The call came in as “Shots fired. Several people injured.”

The news, however, was nothing new. Hell, it was Saturday night. Well, technically it was Sunday morning—2 a.m. It would be, after all, a rare occurrence if closing time at Fat Freddie’s Hip Hop Lounge passed by without some sort of fracas—cuttings, stabbings, fist-fights, shootings, or any combination thereof.

In fact, I’m the not so proud owner of a nice scar across the palm of my right hand that I received on Fat Freddie’s dance floor while taking a rather large knife from a guy who believed he was tougher than all other humans on the planet. Unfortunately for him, it was the liquor he’d consumed that placed the foolish notion in his head.

Back to the night in question. I and another deputy, Sam Steele (not his real name), were on patrol out in the county and, since closing time at Freddie’s was a part of our weekend agenda, we were already headed in that direction.

As soon as the dispatcher mentioned the name of the club. I switched on my lights and siren and stepped on the gas.

“10-4, en route,” said Sam in the typical monotone voice that’s so often heard coming from police scanners.

“I’m also en route,” I said into my mic. “Send rescue, but have them wait down the road until we send for them. It might not be safe.” A moment later the dispatcher paged EMS and fire.

A trooper who was running radar on the interstate called asking if we needed backup. I said yes and he told me that he was twenty minutes away, at best.

Freddie’s parking lot was filled with screaming and yelling people running in all directions. Looked like hundreds of angry, drunken fire ants after someone kicked over their mound. Cars nearly rammed us as they left with tires yelping against the asphalt pavement. I threaded my patrol car through the crowd and traffic, stopping near the front entrance, a set of double doors that had been freed from their hinges by the escaping crowd of panicked people.

Sam and I arrived at the same time. I from one direction and he from the opposite. The moment we stepped out of our cars we immediately heard a couple of bursts of automatic gunfire. Dirt exploded near our feet. My first thought was of my Kevlar vest lying under my bed at home. It was a hot night and I’d decided not to wear it. Dumb. Dumb. And DUMB.

Sam dove inside his car. My portable radio crackled then I heard Sam calling for backup, an almost a moot request. I saw Sam clutching his in-car mic as he began shouting “Mayday! Mayday!” Later, I learned that the gunfire sent poor Sam back to his days on the battlefield, and it was his unchecked PTSD that caused the unexpected and untimely mini breakdown. Besides, if we wanted help we’d have to wait for the lone state trooper to drive in from his ticket-writing location out on the interstate. Of course, a nearby city could send some of their officers out to help, but they were even further away. But I knew the incident would surely be over before help arrived. What “over” meant for Sam and me, I didn’t know at that point.

I ran toward the building.

With gun in hand I went up the front steps and into the building. A woman whose hairdo resembled an inverted hornets’ nest piled on top of her head, pushed past me while screeching “He gotta gun, he gotta gun! Her size too small tiger print skirt and spiked heels made for difficult running, but she deserved an “A” for effort.

The dance floor was littered with 9mm bullet casings, plastic cups, beer bottles, melting ice, crack pipes, cigarette butts, plastic baggies, and blood. Not my idea of a party.

Other than the bartenders, DJ, and a couple members of the club’s security team who emerged from a door at the side of the stage, the place was empty of people, including, the shooter. However, one of the heavily muscled bouncers identified him as Shelton Johnson, a local drug dealer. Apparently, he’d slipped outside with the stampeding herd of people exiting the building. The injured folks had also been taken away.

The unwritten rule at Freddie’s, and similar clubs, was to remove the wounded so they couldn’t talk to the police. Yet, I knew I’d soon find each of them in the hospital emergency room and they’d be easy to spot. They’re the folks at the ends of the freshly-leaked blood trails that lead from the parking lot, through the ER doors, onto the polished floor tiles, to the moaning and groaning men and women who’re dressed for a night on the dance floor. Of course, bullet wounds are also good indicators.

An hour or so after arriving at Fat Freddie’s, Sam and I located Johnson driving through one of the neighborhoods he claimed as his territory. After a brief pursuit he stopped his car and fired a short burst of bullets in our direction. He dropped the gun, a fully automatic Uzi and, as they do, he ran.

The foot pursuit was a short one, two blocks or so, and I caught him and had him cuffed just before Sam reached us. He and I helped the little darling to his feet and led him back to my car.

For all the chaos and injuries he’d caused, the judge sentenced Mr. Johnson to one year in jail with eight months suspended. Two days after his release he drove by my house and fired a single shot through our bedroom window.

And people wonder why I don’t give out my personal information. Geez …

* This is a true story. The names of the players and business have been changed to protect the innocent … me.

 

Experts are often asked what kind of entrance and exit wounds are produced by various types of ammunition. The rounds in the photograph below contain 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

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 which, by the way, is very near, if not identical to, the size of the bullet that punctured 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 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 the 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.

Remember yesterday’s article where I detailed the parts of a cartridge? The bullet is the projectile portion of a cartridge, not the entire round.

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 the officer 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 charged 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

As police officers, we’re often presented with the opportunity to meet various celebrities and other important people. Sometimes, we’re even placed in the unfortunate position of having to arrest a few of those VIP’s.

For example, I once served as training officer to a rookie who stopped a large, fancy tour bus for speeding, and the officer was quite surprised to see one of his favorite musicians behind the wheel—a very famous musician. The singer/guitarist was quick to announce his identity, as if the verbal identification had been necessary, hoping his fame would be enough to satisfy the appetite of the officer’s squalling radar unit.

The still wet-behind-the-ears officer, totally starstruck, tongue-tied, and rubber-kneed in the presence of the legend of stage and Radioland, immediately knew what he had to do. That’s right, my babbling trainee, with the speed and grace of a wild cheetah, was quick to snag the driver’s autograph, and then send the celebrity and his bus on their way to the next concert on the tour. And, when the officer returned to our patrol car he was grinning from ear to ear, like a mule eating briars.

