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!

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 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’d studied and took 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 advance guitar lessons 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.

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 man down as if the danger ceased immediately once the suspect hit the dirt. 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 …

 

 

Stop and Frisk has once again worked its way into the news by way of politics, with a presidential candidate apologizing for the use of the practice in a city where he once served as mayor. Those stops, he once vehemently argued, were necessary to help curtail the city’s out of control gun violence.

Since I choose to not dip my toes into political waters, opting only to present factual information, which politics are often on the opposite end of the truth meter, let’s instead examine “stop and frisk” and the Supreme Court decision that supports its use. We’ll also have a look at why, when properly utilized, its an effective tool.

What is Stop and Frisk?

Here’s how it all began, and it’s not a newfangled practice, not by any means.

In the mid 1960’s, when I was still not quite a teenager (yes, this law has been on the books for a long, long time), a Cleveland, Ohio detective named McFadden saw two men, strangers to the area, walking back and forth in front of a store. On each pass the men stopped to look into the store window. McFadden watched the men while they made a dozen or so trips past the storefront. After each trip by the business the two men met at the street corner to chat for a minute or two. Soon, a third man joined the two at the corner.

Detective McFadden, being quite the observant and proactive officer, had seen enough to send his “cop radar” into overdrive. He was certain the men were “casing” the place, waiting for just the right moment to rob the store owner. Their mannerisms, as do many telltale gestures of criminal behavior, telegraphed their intentions.

So McFadden approached the three men, identified himself as a police officer, and then asked for their names. Someone mumbled something but no names were offered. Sensing things could quickly go downhill, McFadden grabbed and spun around one of the mumblers(John W. Terry) and patted the outside of his clothing, feeling a pistol in the man’s coat pocket.

Unable to retrieve the pistol on the street while keeping an eye on all three potential robbers, the detective ordered the men inside the store where he had them face the wall with their hands in the air. McFadden retrieved the pistol from the first suspect’s coat and then patted the clothing of the the other two men. During the searches McFadden located a second pistol. As a result, the three men were detained and taken to the police station. The two men with the guns were charged with possession of a concealed weapon.

On appeal, Terry argued that the officer had violated their constitutional rights according to the 4th amendment (unlawful search and seizure). However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the officer, stating that his search was the minimum action required to see if the men were armed, a necessary tactic to safeguard his safety and the safety of others. And, that the suspects were indeed acting in a manner consistent with the probability of robbing the store owner.

Basically, the Court did not change or add laws to the books. Instead, they upheld that whenever possible and practicable, a police officer must obtain a warrant to conduct a search and seizure. However, they ruled, an exception must be made when “swift action” is required based on the observations of an officer.

Detective McFadden’s stop and frisk tactic has since been known as a Terry Stop. It’s a proactive tactic that prevents some crime before it happens, and it helps reduce the numbers of illegal weapons often carried by criminals. Without Terry Stops (Stop and Frisks), bad guys have no fear of being caught carrying a gun.

The Terry Stop According to the Supreme Court ruling Terry v. Ohio

A Terry stop is defined as a brief, temporary involuntary detention of a person suspected of being involved in criminal activity for the purpose of investigating the potential criminal violation.

In order to lawfully conduct a Terry stop, a law enforcement officer must have “reasonable suspicion,” which has been defined as “articulable facts (articulable means able to explain in words) that would lead a reasonable officer to conclude that criminal activity is afoot—more than an unsupported hunch but less than probable cause and even less than a preponderance of the evidence.

A police officer may, in appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner, approach a person for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior even though there is no probable cause to make an arrest.

Also known as the Common Law Right of Inquiry, this section of existing law permits an officer or agent to engage any citizen in a purely voluntary conversation (i.e. “May I speak with you a moment? Do you need any help? How long have you been here?”). In these cases, a citizen must be free to terminate the conversation at any time and go his or her way with no restrictions. This, however, is not a Terry Stop where an officer would conduct a pat-down of the person(s). Remember, this is a voluntary action on the part of the citizen. Terry Stops are not voluntary. In fact, Terry Stops are brief periods of actual detention that may include handcuffing the detained subject for the safety of the officer and others.

