The challenges of policing in the rain are many, but before I introduce you to them, there’s this …

 

Rain and Mud

 

Rain

Mud

Muck

Delightful, they are not.

 

When it’s you, who

Must roll and fight

In slop and goo

To cuff a wily crook.

 

Rain

Mud

Muck

On your nose and your shoes.

 

On your clothes

Hands

Gun

And your gleaming silver badge.

 

Rain

Mud

Slimy

Sodden, mushy, and swampy.

 

Yucky

Gooey

Nasty.

Unavoidable, yes it is.

 

Arrest

Cuff

Stuff

And off to jail they go.

 

Fingerprints

Mugshot

Phone call

Cell doors slamming tightly shut.

 

Dumb

Thief

Stole

Two bestselling mysteries.

 

Cops and the Rain

Yes, the awful “poem” above was absolutely cheesy and repugnantly horrible, but its purpose was to begin the discussion about cops and rain. Well, that and I couldn’t think of a decent segue into the topic.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve not given much thought to what it’s like to work in the rain as a police officer, right? But you should consider it. After all, it’s not always sunny and dry between book covers. Therefore, fictional officers should encounter the same unique wet weather challenges faced by their real-life peers, such as:

  • Keeping weapons and ammunition dry.
  • Preventing water from finding its way into portable radios.
  • Struggling to apply handcuffs to the wet and slimy wrists of a soaking wet and muddy suspect.
  • Having to thoroughly clean mud from the exterior and interior locking mechanisms of handcuffs.
  • Pursuits on wet roadways where hydroplaning makes the act akin to driving without a steering wheel or brakes. Fun times. Whee!
  • Blue light glare reflecting from raindrops and wet things (pavement, buildings, car windows, windshield, etc.). So not only do they not have brakes or steering capabilities in hydroplaning situations, they’re driving blind, as well.
  • Flashing lights, windshield wipers, blowing debris, radio chatter, light from in-car computer terminal, phone ringing, siren wailing and yelping, suspect in back yelling, screaming, spitting, kicking the back of the driver’s seat and rear doors—all major distractions while driving in wet conditions.
  • Struggling with a suspect while wearing a long, bright yellow raincoat—nearly impossible.
  • Locating the vinyl rain cover for your hat. When they’re most needed they’re never in the spot where they’re normally kept. Trust me, a cold, wet, dripping hat is most unpleasant to wear.
  • Trying to run after a suspect through wet grass, puddles, and ankle-deep mud while wearing a police uniform, a fully-loaded duty belt, heavy vest, and rain gear—nearly impossible.
  • Hard rain makes it difficult to see … anything. Such as the guy with the gun who ran into the cemetery … at night.
  • Never fails. There will be a car crash and/or a power outage that switches off every stoplight on the beat, during each and every rain storm. Directing traffic in the pouring rain is a horrible experience. And cold.
  • Protecting crime scene evidence from the elements without compromising or contaminating it.
  • When the shooting starts, having to instantly locate the pass-through pocket/gun slit in the long, bright yellow raincoat. Not the best time to figure out how this clumsy maneuver is done.
  • Catching an outdoor call the first few minutes of the shift and then wearing wet, cold clothing for the next several hours. The feel of icy-cool Kevlar and wet polyester against your body is no picnic.
  • K-9 officers have a set of their very own challenges—muddy paws and wet fur, for example. The stinky “wet dog” odor inside police cars smells bad. Really bad. Especially when combined with the odors left behind by the puking, sweating, peeing drunk who occupied the passenger seat earlier in the shift.

Well, they do …

141756305451nji

 

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

There it is, the word sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the movie “Mary Poppins“. Now, say it out loud. Or, if you prefer, say it in reverse – dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes.

Either way, it takes us somewhere between one and two seconds for it to roll off our tongues, give or take a tenth of a second, or two. And that’s saying it as fast as you possibly can.

I suppose I could stop here and let you go about the remainder of your day with this ear worm digging its way into your brain:

 

It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious

If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

 

Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay

Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay

Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay

Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay…

 

But let’s stick with the time it takes to say that word. For me it’s somewhere between 1.01 seconds and 1.22 seconds, depending upon how quickly I start after clicking the button on the stopwatch.

Now, imagine that you’re a police officer who’s responded to a call where a suspect used a baseball bat to beat his spouse and children. You arrive at the scene and hear yelling, screams, and children crying from inside the home. You knock. No answer. Still more screaming. You force open the door and rush inside where you’re immediately faced with a man pointing a handgun at a badly battered woman. He begins to turn toward you. So how do you respond to the threat?

Well, your body and brain must first of all figure out what’s going on (perception). Then, the brain instructs the body to stand by while it analyzes the scenario (okay, he has a gun and I think I’m about to be shot). Next, while the body is still on hold, the brain begins to formulate a plan (I’ve got to do something, and I’d better do it asap). Finally, the brain pokes the body and tells it to go for what it was trained to do—draw pistol, point the business end of it at the threat, insert finger into trigger guard, squeeze trigger.

To give you an idea as to how long it takes a trained police officer to accomplish those steps, let’s revisit Mary Poppins and Bert the chimney sweep, and that wacky word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Remember, it takes us a little over one second to say the entire word.

New Picture (3)

To put this scenario into perspective, a police officer’s reaction time (based on a study of 46 trained officers), when they already know the threat is there, AND, with their finger already on the trigger, is 0.365 seconds. That’s far less than half the time it takes Bert to sing that famous word. Unfortunately, as fast as that sounds, suspects already know they’re going to fire so they’re typically able to shoot before the officer has a chance to react. Hopefully, their accuracy/marksmanship is less than stellar, which is often the case.

So, when confronted with a potential deadly force situation, officers must perceive/identify the threat, evaluate the situation, develop a plan of action, and then set that plan in motion.

