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!!!!

 

Weaponized Hairspray

 

Using hairspray as a chemical deterrent to ward off attackers has been a hot topic lately. The general idea is to keep a can handy on the nightstand beside the bed, or a smaller can inside a handbag. Then, as an unsuspecting attacker approaches, the would-be victim sprays the hair-stiffener into the thug’s eyes, who is then supposed to immediately run away.

Personally, I do not recommend the use of hairspray as a means of defense against attackers. It’s not totally effective—you must hit the eyes (peppersprays can be effective without direct contact to the eyes), and carrying the stuff gives a person a false sense of security. Unless you practice/train with it, chances are that using it in real-life would be totally ineffective.

The other premise is for the victim to use a cigarette lighter to ignite the spray as it leaves the nozzle, turning the misty chemical into a homemade flamethrower. Now, what halfway intelligent crook would dare continue his advances when faced with a fire-spurting homeowner?

Well, the ideas are good…spray the attacker’s eyes which could render him incapable of continuing the assault, or, set his hair on fire causing him to run outside looking like a human 4th of July fireworks display. But, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. For obvious reasons, remember to use the aerosol hairspray, not the pump type.

2. The actuators (push buttons) on aerosol cans are normally made of plastic and could melt when exposed to prolonged extreme heat/fire.

3. The flame generated using a hairspray can extends only as far as the distance reached by the spray, which is basically a couple of feet. Therefore, an attacker could simply wait at a safe distance—four feet, or so—while your weapon slowly burns up/extinguishes. Or, he could stand at a safe distance and roast a marshmallow or two while waiting for the flame to subside. Also, if the attacker is only two feet away when the victim begins the process of match-striking and spray-squirting, he could easily disarm the victim.

4. While standing in your bedroom, striking matches and flicking Bic’s, an attacker could easily grab the blanket from your bed, toss it over you and your flamethrower, and then beat you senseless.

Of course, you could always switch to deodorant as a source of power for your flamethrower/chemical deterrent. At least then the attacker would smell nice while he pounded out a rhythmic Latin beat on your head.

Oh, and there was the fight between two Michigan women where one grabbed a can of hairspray, aimed it at her opponent, and set the stream on fire. Well, the flame never reached the other woman, who grabbed a lamp and hit the fire-sprayer with it. When police arrived they found scratches on the faces of both women…and a broken lamp.

Of course, there’s a more deadly use for hairspray…

Way back when (sometime during the late 1980’s), Virginia coalminers decided to strike, becoming rowdy in the process, and when the state police moved in to restore order they were met by jack rocks in the roadways (jack rocks are large, sharpened metal objects shaped like jacks—kid toys—designed to flatten car tires), gunfire, and incoming spuds fired from potato cannons.

The VSP spent nearly $200,000 to replace flattened car tires during the period when over 400 troopers were assigned to the area on a rotating basis. The state police spent nearly $8 million keeping the peace during the nine month strike.

Anyway, back to Potato cannons. They’re simple devices, generally made from PVC pipe, a source of ignition, such as a barbecue grill spark-lighter, and an accelerate, such as hairspray. Users wedge a potato into the open end of the cannon, squirt hairspray into the area where the igniter is installed, close the cap, and then flick the igniter. The spark ignites the hairspray which then propels the potato. A simple, yet effective process.

During the time of the troubles with the miners, I just happened to be at the State Police Academy for in-service training and was lucky enough to be one of the cops chosen to test fire potato cannons. The idea was to see how much damage they could do and then relay our findings to the troopers assigned to the mountain areas where the strike was taking place. So, after firing a couple hundred pounds of spuds at various targets, we learned that the force generated is often great enough to send a spud through plywood, cinder blocks, and even the door of a passing trooper’s car. The cannons were surprisingly powerful.

Below is a video recorded by author and Florida law enforcement officer James O. Born. In the brief film, Jim demonstrates how to fire a potato cannon. His target is a bit…well, unconventional, but the action is real. You’ll notice a large cap on the rear end of the cannon. That’s where hairspray is applied. And, you’ll see Jim holding the ignition switch in his right hand.