The rookie officer shoved the signature-clad paper into my hands so I, too, could have a look at his prize. Sure enough, scrawled across the bottom of the traffic summons was the signature of one of the all-time greats of the music world. A golden voice and fancy guitar, though, do not qualify as exemptions to posted speed limits, especially when driving 82mph in a 45mph zone. I’d taught the young officer well.

Of course, I’ve had my own share of encounters with well-known celebrities and other people of fame, and such was the case of the man from Mars who insisted his use of a rusty ax to hack his sister-in-law to death was a direct order from his superiors on the red planet.

“You see,” he told me, “she wouldn’t allow the mother ship to return to earth. I had no choice. She’s evil, you know. Besides, she wouldn’t give me no money for cigarettes.”

Then there was the time I responded to the call of a man walking in the median between the north and southbound lanes of a major interstate highway. When I finally located the man, I pulled my patrol car off the roadway and approached on foot. He stood waiting for me in the center of the median strip, in the soft light of a near full moon. My gaze was immediately drawn to his sandal-clad feet and long, wavy brown hair fluttering gently in the night breeze. He held out his right hand for me to shake and, in an unusually soothing and calm voice, introduced himself as …

I must admit, I paused for a second before moving along to serious questions, like, “Do you have any identification?” Of course, when I did ask, he gave me that look. You know the one. The “Seriously, you need to see MY identification?” look. Well, as luck would have it, the guy wasn’t the Son of God after all. Instead, he was a slightly out of touch homeless man from Richmond who actually thought he was Jesus. And to think that I could have been the first in line to meet Him when He returned.

Of course, there was Elvis, the rock and roll legend I had to remove from an elderly lady’s refrigerator once or twice each month so she could watch TV without the interruption of endless choruses of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Not to mention how annoying it can be when Elvis slips in behind the cheesecake to steal our radio and TV signals.

 

Things could have been worse, I suppose. At least I never encountered one of today’s politicians. Although, I did stop the speeding car of a diplomat, and that was a can of worms I wished I’d not opened. And then there was the time I arrested a man who was wanted by the Secret Service and FBI for threatening to kill President Clinton.

If my handcuffs could talk … oh, the stories they could tell.

It’s often the tiniest of details that’ll pique a reader’s interest in your work. Those elements, by design, just might make a lasting fan out of someone who recognizes that you’ve done your homework, and that you know how to subtly weave fact into fiction.

Like a well-rehearsed performance of Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II by The Philadelphia Orchestra, where we as concert-goers don’t see all the behind the scenes practice time that goes into scores such as The Rabbit of Seville, and Rhapsody Rabbit, a seasoned cop’s daily motions come with ease, as should the scenes you create where officers make arrests and carry out other duties that come with the job.

Cops perform certain tactics and techniques on a regular basis—handcuffing, using the car radio, pat-down searches, etc. They do these things so often that they could almost perform them in their sleep.

They rehearse tactics and techniques at the academy through role-playing. They practice what they’re taught, in their minds. They run through scenarios in their thoughts. All of this to prepare them for the big show—the encounter with that person or people who violently resist arrest, or those who simply want to hurt or kill a police officer.

That sense of “comes naturally” is the feel that fictional characters should exhibit on the page.

Detail, detail, detail

Living, breathing, pulse-pounding detail hooks the reader by thumping their hearts and increasing their respirations. Details that cause them to grip the book a bit tighter when the danger level is high and then reduces the tension when it’s done. It’s a rollercoaster ride that hinges on a writer’s ability to conduct a harmonious symphony of words, from the first moment through the last.

So, just as conductor George Daugherty and The Philadelphia Orchestra leads the audience on a speculator journey with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Pepe Le Pew, Tweety, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, and the Road Runner, writers should compose their stories in a manner that leads the reader on an eye-popping emotional journey, a trip they want to take and won’t soon forget.

Readers want writers to stimulate their senses. They want and need to know your characters on a personal level. And you definitely want readers to step into and immerse themselves into your carefully crafted stories. It’s an escape from reality that must begin with a passion to tell a tale.

 

Ask Yourself the Important Questions

So, in order to add those tiniest of important details needed to breathe true life into your cop characters, you should ask yourself a few basic questions, such as:

How should officers position themselves when making an arrest?

Answer– Always, always, always stand with their gun sides AWAY from the suspect. This is especially important when the subject is combative/resisting.

Which areas of an arrested subject should an officer search for weapons? Is there a standard procedure?

Answer – Start with the most obvious locations first—the waistband, of course, and this is especially so when dealing with male subjects. The waistband seems to be their go-to area of choice when concealing a weapon.

Each officer should establish a routine as to how they conduct searches of a person. By doing so the chance of missing an area is greatly decreased.

For example, after searching the waist and leg areas (boot knives and holsters are good hiding spots for weapons such as small guns and edged weapons).

For example, after first handcuffing the subject and then checking those main spots—the waist and leg areas (for guns and edged weapons), I moved to the top where I began the overall secondary, intensive search, starting beneath hats and working my way down until I reached the ground, leaving no area untouched, and that includes a firm hand in the groin area. This, believe me, is not the time to be shy. I’ve found more than one handgun and or/drugs hidden inside pants and underwear.

No item should be left in pockets and no portion of the body or clothing should be left untouched, including hair, mouth, hands (have them unclench closed fists, sleeves, torso, and socks and shoes!

Another point to note is that when officers hand over a suspect to another officer, the second/receiving officer should conduct another detailed search of the suspect. I know, it seems redundant, but it’s not worth risking your life by depending upon the potential sloppy search, or no search, by another human. Anyone, even the best of the best humans could make a mistake.

What are some of the danger signs officers look for when making arrests, or when simply speaking with suspects and some witnesses?