In short, police officers must decide what to do and then do it in the time it takes to say “supercali.” Not even the entire word.

Are you able to make complex decisions in less than a second? How about decisions that involve life or death?

I dare say that many of us can’t decide what to select from a fast food menu within that scant time frame.

Sure, it’s super easy to look back at deadly force incidents and offer opinions as to how they should, or should not have been handled. But only the people who were there at the precise moment the trigger was pulled know the real story. They alone know how they perceived and reacted to the threat to them and/or others.

Justified, or not, it takes less than a second to react, and a lifetime to deal with the decision.

Supercali … BANG, You’re Dead!

This live, dynamic session is a rare and unique opportunity to present your questions to one of today’s most skilled practitioners of the psychological thriller.  

New York Times and internationally bestselling author Lisa Unger offers her secrets to success to help attendees overcome troubles with current works-in-progress, writing routines, creativity, writers block, plotting, character development, and more.

Lisa invites you to bring issues specific to you for discussion, such as, “I can’t find time to write,” or “I’m struggling with my beginning/middle/ ending.”

REGISTRATION IS OPEN!

Sign up today to reserve your spot.

When – Saturday February 4, 2023 – 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. EST 

Where Writers’ Police Academy Online

Instructor  New York Times and internationally bestselling author Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of twenty novels, including SECLUDED CABIN SLEEPS SIXLAST GIRL GHOSTED, and CONFESSIONS ON THE 7:45 — now in development at Netflix, starring Jessica Alba. With books published in thirty-three languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is regarded as a master of suspense. 

Unger’s critically acclaimed novels have been featured on “Best Book” lists from the Today ShowGood Morning AmericaEntertainment WeeklyPeopleAmazonGoodreadsL.A. TimesThe Boston GlobeSun SentinelTampa Bay Times and many others. She has been nominated for, or won, numerous awards including the Strand Critics, Audie, Hammett, Macavity, ITW Thriller, and Goodreads Choice. In 2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honor held by only a few authors, including Agatha Christie. Her short fiction has been anthologized in The Best American Mystery and Suspense, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York TimesWall Street JournalNPR, and Travel+Leisure. Lisa is the current co-President of the International Thriller Writers organization.  

She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family. 


www.writerspoliceacademy.online

Cops and bad guys often speak in unique language, and without a translator citizens sometimes feel left out of the conversation. To help you understand and to incorporate that special language into works of fiction, here are a few terms worth remembering and maybe inserting into a tale or two.

AB: Member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

ALPR: Automated license plate recognition system.


2021_st_alprfactsheet_20210105_final508

*Credit – U.S. Department of Homeland Security

 


ASP: Trade name for an expandable baton used by law enforcement officers. See ASP.

ATL: Attempt to locate – a directive to find a missing or wanted person.

BAC: The blood alcohol content of a person. Had a couple of drinks? Click here to check your BAC.

Basketweave: An embossed design stamped into leather duty belts, handcuff cases, etc.

Beater: Vehicle in less than desirable condition. “Is Warren still driving that same old beater?”

Big Key: Battering ram used to break down doors.


2023 Writers’ Police Academy attendees have the opportunity to use a battering ram during the class “Forced Entry – The Search For, And Capture, Of An Armed Suspect.” As an added bonus, explosive devices are used during this  exciting session; therefore, participants may be required to wear protective gear during this thrilling hands-on exercise.


BOLO: Be on the look out. (NOT APB!). “I’ve issued a BOLO for the missing person/stolen vehicle/suspect.”

Bronx Roll/California Stop: Failure to stop completely at a stop sign. Driver slowly rolls past a stop sign into an intersection to continue traveling.

CompStat: A numbers-driven management tool to track crimes and police activity. Wilmington Delaware Comsat Reports and Mapping (includes data from 2023).

Dog Worthy: K-9 officer’s assessment of a scene as to whether they believe it would be worthwhile to have their dog to conduct a search, or not. “I’m sorry Sergeant, but with the presence of the enormous amount of spilled diesel fuel on the ground, I don’t believe the area is dog worthy.”

DV: Domestic violence.

Dusted: Under the influence of PCP.


Street names for PCP include Angel Dust, Boat, Crystal, Embalming Fluid, Hog, Ozone, Rocket Fuel, Shermans, Supergrass, Tic Tac, Wack, Zoom. To learn more about PCP, click here.


EDP: Emotionally disturbed person.

Eyeball: to view or observe something/someone.

Flip a Sign: Hand signs used as a means of communication between criminals.

FOP: Fraternal Order of Police. The learn about the FOP, click here.

Get Small: To get away/escape/disappear.

Good For It: Have sufficient probable cause for arrest. “Yeah, Fred, with the DNA, fingerprints, and that he had the murder weapon in his pocket, I think he’s good for it.”

HGN: Horizontal gaze nystagmus, a physiological sign intoxication.

Hit & Split: Leave the scene of a vehicle crash.

Hit the Bricks: To begin a patrol shift/depart the police station. “Okay, folks, it’s time to hit the bricks,” said Sergeant Ima N. Charge at the conclusion of the evening briefing.

Hobble: A nylon cord with snap hooks on one or both ends, used to secure the feet and legs of a combative suspect. Click here to see the RIPP™ HOBBLE device.

In the Wind: Flee on foot, escape custody, disappear. “We lost him, Lieutenant. He’s in the wind.”

OIC: Officer in Charge.

OIS: Officer-involved shooting.

Overheads: Emergency lights on the roof of a police car/vehicle. “Jenkins, you forgot to switch off your overheads after your last traffic stop. Weren’t you suspicious when everyone pulled over when you got behind them?” 

PC: The minimum standard of evidence required to make an arrest.

Peerless: A popular brand of handcuffs used by law enforcement, manufactured and sold by the Peerless Handcuff Company.

Player: Suspect.

Rabbit: To run from police/the act of running. “Watch him, Sally. He’ll rabbit at the drop of hat.”