Take it way, Jim…

 

Dr. Denene Lofland

 

Our guest expert today is Dr. Denene Lofland. Dr. Lofland received her PhD in pathology from the Medical College of Virginia, and she’s a trained clinical microbiologist. She has served as the Director of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at Wright State University, and has worked in biotech/drug research and development for many years.

Denene has worked on drug development programs for the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). As senior director for a biotech company, she contributed to the FDA approval of gemifloxacin (Factive), an antibiotic for the treatment of bacterial pneumonia, a drug that is now on the market and prescribed by physicians worldwide. Denene also contributed to the successful development of a drug for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. She recently served as Manager of North Carolina Operations for a company that conducts high-level research and development in areas such as anti-bioterrorism.

Dr. Lofland also supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance. Denene has published several articles in scientific journals and recently contributed to the thirteenth edition of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology. She currently serves as Interim Department Head of the Medical Laboratory Science Department at Armstrong Atlantic University.

Microscopic Murder


What’s so interesting about microbiology?

Microorganisms were here before man walked the Earth, and they’ll be here after we’re gone. Actually, you would find it difficult to survive without them. Some bacteria, called commensals, live in and on our bodies to our benefit, protecting  us from invading pathogens (disease causing germs), and they produce vitamins.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the bad bugs. They’re responsible for more deaths than cancer, heart attacks, and war. They can disfigure, eat flesh, paralyze, or just make you feel so bad you’ll wish you were dead.

There are four major types of pathogenic microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They can cause damage directly, or they can release toxins that do the dirty work for them.

virus_big1dl.jpg

HIV virus

E.coli bacteria

Aspergillus (fungi)

Loa loa (parasite) in eye

So, how can your antagonists use microorganisms to kill? They’ll need a fundamental knowledge of microbiology, such as information that’s taught in a basic college course. Next, the bad guy will need a source of bacteria. Microbiology labs all over the world contain bugs of all types.

 

Biological safety hood for the safe handling of bacteria

Most of these laboratories are locked, so a little B&E (breaking and entering) would be in order. Or, maybe your antagonist has a connection with a person who has control of the bug of interest. If so, the evil-doer could make what’s known in the trade as a V.I.P. trip. He’d fly to the friend’s lab, place the bug in a plastic vial, hide the vial in his pocket (V.I.P.), and get back on the plane for the trip home.

Once the antagonist has the bug, he has to keep it alive and reproducing. Bacteria are grown on agar plates (food for bugs) in an incubator. In general, bacteria double in number every 20 minutes. So, if you start with just a few bugs, let’s say 10, and allow them to grow overnight…well, you do the math.

Once the killer has enough of the bug, then it’s time to deliver it to the intended victim.

 

Picking up bacteria from agar plate. The brownish-red material is the agar. The grayish coloring at the top of the agar is E.coli bacteria.

Now for a true story. It wasn’t murder, just an unfortunate accident that involved a woman, some green beans, and a home canning jar. Canning jars have lids designed to exhibit a slight indentation in their centers when food is fresh. If the indentation inverts (pops up), the vegetables may be contaminated, and should be discarded.

A woman was preparing dinner for her family and decided to serve some of her home-canned green beans that evening. She picked up a jar of beans, but thought the pop-up didn’t look quite right. So, to satisfy her curiosity, she opened the jar, touched her finger to the bean juice, and tasted it. It tasted fine to her, so she cooked the beans, and served the steaming hot dish to her family. The next day, the woman died, but her family survived. The beans contained botulism toxin, produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum lives naturally in the soil.

Botulism toxin is one of the most powerful neurotoxins known to man. About 10 ounces could kill everyone on Earth. It works by paralyzing its victim.

Oh, why didn’t the other members of the woman’s family die? The toxin is inactivated by heat.

* Per request, we’ve re-posted today’s article.

Dr. Denene Lofland, presenter

Denene will be presenting an all new bioterrorism workshop at the 2013 Writers’ Police Academy.

TV: fun and fictional

 

 

Each night people from all over the world settle in to watch their favorite television sleuths solve the latest murder. You can’t turn the channel without seeing some sort of well-dressed investigator using fancy tools and equipment that would make the creators of Star Wars and and Star Trek drool with envy.

