Cloaking with straw purchases, and teflon

 

Does the hero of your story have a real need to drive an invisible car? How about clothing that protects against a mustard gas attack? Is she an expert in facial recognition? Well…

1. Forensic Facial Examiners (yes, they do exist) have been tested to determine the accuracy of their identification/recognition skills. The results? Darn near perfect (99.7%, to be exact). The high mark indicates that when comparing the accuracy of trained facial examiners to non-experts, well, the trained experts were far better at recognizing, comparing, identifying and matching faces to photos than people who are not trained to do so. Therefore, it’s safe to say the experts are indeed believable and reliable when it comes to courtroom testimony.

2. Scientists have developed a new compound that neutralizes chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. The compound, a hydrogel coating, can be applied to clothing to help safeguard against the deadly chemicals. Adding the hydrogel to paint can also protect the interior of homes/rooms from chemical hazards.

3. Researchers interviewed 99 inmates, asking where they obtained the firearms used when committing their crimes. They found that very few guns, if any, were obtained by theft. Instead, the bad guys said they obtained their guns through:

a) purchase or trade from friends and family.

b) travel to states with slack gun laws for legal purchases (gun shows, online connections, etc.), but not via traditional gun stores.

c) gangs make bulk purchases from traffickers and then distribute to members.

d) 15% of weapons recovered from the criminals interviewed were purchased for them by women. Third party gun deals are called straw purchases. It is illegal to purchase a gun for someone who cannot legally posses a firearm.

It was discovered that most guns purchased and carried by criminals are older weapons—11 years or older. The inmates also stated that proactive policing once put a damper on carrying weapons they believed to be “hot,” fearing police would connect them to other crimes. Now, however, the move away from police stop and frisk practically eliminates the crooks’ worry about carrying illegal firearms.

4. Engineers have successfully developed a cloaking device that works even on very large objects, including military drones. The new Teflon substrate and ceramic studs scatters electromagnetic waves (light and radar), causing light to bypass the target object…making it “invisible” to detection. The process is basically an alteration of our perceptions.

5. According to Alabama professor and study researcher, Adam Lankford, five percent of the world’s population lives in the U.S. Within that 5% are 31% of world’s mass shooters (based upon 1966-2012 stats). Lankford also found that mass shooters from countries other than the U.S. typically use only one firearm. In the U.S. however, over half of the mass shooters have used at least two firearms when killing.

6. A University of Illinois Chicago study shows that 92% of all police officer line of duty deaths (murders) are by gunfire. 3/4 of those deaths are by handgun. From 1996 – 2010, 782 officers were killed. 716 were killed by gunfire (515 were handguns).

The study produced an unexpected result. The states with the highest numbers of officers murdered were not states with the highest rates of violent crime. Instead, the areas where officers were murdered most frequently were the states with the highest numbers of public-owned firearms, such as Montana, Alabama, Alaska, and Mississippi.

 

*This post is not an open invitation to express opinions about gun control. Instead, the list above is a collection of facts that could add an extra element to a work in progress. 

 

Writers' Police Academy

Is your writers’ toolbox looking a bit tired and used up these days? Do you find yourself recycling stale material no matter how deep you dig for it? Well, if you’ve noticed it, it’s likely your readers are starting to grumble, wishing you’d move on past cordite and terms like flatfoot and gumshoe.

So, here are six brand new and still-shiny facts and ideas you can toss into your toolbox for use in your current work-in-progress. After all, National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner so something new might be just the thing to brighten up a hard to write scene.

Six Facts for Your Writers’ Toolbox

1. Thermal On Demand (TOD) is a new device that allows firefighters to see detailed images—doors, light switches, furniture, victims, etc.—in smoke-filled, pitch-black places.

2. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University have developed a personality profiling technique to assist in identifying potential school shooters. The process uses vector semantics (constructing vectors that represent a variety of known personality disorders and traits) to analyze and gauge the similarities with writings of a suspect/subject. The data analysis is completed automatically via computer.

3. Scientists have discovered a method for dating fingerprints. Using a cumbersome and lab-stationary, imaging mass spectrometer (the device is not a mobile/transportable device), they’ve been able to correctly age prints up to four days. However, the prints tested were single prints deposited on polished silicon surfaces—perfect prints on perfectly-suited surfaces for testing. Experts say their next move is to test over longer periods of time, and to test on more real-life surfaces. But it’s a start. Imagine being able to rule out a suspect because his prints were left at the crime scene two weeks prior to the murder. Or, to arrest a guy because his prints were the only fingerprints left at the scene on the exact day of the homicide.

4. A new device allows the military to better hear incoming radio messages by using bone conduction of vibrations to transport sound, instead of relying on a sound that’s traditionally emitted by speakers. The device is super small, the size of a dime, which is far lighter and less cumbersome than a radio. It’s attached to a wearer’s helmut and transmits messages by turning them into vibrations. The wearer’s skull bones then send those vibrations straight to the inner ear/cochlea, bypassing the ear canal and eardrum entirely. This is an added bonus because the wearer is then free to wear hearing protection and, at the same time, receive important messages.