Run Code: Responding to a location with emergency lights and siren activated. “Unit 4561, robbery in progress at 666 Manson Lane. Run code.”

Sam Browne Belt: Law enforcement officer’s equipment/duty belt that holds holster, handcuffs, radio/ pepper spray, baton, and other equipment. Click here to view the Sam Browne Belt.

Slim Jim: A blade-like tool used to open vehicle doors without a key.

20140107_113402

Slim Jim

 

20140107_113322

Notches used for “hooking” the lock rod and other mechanisms


Tw read more about Slim Jims, here’s a link to a previous blog article:

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK: COPS, SLIM JIMS, AND SAVING BABIES


SO: Sheriff’s office.


Did You Know?

Sheriffs and sheriff’s deputies in the state of Delaware are NOT authorized to make arrests in criminal cases. They do not have police powers.


SRO: School resource officer

Tweaker: Habitual user of methamphetamine

VICAP: Violent Criminal Apprehension Program

Click the links below to learn more about VICAP.

FBI Violent Criminal Apprehension Program Career Information

FBI Most Wanted – VICAP


2023 Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) registration is scheduled to open February 1, 2023. In the meantime, please visit us at www.writerspoliceacademy.com to view the schedule of events, a complete list of classes and instructor bios and photos, hotel information, the special Thursday afternoon session—Touch a Truck and Ask the Experts, and other details.


Reserve Your Room Early!

Hilton Appleton Hotel Paper Valley
333 W College Ave, Appleton, Wi. 54911

For reservations, call 1-800-774-1500 and Ask for the Hilton Appleton Paper Valley Hotel and the Writers Police Academy Block.

Click here for Online Reservations

The event begins at noon on Thursday June 8, 2023. It is highly recommended that you reserve your room from Wednesday June 7 – Sunday June 11 to take full advantage of the exciting activities.


Questions? Please contact Lee Lofland at lofland32@msn.com

Experts are often asked what kinds of entrance and exit wounds are produced by various types of ammunition. The answers to those questions are simple … it depends.

The rounds in the photograph below feature hollow point bullets similar to the rounds fired from the Thompson sub-machine gun I’m holding in the top and quite ancient photo. I pulled the picture from the buried crypt where I keep my old cop stuff.

hollow-point-and-magazine.jpg

.45 rounds and magazine

The .45 caliber rounds above are approximately the diameter of the Sharpie pens many authors use to sign books. That’s pretty close to the size of most entrance wounds inflicted when .45 caliber rounds pierce the flesh.

Pictured below is an entrance wound caused by 9mm round at point blank range, a close contact gunshot wound. Obviously, this was a fatal wound since I took this picture during the autopsy of the victim. Note the post-autopsy stitching of the “Y” incision (above right of the photo).

Also notice the charred flesh around the wound. This was caused by the heat of the round and burning powder as it contacted the victim’s skin. The bruising around the wound was, of course, caused by the impact.

bullet-hole.jpg

9mm bullet wound to the chest—close range.

Next is one of the .45  rounds after it was fired from a Thompson machine gun.

Firing the Thompson at a sheriff’s office indoor range in Ohio. Notice the piece of ejected brass to the right of the major’s arm. I took the photo and was lucky enough to capture the shot of the brass casing during its fall to the floor.

The round passed through the paper target, through several feet of thick foam rubber, through the self-healing wall tiles of the firing range, and then struck the concrete and steel wall behind the foam. The deformed bullet finally came to rest on the floor. Keep in mind, though, that this all occurred in the blink of an eye, or quicker.

The above image shows a .45 round (above left between the 3″ and 4″ mark on the ruler) after a head-on strike with concrete and steel. The other distorting of bullets occurred when striking various surfaces from a variety of angles—ricochet rounds.

Bullet or Cartridge? Are You Writing it Wrong?

A bullet is the projectile portion of a cartridge, not the entire round.

4 components of a cartridge are the casing, primer, powder, and bullet

Casing: The container, such as brass, steel, or copper (pistol and rifle ammunition). Shotgun shell casings are typically made of plastic.

Primer: The primer is an explosive material that ignites the gunpowder when struck by a firing pin. Primers are located either in the center of of the base of the casing (centerfire), or in the rim of the base (rimfire).

Powder: The powder used in modern ammunition is smokeless powder, an explosive consisting either of nitrocellulose alone (single-base), or double-base, a combination of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin).

Bullet: The cylindrical and pointed projectile that is expelled from the gun barrel.

 


A round is a single cartridge – “The magazine holds 15 rounds.”


Hitting the hard solid surface head-on caused the .45 bullet to expand and fracture which creates the often larger exit wounds we see in shooting victims.

Many times, those bullet slivers break off inside the body causing further internal damage.

The size of an exit wound also depends on what the bullet hits inside the body. If the bullet only hits soft tissue the wound will be less traumatic. If it hits bone, expect much more damage. Easy rule of thumb—the larger the caliber (bullet size), the bigger the hole.

Bullets that hit something other than their intended target, such as a brick wall or metal lamp post, can break apart sending pieces of flying copper and lead fragments (shrapnel) into crowds of innocent bystanders. Those flying ricochet fragments are just as lethal as as any intact, full-sized bullet.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Bullets don’t always stop people. I’ve seen shooting victims get up and run after they’ve been shot several times. And for goodness sake, people don’t fly twenty feet backward after they’ve been struck by a bullet. They just fall down and bleed. They may even moan a lot, or curse. That’s if they don’t get back up and start shooting again. Simply because a suspect has been shot once or twice does not mean his ability, or desire, to kill someone is over, and that, writers, is why police officers are taught to shoot until the threat is over.