Answer – There are many, so I’ll mention only a few of the basics, such as:

A person wearing a coat during the summertime. This could indicate the subject is armed and is using the outer garnet to conceal the weapon. The same is true when a person touches an area on their waistband or moves a hand toward the area, or that a shirttail is untucked on one side. Or even when a person’s clothing “appears” a bit heavier on one side. Sometimes, the shape of a gun’s grips/an outline is noticeable  beneath the material.

Pockets that appear heavier than normal. Sagging due to a heavy object inside could indicate the presence of a weapon. Keep in mind that even heavy objects such as rocks and bottles can and are used as instruments of death. Yes, a rock can kill, and has, when used with enough force.

Many, if not most of the “killed in the line of duty” deaths occur during an officer’s initial approach to a subject. This is why it is imperative that the officer quickly, almost within the blink of an eye, size up the person and then formulate a plan. Remember, no two situations are perfectly identical nor are two people the same in every way. So quick thinking and a plan are necessary.

It’s a given that it’s rude to not look someone in the eye when speaking to them. But eyes cannot hurt us. Therefore, officers should always, always, always watch the hands of a suspect/subject. Next, watch the feet. They, too, can be used as powerful weapons.

Still, a suspect’s eye movements often telegraph their next move, such as constantly glancing toward an officer’s sidearm may indicate the person could be planning an attempt to grab the gun. Or, they could searching for an avenue of escape or that a partner is sneaking up behind the officer’s back.

The combination of potential hazards explains the need for officers to forever scan their surroundings, Ambush attacks are common, and they’re deadly.

Officers should have a backup plan in case Plan A fails. And never hesitate to retreat if a situation becomes unmanageable and/or unsafe.

When in doubt call for backup!

How important is firearm maintenance?

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Coast Guard Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Cameron Hutchens of Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) 91103, deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, cleans an M-9 pistol.

Answer – Officers should maintain their weapons in excellent, tip-top condition. They should make certain that all firearms are clean, oiled, and operate properly. And they should practice their shooting skills on a regular basis. Shooting practice should include scenario-based training, not simply going to the range and popping 60 holes in a stationary paper target once each year during the required annual qualifying session. After all, how many times have you heard of an officer being killed by a non-moving sheet of paper?

The same is true of vehicles and other emergency tools and equipment. Maintenance and practice, practice, practice driving skills, as well as other tactics, such as building entries, etc. PRACTICE!!

What are some things that officers overlook when making an arrest?

Answer – Officers sometime become complacent. It’s easy to do when doing the same thing day after day after day. Unfortunately, when an officer is careless and, say, skips searching the crotch area of an arrested subject because he was too embarrassed to put a hand “there,” well, it could be the last mistake he’ll ever make when the guy reaches into his pants to retrieve a hidden .380.

Working Overtime and Second and Even Third Jobs

This isn’t so much “overlooking something” as it is being careless, but many officers often tend to work while excessively sleepy and/or tired. Their pay level is sometimes not so desirable so they work a lot of voluntary overtime to help make ends meet. Some even work second or third jobs.

When I worked at a sheriff’s office I also worked extra jobs. When I signed off after working night shifts I immediately drove to a motel where I worked another shift there performing maintenance work—repairing leaky pipes, painting, drywall, electrical work, etc.  I attended classes, studied hard, and took and passed the test to become a licensed electrician. I also took care of all lawn maintenance and gardening. I did the same at a local college. And, I taught beginning, intermediate, and advanced guitar courses at the college.

Sometimes, on our days off, three of us deputies took on roofing jobs. We’d remove shingles and old paper on one day and haul them to the landfill after we’d finished (sometimes it was after dark when we were done). We’d then install new paper and shingles on the second day. It was exhausting and hot work. Making it even more tiring was that many times we were scheduled to work night shift after the second day of roofing work, or the night before the job was to begin.

I maintained this schedule for a few years, all while as a single dad. Yet, I made time to attend my daughter’s school functions and sports activities. She was a star softball player who was, during her high school years, recruited by the U.S. army to play ball for them. I can’t remember ever missing a home game, even if it meant attending in uniform with my ear glued to my radio.

I did the same (attend school function and games, etc.) when I left the sheriff’s office to work for a city police department. As a police detective, I attended many games with a gun and badge strapped to my belt with my unmarked car parked near enough that I could easily sprint to it, if necessary. I’ve left more than one game with blue lights winking and blinking and flashing.

Working a job where your life could be threatened at any time requires a person to be on top of his/her game. Working long, stressful hours with little sleep is not an idea scenario, but I, like many parents, did what I had to do to make certain my daughter had a roof over her head, clothes on her back, food in her belly, and shoes on her feet. I also practiced officer safety at all times to make certain she’d have a father.

Everything, Anyone, and Anything Could be Hazardous!

Overlooking the obvious is something that happens a lot. Just as I suggest to you that writing important details are, well, important, officers must take that to another level. For them, everything and everyone should be considered a danger until it’s proven that it’s not.

Hiding behind things such drywall and plywood works as concealment, but not as true cover. Bullets slice through both items as if they weren’t there. So find the best possible cover to protect against gunfire.

I’ve seen officers run to a downed man as if the danger ceased immediately once the suspect hit the dirt. NO!

This is an extremely perilous time. Always assume the suspect is still armed and capable of shooting and killing. Approach with caution, still using cover and concealment, if possible, until you’re certain the threat has ceased to exist. Keep in mind that the downed person may still have a hidden weapon and is pretending to be incapacitated.

Officers, never let down your guard. Not ever.

Finally, here’s Bugs to wrap up the day …

 


Don’t forget, the fabulous Writers’ Police Academy Online seminar takes place this Saturday, December 5th, 2020. Sign up today to attend this incredible live and interactive daylong session featuring acclaimed experts in their fields.

This is a unique opportunity that may never come your way again!