*The preceding three paragraphs are excerpted, with some paraphrasing, from FLETC training material. FLETC is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers.

Based upon Terry v. Ohio, what are officers permitted to do regarding pat-down searches?

Officers may, even without sufficient cause for arrest, briefly detain someone if …

  •  the officer identifies him/herself as a police officer (either by the uniform and badge, or verbally) and asks reasonable questions regarding the suspect’s current conduct.
  • the officer has knowledge of facts that lead them to believe the suspect is involved in some sort of illegal activity.
  • the person they’ve stopped does not immediately justify his actions in a manner that satisfies the officer’s suspicions.

Officer’s may conduct a pat-down search during a Terry Stop if they have a reasonable suspicion, based on personal knowledge of facts, that the person is armed.

The Terry Stop is a Search for Weapons

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Officers may not, however, go out on “fishing expeditions” under the guise of the Terry Stop. There must be facts supporting their reasons for a “frisk.”

By the way, a pat-down search is exactly as it sounds. Officers may only “pat” the outer surfaces of clothing. They may not reach into a person’s pockets unless they feel a weapon.

There is an exception to the rule, however, and that’s when an officer who has sufficient training and first-hand knowledge of narcotics packaging, “feels” what he/she suspects is a packet of drugs.

The skilled officer, one who’s extremely familiar with narcotics and how the various ways they’re wrapped and contained, may then reach into the pocket to retrieve the packet. To do so, the officer must be able to testify under oath, and verify, that he/she has the sufficient experience and training that would give them the knowledge needed to identify narcotics packaging by feel.

An example would be an officer who worked undercover or on a narcotics task force, like me. I was deemed an expert witness by the courts and, as an expert, was often called upon to testify in various cases.

If an officer’s assignment is to patrol a high crime area of the city, then it should be no problem to spot people who’re engaging in suspicious activity—drug dealers, robbers, rapists, car thieves, etc.

Those are the people, the folks involved in some sort of criminal activity, who warrant being stopped and frisked, if they exhibit signs of criminal intent. Not mom and pop and baby brother who’re on their way to church, school, or the grocery store. And certainly it is not permissible or even ethical to stop someone for a pat-down merely because their skin is a certain color.

capture-prisoner

When used properly, Terry Stops/Stop and Frisks are a highly effective means of removing weapons and illegal narcotics from the street. When crooks know officers may approach and search they’re more apt to leave their guns at home or at least keep them hidden, out of their pockets. And, without having a firearm instantly available, the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later is greatly reduced.

Remember, Stop and Frisk/Terry Stops are still absolutely legal and constitutional, and they’re done each and every day all across the country. This, as current law states, is not debatable. Department policy, however, may differ.

In 2013, US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that New York’s stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional “as applied.”  In her decision, she stated that New York’s stop-and-frisk strategy focused too heavily on black and Hispanic people and was applied far too often without reasonable suspicion. In other words, Judge Scheindlin believed that officers in New York often engaged in racial profiling when determining who to stop and frisk. This, of course, is not how Terry v. Ohio (Terry Stops) are to be applied. Again, no fishing expeditions allowed.
Still, Terry Stops (Stop and Frisk) are absolutely legal and I can say that without a doubt these stops are an essential part of both proactive and reactive policing, and they save lives. At the very least, the practice helps remove illegal guns from the hands of those who’re likely to injure or kill others.
For politicians to use and Terry Stops as part of a political campaign is highly inappropriate, I believe, especially when they do so without first educating the public about the true meaning of the practice. Sure, using Terry Stops to simply and indiscriminately approach every Tom, Dick, and Bubba on the street is definitely unconstitutional. But to broadly paint all Terry Stops with the same brush is wrong.