The bank robber I shot and killed during a shootout fell after each of the five rounds hit him. But he also stood and began firing again after each of my bullets struck—one to the head and four to the center of his chest area. After the fifth round he stood and charged officers. Four of the five rounds caused fatal wounds. Yet, he still stood and ran toward officers. I and a sheriff’s captain tackled and cuffed him. In another instance, a man engaged in a gun battle with several officers. He was shot 33 times and still continued walking toward officers.

Always keep Sir Isaac Newton and his Third Law of Motion in mind when writing shooting scenes. The size of the force on the first object must equal the size of the force on the second object—force always comes in pairs.

Here’s Professor Dave to explain …

 

So, if your scene shows the shooting victim flying that twenty feet away from the person firing the rounds, the shooter would also fly twenty feet in the opposite direction. Ah, sounds silly, right? So toss this one in the trash can along with the use of cordite. No, no, and NO!

Equal and Opposite Reaction—Newton’s Cradle

It was on a cold Christmas night, several years ago, when my wife Denene decided that she’d like to ride along with me during my shift so we could at least spend a part of the evening together. It would be her first and last first-hand experience of what I did for a living.

I was the officer in charge of operations, the OIC, that night so it wasn’t as if I’d be responding to calls, meaning I thought the danger level for her would be extremely low. And I was right, the first part of the evening shift was fairly quiet with a few of the typical pushing and shoving drunks, a couple of thefts, a drunk driver or two, a peeping Tom, a disorderly customer at a convenience store, etc. Nothing major.

I took Denene on a tour of parts of the city she’d never seen, and to a few she had but only during the daytime. Believe me, some typically normal neighborhoods totally transform once the sun is down and all the “creepies” come out to play. It’s the time when neon lights replace sunshine, and when alleyways come alive with feral animals, and people who pay for quickie sex behind dented dumpsters overflowing with restaurant waste and wet, slimy butcher shop cardboard and paper.

These are the streets and neighborhoods where wispy tendrils of sewer steam rise from storm drains to twist and writhe their way toward the night sky, floating and undulating until they melt into nothingness. Potholes are deep and overturned garbage cans pour out their innards for all to see. Front yards are bare dirt and sofas and used kitchen chairs sit on front porches featuring leaning posts and broken railings. At the curb at either side of the streets are empty beer cans, broken bottles and used needles and condoms mixed with dry, crispy leaves.

In the area sometimes called “The Bottom,” prostitutes displayed their wares in barely-there outfits while local businessmen, average Joes and sometimes Janes, and even a city official or two drove along the dark streets comparing the “merchandise.”

Zombie-like addicts marched and stumbled aimlessly along cold concrete walks and streets until they finally decided upon a random landing spot in a storefront entrance where they smoked, consumed rotgut liquor, or shot poison into their arms or legs. Then they slept awhile before setting off on another mindless quest for the next high.

Drug runners, the low-level, bottom of the narcotics-selling chain, the vendors of crack, meth, heroin, fentanyl, and Oxy, were at nearly every corner in the “hot” neighborhoods. They often damaged the corner street lamps by throwing rocks at the bulbs, or by shooting them out, so they could operate under the cover of darkness.

Runners stood alone or in small groups of three or so with each holding only a small amount of dope so not much would be lost should they be nabbed by cops. Users cruised the areas in their cars, driving slowly. When the runner spotted a likely customer he’d approach the vehicle. The driver handed over cash ($20 for a single crack rock) and the runner subsequently offered the drug. Sometimes the runner held the foil or plastic-wrapped rock in his mouth so he could easily swallow it in case the “customer” turned out to be a cop. When they were certain all was well they’d spit the wrapped rock into their hand to exchange for the cash.

When the runners sold out of merchandise they’d head back to the dealers to “re-up.” The process repeated hour after hour, night after night after night. The runners were always at ready to take off should an officer approach. It’s a cat and mouse game that’s played again and again—officers got out of our cars and they’d run. Officers chased after them. They’d drop the dope and an occasional gun. Officers picked up “the stuff” and maybe catch the guy or maybe not. Then the process began again with the next runner.

So after showing Denene enough of the rot of the city, I drove to areas where officers were on the scenes of various calls/complaints, making sure all was well. Then the radio crackled with an “officer needs assistance” call. She’d stopped a car for drunk driving and the driver refused to get out of his vehicle. She’d struggled with him a bit, through the car window, but had no luck. In fact, he’d spit at her and attempted to bite her. He’d struck her arms with his fist and tried to punch her face.

So off I went to see the trouble for myself. Other officers were also on the way to assist. When Denene and I arrived two officers were at the driver’s window grabbing and tugging the man and informing him that the use of  pepper spray had become an option. A third officer stood at the passenger window preparing to break the glass. I shifted the car into park and told Denene I’d be right back (the equivalent to “Hold my Beer”). I stepped out of my car and walked over to the action.

Since I was a DOJ master defensive tactics instructor/instructor-trainer who’d trained each of the on-scene officers during their time at the police academy, and the fact that I and Denene owned our own gym and martial arts school, and because I was the ranking officer on the scene, well, they’d assumed that I’d handle this situation. So they parted to allow me access to the driver.

I politely informed the very large, wild and drunken man that he had two options. One, remove his seat belt and get out of the car on his on. Two, I’d cause him intense pain while removing him from the car, through the window. When he spit  at me it was my conclusion that he’d opted for choice number two.

A few seconds later, after inflicting quite a bit of pain (I knew this because he was squealing and squawking like an angry parrot), I pulled him through the seatbelt and through the window (with his helpful assistance since he wanted the pain to stop sooner than asap), pulled him to the ground, spun him around and over using a wrist-turn-out. I then cuffed his hands behind his back.

I told the female officer who’d initially stopped the car to place my handcuffs in the mailbox outside my office door when she’d cleared from processing the man. I then turned and walked back to my car where I nonchalantly asked Denene if she’d like to grab a cup of coffee. Only a minute or two had passed since I first stepped out of my unmarked car.

