Today, I’m featuring three podcasts that will take you behind the scenes of real-world law enforcement. Each session is a goldmine of information for crime fiction writers—dialog, slang, emotions, first-hand accountings of life or death situations, actual radio transmissions during “shots-fired” incidents, and much, much more. This post, “Firefights and a Massacre: Real-World Horror,” is the real deal told by the professionals who were there, in the field, during some of the most intense situations imaginable.

I’ve posted these podcasts so that you may use these real-life encounters to help elevate the realism in your stories.

I must warn you, though, that some of the language used may be offensive to some people. Some of the content may not be considered politically correct, some comments a bit inapprropriate, and some dialog may simply rub you the wrong way. But it is what it is—real. So please, if you’re willing and able to set aside those things for a short while, this is a fantastic learning opportunity. If not, this may not be the blog post for you; therefore, now would be a good time to click over to a different article.

And yes, people were killed during these incidents, both officers and offenders.

If you’re still with me, please listen carefully to the audio, not only to the big picture but to the small tidbits of information that could help you build the layers of your fictional characters (speech, tone, excitement levels, anxiety). Believe me, these podcasts are filled with tons of detail—not gore, but incredible elements of procedure, personality, intense emotions, fact, intuition, police training and special gear, insight, and more.

Remember, I’m just a messenger whose doing my best to help writers achieve their goals of writing excellent books. This is not me talking.


The Protectors Podcast™ is hosted by Dr. Jason Piccolo, a 21-year federal agent, and military veteran.

Miami Shootout, with Ed Mireles Jr., FBI Agent (ret)

Ed Mireles Jr., retired FBI, joined The Protectors Podcast ™ to talk about his career, including his recovery from being seriously wounded in one of the most famous shootouts in U.S. history.

Listen here.

You can read about Agent Mireles in his book FBI Miami Firefight: Five Minutes that Changed the Bureau, by Edmundo and Elizabeth Mireles.

“One hundred and fifty shots fired. In five minutes two bank robbers and two FBI agents were dead, Five other agents were wounded, three critically. This incident would change FBI and law enforcement training, tactics and weaponry forever.” ~ book excerpt, edmireles.com


STOP THE KILLING is an in-depth look into the case files of former head of the FBI’s Active Shooter program Katherine Schweit. katherineschweit.com

THE SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL MASSACRE

A crime that shocked the world and was the catalyst for the FBI’s active shooter program.

Listen here.

To learn more, read Katherine Schweit’s book, Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis.


Police K9 Radio is hosted by Gregg Tawney and Rich Hartman, veteran K-9 handlers and trainers.

Ryan Frank – Critical Incident

Ryan Frank details an on-duty shooting in which he and his wife were shot. Ryan talks about his training and mindset that helped keep him and his wife alive.


Books by former special agent Dr. Jason Piccolo, host of The Protectors Podcast™

click here

The challenges of policing in the rain are many and 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

Oozing, cold, and slippery.

 

Yucky

Gooey

Nasty.

But a task that is a must.

 

Arrest

Cuff

Stuff

And haul off to concrete jail.

 

Fingerprints

Mugshot

Phone call

Cell door slamming tightly shut.

 

Dumb

Crook

Stole

Two bestselling mystery books.

Policing in the Rain

Yes, the “poem” above was absolutely cheesy and repugnantly horrible, but its purpose was to begin the discussion about cops and rain. After all, it’s not always sunny and dry between book covers, right? Well, that and I couldn’t think of a decent segue into the topic.

Hey, I’ll bet that 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. Well, doing so presents its own unique challenges, such as:

  • Keeping your weapon and ammunition dry.
  • Preventing water from finding its way into your portable radio.
  • Struggling to apply handcuffs to the wet and slimy wrists of a soaking wet and muddy suspect.
  • Having to thoroughly clean drying mud from the locking mechanism of your handcuffs
  • Pursuits on wet roadways where hydroplaning makes the act akin to driving at high speeds without a steering wheel or brakes.
  • The dreaded blue light glare reflecting from raindrops, windshields, storefront windows, and other wet things (pavement, buildings, etc.). So not only do you not have brakes or steering capabilities, you’re now driving blind, as well.
  • Flashing lights, windshield wipers, blowing debris, radio chatter, suspect in back yelling, screaming, kicking, and spitting—all major distractions while driving in wet conditions.
  • Struggling with a suspect while wearing a long, bright yellow raincoat-–nearly impossible.
  • Locating the rain cover for your hat. It’s not never in the spot where you normally keep it. And a cold, wet, dripping hat is most unpleasant to wear.
  • Trying to run after a suspect through wet grass, puddles, mud, while wearing a police uniform and slick-bottom shoes—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. During each and every rain storm there will be a car crash and/or a power outage that switches off every stoplight on your beat. Directing traffic in the pouring rain is a cold, miserable experience.
  • Protecting crime scene evidence from the elements without compromising it, contaminating it, or watching it wash away.
  • When the shooting starts, having to instantly locate the pass-through pocket/gun slit in the raincoat or winter jacket. 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 ten hours. Believe me, 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 odor alone is enough to send our senses into rehab, and that’s just the handlers. Wet dogs inside police cars smell bad. Really bad. Especially when combined with the odors left behind by the puking, sweating, peeing drunk who occupied your passenger set earlier in the shift.

