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?