You’re the Officer

If you, as a police officer, saw an agitated, nervous and sweaty person wearing a long overcoat in the middle of July, a coat with a distinctive bulge on the right side in the shape of a shotgun, who was about to enter a school, church, Walmart, sports stadium, or other location, what would you do?
Shouldn’t you be able to act based upon the coat and the mysterious gun-shaped object beneath it, along with the person’s odd appearance and actions? Wouldn’t you want to stop that person and pat them down as a precaution? After all, your suspicions as a trained and experienced officer are reasonable, right?
Suppose you didn’t check them for weapons and they went inside and began shooting innocent people?
What if you had reasonable suspicion that a person was about to enter a school with a firearm? Would you allow them to go inside without first conducted a lawful Terry Stop/Frisk? A quick pat down to check for weapons and then send them on their way.

So why tie the hands of officers? How many victims could/would be spared the horror and trauma of violence associated with gunfire that’s intended to do harm had police been permitted to do their jobs?

suspect-handcuffed-from-rear

 

*Please do not turn this article into a political discussion. It is meant as a learning tool about Stop and Frisk. Nothing more. Again, PLEASE keep politics as far away from this site as possible. I treat it like the plague. I only mentioned the politician above because they brought this topic to the attention of the media.

Politics … BAH, HUMBUG!

Footprints in the snow

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The familiar phrase above is actually from an ancient Greek work of Herodotus describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers. The phrase is also inscribed on the James Farley Post Office in New York City, and is sort of the unofficial creed of letter carriers across the country.

Another group of people who closely adhere to those words are criminals. Yes, this menagerie of lawbreakers—pickpockets, robbers, rapists, murderers, and the like—pay no attention to the weather when planning and plotting their devious acts against property and their fellow humans.

And, when the criminals do their dastardly deeds, even in bad weather, law enforcement officers must do what it takes to bring the offenders to justice. Unfortunately, crime-solving often involves traipsing around the woods in the mud, snow, sleet, and freezing rain while trying to find a footprint or two.

One method of identifying and locating a bad guy is to do as they did back in the old west, and that’s to track the thugs back to their hideouts. Sure, following broken twigs and disturbed vegetation is one method. Finding and making castings of footprints and/or tire tracks in the dirt and dried mud is another.

But what about prints in the snow? After all, we know that casting materials generate heat, which causes snow to melt and deform the impressions left by footwear.

So how do investigators overcome the challenge of melting snow in and around footprints?

Well, our good friends at Sirchie have the perfect solution to the problem.

A squirt or two of Sirchie’s Snow Impression Wax provides an insulating medium between the heat-generating casting material and the surrounding snow. Once the spray contacts the snow it locks in the impression details while the casting material hardens.

Shake-N-Cast (center in photo) is a kit containing a pre-measured water pouch and dental stone.

Apply pressure to break the water pouch and then shake to mix the two ingredients. No messy containers and no casting material on a detective’s shiny shoes. There’s enough material in a kit to cast an adult-size shoe up to 15″ long.

Metal casting frames are adjustable to fit all shoe sizes and most tire treads.

While we’re on the subject of impression evidence, the spray in the can on the left in the above photo—Dust and Dirt Hardener—is used to strengthen impression evidence (tire tracks, footwear impressions, etc.) found in loose or sandy soil.

The material keeps the soil intact under the weight of the casting material.

Finally, liquid silicone is often used for producing exact replicas of various impressions, including tire and footwear, jimmy marks, and even fingerprints.

Liquid Silicone is incredibly temperature tolerant, and can withstand cold down to -70F and heat to +500F.

Sirchie Silicone Casting Kit

The material sets within three to five minutes.

So there you go. Now your fictional CSI team need not worry about collecting evidence in the snow, or mud. Well, as long as they keep a can Sirchie’s Snow Impression Wax handy.

Like reading a really well-written novel, it’s easy to step into the fictional worlds of crime TV shows. I mean, I’m there. I can hear the sounds of the police stations. I smell the gun oil. I hear the creaking of gun leather and the jingle of keys. And I feel the sudden tightening of the suspect’s muscles when they’re about to resist arrest.

