attendees behind the wheel where they’ll perform the maneuver in real time.

The video below is of bestselling author Tami Hoag performing a PIT maneuver at the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy. The event was held at the Public Safety Academy on the campus of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College(NWTC) in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

cops and guns. are you using the right terminology

Writers are hard workers.

It’s not an easy task to reach into the brain to pull out and assemble just enough details from the swirling mass of ideas located there in order to create an entire world along with a bunch of individual characters whose job it is to entertain and hold the attention of devoted readers as they travel through your imaginary setting, one page at a time (how’s this for a run-on sentence?).

I’ve seen the amount of work that goes into writing a book, and I know writers spend a lot of time researching cops, private investigators, detectives, CSI techs, state police, sheriffs’ deputies, and federal agents. Lots of time.

A great deal of a crime/cop writer’s valuable time and energy is devoted to participating in citizens police academies, attending the Writers’ Police Academy, emailing cops and former cops, visiting police stations, and reading blogs, such as this one.

The results of the hard work are obvious, and I applaud them for their dedication to the craft. They, the hard working writers, want their details to be accurate, and they want their tall tales to be fantastic, maybe even perfect.

So why do we still see books with cop facts that are totally and absolutely wrong?

Some writers devote tons of time to the finest of finite crime scene details, but not a single second goes toward the accuracy of other aspects of  the story. Yes, it’s true. Some writers pick and choose which facts to feature with precision, leaving other “stuff” to fend for itself, meaning the book is a hodgepodge of solid realism mixed with sloppy carelessness. Trust me, the laziness always bleeds through the text.

Selective Research

I know, some things are more fun and/or more interesting to research. Therefore, it’s quite easy to focus some, most, or all of the attention on the cool stuff, the stuff that tickles the writer’s own fancy. As a result, there’s no time for the other details that may be a reader’s fancy-tickler.

Another hazard of conducting selective research is that it could cause a writer to spend a ton of time on just the details of interest to them, resulting in a rush job of the not-so-fun elements of the story. Of course, as we all know, a hurried approach can and often does result in unfortunate innacuracies.

Guns and Cops

I could easily settle into a long rant about the firearms, shooting, and ammunition errors I sometimes read in books written by various authors, but I’ll refrain from the foot stomping tantrum and opt for the usual presenting of facts (below).

In addition to gun inaccuracies, a great example of selective research is how small town cops are portrayed in some books. They’re often presented as totally and unbelievably dumb. S.T.U.P.I.D.

To those people who aren’t aware, and apparently there are more than a few, being from or working in a small town does not cause ignorance. Nor does it mean the only way the town’s officer got the job is because no one else wanted it.

Like people who long to become writers, lawyers, doctors, educators, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, etc., there are people who actually do dream of becoming police officers, and many of those people are from small towns. You know, just like many doctors and lawyers are from small towns.

To suggest that officers in small towns are inferior humans is highly offensive to small town police everywhere.

Small Town Cops are Hillbilly Racist Rednecks

Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins

Let’s explore a bit further by leading with a question. Why do some writers think it’s okay/not offensive to write all officers who live in the south as hillbilly racist rednecks? I saw this today, again, in fact.

Or that cops are fat, ignorant slobs who can barely dress themselves because they always have a donut in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. Yes, this stuff is highly offensive, but it seems to be okay to write as long as it’s about cops from the south, or sometimes cops in general. Actually, writing this stuff shows a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the good people of the south. Again, Selective Research.

And, I won’t jump on the cordite bandwagon again (No, No, and NO cordite!).

Firearms Terminology in Crime Novels

For now, let’s get back on track and address some of the firearms terminology I often see in crime novels. And, that’s where some of the trouble begins. Starting with …

Automatic v. Semi-Automatic

Both types of firearms, the autos and the semi-autos, reload automatically, hence the “auto” label that’s included in the name. Duh.

However, the difference between the two is huge.

  • Semi-automatic – The shooter must pull the trigger each time he or she wishes the gun to fire.This is not a machine gun. These weapons do not “spray” gunfire at the speed of light. Included in this group of firearms are the typical AK-47 and AR-15 owned by many people in the U.S. Also, in this group are pistols such as the Glock, SIG Sauer, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Colt, etc. They are  the pistols carried by most gun-owning citizens and police officers. Again, these are not automatic weapons.
  • Automatic Weapons – If the shooter continues to depress the trigger, without letting go, the gun fire indefinitely until it is out of ammunition. This is a machine gun, an automatic.

I repeat, the main difference between a semi-automatic and a fully-automatic machine gun is that when using a semi-automatic, the user must pull the trigger each time he or she wishes the gun to fire. As long as the shooter depresses the trigger and holds it in place, a fully automatic gun continues to fire until either there are no bullets left in the magazine and chamber, or when he/she releases the trigger.

Please, writers, make note of the distinction and functionality of the two weapons. A semi-auto is NOT an automatic. The pistol carried by your local police detective is NOT an automatic.

I point out this difference between these two firearm types today because I nearly tossed my Kindle outside this week when I read a recent release by a super-famous, household-name author whose characters carried and fired “automatic” pistols. The terminology, of course, should’ve been semi-automatic. Again, cops don’t carry automatic pistols and writers truly should conduct a bit of research no matter how famous they become.

The book mentioned above was superbly written, by the way. As always, the author had the uncanny ability of inviting and welcoming the reader to step into a world they’d created. The settings itself was a living breathing character. It was a pleasure to allow myself to begin the journey.

I read each night before I go to sleep and I found myself anxious to pick up this book (on Kindle) to continue the trek. However, this wonderful tale began to crumble near the end. It seemed as if the author had either lost their train of thought or had someone else write the final chapters. Even the voice changed ever so slightly, but the change was noticeable. I’d love to know if others sensed the transformation.

Then came the firearm errors along with a couple of oddly placed mentions of todays politics, mentions that weren’t needed to further the story. Actually, it felt as if the writer suddenly remembered they’d intended to insert politics so they went back to a completed story and inserted the stuff at random places. At that point (the bad gun information and politics) I was done. A perfectly fine book suddenly took a sour turn. Sadly, I felt as if I’d wasted a few hours of my life.