Shows such as CSI, Law and Order, and Castle are works of fiction. They’re written for our entertainment, not as research guides. Sure, some of the tools and procedures used on the shows are correct, but they’re often utilized in less-than-real situations.

Many real-life cops, prosecutors, medical examiners, and doctors cringe when they see how their profession is portrayed on the small screen. I know I have a hard time watching most of them. If I want to see real police work in action I watch reruns of the The Andy Griffith Show. For realism and an inside look at the daily lives of police officers, TNT’s Southland is top of the line. It’s probably the most realistic cop show that’s ever been on TV. Still, even Cooper and Sammy sometimes stretch the boundaries of realism.

The Andy Griffith Show did a great job of showing the compassionate side of law enforcement officers. They let their audience know that cops are real people, with real emotions, and real everyday problems.

Southland depicts police work in true form. This is how it’s really done, folks. No fancy tools or equipment, just cops doing what they do best – hitting the streets, searching for evidence, knocking on doors, and talking to people.

Fact v. Fiction

Here are a few examples of what not to believe on television shows about cops and crime scene investigation:

TV – Cops advise suspects of their rights the second they slip a pair of handcuffs on the crook’s wrists.

Fact – Miranda warnings are only read to suspects who are in custody, prior to questioning. Not the moment they click the cuffs in place. Sometimes it’s not necessary to advise the suspect of his rights. No questions = No Miranda.

Oops! Wrong Miranda.

TV – Cops fire warning shots. Or, they shoot bad guys in the leg or arm to stop them

Fact – False. Officers do not fire warning shots. What goes up must come down. And, officers never aim for legs and/or arms. Instead, they aim for center mass, shooting to stop the immediate threat.

cat-firing-warning-shotpng2.jpg

No warning shots!

TV – Doctors leave the hospital to search a patient’s house looking for clues.

Fact – You can barely get a doctor to check on patients in their hospital rooms. They’re certainly not going to someone’s house. (My apologies to Doug Lyle). Searching homes and other property is a duty of police officers, not doctors.

TV – DNA test results come back in three hours.

Fact – DNA testing normally takes a minimum of two or three days. More than likely it will be several weeks before detectives receive the test results.

TV – Detectives draw chalk outlines around dead bodies.

Fact – No. Drawing a chalk outline could destroy or alter crucial evidence.

No chalk outlines

TV – Cops leave the scene of a crime with lights and sirens going at full blast.

Fact – No. Officers only use lights and siren on the way to emergencies. Leaving a crime scene with the suspect safely cuffed and stuffed in the back seat is not an emergency.

fair.jpg

TV – CSI technicians chase criminals and investigate crimes.

Fact – Although they’re they’re highly-trained experts in their field, many CSI technicians are not sworn police officers. They have no authority to investigate crimes and arrest criminal suspects. So, no, they do not run after crooks while wearing high heels or two-thousand-dollar suits

Many CSI technicians are not certified, sworn police officers.

*Please don’t use television as a source for research about police officers. Always contact your local law enforcement officer or other trusted expert in the field for correct information that best suits the needs of your story.

Talk to an actual police officer, not someone whose third cousin was once married to a police officer’s sister’s husband who knows a guy’s barber who once lived two blocks over from a guy who went to school with a girl who works as a cleaning lady at the police department. That sort of information is not what I’d consider credible.

Unless someone has actually worn the uniform, carried a gun, worked a crime scene, and actually arrested a criminal, they’re just telling you something they’ve heard, read, or something they think they may know. After all, when you need information about plumbing, you don’t call an airplane pilot, right?

*     *     *

Attention!

Registration for the 2013 WPA opens this Friday, 3-15-13. The event sold out last year and we expect it to do so even faster this year. So please register early. This is not one you’ll want to miss.

We have a new registration system in place this year, so please read each section carefully before making your selections.

Additions, changes, and schedule updates are added to the website each day, so please check in often.

This the largest, best, and most exciting WPA we’ve ever produced!

See you in September!