5. Vienna, Austria is the home of the IMS (International Monitoring System, a first-alert station that monitors nuclear transgressions throughout the world. Receiving daily real-time data from stations in 89 countries, the IMS is able to detect nuclear testing anywhere on the planet. To identify nuclear activity, the IMS analyzes atmospheric gases as well as sensitive seismometers to detect earth movement. Eleven stations monitor underwater sounds and acoustic waveforms. Since sound travels so well underwater, eleven stations are enough to cover the entire world.

6. Smart watches are a source of hacking/mining personal data. For example, a hacker using a camouflaged app could be used to steal information from emails, banking details, passwords, etc. In fact, researchers used motion sensors on smart watches to accurately guess what a user was typing. It was through the use of a homegrown app that caused the data “leaks” produced by the motion sensors.

Getting answers for your WIP

 

As many of you know, I field an awful lot of questions from writers—“What kind of gun does a detective carry?” “What are all those little thingy’s on a cop’s gun belt?” “Do police officers have to take off their gun belts when they use the restroom?” And the ever popular, “Have you ever shot anyone?” But, one of the more consistently asked questions is, “How do I approach a police officer to ask him questions about my work-in-progress?”

Most police officers are actually quite willing to help you out, if you just ask. That’s the key to this whole problem. You’ve got to ask. I promise, the officer will not bite. Well, maybe you shouldn’t try this during the noon buffet at the local Chinese restaurant…but under normal circumstances you’ll be fine. Don’t be shy! And please do use common sense. For example, these are times when you wouldn’t want to approach an officer.

1. While the officer is involved in a shootout with bad guys.

2. When the officer is on the ground wrestling with a 300 lb. suspect who prefers to remain out of jail.

3. On the side of the highway while she’s conducting a traffic stop on a stolen car.

4. At a major intersection while the officer is directing rush hour traffic.

5. While he/she is in the act of breaking up a huge bar fight.

6. While they’re advising someone of Miranda. This would be the perfect time for you to “remain silent.”

7. Public restroom stalls. NO!

8. Any meal time. Officers never know when they’ll have to hop up and rush to save a life. Therefore, their meal times are often precious moments.

Anyway, here’s a great example of how easy it is to have an officer answer your questions. I used to travel a lot, especially between our former home in Georgia and our other house near Mayberry (Hey, Barney!). The drive between the two took approximately six hours, which translates into just over a tank of gas (this was pre-hybrid days). So, during one of my fuel stops I happened to park beside a patrol car. The driver, a sheriff’s lieutenant—I immediately knew he was lieutenant by the gold bars pinned to his collar—, was cleaning the windows and pumping gas into his blue-and-white marked car.

By the way, before heading out to your meet-n-greet with an officer, it’s a good idea to learn the various collar insignias. Officers appreciate being addressed by their rank, especially the officers wearing all that fancy hardware on their collars—gold bars, stripes, stars, and eagles.

The markings on this lieutenant’s patrol vehicle, “Aggressive Criminal Enforcement,” caught my eye since it’s not something you normally see on a police car. In fact, others had noticed it as well. Customers were casually walking past the vehicle, chatting among themselves. I heard one lady say to her companion, “I wonder what that means?” A man walked by, turning his head so hard to the right he looked like an owl that had just spied dinner. Two women walked up and pretended to talk about a business across the street so they could get a better look at the police car. As they walked away one said to the other, “I wish I knew what he did.”

Well, at that point I, too, was wishing I knew the meaning of those three words. So take a guess at what I did? Yep, I went completely crazy and did the unthinkable. I walked over and before I could stop myself, I heard these words fall out of my mouth, “What exactly is Aggressive Criminal Apprehension?” There. I’d done it. I’d gone where no writer dares to go. I asked a cop a question. Right there. Right out in the open where the whole world could see. And an amazing thing happened.

Without blinking an eye, that well-armed, muscular police officer turned to face me. Our eyes locked. A bead of sweat trickled down my back. He took a deep breath. So did I. And then it happened… He answered my question. And he did it with a smile on his face. You see, Lieutenant S. Graham of the Calhoun County S.C. Sheriff’s Office is extremely proud of the work he does.

In just a matter of minutes, I learned that Lt. Graham is actually a detective with the sheriff’s office, but he also serves on the Aggressive Criminal Enforcement Team, a team of deputies that was formed in 2005 to combat drug crimes, and to work in areas of Calhoun County that need “extra attention.”

Calhoun County deputy and evidence seized during drug interdiction operation.

For example, you all know that interstate highways are used to transport narcotics. Calhoun’s A.C.E. unit patrols the interstate looking for the indicators of drug trafficking (I can’t tell you what those indicators are…for a cop’s eyes and ears only…or a future blog post :). I’ve worked drug interdiction in the past and the time spent working the highways really pays off. Believe it or not, the simple question, “May I search your car?” yields tons of dope arrests each year. Why people say yes to that question, knowing they have a dozen kilos of coke in the trunk, amazes me.