Anyway …

The Machine Gun, an Automatic Firearm

This is what it looks like to peer down-range from behind a Thompson fully-automatic submachine gun. You can actually see a spent cartridge ejecting at the lower right-hand side of the picture, just above the major’s right elbow.

The Thompson is an extremely heavy weapon that’s capable of firing 900 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition per minute, and let me tell you, that’s fast. The experience of firing one of these babies is like no other. I took this photo and was peppered with gunpowder during each burst of gunfire, even from the distance where I stood, which was as you see it. I didn’t use the zoom. We took this shot in a controlled situation while wearing full protective gear and employing other safety precautions. I say this because I don’t recommend this method of photography. It’s not safe. Gee, the things writers do for book and blog article research.

The Thompson was extremely popular in the 1920s among both law enforcement and gangsters alike. The notorious John Dillinger and his gang amassed an arsenal of these “Chicago Typewriters.” The FBI and other agencies, such as the NYPD, also put Tommy Guns to use in their efforts to battle crime. In fact, the weapon became so popular in law enforcement circles it earned another nickname, The Anti-Bandit Gun.

Shotgun v. Rifle

sniper using a rifle

Snipers use rifles, not shotguns.

I see these two used interchangeably, and they’re not. Not even close. Yes, they’re both considered long guns, but a rifle has a barrel with interior spiraled grooves that cause the projectile (bullet) to spin (think of a football thrown by a quarterback). The spinning increases accuracy and the distance the round can travel. Normally, shotgun barrels are not rifled.

Snipers use rifles, not shotguns.

Officer using a shotgun

Officers typically make use of shotguns at distances of 75 yards and less (distances vary).

A shotgun has a smooth barrel that’s designed to fire a shell containing several small pellets called “shot.” When fired, the shot spread out allowing a greater chance of hitting a target. However, a shotgun is basically accurate at closer distances. But, hitting a moving target, or smaller targets, is much easier with a shotgun than with a rifle.

Of course, there are over-and-under long guns that feature two barrels, one above the other. One of the two barrels is a shotgun barrel. The other is a rifle barrel. Therefore, an over-and-under of this type is both a shotgun and a rifle!

Part rifle, part shotgun

Top barrel is rifle. Bottom barrel is shotgun.

To go one step further …

Combination rifle and shotgun

Handguns vs. Firearms vs. Pistols vs. Revolvers

I might create a little buzz with this one, but yes, there’s a difference between a pistol and revolver. A revolver is a handgun with a rotating cylinder that feeds ammunition, one bullet at a time, to its proper firing position each time the trigger is pulled. A revolver is a handgun, and it is a firearm.

A handgun, such as the Glock or Sig Sauer, is actually a semi-automatic pistol. Ammunition is fed to the firing position by a spring-loaded magazine. A pistol is also a firearm.

I know, the NRA uses a slightly different set of terms. For the purpose of cops and guns, and federal law and terminologies, though, we’ll stick to ATF’s definitions and explanations.

Clip vs. Magazine

It’s a magazine that’s loaded with bullets and inserted into the pistol carried by your protagonists. A clip is actually something that stores ammunition and refills magazines. So please don’t confuse the two.  Officers do not shove a fresh “clip” into their pistol when reloading. Magazine, magazine, magazine!


One round of ammunition is a cartridge.

Typically, pistols, revolvers, and rifles do not fire shells (there are a few exceptions).

So, silly writer, shells are for shotguns …

Or the beach …



Pistol v. Revolver

The images and information below are from ATF’s website.

Pistol (semi-automatic)

The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having:

  • a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);
  • and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

Pistol nomenclature (below)





The term “Revolver” means a projectile weapon of the pistol type, having a breechloading chambered cylinder so arranged that the cocking of the hammer or movement of the trigger rotates it and brings the next cartridge in line with the barrel for firing.

Revolver nomenclature (below)


*All of the above (nomenclature text and images) are from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Thanks to the folks at ATF for allowing the reproduction and use.

For Writers: Semi-autos and fully automatic (machine guns) automatically eject spent cartridges. Revolvers DO NOT. Therefore, writers, chances are slim and mostly none of finding empty revolver cartridges at a crime scene. Please remember this when writing the “aha” moment in your WIP.

Important Notice!!

As always, I highly recommend presenting your questions to a qualified expert, not the brother of a brother’s sister’s cousin’s third wife’s hairdresser’s neighbor’s son’s father who lives next door to a guy who once saw a cop walking along the sidewalk. And, someone who merely reads something about a law enforcement topic and then relays the information to you, well, this is not the best method of conducting research. Reading a chapter in a book does not make your barber an expert on police procedure and/or forensics.

So please, please, please, speak with law enforcement professionals about the desired cop-stuff. After all, you wouldn’t ask a cop to diagnose the poor condition of your lawn, right? So why ask a landscaper about police procedure, even if her advice comes straight from my book on police procedure. Why not? Because sometimes people, even those with the best of intentions can misread and/or misspeak, and then it is your work and your reputation that suffers for the mistake of someone else.

The best solution, of course, is to attend the Writers’ Police Academy, where you learn by participating in actual hands-on police training, such as shooting, driving, fingerprinting, evidence collection, and homicide investigation.

The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is one of the most vital tools available to law enforcement officers. Sure, they need the basics—firearms, pepper spray, handcuffs, patrol cars, vests, good shoes, exercise programs, eating well, backup when needed, radios, blue lights and sirens, computers, protective clothing and gear, training of all kinds, etc.—the things that help keep them safe during the course of their shifts. But NCIC, well, it’s the unseen guardian that rides shotgun in each and every police vehicle on the street.

NCIC is maintained by the FBI and is available to officers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (with the exception of the occasional downtimes which always seem to occur just when you most need it).

Established in the mid 1960s, NCIC consisted of five active files containing 356,784 records. This sounds like a ton of information, and it was back in the day. Today, though, NCIC contains 21 files with over 12 million records. To put this in perspective, in 2015, law enforcement officers tapped NCIC over 12.5 million times each day. On July 28, 2016 a record was set when the NCIC system processed 17,492,427 transactions. So yes, NCIC is a rescuer that’s widely and regularly used by cops.