Policing in the rain is definitely for the dogs!

141756305451nji

 

Over forty years ago I’d made the entry in my notebook. I found my handwriting to be a bit difficult to read on some of the yellowing pages—the result of quickly-written memos then, and failing eyesight today. But I was able to make out the basics, and there was enough there to take me back to the time when I wore the brown over khaki uniform of a deputy sheriff.

Flipping through the pages of my log, one particular entry caught my eye. It was a Friday night during an unusually cool  for October. According to my notes, the skies were clear and brightly lit by a near full moon. The gas tank in my take-home car was full (as always, I’d filled it at the end of my shift the preceding morning) and the speedometer had just tripped 80,000 miles. The lights and siren were both in working order.

I’d signed on at 2342 hours that night, and in my mind I can still hear the dispatcher’s voice as she acknowledged my radio message. She spoke in a drawl that prompted a craving for mint juleps and an urge to plant a magnolia tree in my front yard.

It’s no secret that I was not born a southerner. In fact, before “the conversion,” I was such a Yankee that one of my relatives owned a house that was once used by Harriett Tubman as a stop on her vast Underground Railroad network. We lived nearby, where people didn’t say things like,  “Y’all” or “finer’n frog hair, or “fixin’ to” (going to).

“I’m fixin’ to head over to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up some chittlins’ for Sunday lunch. Y’all want anything?”

As a child born north of “the line”, the switch to the South was a major change. Everything was different, including schools and how they conducted business. Classes in our new southern location began each day with a child reading from the Bible, followed by a man’s deep but southern-twangy voice spewing from the wall-mounted speaker as he led us in prayer. We didn’t do that in my former northern school.

The thing about the South that stuck with me the most, though, was to see peanuts, tobacco, and cotton in their natural habitats—not nuts in jars or bags, tobacco rolled into cigarettes, or “cotton” as a word printed on the labels of my school clothes.

Okay, back to my notes. It hadn’t rained in nearly three weeks and the local farmers and their field hands had been hard at work for several days, picking cotton. They’d loaded large farm trailers to the point of overflowing, like giant pillows on wheels. But no matter how hard they tried, there was simply no way possible to gather every single piece of cotton, leaving lots of it scattered about in the fields. And, of course, it didn’t take long at all for the wind to blow the scraps of freshly picked raw cotton everywhere, sending it into trees, ditches, bushes, and roadways. The landscape looked as if it had been dusted by a light snowfall. You couldn’t spit in any direction without hitting a wad of the future shirts, pants, sheets, and stuffing for aspirin bottles.

Virginia cotton

At night, while on patrol, we often used our spotlights to scan fields and paths looking for illegal night hunters, or stolen cars and farm equipment that were sometimes abandoned in out of the way locations. Another target for our spotlights in those days were farmer’s fertilizer storage tanks that contained anhydrous ammonia. Farmers used the fertilizer to spray crops. Makers of methamphetamine stole it from farmers and farm supply companies to produce meth.

Meth makers siphoned the deadly liquid gas from the tanks and later used it and other hazardous ingredients, such as paint thinner, engine starter fluid, the innards of certain types of batteries, and ephedrine separated from its binding agent found in over-the-counter cold medicine, to manufacture the dangerous and illegal drug. This process required no heat since the chemical reaction was so volatile, and it is the reason clandestine meth labs notoriously and suddenly explode.


The method of making meth using anhydrous ammonia is sometimes called the “Nazi cook,” named after the meth distributed to German soldiers by Nazi leaders during World War II. For more, click here.


So yeah, that was a thing back then and it was a big reason we kept on eye on farms. And, of course, there were the people who stole livestock, such as pigs. Ah, the glamorous life of a deputy sheriff in the rural South.

