Chief of police Scott Silverii


Police chiefs are responsible for enforcing the laws and ordinances of their city or town. They’re appointed by a city council and mayor, and they’re supervised by that same governing body. Since they’re appointed to their position by council, they can be removed from duty at any time by that same council.

Police officers wear insignias on their collars to identify their rank. A police chief normally wears a gold colonel’s eagle or a series of stars like a military general. The number of stars worn is usually dictated by the number of high-ranking officers serving directly under the chief. For example, a chief may wear four stars while her deputy chief wears three, indicating that he is the second in command. The third in command may wear two stars, etc.


Oceanside, California police chief, Frank McCoy wears four gold stars on his collar, indicating his status as chief of police.

Police chiefs are responsible for:

– Enforcing all laws and local ordinances (specially adopted town or city laws)

– Supervision of all police department employees – sworn and non-sworn (civilian)

– Organize training programs

– Act as liason between the community and the police department

– Develop policies and procedures

– Attend council meetings

– Maintain accurate departmental records

– Prepare departmental budget

– Develop and implement accident and crime prevention programs

Small town police chiefs sometimes have responsibilities other than law-enforcement, such as water meter reading, animal control, and overseeing garbage collection and other public works departments.

Others catch big sharks…

*Remember, I’m at the Emerald Coast Writers Conference this weekend, so my responses may be a little slow and sporadic, but I’ll be around.


Nichole Brown Simpson crime scene.

Sometimes, the amount of blood in a murder scene can be quite overwhelming, but the savvy detective can read the reddish-brown liquid like a book. The stuff can even point to where the killer stood when he delivered the fatal blow.

A blood droplet’s direction of travel is easy to determine because of its shape. A drop of blood forms an ellipse when it hits a flat surface.  The long axis of the orb is an indication of the travel direction. Also, the ellipse usually has a tail which gives it the appearance of an elongated teardrop. The droplet’s appendage always points away from the victim when it hits a surface from an angle. This is not the case when droplets fall straight to the floor or ground. However, it’s almost always safe to assume the body was directly overhead when the droplet(s) fell.


Blood droplet was traveling from bottom left to upper right. The victim would have been standing somewhere to the lower left of the droplet. Droplets like this are normally caused by a trauma – a gunshot or a blow by an object, such as a baseball bat. This type bloodstain is called a Projected Bloodstain.


Investigators can determine the angle from which the blood droplet struck the flat surface by using the following formula:

Calculating the unknown angle

= length of ellipse (major axis)
= width of ellipse (minor axis)
= angle of impact

The relationship between these variables is:

Blood droplets spatter after falling straight to the ground. This is often seen in self-inflicted, stabbings, and accidental wounds. The further the fall, the wider the spatter. These are called Passive Bloodstains.

Blood spatter pictured above is the result of a direct hit on the wall -no angle. Also a Projected Bloodstain.


“Send that knife to the lab for DNA testing, Joe.”

Quiz: What fatal mistake have these two detectives made?

Lt. Dave Swords

The Graveyard Shift welcomes back special guest expert Lieutenant David Swords (ret.) of the Springfield, Ohio Police Department. Today, Lt. Swords continues his discussion on Search and Seizure.

Vehicle searches

Here is one exception to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures that has seen a lot of daylight in the courts. Several things tend to set vehicle searches apart from searches of homes or buildings. One is the “exigent circumstances” under which officers may find themselves when confronted with the decision to search or not search a motor vehicle. In other words, something must be done now, or, because of the car’s mobility, any contraband/evidence may get away if an officer waits to get a warrant.

An officer conducts a vehicle search.

Another factor that the courts have cited in vehicle searches is the lesser “expectation of privacy” that a person has in a vehicle operating on public roads, than in their home or place of business. Finally, courts usually extend a “stop and frisk” type attitude to any part of the passenger compartment of a vehicle that a driver or passenger can reach.

Officers may search the area immediately accessible by the driver of a vehicle.

Of course, the officer still needs to be able to articulate probable cause. There it is again, that phrase that is so important to what a law officer does day in and day out.

Inventory Searches

An inventory search is the search of a vehicle that has been impounded. In other words, it has been seized or towed to police headquarters, or an impound lot, for reasons ranging from involvement in a crime to overtime parking. Inventories are often taken of items found in vehicles, both for the security of the impound facility and the safety of the property of the vehicle owner. The courts have generally held that inventories can be made of such vehicles, and any evidence found is admissible in court, as long as it is done with every impounded vehicle, and not just when police may have a special interest in a particular car.