Law enforcement officials use NCIC for a number of reasons, such as requesting information regarding stolen property, vehicles, firearms, license plates, etc. A traffic officer, for example, may use his in-car computer or by radioing the dispatcher, to “run a check” on a car during a traffic stop to see if it’s stolen or wanted in connection with a crime. Detectives often use NCIC to check serial numbers on firearms seized during searches of property and criminal suspects.

NCIC contains 14 persons files, including: (per the FBI) “Supervised Release; National Sex Offender Registry; Foreign Fugitive; Immigration Violator; Missing Person; Protection Order; Unidentified Person; Protective Interest; Gang; Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorist; Wanted Person; Identity Theft; Violent Person; and National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denied Transaction. The system also contains images that can be associated with NCIC records to help agencies identify people and property items.”

The following is from the FBI website.

NCIC Files

The NCIC database includes 21 files (seven property files and 14 person files).

  • Article File: Records on stolen articles and lost public safety, homeland security, and critical infrastructure identification.
  • Gun File: Records on stolen, lost, and recovered weapons and weapons used in the commission of crimes that are designated to expel a projectile by air, carbon dioxide, or explosive action.
  • Boat File: Records on stolen boats.
  • Securities File: Records on serially numbered stolen, embezzled, used for ransom, or counterfeit securities.
  • Vehicle File: Records on stolen vehicles, vehicles involved in the commission of crimes, or vehicles that may be seized based on federally issued court order.
  • Vehicle and Boat Parts File: Records on serially numbered stolen vehicle or boat parts.
  • License Plate File: Records on stolen license plates.
  • Missing Persons File: Records on individuals, including children, who have been reported missing to law enforcement and there is a reasonable concern for their safety.
  • Foreign Fugitive File: Records on persons wanted by another country for a crime that would be a felony if it were committed in the United States.
  • Identity Theft File: Records containing descriptive and other information that law enforcement personnel can use to determine if an individual is a victim of identity theft of if the individual might be using a false identity.
  • Immigration Violator File: Records on criminal aliens whom immigration authorities have deported and aliens with outstanding administrative warrants of removal.
  • Protection Order File: Records on individuals against whom protection orders have been issued.
  • Supervised Release File: Records on individuals on probation, parole, or supervised release or released on their own recognizance or during pre-trial sentencing.
  • Unidentified Persons File: Records on unidentified deceased persons, living persons who are unable to verify their identities, unidentified victims of catastrophes, and recovered body parts. The file cross-references unidentified bodies against records in the Missing Persons File.
  • Protective Interest: Records on individuals who might pose a threat to the physical safety of protectees or their immediate families. Expands on the the U.S. Secret Service Protective File, originally created in 1983.
  • Gang File: Records on violent gangs and their members.
  • Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorist File: Records on known or appropriately suspected terrorists in accordance with HSPD-6.
  • Wanted Persons File: Records on individuals (including juveniles who will be tried as adults) for whom a federal warrant or a felony or misdemeanor warrant is outstanding.
  • National Sex Offender Registry File: Records on individuals who are required to register in a jurisdiction’s sex offender registry.
  • National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denied Transaction File: Records on individuals who have been determined to be “prohibited persons” according to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and were denied as a result of a NICS background check. (As of August 2012, records include last six months of denied transactions; in the future, records will include all denials.)
  • Violent Person File: Once fully populated with data from our users, this file will contain records of persons with a violent criminal history and persons who have previously threatened law enforcement.

*Resource – FBI.gov and my own personal experience.

Cops who desire to produce results—discover hidden contraband—when conducting searches of homes and other buildings absolutely must learn to think like bad guys. It’s a must if there’s any hope of locating well-concealed evidence.

Sure, some crooks lack imagination and leave the fruits of their crimes out in the open for all to see. Others leave evidence on tabletops, on beds, in the living room floor, etc. simply because they believe they’re untouchable.

However, some criminals prefer that police not discover their stash of secret weapons, drugs, stolen jewelry, and other incriminating evidence. Therefore, they hide the goods. And when doing so, well, they sometimes select some cleverly camouflaged spots, such as …


  1. Hanging, taping, securing objects above the inside doorway/entrance to a closet. More times than I’d care to count, officers simply do not look there when searching small closet spaces that are not large enough to step inside. Instead, they tend to examine the obvious—straight ahead, above, below, and on shelving. They paw through hanging and folded clothing items, shoes, clothes hampers, the floor, etc. But above the doorframe…not so much.
  2. The bottoms of furniture, including inside the undersides of sofas and chairs. The cloth material attached there is easily removed simply by popping off a few staples to reveal a huge hiding spot among the framework. Crooks sometimes conceal drugs or guns or other items inside these cavernous spaces; therefore, officers should look for signs of tool marks that reveal tampering with staples, tacks, or other fasteners.
  3. Speakers (surround sound, stereo, etc.) are an excellent spot for hiding items. They’re basically wooden boxes with front or back covers that are often easily removed, exposing decent size hidey-holes.
  4. Fake aerosol cans, wall clocks, vegetable cans, beer cans, and so, so much more. Anyone can purchase a vast assortment of faux containers that look like a typical product found in a typical home. I once discovered a spray can of “WD-40” whose bottom screwed off to reveal a hollow space containing a hefty-size plastic bag filled with cocaine. (Click the link in this paragraph to see some of these items).
  5. Fake or hollowed-out books inserted among dozens of everyone’s favorite reading material. Yes, right there between the latest Reacher adventure and copies of Heather Graham’s and Tami Hoag’s books could very well be a stolen SIG Sauer hidden inside a scooped-out copy of Louise Penny’s A Better Man.
  6. Cutout sections of floors or wall paneling are excellent places to conceal goods. The space inside a standard wall is typically the size of the building material used (2x4s, for example). Wall studs are generally placed 16″ apart which offers a hiding space of 4″ deep by 16″ wide. The height of the space could be as tall as 4 feet, or so, since a short section of 2×4 is installed horizontally at the mid point of a wall (more are installed if the ceiling height is over 8 feet). These cross pieces provide support as well as something permanent to attach wallboard at the center point (from ceiling to floor) of the wall. During a search of a home (for drugs) members of our team discovered a removable portion of paneling that concealed a sawed-off shotgun hidden inside a wall between a family den and a kitchen. The illegal weapon fit nicely inside the spaces between 2×4 wall studs.
  7. Window air-conditioning units have removable front covers that reveal small but handy hiding spots. However, if the items hidden are drugs it’s quite easy for a canine to discover the illegal substances. This is especially so if the unit is running because the fan helps push the odors out into the room(s). To a trained narcotics dog that’s like switching on a neon sign that reads “DRUGS ARE HERE!”
  8. I’ve mentioned this one before, the space behind light switch and receptacle covers, but will do so again in case someone missed it. It’s a small spot but is one where tiny items such as flash drives, narcotics, and jewelry could be concealed. Also, click here to view a totally fake receptacle that’s actually a wall safe.