I’ve been there, so I know what it’s like. Therefore, when I switch on one of those tension-filled dramas I know there’s a chance I’m going back, even if it’s only for an hour.

After reading one or two of my blog posts, a few diehard TV fans have written me to say that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to certain areas of police procedure, and that I could learn a thing or two about it from the writers of popular cop shows.

Yeah, I know, that’s why TV and film writers attend the Writers’ Police Academy, because they know more about cop stuff than, well, actual cops. AND, I’m sure it’s my extreme lack of cop knowledge that actors, writers, and directors sometimes call on me for advice.

Oh, and there’s THAT book … 🙂

PP&I cover

One repeated complaint that shows up when I mention the nonsense of a TV cop “racking” the slide on their pistol before entering a dangerous situation. Now, for those of you who do not know, the racking of the slide serves two purposes (three if you count TV writers thinking it looks cool).

One – when a shooter racks the slide the action ejects the round that’s in the chamber, leaving the gun short of one very important bullet. And, that foolishly ejected live round is sent to the pavement where it becomes as useless as a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Since we never see a round eject when TV cops rack a slide, well, then it’s safe to assume there was not a round in the chamber. More on this in a second.

Two – racking the slide delivers a round from the magazine to the chamber. Until a bullet is seated in the chamber a pistol will not fire. And why won’t it fire? Because there’s no bullet in the chamber. Duh!

Revolvers, however are a different story. To learn more about the differences between semi-automatic pistols and revolvers and the workings and parts of each, go here.

That’s right, without a bullet ready to fire (in the chamber) the weapon is practically useless. Unless, of course, you want to use it to whack someone on the head, or as a doorstop, a bookend, or paperweight. And this, a pistol with an empty chamber, is how many TV detectives and uniformed officers carry their sidearms … not ready to fire/unable to fire when needed.

Actually, a couple of chronic complainers/armchair cop experts have written (sometimes in ALL CAPS) that it’s AGAINST THE LAW, even for a police officer, to carry a live round in the chamber. One person said I was an idiot and should have my blogging license revoked. WHAT??? And give up all of this???

Well, I suppose they got the idiot thing right, but not the part about police officers unable to carry a round chambered in their weapons. Cops DO (see, I can use all caps too) keep a round chambered at all times (with the safety OFF, if equipped). In fact, chambering a round comes almost second nature to cops when loading their weapons.

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 plus one round 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 in each magazine, for a total of forty-six rounds, including the chambered round. Yep, I’m carrying forty-six rounds, four short of an entire brick.”

Brick = a full box of ammunition. The cardboard box containing the plastic insert and ammunition is shaped like a small brick.

New Picture (3)

When loading their weapons, officers first insert fifteen rounds into the magazine (the number depends on the weapon carried). 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, which now contains one less bullet (14) and replace the round that was previously loaded into the chamber. They now have a pistol that’s loaded to 15+1, or whatever number of rounds their particular weapon holds.

Glock_19_Generation_4_9mm_Pistol

Weapons loaded to the +1 capacity (a full magazine plus one 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 into the chamber could be the amount of time it takes to save his/her life, and that’s IF they’d remember to “rack the slide” when faced with a split-second need to use deadly force.

Carrying a semi-auto pistol without a round in the chamber would basically be the same as showing up to a gunfight with an empty gun. Besides, when under fire, the last thing you want to do is to use up precious time chambering a round. The same is true regarding the safety. Officers carry their sidearms with the safety switched off. Again, having to take the time to find and fiddle with a switch, if they remember to do so, could very well mean the difference between living and dying.

So yes, officers always carry a fully loaded weapon, and that means with a round in the chamber and with the safety OFF. There’s no slide-racking or safety-switching in real life.

Again – U.S. officers carry with a round in the chamber and the safety off.

Okay, you’re at your desks with hands poised above the keyboard. Thoughts of murder, chaos, and of your 100th six-figure book deal churn inside your head like the winds of an F-5 twister that’s just touched down in a midwestern mobile home park. This. Is. Your Best. Story. And it is exciting.