In addition to highlighting stolen cars and fertilizer tanks, and the occasional “parking” teenage couples or pair of adulterers, the shining of a bright spotlight across the fields at night, the car-mounted devices also illuminated scores of wildlife—deer, foxes, raccoons, ‘possums, coyotes, and even an occasional black bear. And, on the night referenced in my spiral notebook, the light also showcased a woman’s body lying between two unpicked rows of cotton.

She was young, mid to late 30’s. Fully clothed with the exception of her bare feet. There were no shoes at the scene. Approximately 5’ 5″ tall. 150 lbs – 160 lbs, or so. Round face. Skin the color of Vermont maple syrup. Her eyes were open and without focus, and aimed toward the sky into infinity. Pupils fixed, and dilated. A bullet wound to her forehead, just above her left eye, and another near her right eyebrow, told me to save my CPR skills for another day.

Small clumps of loose cotton dotted the area around the body. Some were the brilliant white of summertime clouds. Others, the ones that clung to her wounds, were rusty red and mostly saturated with the victim’s drying blood.

Three sets of footprints entered the field—large boots, small tennis shoes, and a set ending with bare toes. Only two sets headed out. The toes remained.

The victim had two small children at home. A neighbor was called to sit with them while their father went out searching for his wife who’d called earlier to say the church meeting was running a bit longer than she’d expected. No, no need to pick her up. Wanda was at the meeting and would bring her home.

Twenty minutes later, after the husband left his children in the care of the sitter, Wanda called and asked the neighbor if she could please speak to the man’s wife. No, there was no church meeting that night.

The man knew, deep in his heart, that there was no meeting at the church and he where exactly where to look for his cheating wife.

The victim’s lover, a cotton farmer, escaped the gunfire.

There was no DNA. No fingerprints. No cell phone calls to trace, and no bullet casings.

Just a pair of womens shoes found five hours later, in the farmer’s truck. And a revolver containing four bullets in his jealous wife’s car.

If I’d kept a tally over the years I could’ve added another hash mark to the “life taken” column, and five to the “lives ruined” section.

My last notations on the page that night were four short lines that read …

“Murder warrant issued”

“17 gallons of gas, no oil”

“10-42 (off duty) – 0815”

“Sunny and warmer – a good day to pick cotton”

Before we dive headfirst into the real meat of this article, let’s first begin with a bit of background regarding the crimes of burglary and robbery. Otherwise, those of you who use social media sites and/or watching TV news and crime dramas as your main sources of research, well, you may not know that burglary and robbery are not the same. Not even close.

Here’s a great example of how the media often mixes up the two crimes.

The headline:

“British Olympian says medals were stolen from her home in robbery.”

I read the article hoping I’d learn how and why armed and dangerous bad guys forcibly robbed the unfortunate female athlete at gunpoint in her own home. But that’s not what happened. The headline was inaccurate, likely due to an ill-informed writer and/or editor.

The public typically assumes when they read or hear something in the news, it must be fact because, well, it’s the news, and not fiction. When the media passes along bad information, unsuspecting everyday people could believe it to be true and then repeat it in conversation and/or in writings. And this is one way those faux facts make it into books. The best means to prevent using this type of misinformation, of course, is to conduct honest to goodness research.

Back to the news story about the runner’s “home robbed at gunpoint.”

The first line of the first paragraph of the news story immediately contradicted the headline, saying the distance runner received the news that her home had been ransacked while she was away. 

“A British Olympian distance runner said Wednesday thieves ‘ransacked’ her home and stole some of her medals and jewelry.” According to the BBC, she said a family member went to check on her dog and found the home “trashed.”

The runner, Eilish McColgan, later said she was upset and angry when she learned that her home had been the target of a burglary.

She’d not been robbed. She was not at home when the crook broke into her home and took her belongings. Unlike the news reporter, Eilish McColgan knew the difference between burglary and robbery.

The fact that she was not at home is very important detail that affects how the criminal would be charged, if caught.


Burglary is a property crime.

In a property crime, a victim’s property is stolen or destroyed, without the use or threat of force against the victim. Property crimes include burglary and theft as well as vandalism and arson. – National Institute of Justice


Burglary as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary

“The breaking and entering the house of another in the night-time, with intent to commit a felony therein, whether the felony be actually committed or not.”

In Virginia, where I served as law enforcement officer/detective, the law governing burglary states:

§ 18.2-89. Burglary; how punished.

If any person break and enter the dwelling house of another in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony or any larceny therein, he shall be guilty of burglary, punishable as a Class 3 felony; provided, however, that if such person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.
 
§ 18.2-90. Entering dwelling house, etc., with intent to commit murder, rape, robbery or arson; penalty.