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

Crime writers mini dictionary

 

Writers often find themselves stuck, searching for just the right police terminology or phrase. Unfortunately, the answers to their questions aren’t always available at a glance. You know the questions I’m talking about—Are kidnapping and abduction one in the same? And what the heck is a bucket head? Yeah, those kind of questions. Well, here’s a mini dictionary that might be of some use.

A.

Abandonment:  Knowingly giving up one’s right to property without further intending to reclaim or gain possession. Abandoned property can be searched by police officers without a search warrant. Most states deem it illegal to abandon motor vehicles, and the owner may be summoned to civil court to answer charges, pay fines, or to receive notice of vehicle impoundment and disposal.

Abduction:  The criminal act of taking someone away by force, depriving that person of liberty or freedom. A person who has been kidnapped against their will has been abducted. This definition does not apply to a law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duties.

Abscond:  To covertly leave the jurisdiction of the court or hide to avoid prosecution or arrest. A suspect who “jumps bail” or hides from police, while knowing a warrant has been issued for her arrest, has absconded from justice. Film director/producer Roman Polanski absconded to France before he could be sentenced for having unlawful sex with a minor.

AMBER Alert:  The AMBER alert was created in Dallas, Texas as a legacy to nine year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and murdered. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. An AMBER alert is issued when law-enforcement officials determine a child has been abducted. Immediately after verification of the kidnapping, officials contact broadcasters and state-transportation officials, who in turn relay descriptions of the child and their abductor to radio, television, electronic road signs, and other highly visible sites.

Armed Robbery:  Robbery is the act of taking, or seizing, someone’s property by using force, fear, or intimidation. Using a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club, to carry out the same robbery constitutes an armed robbery. You have NOT been robbed when someone breaks into your home while you’re away and steals your TV.

By the way, the photo above was taken just last week during a bank robbery in Virginia. It was the second such robbery within a period of a couple of weeks. Both robberies were carried out by men wearing hoodies. In this case, and many, many others, I don’t think the wearing of the hoodie was intended as a fashion statement.

FYI – I recently saw “Breaking News” headline that read something like, “TOM PETTY ROBBED.” Well, I expected to read about a methed-up troll pointing a a rusty knife at the rocker and then making off with his fortune. Instead, the story was about some loser who waited until no was looking and then stole five of Petty’s guitars from a deserted sound stage. Huge difference. This was not a robbery. Instead, it was larceny of property. There was no threat and no intimidation and no weapon of any kind. There wasn’t even anyone around to receive a dirty look from the thief.

A**hole:  Police slang for suspect or perpetrator. (You fill in the blanks. Hint: the first letters of Sinking Ship will work nicely. The same works for the next entry as well).

A**wipe:  Police slang for suspect or perpetrator.

 

B.

B & E:  Break and enter (see Break and Enter).

Bad Check:  A check that has been drawn upon an account of insufficient funds, or on an account that has been closed. A person who writes and utters (cashes) a bad check is considered to have committed larceny, or the theft of cash money. Most states consider bad-check writing to be a misdemeanor; however, some states consider the offense to be a felony if the check is written for more than a specific amount set by law, such as a minimum amount of $200. Suspects who are arrested for writing and passing bad checks are usually released on their own recognizance, with their signed promise to appear in court for trial.

Badge Bunny:  Nickname given by police officers to females who prefer to date only police officers and firemen. Many of these badge bunnies actively pursue recent police academy graduates to the point of actually stalking the officers. Some have even committed minor offenses and made false police complaints to be near the officers they desire. Many police academies mention badge bunnies near the end of the officer’s academy training to prepare them for the possible situation.

Biological Weapon:  Agents used to threaten or destroy human life, e.g. anthrax, smallpox, E. coli, etc.

 

Picking up bacteria from agar plate. The brownish-red material is the agar. The grayish-yellow coloring at the top of the agar is E.coli bacteria. When incubated, the number of bacteria can double every twenty minutes. Yes, I took this photo, and I must say that it’s a bit intimidating to be in a room where scientists are hard at work with this stuff. And yes, those are the hands of my adorable, but deadly, wife. I sleep with one eye open…

 

Bitch:  1) Complain. 2) Typically, physically weak and passive prisoners controlled by other dominant inmates. The “bitch” is normally forced into performing sexual favors for controlling inmates. The submissive inmates are often forced into servitude for the duration of their sentences.