Each member of the A.C.E. team receives specialized training in the detection of narcotics and the workings of narcotics cases.

A unit such as Calhoun’s A.C.E. is extremely beneficial to a department. I once headed up what we called “Street Crimes Unit,” which functioned basically the same as Lt. Graham’s team. Not only was the unit effective against drug crimes, it allowed patrol officers to devote the majority of their time to answering calls and, well, patrolling.

Anyway, after the lieutenant and I finished chatting, I asked if he’d pose for a photo for my collection. Afterward, we shook hands and promised to stay in touch, and I headed back to my car (the gas pump had long ago clicked off). But, by this time a small crowd had gathered to see what was going on, and as I walked away they moved toward Lt. Graham.

Just as I was was sliding into my driver’s seat I heard a woman ask, “What’s Aggressive Criminal Apprehension?” I saw Lt. Graham turn to face her. The two locked eyes. And that same big smile split the lieutenant’s face as he started the story all over again, this time to a half-dozen people.

So, I have this response to one of the most-popular writer-questions of all time… Just ask and they will answer.

~

*My thanks to Lt. S. Graham for answering my questions. It was 100 degrees in South Carolina that day. And it was even hotter standing on the asphalt. Also, thanks to Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers and his dedicated deputies. The residents of Calhoun County are in good hands.

Imaginary law of fiction

 

I’ve been doing the “help writers get it right” for a long, long time, and during all those years I’ve seen a ton of questions and discussions that would buckle the knees of the even the most seasoned detectives and coroners.

Some of the questions I see from writers are out there. I mean WAAAAYYY out there, and that can be a good thing…or a bad thing. It depends.

I know, it’s tough to come up with new material, ideas, and ways to keep readers interested, but you do it and you do it day-in and day-out, and you do what you do extremely well. I can say this with confidence because I read your books.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to remind everyone that you’re writing fiction, which means you’re legally authorized by Chapter 18 Section 12 of Imaginary Law to make up stuff. Really, it’s true. Every single state and country has this law in place. Google it (wink).

Most of you turn to experts who provide factual information as responses to your questions, and those responses aren’t typically an opinion. They’re real, hard fact based on their knowledge and real-life on the job experiences. It’s up to you to transpose, mold, and shape those facts into a fictional story that’s believable. Doesn’t have to be true, just believable make-believe, even if just for a few moments, in the mind of the reader.

If you want your hero’s revolver to have the capability of firing 75 rounds while simultaneously ejecting each spent round, then so be it. But you’ve got to show why that’s possible, because it’s not in the real world. Perhaps your protagonist knows a mad-scientist-guy in Philly who made the gun in his garage workshop.

Or, you insist upon having the odor of cordite spilling from every single page of your book. Well, you know that’s not possible unless you’re writing historical fiction. However, suppose your villain stumbled across a perfectly preserved crate of cordite-stuffed ammunition left over from WWII? That would work, right?

You absolutely must have the FBI solve every single murder that occurs in the country, even though we all know the FBI does not work local murder cases. It’s just not what they do. Nor do they work all kidnapping cases. But this is an easy fix. Simply have the small town local cops ring up the nearest FBI field office and ask for help, or ask them to handle the case. Remember, though, you’d need to have an explanation as to why the county sheriff or state police wouldn’t/couldn’t help, because that’s the typical route taken when assistance is needed. Rarely do locals call on the FBI for local stuff. But you’re the master of dreams and ideas, so coming up with reasons why things happen the way they do in your mind is what you do best.

So please do feel free to use your imaginations to write fiction, even when the story is about cops. However, if you’re going for accuracy stick to what the experts tell you. And please, whatever you do, don’t argue with a professional when the fact she provides doesn’t fit with what you wanted to happen in your story. Asking the same question over and over again, hoping they’ll finally say what you want them to say, is not going to change the facts. Simply take the information and make it fit into the tale. If that won’t work, figure a way to show why it didn’t. If readers wanted a strictly factual accounting of a story they’d watch the news or read true crime. Well, maybe watching the news was a bad example of factual information, but you know what I meant.

So, by the power granted to you by Chapter 18 Section 12 of Imaginary Law, have at it!

 

Things you'll want in your next book

 

1. Scientists have developed a new sophisticated fluorescent ink that can be used as a multicolored barcode, a tool that will aid consumers with identifying and verifying authentic products. A quick scan with a cell phone and you’ll instantly know if what you’re buying is the real thing, or a cheap imitation.

2. FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response), a new device used for locating buried victims, is now available for the commercial market. FINDER uses radar to locate and pinpoint heartbeats.

3. Hybridsil, a new Kevlar-based material used to manufacture firefighters’ gloves, offers enhanced dexterity, and much-improved heat and water resistance. The new material also provides an added protection against punctures and lacerations.

4. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is now using functional MRI machines to determine how well working canines respond to verbal praise, petting, and snack treats. The purpose of the fMRI testing is to measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow caused by the animals’ responses to the stimuli. The ONR is also studying how long canines remember certain odors and how they process them.

5. Presumptive drug test kits used in the field by law enforcement have been found to give false positive results when used to test common household items, such as coffee, aspirin, and chocolate. Even soap has been “positively” identified as the date-rape drug GHB. Candy showed up as meth. And mints were identified as crack cocaine. Of course, in criminal cases laboratory tests performed by forensic scientists are always conducted to confirm field results.

The problem with the false positives, if negated by lab tests, is that innocent people have been detained and even jailed due to faulty test kit results. Remember, though, convictions for illegal drug possession are not based on presumptive drug testing conducted street-side by cops. Instead, officers use the field tests/kits only to help determine probable cause for arrest.

6. Human microbial signatures—skin-associated bacteria—can be identified on various surfaces, such as computers, shoes, clothing, cell phones, flooring, etc. Therefore, it is possible that law enforcement may pinpoint a suspect’s previous whereabouts by examining bacteria found at crime scenes.

7. Altering fingerprints CAN beat the system. Yes, criminals have escaped producing a “match” by altering their print patterns in some way. The most common and effective means of changing print patterns is to cut a straight vertical line through the print(s). The method can prevent an automatic hit returned by an automated ID system. Sanding, burning, biting, and other methods of cutting are far less effective.

The men who kill their families

 

It was a beautiful day—Easter Sunday—and the family had just concluded their annual Easter egg hunt on the front lawn of Charity Ruppert’s home on Minor Ave. Charity was mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law to the entire clan.

James Ruppert, Charity’s 41-year-old unemployed son, didn’t join the others in the festivities. Instead, he remained in his upstairs bedroom until his family came inside to prepare the evening meal.

 

635 Minor Ave. Home of Charity and James Ruppert

James still lived at home with his mother. He was a small, quiet, geeky sort of man who loved to shoot guns, and he was quite good at it. Actually, he liked firearms a lot, and he collected them. On this particular Easter Sunday, while his mother puttered about in the kitchen, James was probably choosing a few favorite firearms from his collection—a rifle, a couple of .22’s, and a .357 revolver.

 

Ruppert crime scene photo

As the bells tolled in a nearby church tower, James made his way down the narrow stairs. The youngest child, James’ nephew, was in the bathroom washing up. His sister waited at the door for her turn at the sink. Other members of the family were in the living room watching children play on the floral print area rug. The youngsters had to be mindful of the potted plants, the tabletop radio beside the couch, the figurines on the end tables, and of the portable television sitting on the rolling cart. The TV’s left-leaning rabbit-ear antenna pointed away from a leather recliner. Two coffee tables were positioned near the center of the room. The glass-topped table, the more ornate of the two, held paper plates filled with snacks. The other table was covered with a white, lace-trimmed doily.

James first entered the kitchen, where he shot his brother to death. Then he turned the gun on his sister-in-law and his mother. Next were the children at the bathroom, followed by the remaining family members in the living room. James had moved so quickly that only a small wastepaper basket was disturbed during the shootings.

 

Back door of Ruppert house

The only sign that anyone had tried to escape was that the back door was open just a crack. A girl’s body lay near it.

 

Ruppert family

James Ruppert knew what he was doing, first firing a shot to disable each of his victims, then firing the killing rounds to the head or heart.

As his family lay dead before him, James calmly called the police and reported the shooting. Then he waited for them to arrive. An investigator present at the scene stated that there was so much blood around the bodies it had started to drip through the floorboards into the basement.

 

Ruppert crime scene photo

Why did James Ruppert kill all 11 members of his family—the largest family mass murder in the history of the U.S.? The reason he gave police was that his mother had accused him of being a homosexual. He’d also hoped to cash in on the family’s life insurance policies and other assets, which totaled somewhere around $300,000.

Why have others killed their families? What were their motives?

Well, a little background first. According to the National Institute of Justice, the people who kill their families are statistically white males (91%). Over 3/4 of them used a gun to commit the act. And there was normally some sort of domestic-type violence in their history—the number 1 risk factor in all cases. Interestingly, a stepchild in the home is also a common element. Financial troubles also come into play, but only when there has been a history of domestic violence. 92% of ALL cases involved a gun.

Among the cases of murder-suicide, including the murder of their own children, jealousy was found to be a key factor. David Adams, author of Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners, as research for the book, interviewed several men who’d killed their family members. During those interviews he asked the killers if they’d not had access to a gun would they have still committed the murder. Most said no.

In a sort of strange twist, several years after the Ruppert murders, several knives and other edged instruments were used to brutally kill and dismember a young woman—Tina Mott—in the house across the street from the Ruppert house. This was also a case of familicide.

 

The house where Tina Mott was murdered is across the street from the Ruppert house. I was standing in the front yard of the Ruppert house when I took this photo.