What’s in Your Wall?

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


Each four-foot-tall white cross is a memorial made of high quality, furniture-grade wood. The individual crosses weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 pounds and each is adorned with a large red heart along with a photograph of a victim of a mass shooting, natural disaster, or other tragedy.

The crosses feature a serial number, the date the death occurred, and the location of the fatal incident.

The maker of these unique monuments is carpenter Greg Zanis, also known as “Cross Man.” Zanis maintains a log of each cross and the name of its corresponding victim. He records the information in a series of notebooks, 75 journals at last count. Mr. Zanis also records the names and phone numbers of the victims’ families. He does so so he can remain in touch with family members of the victims.

So far Zanis has cobbled together well over 26,000 crosses and has personally delivered them to various locations across the country, from his hometown of Aurora, Illinois to Sandy Hook to Orlando to Parkland to Dayton to Las Vegas, as well as a 4,200 mile roundtrip trek to Paradise, California where he delivered his homemade crosses and Stars of David for the victims of the horrific wildfires that claimed the lives and property of so many of its residents.

He even made and delivered crosses to Martha’s Vineyard after JFK Jr. and his family members died in a plane crash. The first crosses he made for a mass shooting was for the victims in Columbine. Although Zanis is a devout Christian, he’s memorialized Buddhists and atheists and others. It all about the memory, not the religion.

Mr. Zanis often sleeps in his truck and he prefers to remain out of the spotlight, avoiding the media whenever possible.

Since he started making and delivering the crosses back in 1996 when his father-in-law was murdered, he’s carried out his mission mostly on his own dime. Operating as a nonprofit called Cross for Losses, Zanis doesn’t charge for his work, his time, or the fuel it takes to deliver the memorials. He feels it’s the least he can do for those who’ve lost so much.

Crosses in Odessa, Texas

Recently, Mr. Zanis journeyed to Odessa, Texas to deliver seven white crosses that were placed at the corner of 2nd Street and Sam Houston. Each cross represented one of the victims killed by 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator during a mass shooting that began after he was pulled over by a trooper for a minor traffic infraction, failing to signal before making a turn.

A few hours before Astor began his killing spree, he’d been fired from his job as a trucker. He called both 911 and the FBI to complain about his bosses, and then headed out to shoot people.

During the traffic stop, Astor grabbed a rifle and shot at two troopers through the rear-view window of his vehicle and then he sped away from the scene, where he left one officer wounded by his gunfire. While fleeing, Astor continued his rampage, firing at motorists and pedestrians. Then he ditched his vehicle and hijacked a U.S. Postal Service truck.

In all, seven people ranging from ages 15 to 57 died from gunshot wounds. Twenty-two others were wounded.

Astor Barred From Possessing Firearms

Astor’s criminal record showed a couple of brushes with law enforcement back in 2001 and 2002 that resulted in guilty pleas and court ordered probation.

Seth Ator was barred from owning guns because courts had ruled that he was mentally unfit. This information was entered into his permanent record, information that is designed to appear during the FBI background check that’s conducted when someone begins the process of purchasing a firearm.

So no, Astor was not legally permitted to purchase a firearm of any type. It was also illegal for him to have a gun in his possession.

How and Where Did Astor Get His Hands on the Gun?

In January 2014, Astor attempted to purchase a firearm but failed to do so because the nationwide criminal-background-check system flagged the mental-health determination. The system worked and the purchase was denied. The check prevented the sale of a gun to a person who was not permitted to buy or own a firearm.

However, Astor easily found a way to get his hands on gun by simply purchasing the rifle from an individual who’d illegally manufactured the weapon. Authorities believe Astor bought the gun from a Lubbock, Texas man who’d purchased parts on the internet, then built the gun and sold it to Astor. It is illegal to do so—build and sell a firearm without a license.

Private gun sales do not require background checks. For example, if you sold your grandfather’s old deer rifle to Billy Buck Jenkins you have no obligation to conduct a background check. However, if you have knowledge that Billy Buck, for whatever reason, is not legally permitted to possess a firearm, then it would be illegal for you to sell him the rifle.

The person who sold Astor the AR-15 style rifle he used in his shooting frenzy was not required to conduct a background check unless he had prior knowledge that Astor was not allowed to possess a gun. Of course, as the ATF investigation will determine, if he man manufactured the rifle from parts he’d purchased online (untraceable homemade guns are called “ghost guns” or “80 percenters”) and then sold the gun to Astor, well, that’s a felony.

From ATF

“80% receiver,” “80% finished,” “80% complete,” “unfinished receiver” are all terms referring to an item that some may believe has not yet reached a stage of manufacture that meets the definition of firearm frame or receiver found in the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). These are not statutory terms or terms ATF employs or endorses.” ~ ATF

Are “80%” or “unfinished” receivers illegal?

Receiver blanks that do not meet the definition of a “firearm” are not subject to regulation under the GCA. The ATF has long held that items such as receiver blanks, “castings” or “machined bodies” in which the fire-control cavity area is completely solid and un-machined have not reached the “stage of manufacture” which would result in the classification of a firearm per the GCA.