Bitch Slap:  Any open-handed strike to the face. The term is often used to describe a humiliating defeat. “It was embarrassing for John to be bitch-slapped by Larry, a man half his size.”

 

Blow:  Slang for cocaine.

Blow Away:  To kill someone by shooting.

BOLO:  Be On The Lookout. “Officers issued a BOLO at 0400 hours for the suspect of an armed robbery.” BOLO has replaced the use of APB (All Points Bulletin) in nearly all areas of the country.

Break and Enter:  These are the words used to describe the essential elements of a burglary in the night time. The actual breaking need only be a slight action, such as opening an unlocked window or pushing open a door that is already ajar. In some states, merely crossing the plane of an open window or door (in the night time) is all that’s needed to constitute a break. The intent to commit a felony in conjunction with the breaking must be present to constitute Breaking and Entering.

Bucket Head:  Term used to describe a motorcycle officer, because of the helmets they’re required to wear when riding.

Bust:  1) To place someone under arrest. 2) To conduct a police raid, especially a drug raid.

 

C.

Can:  A prison or jail. “When does Riley get out of the can?”

Capias:  The process of seizing a person and/or their property for the purpose of answering a particular charge in a court of law. A judge can issue a Capias, also known as a Warrant for Failure to Appear, for anyone who has been summoned to court but does not appear. A Capias is normally issued by the court for suspects in criminal matters who fail to appear for their hearings and for witnesses who do not show up for their scheduled court appearances. A Capias is a criminal warrant, and the subject must be processed in the same way as any other criminal—he or she arrested, fingerprinted, and photographed. It is not unusual for a judge to dismiss the charge of  Failure to Appear once the person is actually brought to the courtroom and successfully completes his or her testimony.

Cooking The Books:  Fixing police reports to make certain high-crime areas appear safer. Also, a person who alters any type of records or documents is often said to be “cooking the books.”

Cop:  1) To steal something. “Susan copped two necklaces while the clerk was on the telephone.”  2) Slang for a police officer. Many police officers take offense to the term being used by the general public. Instead, those officers prefer to be addressed as police officers.

Cop a Plea:  To plead guilty to a lesser included offense to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

 

County Mounties:   Slang for sheriff’s deputies.

Crooked Zebra:   A referee who has been bribed to fix the outcome of a sporting event.

Crop Dusting:  Passing gas (flatulence) while walking through a crowd of people.

 

D.

Deck:  A packet of narcotics.

Dirt Bag:  An old-school police nickname for a criminal suspect. “Cuff that dirt bag, Officer Jenkins. He’s wanted for murder.”

Do:  To kill someone. When are you gonna do that dirtbag, Sammy?”

DOA:  Dead on arrival.

Drop:  To take a drug by mouth; orally. “Cindy dropped a hit of acid three hours ago. She’s really tripping hard.”

 

*More to come…

 

When thinking of solving a convoluted murder case we often picture highly-trained, highly-skilled scientists releasing DNA from a bloody glove or sock. On TV we see experts hovering over steaming vials, boiling test tubes, and genetic analyzers. We read about the protagonist who magically locates key pieces of DNA in the most improbable locations. Sure, the science of DNA is pretty interesting. But did you know you can actually extract DVD in your own home using everyday household items?

Every living thing has its own unique DNA, including plants. In fact, the last time I was in a DNA lab we extracted DNA from a strawberry. For the purpose of this home experiment we’ll use an onion, because the smelly vegetable produces a really nice strand of DNA that’s easily seen with the naked eye.

 

First of all, you’ll need to collect the ingredients needed to unlock the DNA from the onion—approximately 100ml of finely chopped onion, a pinch of salt, meat tenderizer, rubbing alcohol, dish detergent, and 200ml of ice cold water.

Now place the chopped onion, salt, and ice water into a blender. Blend for approximately fifteen seconds (this separates the onion cells). Repeat the blending for another 20 seconds, or until the mixture becomes foamy, like the beginnings of a meringue.