She said, “How can you be so calm after such a violent event? And how in the world did you get that big man to fit through that window and all so quickly?”

I, like every officer out there, didn’t think twice about it. It’s what we/they are sometimes forced to do, those sorts of things—pulling grown men through car windows and the like. It’s part of the job, like editing is to a writer.

Yes, it was Christmas and Denene and I were together. But she never again rode with me.

She eventually stopped listening the police scanner we had at the house. She switched it off one night, for the final time, after hearing me tell other officers that “I’d go in first.”

Yeah, she’s much happier since writing about this stuff is a WHOLE lot safer …


Aikido

Aikido uses the attacker’s own force against him.

A wrist turnout applies intense pressure to the joint in the wrist, forcing the suspect off balance.

Proper grasp to begin the wrist turnout (Kotegaeshi Nage) technique. To complete the technique the officer maintains his grasp, rotates the suspect’s hand up and to the rear in a counter-clockwise motion while simultaneously stepping back with his (the officer) left leg. The suspect ends up on the floor on his back (see picture below). Any resistance inflcts excrutiating pain in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

Combative suspects are normally forced the ground for handcuffing. From this position, a quick turn of the suspect’s wrist and arm will force him to roll over on his stomach. Any resistance causes extreme pain and could injure the controlled wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

To effectively control the wrist, the elbow must be stationary. From this position, the suspect is easily handcuffed.

This wrist lock can cause intense pain in the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder. Forward and downward pressure forces the suspect to the ground.


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

It was a Dark and Stormy Night …

I know the general rule of thumb is to not begin a tale with the weather, and I humbly apologize for violating protocol. It’s just that the elements are such a crucial part of this story and, well, please bear with me for a moment as I take you back to an honest-to-goodness dark and stormy Christmas Eve.

I was working for a sheriff’s office at the time, patrolling an area that sits smack-dab in the middle of the north-south I-95 drug corridor. Needless to say, crime, especially violent crime, was quite commonplace.

In those days, I drove a hand-me-down Crown Vic with a light bar that had a mind of its own. Sometimes the rotating beacons turned and sometimes they didn’t, with the latter occurring more frequently during cold weather. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for me to respond to an emergency with the gas pedal mashed to the floorboard, the siren screaming like a cat with its tail caught in the ringer of grandma’s antique washer, and me with my arm out the window banging my fist on the side of the light bar hoping to set it in motion. It often took a good two miles and ten whacks with the heel of my fist before the barely-turning speed of the lights caught up with the seriousness of the situation at hand.

Believe me, there’s nothing more frustrating than driving at warp speed while your emergency lights rotate at the speed of drying paint. But, if the call was far enough away the lights eventually caught up with the direness of what could be and often was.

Christmas Eve calls, for the most part, were an eclectic mix of complaints and incidents, ranging from window peepers to intoxicated uncles who were sloppy drunk on Jack Daniels chased with eggnog, to crooks who preferred to do their last minute shopping after the stores were closed and tightly locked until the day after Christmas. And, of course, there were murders and robberies, calls that necessitated the use of those darn lights.

Blowing Wind and Freezing Temps

There’s one particular Christmas Eve that comes to mind, though. The one when the wind blew so hard that traffic lights hung horizontally instead of their typical right angles to the streets. Gusty breezes toppled garbage cans and sent them clanging and banging and rolling and tumbling across asphalt and concrete. Dried leaves clicked and ticked and swirled in masses as they clicked and ticked and scratched and scraped their way down avenues and boulevards and through intersections without regard for stop signs, continuing on through alleys and across lawns and driveways. The lighted sign at the bank on the corner of Broad and 14th blinked between the current time and a steady temperature of five degrees. Believe me, it was cold enough to make a snowman shiver.

For warmth, homeless people camping under the overpasses and down by the river burned scraps of broken pallets and whatever twigs, branches, and tree limbs they could find. Many of them had no real winter clothing—no coats, parkas, gloves, or wool caps. Instead, they added extra layers of filthy, soiled clothing over their already grimy attire. They used socks to cover their hands and they draped old army blankets or blue furniture movers’ pads over their heads and shivering bodies.

Ridley Perkins

And then there was Ridley Perkins, a homeless man who’d been around the city for so long that his name and/or face was quite well-known by many of the locals in the areas he frequented. He was also a regular visitor to the city jail. Corrections officers, those who’d “seen it all,” shied away from Ridley when it came time for him to be strip searched. No one wanted the job of watching him peel off layer after layer of grunge-caked clothing. After all, Perkins’ body odor alone was enough to gag anyone, and it was not unusual to find live maggots squirming around in his soiled underwear or on his skin.

Ridley never committed any real crimes—he didn’t steal, rob, or burgle. He was a beggar by trade and a darn good one too. And he knew how to successfully transform a dollar into alcohol. Not the kind consumed by most drinkers, though. Ridley preferred to strain his alcohol from canned heat (Sterno), or to drink mouthwash or shaving lotion. And, when the last drop was gone he’d do something to annoy a business owner or scare a woman or child by lunging at them from behind a bush—his way of going to jail where he’d get a hot meal, a warm bed, his monthly shower (if that often), and clean clothes because the jail staff bagged the old ones and immediately tossed them into a dumpster behind the facility.

The Christmas Present

Okay, I know, I strayed from the story. Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yeah … Christmas Eve. I’d made a pass around my section of the county and had returned to the office to warm my bones with a cup of jailhouse coffee (so thick you could almost stand a spoon upright in the center of the mug) and to back my hind-end against a hot radiator. Even my long-johns, Kevlar, and coat were no match against the cold that night.

After I’d thawed, I settled into a seat and was skimming through newspaper headlines when someone pressed the buzzer out at the main gate. One of the on-duty jailers pushed the “talk” button on the intercom and said, “Whadda you want, Perkins?” I glanced over at the monitor and saw Ridley holding a round object up toward the camera. It appeared to be a ball of some sort. He pushed the outside talk button and said, “I brung you something. A Christmas present.”