See comparison examples:

ATF image


Making 80 percent receivers into working firearms is legal as long as the person making the guns is not a person who’s prohibited from possessing it and that the gun is strictly for personal use. They may not legally sell these homemade 80% firearms without first obtaining a federal license to sell firearms.

The end of Astor’s shooting spree ended when he was shot and killed by police outside a cinema in Odessa.

His death was not marked by one of Zanis’s wooden crosses.


Cops will quickly tell you that they often arrest the same crooks over and over again. They see the same faces in the booking areas and they find their fingerprints and footprints and MO at crime scene after crime scene. They cannot seem to help themselves. If there’s a TV or car to stolen they’ll take it. If someone “needs robbing,” well, they’re more than happy to oblige. And, they leave the same evidence and clues behind, nearly every single time.

This déjà vu all over again activity is so routine that oftentimes cops are able to take a quick look at a scene and immediately know the name and home address of the suspect. Repeat offenders are so familiar to police that officers commonly know the crooks’ family members and are on a first-name basis with them. They’ve investigated them so doggone many times over the years that they even know their preachers, their teachers, their friends, their hangouts, their barbers, their favorite beer, and even the names of their pets.

The Habitual Housebreaker

For example, once, while training a new detective I was dispatched to  break-in at a local business. We arrived at the location and went inside to speak with the manager who offered details about the crime—point of entry, burglar located money hidden in a secret location. No security cameras. The back door had been kicked open and smack dab in its middle, near the doorknob was a large, very clear and distinct footprint. A tennis shoe of a certain brand.

While speaking with the store manager my new partner had gone back to the car to retrieve his handy-dandy Sirchie fingerprint kit and subsequently began to dust various surfaces, hoping to lift a case-breaking bit of evidence. When I’d heard all I needed to hear from the manager I told the new guy to stop what he was doing and pack up his powders, brushes, lifers, and tapes. I was ready to go. He wrinkled his brow and gave me a look that indicated he thought I’d lost my mind.

Once we were back in the car he expressed his lack of confidence in my method. “Why,” he asked, ” did you do that? I hadn’t finished processing the scene. The suspect probably left fingerprints and other evidence.” I told him to be patient and to trust my experience and instinct.

I pulled out of the parking lot and drove down the street for a couple of blocks when a familiar car passed us heading in the opposite direction. The driver cut his eyes toward me in a sideways glance. I made a U-turn, flipped on my blue lights, and sped up until I caught up to the car. He immediately pulled over (definitely not his first rodeo). My partner asked why I was stopping the car. As I opened my car door and slid from my seat, I told him to follow me.

I approached the driver’s window and asked the man to step outside the car. He, of course, asked why I’d stopped him. I, in turn, asked him to hold up his foot so I could see the bottom of his shoe, a tennis shoe, a shoe of the same brand as the one that made the print on the door at the burgled business. He did as I asked and lifted his leg, bent it at the knee to expose the bottom of his foot, and held it steady for me to inspect.

I took a glance at the shoe tread and then told the man I was arresting him for the break-in of the business. I handcuffed him and had him take a seat in my car where I advised him of his rights and then told him I knew he’d broken into the store. No doubt about it. I asked if he’d used the money to purchase crack cocaine. He said yes to both. My partner’s mouth hung open in disbelief. It had been less than one hour since we’d first received the radio message about the burglary.

Later, I explained to my partner that:

  • The shoe print was one I’d seen at previous house break-ins
  • The shoe had a distinct marking on its bottom; a chunk of the sole was missing
  • The crook obviously knew where the cash was hidden
  • The store manager said a friend was there the previous day when she closed up for the night. It was late, the bank was closed, and he saw where she’d hidden the cash.
  • Her friend was known to me as someone I’d arrested numerous time for breaking and entering. A man who regularly wore those shoes.
  • Her friend was a known crack user.
  • The friend routinely drove by “his” crime scenes after police arrived. He seemed to enjoy watching the process.

It was an educated hunch on my part and it paid off when I saw the crook pass by. His sideways glance in my direction was a red flag. I also knew the guy would confess to the crime right away. A quick confession was part of his routine. In addition, him being out so early in the morning was another indication that something out of the norm. This was a man who slept during the day and stole and broke into houses at night to fuel his addiction to crack. He was like a bat that returns to its cave at the first sign of daylight.

The Stats

During a 9-Year Follow-Up Period (2005-2014), the Bureau of Justice Statistics examined the recidivism patterns of former prisoners. The Bureau collected information regarding a sample of former inmates from 30 states following their release from prison in 2005.


  • The 401,288 state prisoners released in 2005 had 1,994,000 arrests during the 9-year period, an average of 5 arrests per released prisoner. Sixty percent of these arrests occurred during years 4 through 9.
  • An estimated 68% of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years.
  • Eighty-two percent of prisoners arrested during the 9-year period were arrested within the first 3 years.
  • Almost half (47%) of prisoners who did not have an arrest within 3 years of release were arrested during years 4 through 9.
  • Forty-four percent of released prisoners were arrested during the first year following release, while 24% were arrested during year-9.

*Resource – Bureau of Justice Statistics (from their website)

The Repetitive Maniacal Malefactor

During my time working as a sheriff’s deputy, we often arrested the one particular man whose crimes typically involved some form of violence—beating his wife and kids, fighting, etc.—and the violence seemed to escalate with each incident. He was a heavy drinker and, in spite of his extremely low income status, he routinely abused meth and cocaine. His family often went without basic needs but he was rarely without drugs or alcohol.

Each time we arrested the man he fought like a cornered wild animal. He was powerful when he was sober, but when his fuel of the day was a combo of methamphetamine and Jack Daniels, well, he was a real “beast.”

One night we received a call from a frantic child who said her mom and brothers and sisters were being held hostage by her dad. She went on the say the he had a gun and was firing it into the walls and ceiling and had even shoved the barrel into her mom’s mouth and then threatened to pull the trigger.

Log story short, when we arrived he—the “beast”—came outside holding a shotgun. I was able to approach from the side, out of his line of sight, and tackle him and take away the weapon. Other deputies then joined me for the wild ride that followed, the attempt to handcuff the man without him landing a punch with one of those ham-sized fists we’d all learned to avoid over the years.