Now it’s time for the call to action. The time when it’s your job duty to coax, draw, persuade, and perhaps even drag readers throughout the hero’s journey until they reach the final page of your book.

Along the way, of course, you’ll concoct dangers and thrills, twists and turns, and risks far more convoluted and sometimes more perilous than those undertaken by the average human. Readers do sometimes enjoy the fantasy of living life through the eyes of fictional characters, right? After all, being Jack Reacher or Kay Scarpetta for a few hours could be fun and thrilling.

So off you go, clacking away at the keyboard, transforming the tale you’ve spent months creating a saga, either on paper for you plotters or stored in your mind for those of you who’re pansters, that’ll sit on the top shelf in bookstores all around the world.

In your mind you picture the blurbs and promo ads sent out by your publisher and publicists. Each of them promise your fans “It’s THE book of a lifetime.” “A book you can’t put down until the final page is turned.” “Lock your doors before reading this thrilling ride into the unknown!”

“The crime of the century.”

“It’s THE PERFECT MURDER!”

Dr. Edmond Locard’s Exchange Principle

Creating a murder based upon terminological inexactitude, one that’s committed by a pretend villain in a make-believe world, a crime that’s to be solved by a fictional hero, can be a daunting task for many writers. This is especially so when the writer is clue-challenged when it comes to first-hand knowledge of actual death scenes. But help is on the way and it comes in the form of your imaginations, along with a little help from Dr. Edmond Locard.

So, whether you’re a panster or a plotter, my advice to you, the writer of twisted tales, is to carefully consider Dr. Locard’s Exchange Principle (see below) before writing the first word. Doing so could elevate your stories to levels you never thought were possible to achieve.

I know, you’ve done quite well in the past, but readers are changing. Their knowledge of forensics and police investigations is growing with each passing day and with with each new TV show featuring brilliant experts who really know their stuff. And those folks don’t hesitate to share their expertise with an eager viewing audience, an audience who’ll later pick up a book to read for enjoyment only to find that the author doesn’t know the difference between cordite and kryptonite. By the way, neither cordite nor kryptonite should appear in crime fiction set in modern times.

Cordite manufacturing CEASED somewhere around the end of WWII. I’ll say that again in case you weren’t listening, or in the event the radio was playing too loudly and caused you to miss it.

Cordite manufacturing CEASED somewhere around the end of WWII.

They don’t make the stuff anymore. It’s not used in modern ammunition. Nope. Not there. Don’t use it. Don’t make it.

So no, your cops can’t smell it! That’s not what’s hitting their noses when they enter a crime scene.

Getting “IT” Right

As a former police investigator, I’m often asked what I think would be the perfect murder and my response is typically quick and always the same … “there’s no such thing as a perfect murder.”

I say this because I’m a firm believer in Dr. Locard’s Exchange Principle, a theory stating that always, without fail, when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects take something from the other or leave something behind. According to Locard, “It is impossible for a criminal to act, especially considering the intensity of a crime, without leaving traces of this presence.”

Locard’s Principle was on my mind throughout every case I investigated. It helped me to maintain my focus on the tiniest of details so that nothing went overlooked, not even the smallest of fibers.

Therefore, writers must, and I emphasize the word MUST, consider keeping this simple rule of thumb in mind when creating crime scenes and scenes of crimes, IF you’re going for realism. You do know there’s a difference between a crime scene and a scene of a crime, right?

Crime Scenes

Crime Scene and scene of the crime are not always synonymous. A crime scene is anywhere evidence of a crime is found (a dumpster located five miles away where a killer dumped the murder weapon, or the killer’s home where he deposited his bloody clothes, where the body was found if removed from the scene of the crime, etc.). Scene of the Crime is the location where the actual crime took place (where the killer actually murdered his victim).

 

Crafting the Perfect Murder

We’ve all heard about the killer who stabs someone with an icicle, a murder weapon that melts, thus leaving no trace evidence. Well, this is far from the truth since the killer had to approach the victim and he/she had to leave the scene. Therefore, he either left something behind or he took something with him (soil on the shoes, DNA, etc.).