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Good action scenes—car chases, gunfights, and exploding cars and buildings—are great at keeping readers busy turning pages. But, how does your hero survive the barrage of bullets, flames, and KABOOMS?

Are you giving the star of your book a realistic way out of the tough jams you’ve tossed her way? Is what you’ve written a true tactical maneuver or, did you write yourself into a tired old cliche’ corner? You know what I mean—the karate chop to the wrist that forces the bad guy to drop his weapon. How about this doozy … shooting the gun out of the villain’s hand. Yeah, those things. The things that are not only far-fetched, they’re downright silly.

As writers of fiction it is your job and sworn duty to deliver believable make-believe, and having your character(s) shoot the gun out of someone’s hand is far from achieving that goal. So, you ask, how do real-life heroes avoid meeting untimely ends when confronted with deadly situations? Well …

  • When confronting a long-gun-wielding suspect (shotguns and rifles are long guns) it’s best to have the hero approach from the side. Doing so forces the crook to turn his entire body toward the approaching hero in order to continue the threat/potential shootout. Otherwise, the thug has no option other than to flee or surrender. The tactic also allows time for the hero to react to the threat.
  • If possible, place your hero in a good light. Make use of bright lights, such as a setting sun or bright early morning sunlight. The light should be at the hero’s back, shining into the eyes of the bad guy, making it difficult for them to see clearly. The hero, though, will have no trouble seeing the crook. However, don’t allow your protagonist to stand in a position where she/he is backlit, making their silhouette a perfect target.
  • It’s okay to have your hero experience a bit of fear because fear heightens our sense of awareness, which in turn increases the likelihood that we’ll do whatever is necessary to survive. However, fear can have a negative effect if allowed to overtake the situation. In short, a little fear is good, but too much fear combined with gunfire is the recipe for a badge-wearing babbling idiot.
  • If possible, your heroes should focus on breathing during deadly encounters. Yes, breathing properly during a tense situation can help bring things into perspective. It can also help lower the heart rate, and it can prevent fear from morphing into blind rage (sudden bursts of anger could lead to avoidable disaster—not thinking clearly and perhaps rush into a no-win situation.

Taking a moment to focus on combat breathing—breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold your breath for another count of four, and then exhale to a third four-count. Count to four and then start all over again. The heart rate should be noticeably lower after a few repetitions. Of course, I don’t recommend taking the time to perform these deep-breathing exercises during a gunfight with bullets zinging by your ears. It’s been my personal experience that “timeouts” are not allowed during gun battles.

Okay, there you have it. So no more silly karate-chop scenes or shooting guns from bad guy’s hands, right? Good. Then you’re all set.

Don’t Write Your Hero Into the Dreaded Cliche’ Corner!

I can’t recall ever seeing an extremely scared, deep-breathing Jack Reacher standing with bright sunlight to his back while walking sideways like crab toward a guy holding an AK-47.

I suppose an occasional fist to the throat, or a boot to the head is permissible, but only if you’re the hero in a Lee Child book. The trouble is, there’s only one Jack Reacher, and there’s definitely only one Lee Child. Well, now there’s Andrew Child, so …

Police officers are expected to follow and enforce many rules, laws, and ordinances. The penalties and punishments for straying from those regulations can be quite severe.

In addition to the written requirements are numerous “unwritten guidelines” to assist officers as they carry out their duties. Here’s a list of ten.

1. No matter how big, tough, or strong an officer may think they are, they should never, not ever, underestimate the strength of criminal suspects, especially those who’re hellbent on escaping custody. Even the little ones, the guys who are smaller in stature, are quite capable of inflicting enormous amounts of pain. The same is true of females of various sizes.

Even the tiniest woman who’s wearing a polka dot mini skirt has the ability to punch and kick and deliver massive amounts of pain like a seasoned MMA fighter(this one I speak of from experience). Actually, I believe the hardest I’ve ever been hit was by a woman who didn’t take too kindly to me arresting her extremely combative adult son. The young man, by the way, had just committed an armed robbery and I’d chased him on foot for several blocks. The foot pursuit ended inside the home of his dear and sweet Mama, a 225 lb. woman with a fist like steel and the punch of a jack hammer.

2. Crooks sometimes make really stupid comments, so keep your ears open. Listen to your suspects and witnesses. After all, you just may hear a few comments like I did back in the day. Such as …

“Come on, man. I spent my last twenty bucks on that rock. At least let me smoke it before you take me to jail.”

“I didn’t rob that guy. The one I robbed had blonde hair.”

“He was already dead when I shot him. I think he had a heart attack or something when he saw my gun.”

“I was not driving that get-a-way car. The one I was driving when we robbed that store was a Mustang.”

“He couldn’t have recognized me. I was wearing a mask.”

3. Never engage in a foot pursuit when you have a perfectly healthy rookie riding shotgun.

4. If you have to shoot back more than 6 times the bad guy can still see you. Move to better cover.

5. The raincoat in your trunk is meant for the rookie riding in your passenger seat. No need for both of you to stand in the downpour. Besides, someone has to listen for important radio messages and finish the coffee before it gets cold. Waste not, want not.

6. Flashlights are dual-purpose tools. The handle end is great for ending confrontations. When the delivery is just right, it sounds kind of like an aluminum baseball bat hitting a softball when the battery-filled tube connects with a forehead. The other end is perfect for helping you see (in the dark) the crook’s eyes spinning like windmills after the little “love tap.”

*Many departments forbid the use of flashlights as weapons. Sometimes, though, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to stay alive.

7. Never rush into a fight-in-progress. Instead, wait a few seconds to let the two goons wear themselves out. Then, like a lion after its prey, you can grab the one who’s the most tired and wounded while the rookie gets the still-fighting gorilla.