Officers cannot pick-and-choose which impounded vehicles to search. Either all vehicles are searched, or none.

And what happens if an officer conducts what the court may later determine is an illegal search? According to the exclusionary rule the courts have adopted, no evidence obtained in an illegal search is admissible in court. However, recent rulings have dictated that if it can be established that officers honestly believed they had probable cause, the evidence may be admissible.

Officers must effectively articulate their justification for probable cause.

Pretty clear, huh? You can imagine how confusing it can get for an officer at times, especially when an officer stops a car with four individuals at three in the morning on a dark street and it’s time to make decisions that other people will have hours to dissect from the safety of their offices.

Officers have to make split-second decisions without advice of counsel.

Officers should always put safety first.

Search and seizure laws are complicated and can be confusing. Confusing to the police officer, but a gold mine for the crime writer. As you can well guess, one minor detail can completely change the complexity of a case. Sometimes, cases can hinge on that one piece of evidence that is inadmissible in court because of the exclusionary rule. When that happens, the bad guy in your novel can “get off” on that technicality, which puts him back on the street and your detectives pulling their hair out and looking for ways to right the wrong. And from there, let the creative juices flow!

An overlooked detail can cause investigators to feel like pulling out their hair.

*The Graveyard Shift extends its thanks to the Lt. Dave Swords for taking the time to be with us this week. We hope you’ll come back, soon. Enjoy all the snow shoveling, Dave. We also thank the FBI for use of the photos in today blog. Britney’s photo was just out there for all to see, so we borrowed it.

*Tomorrow – Blood evidence

Lt. Dave Swords

Today’s special guest expert is thirty-year police veteran, Lieutenant David Swords (ret.) of the Springfield, Ohio Police Department. Nearly half of Lt. Swords’ police career was spent as an investigator, working on cases ranging from simple vandalisms to armed robberies and murders.

David is the author of a novel, “Shadows on the Soul.” He and his family live near Springfield.

Search Your Heart and Seize the Day

A crime writer’s primer to the Fourth Amemdment – Part 1

How many times have you heard someone complain that a criminal “got off on a technicality?”

Actually, that is a very simplistic way to summarize complex legal maneuverings, but when it does happen, the issue that is probably involved stems from interpretations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the “Search and Seizure” amendment.

The Fourth Amendment, the heart of search and seizure law, very simply says:


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


That’s easy enough to understand, right? Yet, that short amendment has generated more case law than I would care to recount. Entire volumes have been written about search and seizure case law, but I will try to summarize it all using the “K.I.S.S.“ method. That is: Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

The Fourth Amendment says that no agent of the government (including officers at the state and local level) can search anything without a warrant, but … the courts have always recognized certain necessary exceptions to that rule, and it is those exceptions that usually cause problems in court, since the vast majority of searches and seizures are accomplished without officers first obtaining a warrant. I will try to explain many of the more common exceptions to the rule and how they may apply on the street at three o’clock on a Wednesday morning.

However, before we get into the exceptions to the rule, let me explain one issue that is very important. No discussion of searches or arrests would be complete without first defining probable cause, which is really the basis of just about everything a law enforcement officer does. At its simplest definition, probable cause is obtained by the analysis of facts that would “lead a reasonable and prudent person to believe a crime had been committed and that a particular person had committed that crime.” By the way, an arrest is considered a seizure of a person and therefore any claim of innocence can be based on an appeal to the Fourth Amendment.


A seizure of a person is an arrest.

Of course, all of the following exceptions would be moot if an officer always got a warrant signed by a judge, but that can take several hours to acquire and is just not practical in many cases.

Consent Search

An officer may search anything if the owner gives the officer permission to do so, and there’s no law that says you cannot ask. This seems pretty obvious, but it has been necessary for courts to spell it out when the issue was called into question. Problems can arise with shared property, as in the case of roommates or parent/child situations.

While verbal consent is legal, many departments have forms a person can sign, authorizing an officer to search a car or premises. This precludes the possibility a person could later deny having given an officer consent to search.

Driver gives consent to search his car.