So we arrested the guy, booked him, and then when he showed up at court, his wife testified that it was all a misunderstanding and that she loved her husband and would please, please, please appreciate it if the judge would let him come home. The judge dismissed the case.

A similar incident occurred a few months later and like this one the judge tossed the case and let the man go free.

A few months later the same guy went on a four-day binge of coke and booze when he picked up a young woman at a bar (his wife and kids were at home wondering where their next meal could be found). He convinced the woman to go for ride so they could be alone. Common sense aside, the woman agreed. As the pair drove out of the city and onto a dark country road, the man attempted to place a hand beneath the woman’s short shirt. She rejected the advance and he immediately slugged her.

She fought back but was no match for the powerful man. He continued to punch her until he reached past her and opened the passenger door. He pushed the woman out of the vehicle and she landed on the pavement. The estimated speed of the truck at the time was approximately 50 mph. The woman survived but was badly battered. So bad, actually, that she was never the same—appearance and mentally—ever again.

The man was later arrested and when he went to court the judge found him guilty and sentenced him six months in jail. He was to serve his sentence on weekends so he could work during the week. No substance abuse treatment. No anger management. No mandatory counseling. Nothing.

And like clockwork, for six months, his wife and kids visited him at the jail each and every Saturday and Sunday.

During the booking process, as I fingerprinted this guy, he turned and spit directly onto the side of my face. Let’s just say that he and I came to an instant understanding. Justice served.

So no, not every case involves a ton of legwork, detailed CSI investigations, long interrogation sessions, DNA, etc. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of who you know and what they do … over and over again.

Last week my wife Denene and I traveled to North Carolina to be with her mother during yet another surgery (you may recall that she and our daughter were each diagnosed, just weeks apart, with serious cancer). Her surgery went well and she’s now back at home.

On our way back to our own home we took a detour to visit with my brother and his wife for a few minutes. The side trip to their house took us deep in the countryside where it’s not unusual to see a black bear crossing the road, or a dozen or so deer grazing on my brother’s property.

To return to a major highway after leaving my brother’s place, we first had to trek along several narrow treelined backroads, where thick leafy canopies overhang, allowing only bits of sunlight to leak through between branches, speckling the asphalt with splashes and dots of yellow.  It was like I image it would be to travel through the twisting and turning lens of an old kaleidoscope.

Denene and I chatted along the drive with our conversation turning toward the possibility of hosting a 2020 Writers’ Police Academy. We brainstormed ideas as to how, if we decide to host a 12th event, to top earlier years and which new classes and topics we could offer.

We discussed past events and favorite sessions and activities. We also discussed that 2020 would be a year without Linda Lovely and Howard Lewis, our two key volunteers who’ve decided to move on after many years of hard work and loyal service to the WPA. Of course Denene and I are grateful to all they’ve done for us and the event over the past several years. The four of us have been together during fun times and extremely difficult hardships.

But, as it’s been said, “The show must go on.” For now, though, the head-scratcher of the day is whether or not to return to Sirchie, NWTC’s Public Safety Academy in Green Bay, or to simply call it quits after 11 wonderfully successful years. I’d love to see your preferences in the comments below.

Okay, back to the rest of the trip back home from N.C.

We twisted and wound throughout the network country roads, passing a couple of boarded-up country stores, the kind that once sold hunks of hoop cheese and slices of bologna from long tubes, hand-dipped ice cream cones, pickled eggs and pigs feet from large glass jars, live minnows and crickets, and blocks and bags of ice.

Cotton field in Virginia

Small clapboard-sided churches and fields of soybean and cotton and corn were part of the landscape, as were modest homes and barns and tin-roofed sheds cobbled together from plywood and 2x4s.

Then, we passed a house that stirred a long forgotten memory. It was a brick rancher with a gravel driveway. The entrance to the drive was flanked by two large wooden wagon wheels, one on either side. A vivid picture crossed my mind—a Virginia State Police car parked in that very driveway. Wow, how could I have forgotten about this trooper, a man who played a part in shaping me as a police officer.

Let’s Back up a Bit

I’ve worked undercover assignments in my day, most of which involved narcotics operations. My very first one took place, and it pains me to say just how long ago it was, back in the 70s. I know, I’m one of the “old guys.”

By the way, writers, that’s a term sometimes used by younger cops when referring to active-duty officers who tend to show a bit of gray hair and “donut induced belly droop” at the waistline. Old Guy is a moniker that also refers to retired cops.

I was reminded of my “old guy” status during a past WPA when I overheard instructor Rick McMahan using me as an example to emphasis a point during one of his presentations. He said something similar to, “Lee Lofland could probably tell you about how it went back then. He’s one of the old guys.”

When Denene and I passed that brick house I mentioned above, I immediately recalled sitting in a beat-up old car while two troopers placed “bugs” in the passenger side door panel and beneath the dashboard. I didn’t wear a wire in case the dealer opted to check for one, and he did. My handler, the trooper who lived in the brick house, was briefing me about my “target,” a major drug supplier who sold only large quantities of marijuana (“pot,” back in the day). Nothing smaller than five pounds, actually.

It was my job to gain the man’s confidence and work my way into his trusted circle. The goal was to become one of his dealers. I was brought in from another area to prevent the possibly of recognition. It was a tough assignment for a couple of reasons. One – No one had been able to gain the man’s trust. Two – He was a black man who generally didn’t associate with white people, and I’m obviously white. And he didn’t, as a rule, sell to white people. Didn’t trust them. Not at all. So my assignment was an uphill climb from day one.

But, at the time was hair was quite long and my daily attire was often grungy jeans, t-shirts, and Converse tennis shoes. I definitely looked the part and I walked the walk and talked the talk.

Me completing paperwork at the time of this operation.

Long story short, I did indeed manage to work my way inside the “team” and was soon given five pound packages of “pot” to sell. I was easily successful at unloading the drug because I simply turned it over to my handler, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, through the Va. State Police, kindly forked over the cash/buy money.