8. Never leave your patrol car, even for a second, with the keys in it. There’s nothing worse than chasing a bad guy on foot, wrestling with him for ten minutes to apply restraints, then marching the handcuffed thug back to the empty spot where you know you left your car. I promise you’ll hear howls of laughter from the bad guy, who, by the way, will remind you for the rest of your career of “the day you lost your police car.” He’ll shout it from the curbside, the jail cell, from his prison window, and from his mother’s front porch.

9. Be sure you never write a check with your mouth that your rear end can’t cash. There’s nothing worse than talking a big game only to find yourself sitting on the pavement looking up at a laughing bad guy who’s now holding your only pair of handcuffs. And, the bruised ego is far worse than the black eye.

10. When you and your fellow first responder are in the process of arresting a combative slimeball-scumbag, always know who’s spraying the “hot sauce.” It’s a real pain in the rear when the bad guy ducks at the precise moment both of you squeeze the buttons on your cans of pepper spray. Ever try arresting a guy when neither you nor your partner can see anything? It’s not pretty.

A dog’s nose is its superpower. In fact, it’s so powerful that a dog could, if it desired to do so, detect a single spoonful of sugar in a million gallons of water (two Olympic-size pools).

As a former K-9 handler, tales (pun intended) of amazing sniffers fascinate me. For example, the dog who detected 35 pounds of marijuana wrapped in watertight material and submerged in a car’s gas tank that was filled to the brim with gasoline. Another dog, a cancer-sniffing dog insisted that a spot on a patient’s skin was melanoma, a place that doctors had pronounced as cancer-free. Finally, after more testing, a biopsy confirmed melanoma in a small fraction of the cells. This SuperDog, of course, dropped the mic and left the building.

So, in the field, how do dogs use that extraordinary group of sensors to zero-in on their targets (narcotics for drug-detection dogs, explosive for bomb dogs, etc.).

This is where Scent Cones come into play. Before we dive in completely, first remember that the best conditions for a dog to search (outdoors) is when the temperatures are cool, but rising slightly, a bit of humidity, and little or no wind. Wind is not a friend, but doesn’t stop the dogs from getting the job done. It does, however, alter the direction of the scent cone.

A scent cone is simply an imaginary cone-shaped area that begins at the source of the odor/scent (a body, drugs, a firearm, explosives, etc.).

The handler ideally starts the dog in a position that’s downwind from the area to be searched. If the area is hilly and the temperatures are hot, the dog should start in an elevated position since the air (scents) will be rising.

Once in position, the dog heads toward the scent, criss-crossing its way back and forth through the scent cone. I know, clear as mud, right? Let me see if I can find that sketch … Okay, I have it and I’ve taped below to help you better understand how this works.

Okay, the dog starts its search at the wide end of the scent cone (to the right in the image). –>

The cone represents the space the scent travels along the breeze/air. It’s strongest in the center, but gradually fades the further you move away from the middle of the cone.

Therefore, when we see the dogs running back back and forth, what they’re actually doing is running until they no longer smell their target. When that happens they make a U-turn and run in the opposite direction until they no longer smell it in that direction. Then they once again turn and go in the opposite direction until they scent is no longer detected. They continue this pattern all while moving closer and closer to the scent. As they move toward the scent as it grows stronger and as a result the cone becomes smaller.

Finally, they reach their target and the handler gives them their toy as a reward for doing a fantastic job. The toy, after all, is what they’re after. Not a dead body or a package of cocaine. Finding the target of their search is merely the means they use to get to their beloved toy and a bit of fun time with their handler. Believe me, these dogs are full of energy and they love to run and play and jump and … well, they love being dogs, and that’s part of what keeps them in such great shape, physically.

Remember, scent cones move with the breezes, heat, cool, etc. Dogs know where to go and what to do. If mistakes are made, they’re made by handlers who think they know more than their dogs. We don’t. As my instructor at the Virginia State Police Academy used to tell us, “The dogs are on the smart end of the leashes, not you. Stop trying to think and trust your dogs!” Then we’d run a zillion miles. It was his gentle method of helping those words sink in.

See, Lieutenant, it worked. I still remember!

It’s time to reach for the emergency switch that’s hidden beneath my desk, the switch that sends out a high-voltage shock to the writers who refuse to listen to the experts. You know who you are. You sit on your couches eating popcorn while watching fictional police-type TV shows, scribbling away as fast as your little fingers can write, making notes for your next scene. Well, let me be the first to say … STOP IT! There’s a reason they call that stuff fiction. Yes, someone made it up for our enjoyment. You know, like when you write a book based on the characters who live and work and play inside your minds. They’re not real and neither is a lot of the stuff you see on TV. Shocking, I know.

So, if you’re going for law-enforcement-realism I suggest you ask an expert—someone who’s actually in the business. Not an actor. Not someone who read about the subject matter and then wrote about it. Not someone whose sister’s husband’s cousin is married to a guy who knew a guy who worked in an auto parts store a block over from the police station.

No, you need to talk to someone who actually lives the life and has hands-on experience. Think about it … everyone (hopefully) uses a toilet during the course of a day, but that doesn’t make them an expert on plumbing. And when you need someone to work on that toilet you don’t call the guy from the auto parts store, right? Nope, you call a plumber. So why do you insist on relying on actors and screenwriters for your police information?

Anyway, here are a few things I’ve seen lately (again) that should never make it into your stories.

1. Cops DO NOT purposely shoot to wound. They’re not trained to do it, and they don’t. Police officers are taught to shoot center mass (the largest area) of their target.

And to be sure you understand where center mass is located, it’s the large hole in the target above. Again, cops do not shoot at arms, hands, guns, legs, and fingers. Not on purpose, anyway.

To learn more about why police officers aim for center mass and NOT please click this link to an earlier article.

SHOOT ‘EM IN THE ARM OR LEG?

2. Revolvers DO NOT automatically eject spent brass (cartridges). Pistols (semi-automatics) and automatic weapons do.

Do your stories sometimes include the use of handguns? Well …

REVOLVER V. PISTOL: DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE?