Plain View

Officers may seize any contraband (things that are in and of themselves illegal) or fruits of a crime that they see with the naked eye. The trick here is that they must have a legal right to be where they are when they see the item. Can officers look into someone’s window and then take legal action concerning something they see? If they are on the sidewalk or have been called to the house by the resident and are standing on the front porch, yes they can. But if they have climbed a fence and sneaked into someone’s yard, just because they want to know what that rascal is up to, they may have more of a problem in court.

Marijuana in plain view.

Stop and Frisk or “pat-down” search

This is one instance in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that officers with reasonable and articulable suspicion (not necessarily probable cause) may stop a person they believe may be involved in criminal activity and conduct a cursory pat-down frisk of the person’s outer clothing to check for weapons. It is not really a search, but a minimal intrusion on a person’s freedom of movement, and conducted primarily for the purpose of safety.

A search incident to a lawful arrest

Officers may search a person they have taken into custody on a legal arrest. Unlike the stop and frisk, this can be a full search of a person’s clothing, purse or even the person themselves. In cases where a person is arrested and then charged with a separate crime because of contraband or evidence found in a search incident to arrest, for instance drugs, and the person is found innocent of the original charge, the evidence seized is usually admissible as long as the arresting officer had good probable cause for the original arrest. Probable cause does not necessarily have to extend to proof of guilt. An officer may have good probable cause and still have an arrestee later found in court to be innocent.


Pat-down (frisk) search for weapons.

This full search capability does not extend to persons stopped for traffic violations, since their detention is temporary and usually not fully custodial.  Cont’d…

*Tomorrow – Part two of Search and Seizure with Lt. David Swords

Ninhydrin, and Iodine-Fuming


Ninhydin is a chemical that reacts with the aminio acids found in fingerprints. When the chemical contacts the amino acids, the combination of the two turns a bright purple color. The coloring is known as Ruhemann’s purple, named after the man who discovered ninhydrin, Siegfried Ruhemann.

Ninhydrin has been around since 1910, but wasn’t officially used for law-enforcement purposes until 1954. Ninhydrin is especially useful for the detection of fingerprints on porous surfaces, such as wood and paper – items where normal print powders can be nearly useless.

Ninhydrin comes in pre-mixed aerosol cans and, in a chrystal form. When using the chrystals, detectives and crime scene investigators must mix the ninhydrin with a carrier, such as acetone – the same chemical that’s found in fingernail polish remover – or alcohol. The mix is then placed in a spray bottle for use.


Ninhydrin chrystals. (Photo – Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratory)


Spraying Ninhydrin on paper to develop suspected prints. (Photo – Evident Crime Scene Products)


Developed print.


Prints developed with Ninhydrin.

* Ninhydrin can cause ink to run, so it’s best to perform all other testing, such as handwriting analysis, before applying the chemical.

Ninhydrin is extremely flammable; therefore, investigators must use caution when using it.


Iodine fuming kit

Iodine fuming is also used for developing prints on porous items, such as paper, cardboard, and raw wood. Iodine fumes react with fat deposits found in fingerprints. When the chemical contacts the fat, it turns the print a brownish color. Iodine evaporates quite rapidly; therefore, developed prints can fade away. Investigators must photograph fingerprints developed with iodine.



Fuming with a iodine fuming gun, a device that blows iodine fumes across the taget area.


Prints developed with iodine fumes turn a brownish color.

* * *

Any man who will look into his heart and honestly write what he sees there will find plenty of readers. ~Edgar W. House

(I stole this quote from Jess Ferguson’s blog site. Thanks, Jess.)

*I was recently interviewed by Emmy Award winner Hank Phillippi Ryan. You can read the interview here:

Hank is also a 2008 Agatha nominee!

Police Department Fingerprint Lab


When working in a laboratory setting, detectives dust for prints under an exhaust hood. Fingerprint powder is extremely messy, like charcoal.

Detectives use light, brushing and swirling motions to apply print powders.

Fingerprinting material – powders, tape, and brushes. Brushes are stored in narrow, plastic tubes seen in the lower right-hand corner of the cabinet above. This helps retain the shape of the brush.

Detectives place the handle of the brush inside the tube first, then give the end of the tube a slight tap on a flat surface, such as a tabletop. The entire brush then gently slides all the way into the tube in a single motion. A trick-of-the-trade.