If any person in the nighttime enters without breaking or in the daytime breaks and enters or enters and conceals himself in a dwelling house or an adjoining, occupied outhouse or in the nighttime enters without breaking or at any time breaks and enters or enters and conceals himself in any building permanently affixed to realty, or any ship, vessel or river craft or any railroad car, or any automobile, truck or trailer, if such automobile, truck or trailer is used as a dwelling or place of human habitation, with intent to commit murder, rape, robbery or arson in violation of §§ 18.2-77, 18.2-79 or § 18.2-80, he shall be deemed guilty of statutory burglary, which offense shall be a Class 3 felony. However, if such person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.

VA Code § 18.2-91

If any person commits any of the acts mentioned in § 18.2-90 with intent to commit larceny, or any felony other than murder, rape, robbery or arson in violation of §§ 18.2-77, 18.2-79 or § 18.2-80, or if any person commits any of the acts mentioned in § 18.2-89 or § 18.2-90 with intent to commit assault and battery, he shall be guilty of statutory burglary, punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than one or more than twenty years or, in the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, be confined in jail for a period not exceeding twelve months or fined not more than $2,500, either or both. However, if the person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.

§ 18.2-92. Breaking and entering dwelling house with intent to commit other misdemeanor.

If any person break and enter a dwelling house while said dwelling is occupied, either in the day or nighttime, with the intent to commit any misdemeanor except assault and battery or trespass, he shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony. However, if the person was armed with a deadly weapon at the time of such entry, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.

Clear as mud, right?

Notice that I highlighted a brief portion of a sentence above in red, and three specific words in blue—with intent to commit larceny or any felony other than murder, rape, robbery or arson …” I did so to emphasize that robbery is not a portion of, or related to the basic crime of burglary. It is a completely separate offense.


Burglary and Robbery are not the same!


Okay, still confused when I say that robbery and burglary are not the same crime? You ask, how could this be the case when so many TV and print news reports and fictional television shows time and time again tell us that Ms. or Mr. Crime Victim’s house was robbed?

An inanimate object cannot be robbed

Typically, burglary involves the breaking and entering the house of another, and only a burglar, or burglars, are involved. There’s no force, threat, or intimidation used against a resident during the taking of an item or items from a victim, because the victims are not present. For example, you and your spouse are out for the evening when Joe I. Stealem enters your home through a downstairs window and swipes a carton of orange juice from your refrigerator.

Author Lawrence Block expertly captures the essence of a professional burglar, and he does so quite nicely with his character Bernie Rhodenbarr. Keep in mind, though, that Rhodenbarr is not the average residential burglar encountered on a weekly basis by patrol officers in your town.

Now, on to robbery.


Violent Crimes.

In a violent crime, a victim is harmed by or threatened with violence. Violent crimes include rape and sexual assault, robbery, assault and murder. – National Institute of Justice.


Black’s Law definition of Robbery.

“Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property In the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.”

Traveling back to Virginia, we see that robbery there is defined as:

Virginia Code § 18.2-58. How punished.

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 drunk uncles who’re 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 made 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. He was also a regular visitor to the city jail. Corrections officers, men 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 and warm bed.

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 out, I’d 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 jailer, 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 jailer poured some hot coffee into a Styrofoam cup and took it with him to give to his visitor.

A few minutes later the jailer 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, 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.

 

Okay, you’ve written your first, or maybe your thirty-first, shoot-’em-up, cut-’em-up cereal serial killer novel. You’re proud of the book and of all your hard work. After all, your sister’s husband’s best friend’s mother’s uncle who used to be a security guard at the mall says the bad guy in your latest book is so realistic that he makes Gacy and Bundy look like Cub Scouts. Now that’s an expert opinion, for sure!

But, did you do your homework? Are you sure you’ve written the character properly? Or, did you get your information from Dexter reruns?

Before you send the manuscript off to your editor, let’s take a moment to have a quick look at our mini serial killer checklist. You know, just to make certain your details are sound.

Number One – All serial killers absolutely LOVE Jodie Foster …

Oops, wrong list.

Hang on a second … it’s here, somewhere. I saw it just a moment ago…

Messy Desk

Ah, yes. Here we go…

Serial Killer Fact Checker

1. For the most part, serial killers are NOT loners. They don’t hang out in dark alleys hoping a potential victim will soon pass by. In fact, serial killers normally live everyday lives, working steady jobs and hanging out with everyday people.

2. Sex is NOT the only motivator behind serial killings. Greed, anger, money, the thrill of the kill, and wanting attention could all be considered as motivation for serial killings.