3. Cops always keep a round in the chamber of their weapons. Therefore, they DO NOT pull the slide back on their pistol when they’re about to enter a dangerous situation. To do so would eject a live round (bullet) from their weapon, leaving them one bullet shy of a full magazine. I already know quite a few cops who are one bullet shy of a full magazine. We don’t need more.

Someone once wrote me to say I didn’t know what I was talking about when I said that police officers always carry their handguns fully loaded, with a round in the chamber. They continued the rant by telling me (IN ALL CAPS) that it’s against the law to carry a live round in the chamber, even for a police officer.

Anyway, yes, police officers keep a round chambered at all times (with the safety off, if equipped). In fact, it’s almost second nature to do this when loading a weapon.

When you ask an officer how many rounds he/she carries in his/her weapon they’ll often respond with an answer something like, “Fifteen plus one.” This means they have a full magazine containing fifteen rounds and one in the chamber. Some officers take the answer one step further and include, “Plus I’m carrying two full magazines on my belt. That’s fifteen rounds each, for a total of forty-six rounds, including what’s in my pistol. Yep, I’m carrying forty-six rounds, four short of an entire box of ammunition.”

When loading their weapons, officers first insert fifteen bullets into the magazine. Then they shove the full magazine into the pistol, pull back the slide and then release it, which loads a round into the chamber. Then they eject the magazine and replace the round that was loaded into the chamber. They now have a pistol that’s loaded to 15+1, or whatever number of rounds their particular weapon holds.

Carrying a fully loaded handgun, with a round in the chamber, decreases the amount of time an officer needs to react when involved in a deadly shooting situation. The time an officer spends placing a round in the chamber could be the amount of time it takes to save his/her life.

When under fire, the last thing you want to do is to use up precious time chambering a round.

Did you know that a police officer’s quickest reaction time (based on a study of 46 trained officers), when they already know a threat is present, AND, with their finger already on the trigger, is 0.365 seconds. That’s far less than half the very brief time it takes to say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the silly word from the Mary Poppins film. This reaction time does not include time to stop, draw a weapon from its holster, take aim, yell a bunch of commands, check for passersby, look for accomplices, and, well, you get the idea.

To read more about reaction time, please click this link.

SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS: THE TIME IT TAKES TO DIE, SEVERAL TIMES

4. Cops DO NOT “thumb off” the safety when they’re entering a dangerous situation. Police officers DO NOT carry their weapons with the safeties engaged (on). Their duty weapon must be ready to fire at all times. That extra second it takes to think about flipping off a safety could cost them their life. That’s if they remember to do it at all while under fire. Believe it or not, folks, bullets flying around your head is actually pretty stressful, so you may not be thinking all that clearly. Also, please do a little research about the weapon carried by your protagonist. It may not even have a safety SIG Sauers, for example, do not.

5. Revolvers typically DO NOT have safeties.

6. Prisons are NOT country clubs. Even the lower-level federal prisons are tough. Sure, there are fewer restrictions and less supervision in the camps, but living in a locked building and having minimal food tossed your way a couple of times a day ain’t exactly living like a king.

7. It’s a rare occurrence, if ever, for an officer to come from one department and go to another and start out as a detective. Typically, one starts at the bottom and works their way back up the ladder.

8. The FBI does not ride into town and take over cases from small town police departments. They’re not some omniscient “see all” entity that knows when every single crime occurs. Someone from that town would have to call them and ASK for their assistance. Sure, they’ll help, and they’re great about doing so. Besides, as a rule, they don’t work murder cases.

Every officer in every single police department in this country is perfectly capable of investigating their own cases. Yes, their resources may be limited, but they have the knowledge and training to investigate crime. By the way, FBI agents do not have authority over local police officers. So please don’t have them ordering the local sheriff around. It does not happen like that in real life.

9. Yes, there is a provision in the law that allows a police officer to deputize a private citizen in an extreme emergency. Does this happen? Rarely, if ever. Sometimes investigators call on various experts for their assistance and advice, but there’s no need to deputize them, and they don’t. If the officer(s) needs more hands to work a case, they’ll simply call on a neighboring jurisdiction—sheriff’s office, state police, or another town. Now that does happen quite often. But to deputize a private citizen … nope.

10. Finally, please DO NOT give your readers an informational overload. Realism is very important, but to write something that belongs in a gun catalog … not good. Don’t bore your readers. You DO NOT need to show off your extensive knowledge of a particualr subject matter.

For example:

Bobbie Sue climbed into the pilot’s seat. Her best friend, Bucky McDoodoo, slid into the other. She’s never flown a plane before, but she’d seen grownups do it on TV, so how difficult could it be? She glanced around, her eyes taking in all the shiny buttons and gleaming dials and gauges. The 1978 Cessna 185 Skywagon N44TU, with its fixed landing gear, 300 horsepower (for takeoff), and 88 gallon fuel tank, would be perfect for the fun afternoon she had in mind. I mean, what other tiny plane with an overall length of 25ft. 8in. and a wingspan of 35′-10″ could tool along at a cruising speed of 145mph with a range of 645 miles. And all for only $130,000. What a deal!

Bobbie Sue giggled, barely able to contain her excitement, as she began to search for the ignition key and CD player. “Hang on, Bucky. Here we go!” she said.


Just for fun … An Eyewitness

 

You’ve had a long night answering call after call—he-saids, she-saids, chasing a Peeping Tom through back yards and alleys, a couple of drunks arguing over a near-empty bottle of Ripple, kids spray-painting stop signs, and the guy who insisted he was Jesus and attempted to prove it by damning you to hell a few dozen times after you refused to give him ten dollars.