The sheer horror associated with these two cases has people speculating that Minor Ave. is cursed. Others say the place is haunted. Are either of those theories even remotely possible? Personally, I can’t say either way, but I wanted to explore the ideas. So off I went to Minor Ave. to start exploring and knocking on doors. My daughter, fascinated by these cases, wanted to tag along for the interviews and to see where “it” happened. Together, we wound up spending several hours chatting with residents and witnesses and visiting the crime scenes. (I know, it wasn’t the typical “parent-of-the-year” type of father-daughter outing, but we had a great day).

After interviewing several residents we discovered a theme common to both crime scenes…the neighbors all say the spirits of the dead still visit the two murder houses. Their proof? They’ve seen them.

*You can read about both Minor Ave. cases in a true crime tale I wrote for the anthology Masters of True Crime: Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre (edited by R. Barri Flowers). You’ll also find a true crime story there written by Dr. Katherine Ramsland.

Masters of True Crime will soon be available as an audio book.

Copy of MASTERS OF TRUE CRIME Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre - Copy

Click here

*Crime scene photos and other images on today’s blog are the property of Lee Lofland and may not be reproduced or used in any manner. Some of the images have been edited to preserve the dignity of the victims. James Ruppert’s photo – West Virginia News

I don't believe that police can...

 

The chapter began with a detective thumbing the safety on his revolver. From there the author’s credibility tumbled downhill, taking a couple of really interesting characters with him. Where they went I’ll never know because I won’t bother to read another word in that particular book.

But, you say, it’s not your fault the police stuff is not spot on, because you went online and found all sorts of really cool police information. You know, like that site where the first paragraph started out with, “I don’t believe that police can…” Reading down a bit further on the page and we learn the author has complied a list of police facts regarding arrest, Miranda, crime scene investigations, etc. from another list generated by yet another group of writers who got their information from other writer websites. Together, they’ve created a one-stop shop for things WRONG about cops and their procedures and use of equipment

The first clue that you’ve landed on a website that probably can’t offer much more than what you already know, is a sentence that begins with “I don’t believe.”

Research is great, and every writer should at least dip a toe in the research pool every now and again. But please be sure the lifeguard is properly trained in the subject matter you seek. We can all read something and then relay our findings to others. However, a slight misunderstanding and/or twist of a word or its meaning can totally transform a really cool scene into a disaster.

If you’re unsure of a particular situation, tool, piece of equipment, procedure, rank, duty, assignment, ammunition, etc., then don’t use it in your story. Simple as that. Using incorrect information will serve only to confuse a number of your readers. So, instead of potentially losing fans, you’re better off making up something and in turn using your creative genius-type writing skills to help your readers accept whatever it is you’ve decided to use in place of fact. Believe me, it can be somewhat offensive to see your beloved profession butchered in a crime novel.

Think about it. Suppose you picked up a new book and this is what you find on page one…

Sara, a young ER doctor and part-time paperback novel writer, decided to go rogue and perform open heart surgery in the hospital waiting room. “Damn the hospital rules and regulations,” she said while thumbing the safety off on the Stryker SmartLife. “I’ve got a bone saw and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Suddenly, the ER doors pushed open and a tall, hard-bodied doctor from the CDC walked inside. His muscular shadow darkened the entire corridor. “No, Young ER Doctor, the feds are here now and I’m taking over,” said Mr. CDC. “You’re suspended and there’s nothing you or your chief of staff can do about it. And, dumbass, there’s no safety on a Stryker!”

Every nurse, orderly, and even most of the patients instantly fell in love with the tall FBI agent CDC guy. But the young ER doctor didn’t give up. Driven by her need to save the world one operation at a time, she raced her unmarked ambulance to the shipyard to meet with Ringo Swenson, a seedy thug who ran a covert surgery center in an abandoned cat litter factory. Swenson, she knew, would let her use the clandestine ER. She also knew enough about Sewnson’s secret, shady past that he’d also allow her the use of electricity, bottled water, and a saw or two. Maybe even a stapler, or some sutures.

Of course, Young ER Doctor was kidnapped the second she stepped inside the litter factory. Her daughter, the child she never knew she had until the last chapter, was also abducted, but not before leading the bad guys to her mother’s secret stash of high-tech medical tools. Then there was THE explosion at the hospital pharmacy. And…

If you can’t bring yourself to believe this about an ER doctor physician, then why should your readers be expected to believe the same about cops?

Please, do your homework. And please, for accuracy and those added dimensions of realism—hearing, touch, taste, etc., consult with someone who’s been there, done that. Anything else is flat, emotionless information, and it’s basically nothing more than hearsay.

Better still, sign up for a round or two of hands-on training, a ride-along, or an afternoon with an actual cop or other law enforcement professional. If your tale features an ER doctor physician, then by all means spend time with an actual ER doctor physician. Tour the ER. Visit a hospital. Peek inside an ambulance.

But whatever you do, do NOT rely on websites that begin their tutorials with “I don’t believe.”