3. Serial killers are generally NOT wanderers who travel the highways and byways searching for their victims. Instead, they normally choose to stay within a comfortable region that’s relatively close to the center of their world (home, work, etc.).


4. Serial killers are generally NOT the super-smart geniuses we sometimes see on TV and in film. They’re also NOT always insane as defined by law. Sure, they’re usually psychopathic, but not “Elvis-lives-in-my-refrigerator-behind-the-cheesecake” crazy.

5. Serial killers can and often do stop killing. There’s no serial killer handbook rule stating they must find and kill a new victim every day for the rest of their lives.

6. Not all serial killers are white males.

7. Serial killers, as a rule, do NOT want to get caught. Instead, they become complacent and careless, and sometimes cocky, making it easier to be caught by police.

8. Not all serial killers are alike. There is no standard. Each serial killer has his/her own motivation and personality.

9. Serial killers are NOT limited to any specific race, age group, or gender.

10. Serial killers may have multiple motivations.

Finally, to help with your research

 

 

“A serial killer murders at least two people in distinctly separate incidents, with a psychological rest period between, which could be considered a time of predatory preparation. He, she, or they also choose the murder activity, such as stabbing, strangulation, shooting, or bombing, and may move around to different places or lure successive victims to a single locale. They view victims as objects needed for their ultimate goals, and manifest as addictive quality to their behavior, so that choosing murder is a satisfying act rather than merely a reaction or instrumental goal.”  Dr. Katherine Ramsland


*Jodie Foster image by Alan Light (background removed)


Full details coming soon!

 

 

What Homicide Investigators should do

There are nearly as many different ways to approach and investigate a crime scene as there are officers standing in line each morning at coffee and/or donut establishments. I suspect their orders—chocolate-covered, glazed, bear claw, etc.—are as diverse as their personalities and the ways they approach the job. But, despite the menagerie of varying quirks and thought processes, there are things that should be done at all murder scenes. For example …

Document the findings at the crime scene:

1. Record the air temperature at the scene (ambient air).

2. Document body temperature of the deceased, if the medical examiner is not on scene. Document description—cold, warm, frozen, etc. To the touch, only. Cops do not insert thermometers into any portion of a human body.

3. Document livor mortis—was livor mortis present, and at what stage? Was it fixed? Was body position consistent with the stage of livor mortis? Did someone move the body?

4. Document rigor mortis—what stage of rigor? Was the rigor consistent with the crime scene? Did someone move the body?

5. Note the degree of decomposition—skeletonization, putrefaction, mummification, etc.

6. Document animal activity—was the body in any way altered by animals?

7. Photograph the body exactly as it was found. Also, the ground beneath the body should be photographed once the body has been removed

8. Document victim’s physical characteristics—description of the body, including scars, marks, tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and obvious wounds).

9. Make note of the type of on-scene emergency medical care, or the lack of treatment.

10. Document the presence of body fluids and where they’re found (mouth, nose, beneath the body, etc.). Also note if there’s no indication of body fluids.

11. Bag the victim’s hands (and bare feet) in clean, unused paper bags.

12. Collect or arrange for the collection of trace and other evidence.

13. Determine the need for alternate light sources and other specialized equipment.

14. Photograph the victim’s face for future identification purposes.

15. Make note of the presence of insects. Photograph and collect samples of each.

16. Protect the body from further injury and/or contamination.

17. Supervise the placement of the body into a body bag, and install the proper seal/securing.

18. Ensure the proper removal and transportation of the body.

19. Who, What, Where, How, and When – Who discovered the body? Who was present when the body was discovered? Where was the body discovered? How was the victim killed? When was the body discovered? Who witnessed the murder? Etc. Document everything, no matter how insignificant it sounds at the time.

20. Document EMS records/activity. Obtain a copy of the EMS call sheet/report, if possible.

21. Document witness statements. What they observed, the victim’s actions prior to death, killer’s description, etc.

22. Note medical examiner’s comments.

23. Obtain written witness statements, if possible, and contact information.

24. Document the names and contact information of everyone present at the scene, including officers, EMS, medical examiner, firefighters, press, etc.

25. Be certain that all evidence has been recovered before releasing the scene.

 

No doubt about it, police officers have a dangerous job. Sure, their training teaches them many ways to stay safe, but time passes and officers develop their own routines. Unfortunately, the “it won’t happen to me” mindset often tags along with a “routine.” As a result, well, sometimes unfortunate things happen when an officer lets down his guard and/or ignores his training.