To my supplier, I was a fantastic “employee.” He assumed I was selling to white folks from Richmond to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, to Raleigh and everywhere in between. He even accompanied me on a couple of sales to undercover Va. State Police troopers. We arranged these sales to prove that I was not an undercover agent.

So, the day came to make the arrest. Since I was then working other assignments I was not part of the raid team. In fact, I didn’t see the man again until we came face to face in court during his trial, and if looks could kill I’d have been butchered, burned, and fed to wild hogs and hungry lions.

When I took the stand to testify about, in great detail, the operation that brought us to the point of the arrest and subsequent criminal proceedings, his high-priced, fancy-dressed defense attorney tried his best to discredit me. But, it didn’t work. Not even close. To pat myself on the back a bit, I remained calm, cool, and sharp.


The attorney tried every trick in the book, including the old standby of entrapment. But this one failed miserably. You’ve probably heard someone somewhere say that undercover (UC) police officers absolutely must identify themselves as officers at some point during the operation, otherwise the, as the myth goes, the suspect’s constitutional rights are violated. It is incorrectly believed that if a UC does not identify themselves then they have entrapped the person who committed the crime in question.

Well, hogwash. This is without any doubt whatsoever, a myth of epic proportion. It’s fake news spewed by people who do not know the law.

Yet, this highly-educated and quite successful attorney, well, he sort of went there, asking me this question during his cross examination. “Did you tell my client what you were going to do with the marijuana he gave you? 

I sat in silence for a moment to allow the prosecutor to butt in, object, or whatever,  but he elected to not do or say anything.

Therefore, my response to this dumb question was the first thing that popped into my somewhat warped mind. “No I did not. And I didn’t because I don’t believe he’d have given me large quantities of marijuana to sell if he knew I was handing it over to Va. State Police Troopers for the purpose of building a solid case against him.”

Laughter then roared from the courtroom, and even the judge chuckled before asking the defense attorney if he had any further questions for me. He replied, “No, sir. I don’t believe so.” Then he turned and took a seat.

The drug dealer was found guilty and was handed a lengthy prison sentence.


“Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.” ~ Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540(1992).


Again, I’d truly like to hear you thoughts regarding a potential 2020 Writers’ Police Academy—return to Sirchie, NWTC’s Public Safety Academy in Green Bay, or to simply call it quits.

So please do post your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, if we are to continue hosting this wonderful event we may need volunteers to help out, especially people with experience in planning large events with lots of moving parts. We also may need a few people to fill smaller roles during the event—help with raffle, check-in, reception, banquet, etc.

Working as a WPA volunteer involves lots of hard work and no pay (sounds tempting, I know). However, the experience is extremely rewarding in many ways. If you should consider becoming a WPA volunteer, please keep in mind that the Writers’ Police Academy is not a typical writers conference. There are no craft sessions, agent and/or editor panels, nor are there pitch sessions with agents and/or editors.

The WPA is a hands-on learning event whose focus is solely on teaching writers about law enforcement, forensics, and crime-solving. It’s an event that welcomes everyone, and it’s a place that’s free of politics. It’s fun. It’s exciting. And it truly is a Disneyland for writers of all genres, from beginning writers to top bestselling authors. Fans and readers, journalists, librarians, booksellers, etc. are also welcome to attend.

Police officers must attend training academies where they learn the basics of the job. In Virginia, for example, it is required that new officers receive a minimum of 480 hours of basic academy training that includes (to name only a few subjects):

  • Professionalism
  • Legal
  • Communication
  • Patrol
  • Investigations
  • Defensive tactics and use of force
  • Weapons, including firearms, baton, chemical, etc.
  • Driver training

The list sounds simple but, believe me, the training is grueling and physically and mentally challenging and demanding. It’s also quite stressful because if a rookie happens to flunk any portion of the academy they are immediately returned to their department where it’s likely their employment will be terminated.

Of course, academies and individual departments may add to the basic curriculum, and they often do (mine was longer), but they may not eliminate any portion of the training that’s mandated by the Department of Justice and/or the state.

In addition to the basic police academy, in order to “run radar,” officers are required to successfully complete a compulsory minimum training standards and requirements course. This course is specifically for law-enforcement officers who utilize radar or an electrical or microcomputer device to measure the speed of motor vehicles.

The Basic Speed Measurement Operator Training requirements include the following:

  1. Attend a DCJS approved speed measurement operator’s course
  2. Pass the speed measurement testing
  3. Complete Field Training

Virginia State Police Basic Training

Academy training for the Virginia State Police (VSP) is much more intense and lengthy than that of local academies.

VSP academy training includes 1,536 hours of instruction covering more than 100 sessions that range  from laws of arrest, search and seizure, defensive tactics, motor vehicle code, criminal law, and much more.

A troopers basic training is completed in four phases.

  • Phase I – The first 12 days are at the Academy at which time the students receive abbreviated training.
  • Phase II – Pre-Academy Field Training—up to four months—at which time the students ride with a FTO.
  • Phase III – Return to the academy for 26 weeks of Basic Training, completing both classroom and practical courses.
  • Phase IV – Following graduation from the academy, troopers complete an additional six to eight weeks of field training with a FTO.

What Happens After Local Officers Graduate From the Academy?

Once local police and sheriff’s deputies complete the minimum of twelve weeks of academy training (remember, some are longer), the law enforcement officers are then required to successfully complete a minimum of 100 hours of approved field training. This is on the job training, working in the field under the supervision of a certified field training officer (FTO). FTOs, by the way, must attend and successfully complete a training program that qualifies them to train officers in the field.

The mandatory minimum course for FTOs shall include a minimum of 32 hours of training and must include each of the following subject matter:

a. Field training program and the field training officer.

b. Field training program delivery and evaluation.

c. Training liability.

d. Characteristics of the adult learner.

e. Methods of instruction.

f. Fundamentals of communication.

g. Written test.

During the field training portion of a rookie’s beginning days on the street, their FTOs are evaluating their performance while at the same time protecting them and the public from harm. Working as an FTO is a tough job. I know, I’ve done it. You’re forever watching to make certain the rookies do not accidentally violate the rights of citizens, and you’re constantly on high alert, watching for the unexpected. This is because you’re responsible for everything that could happen. And, you’re watching for two people instead of one.