 

Getting answers for your WIP

 

As many of you know, I receive a tremendous number of questions from writers—“What kind of gun does a detective carry?” “What are all those little thingy’s on a cop’s gun belt?” “Do police officers have to take off their gun belts when they use the restroom?” And the ever popular, “Have you ever shot anyone?” But, I’m guessing the number one question of all time is, “How do I approach a police officer to ask him questions for my work-in-progress?”

Actually, most police officers are quite willing to help out, if you just ask. And that’s the key to this whole problem. You’ve got to ask. I promise, the officer(s) will not bite. Well, maybe you shouldn’t try this during the noon buffet at the local Chinese restaurant, but under normal circumstances you’ll be fine. Don’t be shy!

Here’s a great example. I travel a lot, and for quite a while we made frequent trips between our former home in Georgia and our place near Mayberry. The drive took six hours, which translated into just over a tank of gas (this was before Denene swapped her Lexus SUV for a Lincoln hybrid). So, during one of our fuel stops I happened to park beside a patrol car. The driver, a sheriff’s lieutenant, was cleaning the windows and pumping gas into his blue-and-white. By the way, here’s a valuable piece of advice…learn the various collar insignias worn by law enforcement. Officers appreciate being addressed by their rank, especially the officers with gold bars, stripes, stars, or eagles on their collars. An added bonus to doing your homework is that your knowledge of rank shows that you’re somewhat familiar with the officer’s world, and that, my friends, is practically a ticket to a detailed Q&A session.

The markings on the officer’s patrol car, “Aggressive Criminal Enforcement,” is not something you normally see on a police car, and the phrase had attracted a bit of attention. Customers casually walked past the car, stealing a brief glance at the lettering. I heard one lady say to her companion, “I wonder what that means?” A man walked past, turning his head so hard to the right he looked like an owl scouting the area for a tasty rodent. Two women walked up and pretended to talk about a business across the street while actually angling for a better look at the police car. As they walked away one said to the other, “I wish I knew what he did.”

Well, you know what? At that point my own curiosity had kicked into overdrive. I, too, wondered what, exactly, was Aggressive Criminal Enforcement. So you know what I did? Yep, I went completely off the deep end and did the unthinkable…I walked over and before I could stop myself I heard these words fall out of my mouth, “What exactly is Aggressive Criminal Apprehension?” There. I’d done it. I’d gone where no writer dares to go. I asked a cop a question. Right there. Right out in the open where the whole world could see. And he didn’t kill me. Not even a quick blast from his TASER or pepper spray. No baton blows to my skull. Nothing.

Instead, and without blinking an eye, that well-armed, muscular police officer turned to face me. Our eyes locked. A bead of sweat trickled down my back. He took a deep breath. So did I. And then it happened. He answered my question, and he did it with a smile on his face. You see, Lieutenant S. Graham of the Calhoun County S.C. Sheriff’s Office is extremely proud of the work done by he and his special unit.

In just a matter of minutes, I learned that Lt. Graham is actually a detective with the sheriff’s office, but he also serves on the Aggressive Criminal Enforcement Team, a team of deputies that was formed in 2005 to combat drug crimes, and to work in areas of Calhoun County that need “extra attention.”

 

Calhoun County deputy and evidence seized during drug interdiction operation

For example, you all know that interstate highways are used to transport narcotics. Calhoun’s A.C.E. unit patrols the roadways looking for the indicators of drug trafficking (I can’t tell you what those indicators are…for a cop’s eyes and ears only…or, another blog post). I can tell you that each member of the Calhoun County A.C.E. team receives specialized training in the detection of narcotics and the workings of narcotics cases.

I’ve worked drug interdiction in the past, and the time spent working the highways really pays off. Believe it or not, the simple question, “May I search your car?” yields tons of dope arrests each year. Why people say yes to that question, knowing they have a dozen kilos of coke in the trunk, amazes me.

A unit such as Calhoun’s A.C.E. is extremely beneficial to a department. Several years ago, I headed up a “Street Crimes Unit (SCU),” which functioned basically the same as Lt. Graham’s team. Not only was the unit effective against drug crimes and neighborhood and gang violence, it allowed patrol officers to devote the majority of their time to answering calls and, well, patrolling.

Anyway, after the lieutenant and I finished chatting, I asked if he’d pose for a photo for my collection. Afterward, we shook hands and promised to stay in touch, and I headed back to my car (the gas pump had long ago clicked off). But, by this time a small crowd had gathered to see what was going on. As I walked away the crowd moved toward Lt. Graham.

Just as I was was sliding into the driver’s seat I heard a woman ask, “What’s Aggressive Criminal Apprehension?” I saw Lt. Graham turn to face her. The two locked eyes. Suddenly, before she knew what was happening, the lieutenant smiled as he started the story all over again, this time to a half-dozen people.

So, here’s my response to the most-popular question of all time…Just ask and they will answer.

 

*My thanks to Lt. S. Graham for answering my questions. It was 100 degrees in South Carolina that day, and it was even hotter standing on the asphalt. Also, thanks to Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers and his dedicated deputies. The residents of Calhoun County are in good hands..