There is trace evidence of some sort everywhere in every crime scene—again, footprints, DNA, fibers, tiny shards of glass, blood, etc. The weak link in a case would be, unfortunately, the detective who doesn’t dig deep enough or long enough or hard enough to find the evidence. This is true in all cases. The evidence is ALWAYS there, somewhere, begging to be found. It’s up to the savvy detective to locate it.

Disposing of bodies in clandestine grave sites are a fantastic means to hide a big piece of evidence … the body. Still, the killer was at the scene of the crime, therefore he left evidence. He had to move the body to the burial site. More traces of evidence—footprints, toll receipts and images captured by cameras at toll booths, gas purchases, purchases of burial equipment, and on and on and on. And then there’s the hound dog who drags a human femur to his owner’s back doorstep. He, the killer had to arrive at and then leave the scene. Again, the evidence is there for the taking—tire tracks, footprints, a leaf, a unique plant seed, a hair, or mud stuck to the soles of his shoes, etc. The list is practically endless.

The Almost Perfect Crime

Embalming fluid

What if a killer committed the murder in a funeral home embalming room, a place that sees hundreds of dead bodies pass through its doors. It’s a place where death “evidence” is routinely and efficiently scrubbed away.

Think about it for a moment. A funeral home where tons of body fluids and DNA have the potential of co-mingling and are routinely cleaned away using chemicals that can and do eliminate the typical clues searched for by investigators.

Yep, blood, saliva, nitrous and other fluids are scrubbed from the room, and all other physical evidence (breaks in bones, gun shot and stab wounds, etc, are totally destroyed during cremation. It’s the perfect It’s the perfect spot for the perfect crime, right?

Well, not so fast. Remember Locard, “when two objects come into contact with one another, each of those objects will take something from the other or leave something behind.” The victim had to arrive at the funeral, therefore evidence of the trip there would generate some sort of evidence trail. However slight it may be, it’s there.

Still, an inexperienced investigator could miss the clues in a funeral home setting.

To make it even more difficult for the detective, there’s this …

Cremation: The Process

Coffin materials are generally selected so as to minimize pollution generated when cremation takes place. Non-combustable coffin do-dads are removed (handles, knobs, hinges, etc.). PVC, heavy metals, solvent-based paints and other toxic resins are also removed or not at all used.

Cremation containers should be completely enclosed, rigid, leak resistant, and definitely combustible. They may be made of cardboard or particle board, wooden, or even a those nice and shiny, highly polished caskets, as long as they’re combustible and non-toxic. Metal caskets cannot be cremated.

Implants of any types which contain power sources are removed from the remains. Also removed are prostheses, jewelry, and non-combustible parts of clothing.

Cremation takes anywhere from 30 minutes in the case of the very small, to over two hours. The human body contains between 65% and 85% water by weight, so a temperature high enough to facilitate the combustion process—up to 2,000 degrees F is where the cremation process typically occurs.

Not for the Squeamish!!

Combustion in the cremator occurs in two steps

  • The primary combustion in the main chamber. It’s here where tissue, organs, body fat, ligaments, tendons, and the casket itself burn off as gases.
  • The secondary chamber, where they continue to undergo combustion (bone fragments remain in the primary chamber). Inorganic particles, usually from the cremation container, settle on the floor of the secondary chamber.  The gases formed as a by-product of combustion—carbon dioxide, water, oxygen, etc.—discharge into the sky through a stack.

When complete, funeral home employees (or the villain of your story) sweep the remains into a tray where they’ll sit to cool. This step is similar to when grandma baked a pie and then allowed it to cool on the sill of an open window before slicing it into individual serving sizes.

Once sufficiently cool, the employee, or bad guy, sifts through the ashes to remove bit of metal, if any (evidence). Any bone fragments are pulverized until all until the remains are less than 1/8” in size.