The jail supervisor, a soft-hearted older man, slipped on his jacket and said he was going out to try and talk Ridley into going to a shelter for the night, something Ridley rarely did. He despised their “no tolerance for alcohol rule.” Before going out, the officer poured some hot coffee into a Styrofoam cup and took it with him to give to his visitor.

A few minutes later the supervisor returned with an orange, saying Ridley told him that he’d used some of his begging proceeds to buy it for him as a Christmas present. He claimed to have done so because the jailer had always been kind to him and treated him like a man and not as a criminal, or a drunk. We both knew that chances were good that he’d either stolen the orange from a local grocer or that someone had given it to him. But that he’d brought it to the jailer was still a kind gesture.

Ridley accepted the coffee from the jailer, listened to the advice about the shelter, and then headed off into the cold night, ambling past the reach of the camera. It was the last time anyone saw him alive.

We found Ridley’s body the next night, inside an old abandoned car. He’d apparently gone there to get away from the wind and the blowing snowfall that had started up in the early morning hours. Hypothermia had claimed his life. He’d frozen to death.

On the floorboard near Ridley’s hand were an empty Styrofoam cup and a small pile of orange peelings.

*This is a true story, however, the name Ridley Perkins is fictitious.

 

Isotope fingerprinting can be used to analyze a single strand of human hair for the purpose of determining a person’s location during recent weeks, months, and sometimes years. Obviously, this type of geographical tracking can be extremely useful to law enforcement when investigating murder cases.

These particular isotopes are found in the DNA-free keratin protein shaft of a hair, and contain a sequential record of dietary and metabolic behaviors of the contributor.

Stable isotope analysis (SIA) uses, for example, stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes of human tissues to learn a victim’s dietary preferences.

Properties of various municipal water districts, even in cities and towns adjacent to one another, or within a large metropolitan city with more than a single water supply, can provide water that is isotopically distinct from one another and from other local water sources. Therefore, using unique stable oxygen and strontium isotope signatures, SIA reveals the source of an individual’s drinking water (a person drinks local water and the isotopic record of the water is captured and retained their hair).


There are many uses for Stable isotope analysis (SIA), including:

  • Food authenticity

  • Sports doping

  • Criminal forensics

  • Archaeology


When used in conjunction—stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes, along with stable oxygen and strontium isotopes—investigators are armed with a formidable geolocation tool for pinpointing a region of origin, or the path of recent travels of a murder victim. This is especially helpful when an investigation involves unidentified human remains.

Other Uses

Sample analysis of illegal drugs can reveal their sources (location), discovering whereabouts of clandestine laboratories, and even the trafficking routes used by dealers.

Stable isotope forensics is also used help to determine whether drugs, explosives, fibers, and other evidence share a mutual foundation or past. It’s utilized to differentiate counterfeit products such as pharmaceuticals and food products from authentic articles, and it’s used to determine if an athlete has used drugs to enhance their performance.

The World Anti-Doping Agency requires stable isotope analysis for doping analysis in sports. It’s also used to detect steroid abuse in cattle.

Analyzers, such as Elementar’s AnthrovisION, are the devices and included software used to determine the origin of a sample.


Isotopes

Scientists divide isotopes into two main types: radioactive and stable.

Stable Isotopes

Stable isotopes, those used in criminal forensics, sports doping, and archaeology have a stable proton-neutron combination and do not exhibit signs of decay/radiation.

The stable isotopes used in the testing/analyzing described in this article are oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur, nitrogen and carbon.

Radioactive Isotopes

When an atom has too many or too few neutrons, it is unstable and decays. As a result, these isotopes emit radiation that includes alpha, beta, and gamma rays.

Radioactive isotopes are used in medicine, agriculture, food industry, pest control, archeology. Radiocarbon dating uses the carbon-14 radioactive isotope. In medicine, radioactive gamma rays are used to detect tumors inside the human body. Exposing food to a controlled level of gamma rays kills many types of bacteria.

 

 

I’ve seen a few oddities over the years, especially during Halloween, the night when both kids and adults dress up as their favorite characters before heading out to enjoy tricks and treats, and parties.

It’s also a night that a few ghoulish folks believe is the perfect time to commit the usual plethora of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. But there’s one Halloween crime from my old case files that stands out a bit from the rest and, as always, I have to tell the story. I do so, as irritating and long-winded as it may be, to help you with details for your own writing. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up and believe me, I read a lot and I write a lot, and most of what I see in fiction doesn’t compare to, well, this …

It was late one Halloween night, back in the 1980s, well after costumed trick-or-treaters were long back at home gorging themselves on sugary treats—M&Ms, Whoppers, mini candy bars, Lemonheads, Candy Corn, and Skittles—when I knocked on Miss Evelyn’s front door, a wide plank of weathered wood with rusty strap hinges.

Through the square glass near the top of the door I saw a small slice of yellow light that started in a backroom to my left and stretched across the narrow hallway floor where it disappeared into another room on the righthand side of the passageway.

At the sound of my door-rapping, a shadow moved across the light, first one way and then back.

While waiting for the source of the shadow to respond to my presence, I had a look around the porch. Nothing unusual … a one-gallon vegetable can (absent its label) filled with sand and topped with a handful of cigarette butts, a rickety old rocking chair, five plastic flower pots with each containing the remnants of some sort of unidentifiable plant—all dead, dried up, and crispy—, a well-worn green cloth sofa, and a portable radio that was missing the volume knob.

A foil-wrapped coat hanger poked up from a hole in the top of the radio’s plastic casing. It replaced the former antenna that, at some point, had broken off and was either lost or discarded as trash. Either way, the radio, in it’s present condition, had been there for as long as I could remember.

