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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

§ 18.2-39. “Lynching” defined.

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

§ 18.2-40. Lynching deemed murder.

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

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

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

 

California omits “lynching” from law

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

What constitutes a riot per this section of California law?

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

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

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

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


Strange Fruit

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

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

 

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

scent of magnolia

sweet and fresh

then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

 

Here is a fruit

for the crows to pluck

for the rain to gather

for the wind to suck

for the sun to rot

for the tree to drop.

Here is a strange

and bitter crop.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, let’s dive right in.

Just say no to “Homicide 1”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donnie Weakguy

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

To address Ms. Neveredit’s additional missteps:

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

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

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

A Grand Jury does NOT try cases

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Now, a final thought …

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

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

See, not confusing at all …

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

That eerie calm.

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

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

 

10-4, I’ll take this one …

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

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

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

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

Back to the man who wanted to kill me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

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

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump—

Then, from somewhere deep in the shadows.

Grrrr …….. Growl …..

From inside the home.

A baby crying.

A woman pleads and sobs.

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

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

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

A Cop’s Nighttime Melody Approaches the Finale

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

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

Crackle. Crackle. Crackle.

Right behind me now.

Grrr …. Growl …

Crying.

Screaming. 

Whir.

Thump. Thump. Thump!

Jingle

Squeak.

The door.

Turn and push.

“Drop the gun!”

BANG!

BANG!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Crying.

And crying.

“10-4. Send the coroner.”

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

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

 

*This is a repeat post per request. Thanks!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad guy – Stay hidden. Never expose your location.

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

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

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

What’s the best defense against an ambush?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMBUSH!

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

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

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

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

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.


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


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Sleep. You need sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

“10-4. I’m 10-8. ETA … four minutes.”

And so it goes.

And goes and goes and goes …


Were Dead Ringers Saved by the Bell?

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

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

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

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


Is Working Graveyard Shift Hazardous to Your Health?

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda. Yes or No?

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

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

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

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

The One Phone Call

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

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

Those Lyin’ Cops

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

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

I Ain’t Pressing’ No Charges

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

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

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

Peekaboo, I See You

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

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

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

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.

fMRI

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

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?”

“10-4.”

“Stand-by. 0730 hours.”

Thirty-nine seconds pass.

“2122.”

“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—”

Silence.

“2122?”

Static.

“2122?”

“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!

Ammunition

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 …

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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)

 

Revolver

 

 

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.