The cremated and squashed remains are then transferred to a plastic bag and placed into an urn. Or, if this step involves a murderer, the remains would most likely wind up scattered in a field down by Old Man Kelsey’s creek.

The “Other” Cremation: Human Soup

Alkaline hydrolysis, AKA “water, or green cremation”, is a water-based dissolution process that uses alkaline chemicals, heat and pressure and agitation to speed up natural decomposition. Once complete, all that’s left behind is bone residue and a liquid … human soup. This “human broth” is, believe it or not, considered sterile and is simply discharged with into local sewer system and is then treated as any other wastewater product (the stuff that goes down the drains of your home).

Leftover bone material is then pulverized and placed into an urn. Since there is more leftover bone material than with cremation by fire, these remains require a larger urn. And, by the way, due to the larger amount of “leftovers,” it would be more difficult for the villain of your story, if this setting is your thing, is someone who most likely works in a funeral home, to hide the remains created by this method of cremation.

Still, these methods of hiding and/or destroying evidence are far more effective than merely shooting Bill Imdead and then leaving his corpse on the living room floor to be found by cleaning company workers.

The perfect murder? No, but pretty darn close.

*Someone who commits a murder inside a crematorium by hastily shoved the body into the cremation chamber, and then flees the scene, leaving the body to reduce to ashes, would leave behind a mound of clues—bone, teeth, jewelry, implants complete with serial numbers, etc. Sure, the majority of the body parts would be gone, but it would still speak to investigators … if they took time to listen.


Click the link below to discover …

6 WAYS TO TRANSFORM A BORING CRIME SCENE INTO FASCINATING FACTUAL FICTION

Police work is certainly filled with unknown and unseen perils. Without a doubt, it’s a job that comes with a long list of hazards. Aside from the obvious dangers—fights, stabbings, car crashes, shootings, etc.—one of the most gut-wrenching threats to officers is known universally as the dreaded “Open Mic.”

Open Mic – When an officer unknowingly presses the transmit button on his portable radio and is broadcasting everything he/she says and does to anyone and everyone.

And this, one cold, winter night, is when an open mic caused a bit of embarrassing grief for Captain “Jim” and a young female dispatcher I’ll call Geraldine for the purpose of this post. You see where this is going, right?

I was working late that night, wrapping up after a successful raid on a crack dealer’s house, when I heard the “dead air.” A sound, or lack thereof, that’s unmistakable and easily recognizable to officers everywhere. It usually starts out with a bout of silence, followed by faint traffic noises, a car radio playing somebody’s favorite tune, or maybe a conversation. This faux pas often occurs when an officer leans over to one side and accidentally depresses the talk button on his belt-mounted walkie-talkie. Seat belt connections are notorious for pushing the button inward. However, when the officer moves the button is released and all is well. No problem.

Sometimes, though, what comes spewing from the speaker is downright porn. You know, the officer is at home for lunch with the spouse and things get a bit heated and the next thing you know off goes the gun belt. The officer drops the belt to the floor where the radio talk button becomes jammed against the point of a high heel or a chair leg. And, well, “lunch time” is instantly broadcasted to everyone with a police radio and/or scanner. Not good. No, not good at all. No, sir.

Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 1.26.04 PM

Anyway, back to Captain Jim’s troubles.

I heard the dead air followed by the sound of voices, a man and woman. It quickly became apparent that the male was our boss, Captain Jim. The female’s voice was difficult to pinpoint. Familiar, somewhat, but I had a hard time figuring out who she was because of all the screaming … “Oh, Jim! Oh, Jim! Yes, Jim! Oh, Jim! Yeeeesssssss, Jiiimmmm!!!!

Next, I heard a bit of light smooches and then a few odd, indiscernible clicks and rattles.

Then … silence.

Suddenly, an exasperated voice spewed from the speaker in my car, and from, I’m sure, every police car radio in the entire network—city police, county deputies, state police, and every household where a police scanner sat perched on somebody’s grandpa’s nightstand. Even worldwide should someone happen to be listening in on their computer or cell phone from Padooky, Kansas, or Fryonion, Nevada, or Crookedfoot, Alaska. Or even as far away as China, Russia, or Australia. It’s possible.