And, as always, smack-dab in the center of the front door were three fairly fresh chicken feet tied together at their bloody stumps with a piece of bright red twine. The collection of gnarly toes and bony knuckles dangled from a bent nail. Chicken feet, according to Miss Evelyn, bring good luck and, as a bonus, they also prevented evil spirts from crossing the threshold. Nope, nothing odd at all … for Miss Evelyn. The porch “decor” hadn’t changed in all the years I’d gone there. Not a thing.

I knocked again. She yelled from the back of the house. “Just a minute!”

I’d first met Miss Evelyn after arresting a man for burglary and, while searching his pockets for weapons and other illegal items, I discovered a small flannel pouch tucked inside his wallet. I figured the contents could possibly be drugs, probably marijuana or hash, or something of that nature, so I asked the kid to level with me so I’d know what to expect.

I was surprised to hear him say that what I held in my hand was not was I’d suspected. Instead, he said, it was his “medicine bag,” a ground up mixture of chicken bones, tobacco, human hair, and herbs. Its purpose was to keep him safe. This was my first contact with a medicine bag. However, it was far from the last.

Root doctors make medicine bags containing plant and animal matter, such as human or animal bone, sage, garlic, and even dirt from a grave. The purpose of the bag is, for example, to provide safety, heal and prevent illness, and to help ignite or halt romances, etc. Another practically endless list.

This young burglar purchased his bag from Miss Evelyn, a local root doctor. Since this was a totally new experience for me, I decided to pay this so-called root doctor a visit. And, long story shortened a bit, Miss Evelyn “knew all and saw all” and she soon became one of my most reliable informants.

Her customer base was massive and many were criminals, so I basically kept her on speed dial. I also dropped off the occasional gift—a turkey or ham at Christmas, or a turkey in liquid form (Wild Turkey bourbon), her preference, as a sign of my appreciation. The liquid turkey, according to Miss Evelyn, was strictly for medicinal purposes—prevention of colds and flu, etc. Not for pleasure drinking.

This particular Halloween night a young man, Miss Evelyn’s nephew, answered the door and led me to the kitchen where his aunt stood at the head of six-chair red formica-topped table, hard at work assembling her latest batch of medicine bags and other concoctions. Behind her, a large black kettle was at full boil on the wood stove. A foul-smelling steam wafted my way. I didn’t ask.

If I had to guess I’d say Miss Evelyn weighed at just under a hundred pounds. She was so thin that the blood vessels on her arms and hands were visible and looked like someone had draped a squirming knot of skinny earthworms there, much like hanging tinsel on a Christmas tree.

As always when “working”, her face was peppered with tiny beads of sweat. Her fingernails were bitten to the quick. She wore a simple and faded housedress that was three sizes too big, a Winnie the Pooh apron, and pink Flip-Flops with the rubber thong jamming a wad of age-yellowed sock material between the first and second toes of each foot.

When she smiled it became instantly obvious that dentists were not a part of her clientele, nor had she ever, not once, crossed the threshold of any tooth doctor’s office. Her breath smelled like a rotting animal carcass, an even worse scent than the pungent odor emanating from the pot on the stove.

Miss Evelyn was quirky, to say the least, and she was one of the nicest people I’d ever met.

I’d gone there that particular night to see if Evelyn could offer any insight about two bodies that had been dug up in a local cemetery. The vaults had been damaged and the caskets broken open. The grave-robbers took the same thing from each coffin—bones from the lower right arms and hands.

She said she’d heard about a couple who used human bones as part of their religious rituals. Before exhuming remains, though, they had sex atop the grave sites.

Coincidentally, the man and woman visited Miss Evelyn earlier in the night to ask if she knew where they could get heir hands on a fresh corpse because, in order to complete their ritual, they needed blood and they knew that to get it they’d need to reach a body prior to embalming. Well, Evelyn was having no parts of their nonsense and sent them on their way. And that was the purpose of my visit. Miss Evelyn called me the second the grave robbers left her house.

I finally caught up with the couple when I discovered their car parked near a funeral home. They’d planned to break in to steal someone’s dearly departed loved one. Fortunately, we stopped them before they committed the act.

So you see, folks, bizarre and morbid and spooky crime does not always come in the form of murder. Nor are the macabre criminals always the odd characters who reside at the spooky house at the end of the street.

This particular couple, the grave robbers, were as normal as your neighbors. Both were professionals with public jobs. They lived in a typical neighborhood and drove a normal car. However, the contents of their trunk was a bit different than most—shovels, picks, tools for prying open caskets, and a few human and animal bones scattered about. Other than that … as typical as you and I.

Well, perhaps we’re are not the best examples of normal, but you get the idea …


The Graveyard Shift wishes everyone a Happy Halloween! Have fun, but please stay safe. If trick or treating is in your plans this year, please utilize all health and safety precautions, including proper PPE and safe social distancing … and a healthy dose of common sense.

Halloween Safety Tips For Kids

– Avoid costumes that greatly reduce visibility or are too dark for motorists to see. Apply face paint instead. It’s safer than bulky masks.

– Plan the route you and your children will take well in advance. Tell someone else about those plans and what time you’ll return home.

– Stick to well-lit areas.

– Attach reflective tape to costumes.

– Use fire-resistant materials in costumes.

– Carry a flashlight or glow stick, but not a lighted candle. Candles are burn hazards.

– Trick-or-treat in groups, accompanied by at least one adult.

– Attach kid’s names, address, and phone number to their clothes in case they become separated from adults.

– Teach children to exit and enter vehicles from curbside, away from traffic.

– Stay on sidewalks as much as possible, and cross at corners. Do not walk between parked cars. Always look both ways before crossing.

– Children should not eat candy while out, until an adult examines it. Candy should not show signs of improper sealing, punctures, or holes.

– Do not allow children into apartment buildings unless accompanied by an adult, and only visit homes with outside lighting.