Animal abusers

 

Let’s all imagine, just for a moment, that an animal court exists where dogs and cats have the oppotunity to present evidence against their abusers. What would the Great Dane judge and mostly dachshund and corgi jury hear about the defendants? That Jeffery Dahmer got pleasure by using sticks to impale and showcase the decapitated heads of dogs, cats, and even frogs. Would a German Shepherd prosecutor describe Lee Boyd Malvo’s use of a slingshot and glass marbles to brutally pelt defenseless cats? Maybe a televised trial would show an Ocicat defense attorney pleading for leniency for her client because, as a small child, he was forced to watch his father kill and dismember the family cat on the kitchen table. Would the German Shepherd present evidence indicating the abuse, torture, and murder of humans could be next?

We already know that Ted Bundy, Dahmer, and David Berkowitz each confessed to brutally abusing and/or killing animals during their childhood. There are studies that show a disturbing trend of children who grow up in homes where animals were abused, often continue on to become animal abusers themselves. After all, kids do indeed like to “do as mommy and daddy do.”

Studies also report a number of abused women whose battering spouses also injured or killed family pets. In addition, abuser(s) often use violence toward family pets as a means to control their victim(s) – “I’ll hurt the cat if you don’t do as I say.”

According to a study reported in “DA’s Link Pet Abuse, Domestic Violence,” it is estimated that 40% of women elected to remain in the abusive household/relationship due to a very real fear of what would/could happen to the family pet, if they left.

Another trend that we see developing is the school shooters who, in over 50% of the cases since 1990, regularly abused animals at some point during their childhoods. And, it’s been shown that animal abusers between the ages of 6-12 are at more than double the risk of committing a violent crime as a juvenile.

Jeffrey Dahmer – high school years

Are there steps that could be taken to prevent child animal abusers from growing up to be the next school shooter, or a Jeffery Dahmer copycat? Well, there are no certainties, but a good place to start is:

a) Sit down with the children in the household to discuss unexplained animal injuries or unexpected pet deaths.

b) Urge local law enforcement and prosecutors to take all cases of animal abuse seriously, and to charge those who break the law. Elected officials, such as sheriffs, mayors, council members, prosecutors, and judges, will often go the extra mile to satisfy the voting public.

c) Listen to your kids. If they’re telling you they’ve seen “Little Jeffrey” down the street shooting cats with his pellet gun, well, they’re probably telling you something that’s very important and very real. Don’t ignore them and hope the act doesn’t happen again. If necessary, call the police, approach the child’s parents, or perhaps even notify a social worker or child protective services.

d) Alert your local Neighborhood Watch volunteers to be on the lookout for animal abuse and suspected animal abusers.

e) Alert the police officers who patrol your neighborhood. Also, call your local animal control officer(s). You may not see immediate results/arrests, but the officers will then know what to look for and who to watch.

f) A talk with your veterinarian about the suspected animal abuse may produce positive results. After all, she may be familiar with the animal(s) in question, and your input could be the deciding factor that prompts a call to police.

g) If possible, and without placing yourself in harm’s way, take photos of the abused animal so you’ll have something to present to the authorities.

h) Talk to your children about all the positive aspects of pet ownerships. Demonstrate love for the animal(s) in your home. Remember, kids like to imitate mommy and daddy, and it’s just as easy to grow up as a lover of animals as it is to become an animal abuser.

Finally, if you are considering adding an animal to your family, please do consider adoption. There are hundreds upon hundreds of dogs and cats in shelters that are desperately in need of a home. They’re also desperately in need of love and attention. So go ahead, make their day.

 

You're still writing it

 

Some of the things I see on TV cop shows really grind my gears. And, unfortunately, some of those things are actually finding their way into books—a double gear-grinder. Hmm…I wonder how that could happen?

Could it be that some writers are still using cop-television as a research tool, no matter how many times I and others in the real cop business jump up and down while screaming, snorting, squalling, huffing and puffing, and squealing? Could it be that writers actually believe what they see on shows such as Sleepy Hollow, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Blacklist (actually, I like this show, but it’s still far from realistic), Ironside (this one lasted all of two episodes before the network flushed it), and the woefully ridiculous Under The Dome?

Could it be that writers believe THEM over what they see here on The Graveyard Shift and what they’ve learned at the Writers’ Police Academy? Please, say it ain’t so!

Of course, it’s perfectly fine and dandy to stretch the truth and even make up stuff when writing fiction, but the make-believe absolutely must be believable, and not just when writing fictional cop stuff. Other things in stories must also be believable—not necessarily true, but believable. Or, as I like to say, believable make-believe.

After all, shows like Star Trek and Grimm are total fiction, but viewers can easily be drawn into the action because what they see the actors doing on screen “seems” realistic. It’s believable make-believe.