No two calls are exactly the same. Events unfold differently. No two suspects act in the exact same manner. No two houses or businesses are exactly the same (layouts and furnishings differ). Vehicles and their occupants differ. Even the people with whom officers interact with on a daily basis behave differently from one day to the next—moods change, life events affect disposition, etc.

Cases and scenarios are never exactly like those taught and practiced in the academy. And, well, you get the idea—officers must be able to react appropriately to every single situation, even when they change course every few minutes or even as quickly as a fraction of a second.

So, using what they’ve been taught, combined with a handful of common sense, state, federal, and local law, and a boat load of department rules and regulations, officers go about their daily business of keeping people safe while enforcing the laws of their communities and states. Easy money, right?

After all, what could possibly go wrong if officers follow rules and the procedures they learned during training? Well … there is a slight problem. You see, police officers are human. I know, that’s a bit of eye-opening news. But it’s true. Let’s all say it together. POLICE OFFICERS ARE HUMAN. And what is it that humans do on occasion? That’s right. They make mistakes from time to time. We all do.

The problem with a police officer making a mistake, even a slight one, is that his error could result in the loss of a life, including their own. Think about that for a minute. We make a mistake like … oh, let’s say we slipped up and left a grocery bag on top of the car and then drove off spilling prune juice, Preparation H, and a couple of boxes of Depends along the way home. What’s the worst that could happen other than our neighbors learning about our pesky bowel troubles?

Police officers, however, make one little mistake, such as forgetting to load their gun after cleaning it, and the next thing they know they’re in a one-sided shootout.

So let’s explore a few things cops should NOT do. Here’s a list of ten.

1. When accepting a prisoner/suspect from another officer, NEVER assume the other officer conducted a thorough search. Always, Always, Always search every suspect before placing them inside your patrol vehicle, even if it was your captain or your training officer who delivered the prisoner to you.

2. Never assume a suspect is compliant, even if they seem meek and mild at the time of arrest. You never know what will set them off. Handcuff every suspect/arrestee, with hands behind the back, before placing them in your car.

3. Never give up during a fight. Remember, you WILL survive and you WILL win. No exceptions, even when the bad guy is bigger, meaner, and stronger … and green.

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4. Never lose your temper. Remaining calm allows an officer to think through the situation. Knee-jerk reactions often occur during moments of anger, and knee-jerk reactions are not always, if ever, the appropriate response to the immediate situation. Be cool and your training and common sense will tell you what to do next.

5. Never allow anyone to invade your personal space. Keep them (especially criminal suspects) at least an arm length or more away from you. Any closer and you’ll not be able to react properly should an attack occur.

6. Never hold your flashlight in your “gun hand.” Doing so would prevent you from drawing your weapon should you need it in a hurry.

7. When knocking on a door, never stand directly in front of it. Doors do not stop bullets (the same is so for drywall, plywood, etc.).

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8. Do not allow emergency situations to cloud your judgement and thoughts. This includes when at the local jail or other places where you’ve secured your weapon inside a lockbox while processing a suspect. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the scene of an intense shootout where you suddenly realize that you’ve left your gun at the county jail. As they say, been there done that, and I’ll never forget it. I was at the county jail booking a prisoner I’d arrested when an “officer needs assistance call” came spewing from my portable radio. A deputy had stopped a car driven by a wanted armed robber. I turned the prisoner over to the jail officers and rushed out to my car to head to the scene.

When I arrived I hopped out of my car and reached for my sidearm before we approached the vehicle. That’s when I realized that I’d I’d allowed adrenaline to overcome my thoughts and, well,  I’d left my gun in the lockbox at the jail. At that moment, the key to the lockbox in my pocket felt as if it then weighed a ton. Fortunately, though, I had a shotgun in the trunk of my car. Otherwise, I was completely useless to my fellow officer. By the way, “gun in the lockbox” faux pas happens quite bit.

9. Always use enough force to overcome a suspect’s resistance, but never use a level of force that’s unreasonable or too great as to cause unnecessary pain or injury. If a few strong words is enough to convince a suspect to allow an officer to apply restraints, then that’s all the force that should be used by the officer. However, if the subject is punching, head-butting, kicking, biting, scratching, and attempting to rip the officer’s gun from its holster while shouting “Ima kill you if I can get this gun,” then it’s time to use whatever force is necessary to stay alive. Remember, these situations can often erupt in a split second; therefore, there’s not time to stop and formulate a plan of action before reacting to the situation. It’s sometimes easy to overreact, which is why it’s so important for officers to receive regular training. But, with department budget and staffing shortages, extra training these days is often a luxury that’s not available in many areas.