Pour the foamy mixture into a glass container and add 1/6th of dish washing liquid as there is mixture (yields two tablespoons).

Swirl soap through mixture and then pour into test tubes until each tube is about 1/3 full.

Sprinkle a pinch of meat tenderizer into each tube. The tenderizer acts as an enzyme that cleans proteins away from the DNA.

Tilt the test tubes to one side and slowly pour in rubbing alcohol until the tubes are 2/3 full. The alcohol forms a separate layer at the top of the tubes.

Insert small stick or glass rod into the alcohol layer (the DNA will rise to the alcohol layer) and slowly twist in one direction (either clockwise or counter-clockwise). DO NOT shake the test tubes.

 

The onion DNA wraps itself around the stick, or rod (the DNA slightly resembles a sperm cell).

Remove the DNA from the tubes.

There you have it, your own DNA lab in the comfort of your own home. No back logs and no cross contamination from other scientists and samples. The question is, “Did the onion do it?”

lady luck

 

Each night people from all over the world settle in to watch their favorite television sleuths solve the latest murder. You can’t turn the channel without seeing some sort of well-dressed investigator using fancy tools and equipment that would make the creators of Star Wars and and Star Trek drool with envy.

Shows such as CSI, Law and Order, and House are works of fiction. They’re written for our entertainment, not as research guides. Sure, some of the tools and procedures used on the shows are correct, but they’re often utilized in less-than-real situations. Most of these television shows make many real-life cops, prosecutors, medical examiners, and doctors cringe. I can’t watch any of them. If I want to see real police work in action I watch The Andy Griffith Show, or The First 48. Forensic Files also does a pretty good job of depicting actual law enforcement techniques.

The Andy Griffith Show did a great job of showing the compassionate side of law enforcement officers. They let their audience know that cops are real people, with real emotions, and real everyday problems.

 

The First 48 depicts murder investigations in true form. This is how it’s really done, folks. No fancy tools or equipment, just real detectives doing what they do best – hitting the streets, searching for evidence, knocking on doors, and talking to people.

 

Forensic Files is a very accurate show, portraying real usage of crime-scene tools and equipment. The only drawback is that many police departments do not have access to the equipment that’s used on this show.

Fact v. Fiction

Here are a few examples of what not to believe on television shows about cops and crime scene investigation:

TV – Cops advise suspects of their rights the second they slip a pair of handcuffs on the crook’s wrists.

Fact – Miranda warnings are only read to suspects who are in custody, prior to questioning.

Oops! Wrong Miranda.

TV – Cops fire warning shots.

Fact – False. Officers do not fire warning shots. What goes up must come down.

cat-firing-warning-shotpng2.jpg

TV – Doctors leave the hospital to search a patient’s house looking for clues.

Fact – You can barely get a doctor to check on a patient in their hospital room. They’re certainly not going to someone’s house. (My apologies to Doug Lyle).

 

TV – DNA test results come back in three hours.

Fact – DNA testing normally takes a minimum of three days. More than likely, it will be several weeks before detectives receive the test results.

 

TV – Detectives draw chalk outlines around dead bodies.

Fact – No. Drawing a chalk outline could destroy, or alter, crucial evidence.

No chalk outlines

TV – Cops leave the scene of a crime with lights and sirens going at full blast.

Fact – No. Officers only use lights and siren on the way to emergencies. Leaving a crime scene with the suspect safely cuffed and stuffed in the back seat is not an emergency.

fair.jpg

TV – CSI technicians chase criminals and investigate crimes.

Fact – Although they’re they’re highly-trained experts in their field, many CSI technicians are not sworn police officers. They have no authority to investigate crimes and arrest criminal suspects.

Many CSI technicians are not certified, sworn police officers.

*Please don’t use television as a source for research about police officers. Always contact your local law enforcement officer or other trusted expert in the field for correct information that best suits the needs for your story.

Talk to an actual police officer, not someone whose third cousin was once married to a police officer’s sister’s wife. Unless someone has actually worn the uniform, carried a gun, and actually arrested a criminal, they’re just telling you something they’ve heard, or something they think they may know. After all, when you need information about plumbing, you don’t call an airplane pilot, right?