Yep, a looonnnggg night and it was only half over when Jimmy Bob “Peanut” Jenkins, Jr. decided to join forces with his good friend Jack Daniels to blacken both his wife’s eyes. Well, Erlene, the wife, wasn’t about to stand for that so she poked ‘ol Peanut in the gut a couple of times with a dull kitchen knife. Didn’t break the skin, mind you, but the act was just enough to send Peanut off the deep end. Oh, he was plenty mad about it, yellin’ and screamin’ and stompin’ his steel-toed Doc Martens across the linoleum, kicking at Porkchop, the family’s three-legged dog, along the way. But Porkchop, having been to this freak show one too many times in the past, knew to stay six or seven dog-dish-lengths away from his owner’s size twelves.

After about ten minutes of plate, bowl, and pot-and-pan-throwing, one of the kids, a snot-nosed, freckle-faced boy of around ten or so, picked up the cordless and punched the speed dial button for 911.

And that’s where you, Officer Save M. All, show up. And Peanut, a Friday night regular, meets you in the driveway, huffing and puffing like an old-time, coal-fired locomotive engine.

Now things are a bit dicey, with Peanut pounding his chest like a gorilla on meth. It’s best to run down the checklist before diving right in. You know, size him up. Is Peanut armed this time? Is he really going to attack? Or, is all that chest-thumping and Tarzan-yelling just a show for the neighbors? Well, you’d better find out in a hurry because he’s starting to spin like the Tasmanian Devil.

So how can you tell if this guy means business, or not?

Well, there are a few telltale signs that could help you evaluate the situation. And, since weapons and other items that are capable of puncturing your flesh, bones, and organs should be your first concern, here are some common indicators that Peanut is carrying a hidden gun or knife.

1. It’s 97 degrees outside and Peanut, standing smack-dab in the center of the intersection at 9th and Main, is wearing his heavily-insulated, knee-length, blood-stained orange hunting coat. Yes, Einstein, he’s probably wearing it to hide a sawed-off shotgun, the one Daddy gave him for Christmas when he was three.

2. The tail of his flannel shirt is out, but one side is riding higher than the other. A great sign that he’s wearing a weapon on the “high side.”

3. Even wearing a shirt tail on the outside is a sign that he might be carrying a weapon. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign known to bad guys, which means they might recognize you as an undercover officer.

Now, the signs that Peanut Jenkins is about to attempt to stomp your butt into the mud …

1. For some unknown reason, many offenders/would-be attackers seem to feel the need to rip off their shirts prior to delivering the first blow. So, when a drunk starts ripping cloth and zinging buttons across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, well, that might be a good time to reach for the pepper spray because he’s subtly announced his intentions.

The standard shirt-ripping ritual is usually accompanied by lots of top-of-the-lung screaming and yelling, especially nasty comments about your spouse and mother. Nasty comments about the family dog are optional.

2. Another clue that Peanut is about “go for it” is when he starts glancing at a particular spot on your body, like your throat, stomach, or even a knee. Instantly, you should go on alert for a possible strike to that area. Peanut is announcing his intentions and he’s ready to pounce.

New Picture

3. Peanut constantly glances to a spot behind you, or to a place off to your right just out of your line of sight. Watch out, because his partner may be approaching for a rear ambush. And, his partner just might be Mrs. Peanut. Yes, even though her “loving husband” had just moments ago beat the ever-loving snot out of her she’ll often defend her man until the bitter end. Unfortunately, the end sometimes results in a funeral … hers.

These quick glances are also good indicators that Peanut has a hidden weapon nearby. For example, you’ve stopped Peanut for drunk driving and he’s constantly glancing toward the glove compartment. Well, there’s a good chance that a weapon or other illegal items are concealed there.

New Picture (1)

4. The Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home – You arrive on scene and you approach Peanut, who is standing still, staring off into space. His jaw is clenched and he’s sweating profusely, even though you’re both standing in two feet of freshly-fallen New England snow (New England snow, to me, is the coldest snow on the planet). He doesn’t respond to you in any way, but you see the anger rising. Face is growing redder by the second. Veins poking out on his forehead. Eyes bulging. Yeah, you get the idea. Believe me, it is time to take a step back and start pulling every tool you’ve got on your duty belt because this guy’s getting ready to blow. Silence is definitely not golden in this case.

5. Peanut might be a “I’m not going to look at you” kind of personality. This is another indicator that an assault may be on the way. If he’s staring at place on the ground, refusing to listen and obey your verbal commands, then be prepared for an attack. At the very least, be prepared for a battle when the time comes to snap on the cuffs.

I guess a good rule of thumb is to always assume the worst, and hope for the best.

 

Before I begin with the content of today’s article about search warrants, I’d like to take a brief moment to thank everyone for their kind words, well-wishes, support, and generous donations to the fundraiser for our daughter Ellen. She’s in a serious battle against cancer that returned just two years after beating it the first time in a different location of her body. This time the disease is here in a big way.

Ellen and her family are going through the worst times of their lives and your contributions have meant the difference in being able to purchase much-needed medicines, testing and scans, electricity, water, and food, or going without. Every single dollar has helped in some way. Having to serve as Ellen’s constant caregiver, her husband’s company let him go. As a result Ellen and her husband now survive on only $168 per week unemployment, no health insurance, and a government who denied Ellen Medicaid.

So again, I thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. I’m grateful for all you’ve done and continue to do to help Ellen.

If you’d like to contribute, here’s the link to the fundraiser.

*By the way, Denene and I made a sudden trip to North Carolina late Thursday afternoon to be with her mother who is also battling serious cancer. She’s not well at all so a few of those well-wishes sent her way, too, would be appreciated.

We’ll remain here for a few days before traveling further south to spend time with Ellen. Then we’ll head back to Denene’s mother’s for a couple of days before once again going back to Ellen’s in time to be there for her next scan and chemo.

If you’ve wondered why I’ve disappeared from here and on social media, now you know the answer. My heart and thoughts are currently with our family.