– Residents should remove obstacles and trip hazards, such as tools, ladders, and toys from their sidewalks, porches and front yards.

– Keep lighted jack-o-lanterns away from porches or other areas where they could ignite a low-hanging costume.

– Do NOT allow your kids to carry any toy gun as part of their costume, especially those toys that look like the real thing, even if the tips of the barrels are painted orange. The orange color doesn’t show well at night, if at all.

Halloween Safety Tips For Officers

Working as a police officer on Halloween poses special challenges. Think about it. In a world where someone wearing a mask is normally thought to be up to no good, you’re suddenly faced with scores of masked citizens. Kids are out and about darting in and out of traffic. They’re excited and and may not listen as well as they normally would, or should. And practical jokes often go horribly wrong. Needless to say, it can be a wild and trying night for cops.

Here’s a short list of tips for officers working the streets on one of their busiest nights of the year.

1. Stay alert. If it looks wrong, then it probably is.

2. Carry copies of outstanding warrants with you—the people you’ve been unable to locate. This is the one night when the dummies will probably answer the door thinking you’re a trick-or-treater.

3. Carry candy in your patrol car. It’s the perfect time to show kids that you’re really one of the good guys.

4. Keep an eye on lone costumed adults. They may be up to no good.

5. Watch out for people tossing things from overpasses. For some reason, Halloween seems to be THE night to bomb police cars with bricks, rocks, and pumpkins.

6. Be alert for kids and adults who wear actual guns as part of their costumes.

7. Park your patrol car and walk for a while. Mingle with the trick-or-treaters. Keep them safe. It also keeps the bad guys guessing your next move. Besides, it’s a good idea to mix things up. Patrol your areas in a different order. Never get into a set routine (this goes for the rest of the year, too).

8. Drive slower than normal. Watch for kids!

9. Keep an eye on the registered sex offenders in your area. They aren’t allowed to pass out candy. They shouldn’t be opening the door for any kids. And they shouldn’t have Halloween decorations displayed in their yard or on the house. Pay them a pre-Halloween visit to remind them of their court-ordered restrictions.

10. I preferred to patrol with my car window down, even in the winter time. Halloween is the only night of the year when I didn’t. Too many flying objects!

11. If possible, have extra officers working the streets on foot, in plain clothes.

12. Bring plenty of extra handcuffs. You’ll probably need them before the night is over.

13. Please, please, please wear your vest!

And to everyone else …

Female blowflies lay eggs, hundreds of them, on moist and juicy decaying matter that’s rich in microbes. These egg-laying sites include, among others, rotting food and the decomposing corpses of animals and humans.

Immediately after hatching, the creepy offspring of their fly parents—maggots—go to work using enzymes and bacteria to break down their food source into a mouthwatering broth.

Blowfly maggots consume their tasty meals much in the same way as gluttonous Sunday afternoon diners at all-you-can-five-dollar-buffets—heads down and without stopping to breathe.

Maggots, though, have an advantage over human buffet-eaters. They’re able to enjoy their feasts while simultaneously breathing through their specially adapted rear ends. Humans, however, are forced to come up for air at least once or twice during a roadside steakhouse feeding frenzy.

In addition to having poor table manners, maggots are a useful tool for homicide investigators. In fact, the first known instance of flies helping out in a murder case was during the 13th century, when Chinese judge Sung T’zu  investigated a fatal stabbing in a rice field.

Flies Don’t Lie

At the scene of the murder, judge Sung T’zu instructed each of the workers to lay down their sickles. Soon, attracted by the smell of blood, flies began landing on one of the sickles, but not the others. Sure, the murderer cleaned their weapon prior to the judge’s arrival, but the faint odor of the victim’s blood was still present. It was clear to T’zu who’d committed the killing. In 1247, T’zu wrote about the case in the book The Washing Away of Wrongs, the oldest known book on forensic medicine.

Today, in murder cases, a maggot’s rate of growth can help estimate time of death. For example, when detectives find maggots on a body that are in their early larvae stages, when they’re 5mm in length, officers then will have a pretty good idea that the victim has been deceased for only a day and a half, or so.

When maggots ingest human tissue as nourishment, they simultaneously absorb remnants of substances previously consumed by the deceased, such as illegal and prescription drugs, and poisons. Subsequently, traces of those substances are retained within the bodies and exoskeletons of the maggots.

An insect’s hard external skeleton is made of chitin, a substance that’s similar to the keratin protein from which hair is formed. Since an insect’s chitin stores consumed toxins for a long time, and blowfly maggots shed their exoskeletons twice as it passes through each of three larval stages, a toxicology analyses of those exoskeletons could be helpful in determining the drug use of the victim, poisoning as a murder weapon, and more. This is an especially important tool when working with skeletal remains. In fact, a forensic analysis of insects is more dependable than hair as a means to detect drug use immediately prior to death.

Mummy-“Flied”

How long are substances (toxins, etc.) retained in an insects exoskeleton? Shed fly puparial cases been used for toxicological studies of mummified bodies found weeks, months, an even years after death. Some scientists believe it’s possible to detect drugs in the insects associated with ancient skeletal remains. After all, cocaine has been discovered in the hair of 3,000-year-old Peruvian mummies, so why not the same for the bugs who once feasted on those bodies?

Most evidence, of course, comes from live maggots collected from the body at the crime scene. Those specimens are gathered by crime scene investigators and transported to a forensics laboratory for testing. The trick is keeping the wiggly maggots alive until an analysis is performed. Therefore, some scientists recommend that crime scene investigators stock cans of tuna as part of their evidence collection kits.

Pop the top on the can and maggots are then able to feed on the tuna until they’re properly secured and handled by a qualified forensic entomologist.

It’s also important to place maggots in a container with air holes (even though they breathe through their butts, they’ve still got to breathe to survive).

Now, who’s having tuna for lunch today?

Yum …