FTOs typically allow rookies to get their hands dirty by handling calls, getting the feel of driving the patrol car on city streets or county roads, conduct arrests, etc. They serve as a crutch, to prevent missteps. They’re leaders and they’re teachers. They are the final barrier to the officers going out on their own, a day most new officers salivate for in anticipation.

That first night alone in your very own patrol car is a highly desired moment. It the official sign that you’ve made it. You are finally a police officer. In the meantime, though, there are a lot of boxes that must be checked off by the FTO.

During the field training period, each rookie must demonstrate that they know the streets in their patrol areas. They must know local and state laws and ordinances. They must know the working of the court system and how to effectively interact with local prosecutors. And, well, below is a list of topics that rookies must know better than the backs of their hands before their FTO officially signs the paperwork releasing them from the training.

  • Department Policies, Procedures, and Operations (General Law Enforcement)
  • Local Government Structure and Local Ordinances
  • Court Systems, Personnel, Functions and Locations
  • Resources and Referrals
  • Records and Documentation
  • Administrative Handling of Mental Cases
  • Local Juvenile Procedures
  • Detention Facilities and Booking Procedures
  • Facilities and Territory Familiarization
  • Miscellaneous

Academy instructors aren’t simply any Joe or Sally off the street who may know a little something about police work because they’ve every episode of COPS, twice. Instead, academy instructors in Virginia are well-trained and must meet a minimum standard set by the state/DOJ.

Yes, academy instructors are required to attend specialized certification classes for the specific subjects they teach. And, instructors who train/teach and certify other instructors must become certified to teach those high level classes. They are then certified instructor-trainers.

I was a certified instructor-trainer for Defensive Tactics and CPR, and I was a certified instructor for Firearms, Officer Survival, CPR, and Basic and Advanced Life Support.

Advanced Classes for Officers, and Writers

Officer training never ends. Laws change and tactics and techniques evolve. Academies and agencies across the U.S. offer numerous specialized training opportunities. A great example of such educational opportunities are the courses offered at Sirchie, the location of the 2019 Writers’ Police Academy’s special event, MurderCon.

Each year, on a continuing basis, Sirchie offers advanced classes for law enforcement officers. If some of these sound familiar to you, well, they should, because they were made available to attendees of the 2019 Writers’ Police Academy. It was an extremely rare opportunity for writers to have the opportunity to go behind the scenes and train at such a prestigious facility and to learn from some of the top instructors in the world.

Classes presented at Sirchie, for law enforcement officers, are as follows:

  • Clandestine Grave Search & Recovery

    SIRCHIE is offering a 4 day “hands-on” training class on searching for and properly investigating and recovering remains from a clandestine grave site. The legal term corpus delicti me…
  • Phase 1 – Footwear Impression – Detection, Recovery, Identification Training

    Footwear impression evidence is the most overlooked evidence at crime scenes. Criminals will often wear gloves or wipe down objects that they touch at crime scenes but rarely do they remove their s…
  • Bloodstain Pattern Documentation Class

    Throughout the United States and certainly in smaller departments, the crime scene technician faces the complexities of homicide scenes without the proper support or training. Like all forensi…
  • Mastering the IAI Latent Print Exam Class

    Minimum requirements for the class: Each student must have at least 1 year of Latent print experience to be accepted in the class.  Background: Examiners who are preparing to take the L…
  • Digital Device Forensics

    With over 9 Billion wireless subscriptions worldwide as of 2016, every criminal investigation involves information that can be captured from a digital device, including phones and tablets. Understa…
  • Latent Palm Print Comparison Class

    Minimum Requirements for the class: Each student must have attended and completed a Basic Latent Fingerprint Comparison Course to be accepted in the Advanced Latent Palm Print Comparison Cou…
  • Evidence Collection and Processing Training

    Our Evidence Collection and Processing Training Program provides law enforcement professionals and crime scene investigators with hands on training using forensic tools that will help to execute th…
  • Drone Forensics

    This 5 day course is designed to take the investigator deep into the world of Drone Forensics. The use of Drones is growing rapidly and expanding to criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations…
  • Comprehensive Advanced Latent Print Comparison Course

    How proficient are your individual comparison skills as pertaining to latent print casework? Are erroneous exclusions a problem in your skill set? If you are a manager are erroneous exclusions a problem in your latent print work unit? This class was developed to help improve latent comparison competency and knowledge whether you are already a Certified Latent Print Examiner or if you are preparing to take the exam in the near future. A broad and exhaustive level of complex latent print exercises were carefully compiled to improve the level of expertise for examiners. You will not find another class like this one anywhere.

So Much Training and So Many Required Certifications, but …

Law enforcement officers in Virginia (I’m not certain about other states) shall satisfactorily complete the Compulsory Minimum Training Standards and Requirements within 12 months of the date of hire or appointment as a law-enforcement officer.

Take a moment to re-read the line above and then let it sink in that officers may work for up to one full year before they attend a basic police academy. That’s potentially 12 months of driving a patrol car and making arrests without a single second of formal training.

Sure, most departments would never dream of allowing an untrained officer work the streets without close and direct supervision. However, I’ve seen it done and I have personal knowledge of deputy sheriffs who patrolled an entire county, alone, for nearly 365 days prior to attending any formal police training. I know this to be so because I was one of those deputy sheriffs.

Believe me, it’s an odd feeling to carry a loaded gun while driving like a bat out of hell with lights and siren squalling at full yelp during the pursuit of a heavily armed suspect, all while not having clue what you should and shouldn’t do when or if you catch the guy.

When I think about it today I realize how foolish it was for my boss to allow us to work under those conditions.

Author Melinda Lee – WPA firearms training

Thanks to the Writers’ Police Academy, many writers have received far more training than I had during my first year on the job. Actually, many writers who’ve attended the WPA have received more advanced training than many of today’s law enforcement officers.





Here’s a recap of past Writers’ Police Academy events condensed in an ad for the 2018 WPA.