CynoVac fuming chamber for glue-fuming prints on large, bulky items. Glue-fumed prints develop best inside a vacuum. This device is designed to create a controlled vacuum which also prevents over-fuming. Price tag – $1,000.00


The long, black, tube-like device on the countertop above is another CynoVac Fuming Chamber.  It’s designed for glue-fuming prints on long, narrow items, such as rifles and shotguns. Price tag – $1100.00. A CynoSafe is pictured on the left side of the countertop.

Some of the types of fingerprint powders other than the standard black or white (there are many more):

Chrystal violet – enhances sweat residue

Iodine chrystals – for developing prints on porous material, such as paper

Rhodamine 6g – enhances cyanocrylate-develpoed prints

Fluorescent powder – for multicolored backgrounds.

*As a rule, black powder is normally used on light colored surfaces and white is used for dark ones.

* By the way, I’m guest blogging today over at Suspense Novelist. Stop by if you get a chance. My topic is Writing About Cops – It’s Not That Difficult.

Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. ~John Steinbeck

Sgt. John Howsden on Body Armor


They stink, chafe, and make you look fat, but they also stop bullets, and for cops, that’s a good thing. Bullet-proof vests are made of a fabric called Kevlar, which is five times stronger than steel.

Vests don’t deflect bullets, but catch them; much like a net stretched across the goal posts catches a soccer ball. Although bullets don’t penetrate, they still deliver a mean punch. Depending on the caliber, the distance and angle of the bullet, it’s been compared to being hit with a line-drive baseball traveling at 130 mph. Bruising and broken ribs still occur, but the survival rate is still improving.

Fewer officers are killed due to this great invention, but just as many, if not more, are still being assaulted. In addition to wearing safety equipment, cops practice “officer safety tactics” that go unnoticed by the casual observer. The following tactics soon became second nature to police officers, thus increasing their chances of surviving on the street.

Police officers always keep their gun hand free. They can’t grab their gun if their hand is filled with a ticket book or flashlight.

When knocking on a door, cops stand to the side. Wooden doors don’t stop bullets.

Police officers, like soldiers,  know the difference between cover and concealment. Concealment, such as the door mentioned above, hides them, but doesn’t protect them from bullets. A car or large tree trunk on the other hand hides them and stops bullets; this is called cover.

To protect their backs, cops, like gunslingers of the old west, keep their backs against the wall. Something the late Wild Bill Hickock forgot to do the night he was shot in the back while playing cards.

Officers stand sideways with their gun-side facing away from the suspect. Not only is it harder for a person to grab an officer’s gun, but the officer is less apt to be kicked in the groin.

Fear of death or injury invokes its own sense of humor. Some cops wear emblems or mottos embossed on our vests. One night I found myself laying on a gurney in the emergency room after a major police crash. When the nurse leaned over me and undid my shirt, she saw my red and yellow Superman emblem ironed onto the front of my vest. Without missing a beat she said, “Hit some Kryptonite, did ya?”

Body Armor


Front and rear sections of an officer’s vest. Desgned to be worn under the officer’s uniform. Vests are custom-fitted for each officer.


Front  Kevlar panel with rectangular pouch for steel trauma plate. Front and rear panels are inserted into a protective, canvas-like covering. The cover (in the picture above, the covering is blue) is not made from Kevlar.


Vest worn on outside of officer’s clothing. Usually worn during search warrant service and other high-risk situations. Also worn by SWAT, undercover officers, and plainclothes detectives.


Reflective lettering on the rear of the vest easily identifies the wearer as a police officer. A smaller reflectice patch is sewn to the front of the vest, too.

About Sergeant John Howsden:

John Howsden is a retired police sergeant with over thirty years experience with the Fremont California Police Department. During those thirty years, he served as a detective, SWAT team member, post-trauma counselor, and verbal judo instructor.

Sergeant Howsden was once involved in a shootout with a murderer/robber. The killer escaped during the gun battle and went on to kill four other people before his capture and ending up on San Quentin’s death row. Sgt. Howsden attended the murderer’s execution as a state’s witness.

* Tomorrow we continue our lesson on fingerprinting with a tutorial on Cyanoacrylate fuming and the use of Ninhydrin.



Latent fingerprints are nearly invisble to the naked eye. They’re left when someone touches an object, leaving behind sweat and oils. Detectives make the print images visible by using powder that clings to the oily ridges of the fingerprint.

All police officers are trained to use basic fingerprinting equipment – brushes, powders, tape, and lifters.



Basic fingerprinting kit. 