Please, take the time to visit your family members, give them a quick call, or whatever it takes to stay in touch and to create memories. Time, after all, is precious, and it waits for no one.

Now, today’s article.


Breonna Taylor: The Search Warrant

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police when they entered her home in congruence with a search warrant signed by a judge (yes, officers had a search warrant). The opening paragraph of the warrant included, as most search warrants begin, by stating that probable cause to search existed, and that officers were COMMANDED by the court to search a particular location named within the body of the warrant.

After a search warrant is approved and signed by a judge officers are ordered to carry out the service. Without a judge or magistrate’s signature on the paperwork there will be no warrant. More about this in a moment.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the search warrant for Breonna Taylor’s residence at 3003 Springfield Drive #4 Louisville, Ky.

“TO ALL PEACE OFFICERS IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY:
Proof by affidavit having this day been made before me by: Detective Joshua C. Jaynes (7627) a peace officer of Louisville Metro Police Department, that there is probable and reasonable cause for the issuance of this Search Warrant as set out in the affidavit attached hereto and made a part hereof as if fully set forth herein; you are commanded to search the premises known and numbered as:

St. Anthony Gardens
3003 Springfield Drive #4 Louisville, KY 40214 Jefferson County Kentucky and All Surrounding Curtilage.”

The address above was that of Breonna Taylor.

In the next article I’ll describe the facts regarding the search at Breonna Taylor’s residence, and the events that took place during the service of the warrant, including the shooting. Today, though, in preparation for the discussion of the search warrant served at Taylor’s home (Part 2), I’d like to refresh your memories about search warrants and how they’re obtained by law enforcement.


A search warrant is actually the combination of three documents—an affidavit, the warrant itself, and a return of service.


Contrary to the belief of some, and to the image that’s often portrayed on television, police officers cannot enter a private residence without a warrant or permission to do so. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but the exceptions to this one are few and far between and must be utilized only in dire emergencies. FYI—the entries and searches we see each week on many crime TV shows are, well, totally unrealistic.

Our laws demand that searches and seizures of property and people must be reasonable and based on probable cause, not mere suspicion. Actually, the 4th Amendment is specific, stating that no warrant shall issue without probable cause. Therefore, when the police need to cross the line to invade a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy they must have a properly signed search warrant in hand.

A search warrant is issued pursuant to an affidavit, a document stating each and every fact that establishes the probable cause to legally search for certain people and items. Simply put, the officer seeking a search warrant must first complete a form, a sort of application. This “application” is the affidavit and it must clearly explain the facts (probable cause) as to why permission to search a particular place, or person, should be allowed and why the officer wants/needs to go inside someone’s house without the owner’s permission, and by breaking down the front door if necessary.

Swear, Under Oath

Normally, the officer must swear (under oath) that the facts listed in the affidavit are true.

Detail to Include in the Affidavit

The description of the place to be searched must be in vivid detail, almost down to the size and color of the doorknob. (I’m exaggerating—not much, though—, but you get the idea).

The affidavit for the Breonna Taylor search warrant described the property to be searched as follows:

A multi-family, two-story apartment complex that consists of beige vinyl siding, multi colored brick, and brown shingles. The numbers “3003” are in black lettering arranged vertically on a single column ofthe apartment building. The specific apartment has a sliding glass door that opens to a small patio on the first floor of the complex. The specific apartment has a green door with a gold-plated number “4” in the top center of the front door. The apartment complex is located within St. Anthony Gardens.

Proof

If a judge or magistrate decides the evidence is proof of probable cause, they approve and sign the search warrant and hand it over to investigators for service. (Keep in mind that some courts allow electronic submissions).

When and How

  • Search warrants must be served promptly. Normally, there is a three or four day rule. If officers wait longer than that time frame the search may be ruled invalid.
  • In most cases, officers are required to knock and announce their presence prior to entering a residence. (Knock, knock, knock. “This is the police. I have a warrant to search this house. If you don’t open the door I’m going to huff, and puff, and—.”

Exceptions to Knock and Announce

Typically, search warrants are to be served in the daytime unless specified differently within the body of the warrant.

There are situations when warrants must be served under the cover of night.

The exceptions to the knock and announce rule (“no-knock” warrants) occur when/if the officer has good reason to believe that:

  • There is a clear and present danger to himself and anyone else present, including people inside the house.
  • The delay of entry would cause irreparable harm to the investigation (evidence would/could be destroyed).
  • The search warrant for Breonna Taylor’s residence was a no-knock warrant approved by the judge.

The best case scenario is, of course, to knock on the door and wait for someone to answer. Not only is the knocking method the easiest, it’s by far the safest means of serving a search warrant. But, bad guys rarely play by the rules. Therefore, safety is a top concern which sometimes means no-knock entries are the best and safest method for officers.

No One’s Home But Us Chickens!

When using the knock and announce approach, if no one answers the door within a reasonable amount of time, police officers are legally permitted to damage property if that’s what is required to gain entry.

What’s a reasonable amount of time? Courts have ruled that a few seconds is considered reasonable—15 seconds or so. However, this all depends upon the circumstances at the scene. For example, when officers announce their presence and then hear sounds—people running, overturning furniture, toilets flushing, glass breaking, etc.—those actions would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence is being destroyed and officers may enter immediately.

A Search Warrant in Hand Means Cops Can Search Everywhere, Right?

Once they’ve entered a property, officers may only search for the item(s) listed on the warrant, and they may only search in areas where those items could reasonably be found. For example, if searching for a stolen refrigerator, investigators may not open and paw through underwear and sock drawers. If the item they’re seeking is small (a piece of jewelry or drugs), then they may search from chimney top to basement floor and everywhere and everything between. That’s when they sift through the unmentionables.


Next up – Part 2, The Full Search Warrant for Breonna’s Taylor’s Home (see the document).