There are many great examples of believable make-believe on TV, and one such show is The Andy Griffith Show. I know, there were no great crime-solving moments on the show, but the human aspect of police work definitely shined. Sure, Barney came across as, well, goofy, at times. And, of course, the goofy cases that did come up were handled in a like manner—goofy. However, we all kind of believed Barney and Andy and all they did to reach their goal(s), even though you knew, or at least you hoped what you were watching unfold on your TV sets was not how real police officers conducted business in the real world.

I suppose Barney and Andy came across as well as they did because there were no computers and other electronic gadgets to help with their investigations. They didn’t have the luxury of typing 7 keys on a computer keyboard and suddenly have the answer to world peace at their fingertips. Nor did Andy and his sidekick have instant access to surveillance cameras on every street corner corner from Mayberry to Mt. Pilot to Raleigh and beyond.

There were no magic touch screens in Mayberry that had the capability to pinpoint the exact coordinates of a bad guy’s location. Actually, Barney didn’t have access to many of the tools that are available to TV cops. And that’s understandable. But it’s not only the modern-day tools that seem to confusing writers. They’re tripping over the simple things. You know, like the ones that if they simply stopped and thought about them for a minute or two they’d have that “Aha” moment and correct the error(s).

Anyway, let’s go over a few of the things I’ve seen in some of the advanced reader copies I’ve received lately… Wait…before we go any further, I’d like to point out that I receive numerous books from publishers each month, and they send them asking that I read the stories and then review the books here on The Graveyard Shift.

Think for a second, though… How many book reviews have you read on this site? That’s right, I can count them on one hand. The reason there are so few is because I won’t write a bad review. Of course, not all the tales and writing are bad. In fact, the majority of the stories are extremely well-written and the voices are really nice, etc. But there are often bad police and forensic “things” that take me out of the story. So, I put the book aside and move on to the next tale.

Okay, back to the things I’ve seen in books that make me stop reading and wonder how in the world an author could think that what they were writing could indeed be believable. And the list starts with…

1. When shot, people fly backward as if they’d been shot out of a cannon. NO. When shot, people normally fall down and bleed.

2. Cops carry their sidearms fully loaded with a round in the chamber. This business of “racking the slide” before entering a dangerous situation is a TV thing.

3. Bad guys who live in cruddy $2 a day fleabag motels and have not a cent to their name, can easily afford and have access to top dollar military-grade weapons and explosives, and really cool electronic gear. Yeah, right. That could happen in the real world (note the sarcasm).

4. People are easily knocked unconscious with a slight blow to the head with a gun, book, candlestick, etc., or a quick chop to the back of the neck with the heel of the hand. NO! I’ve seen people hit in the head with a baseball bat and it never slowed them down. Believe me, if the blow is hard enough to render someone unconscious, they’ll be out of commission for a while and will not immediately hop up, rub their head for second, and then dive back into the fight.

5. This business of having one lone geeky man or woman who can tap five or six keys on a computer to bring up a bad guy’s photo, shoe size, current address, his favorite food, pet’s name and vet records, and an alphabetical listing of all food in his refrigerator and cupboards, is total nonsense.

6. The same geeky guy taps four more keys and suddenly has access to every single camera in the world, including the one’s installed outside of Betty Sue’s Cut and Curl is more nonsense.

7. FBI agents ride into town on white horses and take over local murder cases. And, when they do, they’re totally arrogant and obnoxious. NO. The FBI does not work local murder cases.

8. TV cops have no trouble kicking in doors while wearing high heels or other street shoes. Doors are NOT easy to kick in. In fact, no one does that anymore. There are more effective ways of gaining entry to a residence or business.

9. Why is it that TV and film cops have no trouble finding a parking spot no matter where they are, including cities like Boston. Have you ever tried to find a parking space in Boston? And, why do TV detectives all drive shiny new cars when real-life investigators often get hand-me-down cars or the cheapest thing on the lot?

10. Back to getting shot. TV cops are tough as nails. So are many real cops. On TV, though, the cops get shot four five times, stabbed four or five times, hit with a boards and bricks, and they still carry on until the bad guys are locked up. Not a single whimper. Yet, when a nurse or significant other touches the wound, they all scream like a woman in an old-time black and white horror flick. In real life, a cop gets shot and he’s taken to the hospital where, by the way, he still may moan, groan, and cry like a baby.

11. TV cops have a habit of getting shot a day or two before retiring from the job. This one is a really tired cliche’. Please stop writing it.

12. Revolvers do NOT automatically eject spent brass.

13. Cops cannot tell the type of firearm used by looking at a bullet wound.

14. Cops do NOT fire warning shots.

15. Cops do NOT shoot to kill.

16. Cops do NOT shoot to wound.

17. Cops do shoot center mass, and they do shoot until the threat ceases to exist, meaning if the bad guy stops shooting and puts down his weapon, then the police are to stop shooting as well. And their next move would be to restrain and arrest.

18. Cops do NOT use Tasers when the situation calls for deadly force.

19. Cops do not use deadly force when the situation calls for Taser use, pepper spray, baton, etc.

20. Do I really need to address cordite? NO ODOR OF CORDITE!!!!