10. Never, under any circumstance, give up/surrender your weapon. That’s NEVER, as in NEVER.


The sleepy and exhausted detective in the top photo is fingerprinting a suspect at 3:00 a.m. He’d worked around the clock the previous day to gather enough evidence to obtain a search warrant for a private residence. He and an entry team served the warrant around midnight the following night when the detective arrested the man for possessing and selling large quantities of cocaine. Do you see anything that’s wrong and/or absolutely unsafe?

How about safety rule #11 …

 

Drunk Drivers at the 2013 Writers' Police Academy

Graveyard Shift—those long and often mind-numbing hours between midnight and the time your relief signs on to take over your beat. It’s boring. It’s exciting. It’s sleep-depriving. It’s eye-opening. It’s getting dressed while your significant other is undressing, putting on pajamas, and crawling between the sheets for a good night’s sleep. The kids, of course, are already in the midst of sweet-dreaming. The family dog is curled up on your side of the bed, snoring.

Speaking of getting dressed … it’s a daily ritual for cops, of course—shower, shave, if appropriate, slip on underwear and t-shirt—rookies will quickly learn that it’s best to put on their socks at this point. You’ll see why in a moment.

Next comes the vest. You’ve left the upper Velcro straps in place to allow you to slip the entire contraption over your head like a 7 lb. sweater. So over the head it goes, followed by pulling the side straps taut and securing them in place. Of course, you never get it right the first time, so you riiiiipp the Velcro loose and do it again and again until the fit is just right.

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Front and rear vest panels. The top two straps on the rear panel are often left attached to the front panel to allow slipping the entire vest over the head like a sweater, or t-shirt. The material at the bottom of each panel is tucked into the pants like a shirt tail. Obviously, the front panel (with the “U” shaped cutout) is for the “convenience” of male wearers during a trip to the restroom. Use your imaginations.

The shirt is a process all to itself—pinning on the badge and other shiny do-dads in their appropriate places (sort of like decorating a polyester Christmas tree), and inserting a couple of ink pens in the sewn-in pen slot beside the breast pocket. After a quick check to be sure your name tag is not upside down, you slip on the pre-adorned shirt, pulling and twisting to make it lay properly over the vest.

Time for the pants. Out of necessity, you’ve placed them in a spot that doesn’t doesn’t require bending too far, because the semi-stiff, claylike density of the vest has already limited your movements just a bit, which is why it’s best to slip on the socks before strapping the vest in place. Now, tuck the tails of the vest inside the waistband of the pants and slip a dress belt through the loops so your pants won’t fall down. Goodness knows, once you’re fully dressed it requires a huge effort to reach ALL the way to your ankles to pull your pants up again.

Shoes … They’re shiny and squeaky clean because that’s how you roll. Look sharp. Act sharp. Be sharp. One last, quick swipe with a cloth just in case a speck of dust has landed on the toes.

Now comes the duty belt/utility belt, with all it’s bells and whistles already in place.

Securely connect the buckle hooks/clasps/snaps and then loop a few belt keepers around the duty belt and the belt holding up your pants. The last step is IMPORTANT. 

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Belt keeper

Belt keepers hold the gun belt securely at the waist, preventing it from sliding around the waist and down toward the ground. Without them officers would resemble gunslingers of the Wild West, with their sidearms hanging loosely at mid-thigh. Even worse, the duty belt could easily and quickly fall down to your ankles, especially when running/chasing someone through a dark alley. And we already know how the vest makes it difficult it is to reach all the way to the ground.

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Two belt keepers positioned between handcuff cases

Okay, you’re dressed. Now it’s time to go to work, and by now everyone in the house is already asleep. So you tip-toe to the back door, with leather squeaking, keys jingling, and Velcro crackling all the way.

Outside, the neighborhood is graveyard still. An owl hoots, crickets chirp, and a train whistle sounds off in the distance. The only light on in the entire neighborhood is across the street—a bedroom window where you know the widow Jones is peeking outside. Tomorrow morning she’ll be there again so she can report to the rest of the neighborhood what time you went to work and what time you returned home. After all, they pay your salary, and Mrs. Jones is not shy about reminding you of the fact that they do.

Time to get into your take-home car. You unlock the door, open it quietly, and then gently slide into the seat. I say gently, because if there’s even a tiny bit of love handle at your waist, that soft, doughy flesh will be severely pinched between the bottom edge of the Kevlar vest and the top edge of the duty belt—a real eye-opening, tear-inducing way to start the shift.