Investigators use brushes to apply print powder. The best brushes are made from the feathers of a maribou, a member of the stork family. A second type brush – camel hair – is also an excellent brush. Interestingly, camel hair brushes are not made from the hair of actual camels. Instead they’re made from the hair of small mammels, such as rabbits and squirrels. Synthetic brushes are widely used because they’re less expensive than the other types.


Maribou feather brush

After a print has been developed, the detective uses tape that’s similar to wide packing tape to lift the print from the surface. She then presses the tape and captured fingerprint against a white card creating a permanent piece of evidence.

Another great tool – my personal favorite –  for lifting prints is a hinged fingerprint lifter. The front of the lifter is a small square of tape. The second part of the lifter is a white backing. The print is lifted with the tape which is then pressed tightly against the backing to preserve the fingerprint. Lifters come with pre-printed spaces for the date, time, officers initials, and case numbers.


Hinged fingerprint lifter.

* All photographs courtesy of my friends at Sirchie Finger Print Laboratory

* Notice – The Graveyard Shift is pleased to announce a special guest blogger on Monday 3-3-08. Sgt. John Howsden (ret.), a thirty year veteran police officer, will be discussing body armor (Kevlar vests). Stop by and pick his brain. As usual, we’ll have some cool photographs. One is really cool.

* Fingerprinting will continue next week. Be prepared to take lots of notes.




Crime Scenes: Where Do I Start And When Am I Done?


Detectives use a variety of means to collect crime scene evidence. When attempting to locate evidence, investigators must be methodical. One way to be certain they’ve combed every inch of a crime scene is to conduct structured, patterned searches, such as spiral or grid searches.

Spiral search patterns are an effective means of locating evidence.

Grid search patterns are especially effective when searching large areas, such as a field or other open land areas. Each grid block is assigned a number or letter. Detectives use those identifiers as reference points when testifying in court. Example: “I located the murder weapon in block number 4.  I also discovered spent bullet casings in block number 3.”

Alternate light sources (ALS) are useful when attempting to locate hard-to-see evidence, such as fingerprints and body fluids. Devices such as Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratory’s Krime Site Imager are invaluable for detecting and capturing fingerprint images. The KS Imager is battery operated and is capable of recording images in bright light or in total darkness.

All too often, fingerprints are destroyed during crime-scene processing (dusting and lifting prints) Using a device such as the KS Imager  allows investigators the opportunity to photograph a perfect image of a fingerprint before attempting dust and lift it.  Therefore, even if the print is marred, detectives will still have perfect image of the print, an image that’s permissible as evidence.


A detective uses a Krime Site Imager to locate and photograph fingerprint evidence.

Some crime scenes, such as labs used for manufacturing methamphetamine, contain hazardous materials, such as flammable and toxic chemicals and fumes. When searching those dangerous crime scenes, investigators must wear protective gear and clothing.


A detective wearing a hazmat suit gathers evidence from a meth lab.


Crime Scene Investigation


Uniformed officers are normally the first police officers on the scene. It’s up to these front-line cops to take charge, calm the chaos, and make things safe for the arriving investigators. Sometimes, crime scenes are large and complicated; therefore, it may be necessary to set up a command post – a central location for coordinating police activities.

Many police departments use mobile command centers, such as converted motor homes and travel trailers. Some patrol supervisors drive vehicles designed to quickly transform into a fully functional command post.

This Oregon police sergeant drives a marked SUV that also serves as a command post during emergencies and crime scene investigations.

Crime Scene Investigation facts:

Patrol officers often assist police investigators with the recovery and collection of evidence.

Not all crime scene investigators are sworn police officers. Many police departments employ specially trained civilian crime scene investigators/technicians. These crime scene investigators do not:

(As seen on TV)

arrest criminals

interrogate or question suspects

carry weapons

participate in, or conduct autopsies

drive Hummers

All police officers are trained to properly collect and preserve evidence. Sometimes, detectives are unavailable; therefore, uniformed officers assume the duty of investigating the crime.


detective and patrol officer bagging a gun at a crime scene

Ohio police sergeant assists a detective with the collection of a firearm.

Crime scenes may be as small as a single room and they can be as large as the site of the entire area encompassing the collapsed World Trade Center towers.

The police are in charge of crime scenes. Coroners and medical examiners are in charge of the bodies of murder victims.

Next – Crime Scene Evidence