Elephant Butts

Thirty minutes later, at your first call of the night, you find yourself rolling around in the smelliest mud you’ve ever encountered, trying to handcuff two burglars who’d decided to lead you on a foot chase through the fairgrounds where, by the way, you realized the circus is in town and that what you’re rolling around in is not mud. Instead, it’s what elephants, horses, and other animals left behind while waiting for their time under the big top.

And so it goes…night after night after night.

Look sharp. Act sharp. Be sharp.

Yeah, right…


  • Top photo – Writers’ Police Academy nighttime traffic stops

ASCLD – American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

AFIS – Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Palmprint storage and search capabilities are also in place.

ALPS – Automated Latent Print System.

ASCLD/LAB – American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Acid Fuchsin – Reddish protein stain used to enhance bloody friction ridge detail of fingerprints.

Acid Yellow 7Fluorescent dye stain used to help visualize latent prints left in blood on nonporous surfaces.

Acid Yellow-7, Arrowhead Forensics

Acidified Hydrogen Peroxide – Solution used to develop friction ridge detail on cartridge casings by etching the surface of the casing not covered with sebaceous material (oils and/or fats).

Adactylia – Congenital absence of fingers and/or toes.

Adermatoglyphia – Extremely rare congenital absence of fingerprints.

Alanine – The most common amino acid found in proteins. Alanine is often
used to test latent print chemicals for an amino acid reaction.

Aluminum Chloride – A metal salt used to treat ninhydrin developed latent prints.

Amicus Brief – Legal document filed by someone not associated with a case but possibly has knowledge of a subject matter that may be of interest to the courts.  The person submitting the brief is known as amici curiae.

Amicus Curiae – Latin for “friend of the court.”

Amido Black – Bluish-black stain used to enhance bloody fingerprint friction ridge detail.

Anhidrosis – Medical condition that reduces or prevents the body’s ability to sweat.

Benzidine – Once described as the best technique for developing bloody latent prints on nonporous items, Benzidine has been linked to cancers and is no longer used.

Bichromatic ™ – A multi-colored powder used to process an object for fingerprints.

Boiling – Method used to re-hydrate the friction skin/fingerprints/footprints of a deceased person. To process the prints water is boiled and them removed from the heat. The hand of the deceased is submerged in the water for approximately five seconds. The skin is then dried and the fingers and/or palm is printed.

CJIS – Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

Calcar Area – The area located at the heel of the foot.

Cheiloscopy – The study of lip prints.

Clandestine – In secret.

Cluster Prints – More than one fingerprint grouped/clumped/positioned in the same spot of a surface.

Comparator – A split image projection screen used to view and compare fingerprints.

Core – Center of a fingerprint pattern.

Dactylography – The study of fingerprints as a method of identification.

De-gloving – The accidental/unintentional separation of the skin from the hands or feet. This “skin slippage” often occurs after a body has been submerged in water for a period od time.

Diff-Lift™ – Fingerprint lifting tape made especially for use on textured objects.

Dorsal – The backside of the hand.

Erroneous Exclusion – Disregarding evidence without a sound basis for doing so.

Exemplar – The known prints of a known individual.

FLS – Forensic Light Source. Includes all light sources used in forensic examinations.

FRE – Federal Rules of Evidence.

Fingerprint Society – Yes, it’s a thing. The Fingerprint Society was conceived in 1974 by Martin J. Leadbetter.

Genipin – A reagent used to develop friction ridge detail on porous items. The result is a dark blue image that can be seen without enhanced lighting.

Hallux – A person’s big toe.

Sir William James Herschel – The first European to recognize and utilize the value of fingerprints for identification purposes.

Histology – The study of the microscopic structure of animal or
plant tissues.

Hot Breath TechniqueBreathing on a latent fingerprint either to help visualize the print or to add moisture back into an older latent print. Also known as Huffing.

Hyperhidrosis – Medical condition that increases sweating. Sometimes caused by certain medications, or heredity.

Hypohidrosis – Medical condition that decreases sweating. Sometimes caused by certain medications, or heredity or damage to the skin.

IAFIS – Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The FBI’s first
fully automated AFIS computer database.

Image Reversal – Occurs when the friction ridges in a latent print are reversed. Unintentional transferred prints could occur when using rubber lifters. It’s even happened when items are stacked on top of one another (stacks of evidence bags, for example), causing a print to transfer from one item to the next. The same is true with books. A print from one page could transfer to the next page (after the book is closed for a long time). These prints are mirror images and should be obvious to a trained examiner.

Latent Print – Print that is visible to the naked eye.

Liqui-drox – Fluorescent (yellow) solution used to enhance/develop fingerprint friction ridge detail on the adhesive and non-adhesive sides of dark colored tape.

Loupe – Small magnifying glass used to examine prints.