“S**t! The door’s locked,” said Captain Jim.

“What?” said the female voice who I immediately recognized as that of Geraldine, one of the night shift dispatchers. “Stop joking,” she said.

“I’m not kidding,” said Captain Jim. “I forgot about not being able to open the back doors on patrol cars.” A pause, then, “I knew I should’ve driven my own car, dammit.”

“What are we going to do?” said Geraldine.

“I’ll have to call someone … oh, s**t, the mic’s open.”

That’s the precise moment when the hot microphone died and regular radio traffic resumed.

The next voice I heard on the radio was Captain Jim calling me, asking if I was available to come to his location. He told me he was at an old abandoned runway out at the county’s private airport. Meeting an informant is the reason he gave for being there. Yeah, right.

I ten-foured him and headed out to the airport, grinning all the way as I imagined the captain and Geraldine trapped in the backseat area behind the partition, waiting patiently for me to come rescue them. I also had thoughts of all the folks who’d urinated or puked or bled in the backseat currently being used as a cozy little love nest.

I drove to the end of one runway and then turned left onto the cracked and pot-hole littered asphalt of the abandoned runway, and there, parked among a stand of tall weeds and overgrown shrubs and sycamore trees, and rusty, old appliances someone had discarded, is where I saw the police car. No one was visible in the vehicle. Not that I could see, that is, because the windows were heavily steamed.

I parked my unmarked car, got out, and walked over to the rear door on the driver’s side where I grabbed the handle and pulled it open. Then I turned around and went back to my car and drove away.

Neither Captain Jim nor I ever spoke about that night. I figured what happened out there was none of my business. I do know, however, that I was never denied a single vacation request from that night forward.

 

Lynching laws across the country vary, but the one thing they all have in common is that most people believe the crime and its legal definition absolutely must involve a tree and a rope.

So here’s a shocker—contrary to popular belief, one does not need a rope to commit a lynching, nor does one need a tree or other sturdy platform from which to hang the rope. And, speaking of hanging, it’s not always necessary to “string-up” a human being to commit a lynching.

First, before explaining the laws, let’s explore a tiny bit of history regarding lynchings by rope and tree. Please bear with me because events like the following helped set the stage for modern lynching laws.

In Virginia, between 1880 and 1926, over 90 people—mostly African Americans—were lynched. The last lynching occurred in Wytheville, a small town situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Wytheville, you may remember, is the town where a man named Warren Taylor entered the post office pushing a wheelchair he said contained explosives. Taylor then took hostages and fired a few wild shots before police convinced him to surrender. The town was also the site of a large polio outbreak in the 1950’s. Seventeen people died and nearly two-hundred were hospitalized. Since there was no hospital in Wytheville, ambulances and even hearses from local funeral homes were used to transport the sick 80 miles to a hospital in Roanoke. Black townspeople, however, were denied care at the Roanoke hospital and were forced to travel to Richmond, some 300 miles further.

My only connection to Wytheville was becoming friends with a trooper from there during our time training at the Virginia State Police academy. He, too, was a canine handler and our two dogs quickly became best buddies.

But back to the Wytheville lynching. A black man named Raymond Bird was accused of having sex by force with a 19-year-old white woman, Minnie Grubb, the daughter of his employer.

Actually, Byrd and his quite willing white lover were having an affair (Bird was married), and she became pregnant with his child. Well, her parents were appalled at the notion and wanted their daughter to say Bird raped her. Long story short, she refused but others came forward to back the rape claim and Byrd was promptly arrested and jailed.

While sleeping in his jail cell, an angry mob of masked men stormed the jail, removed Bird and shot him. Then they tied him to a truck and dragged his body for nearly ten miles where they left him hanging from a tree. A local farmer was the only person charged and tried for the lynching. He was acquitted after a ten minute deliberation by the jury.

In 1928, Virginia Governor Harry Byrd, Jr. signed the first the Anti Lynching Law in the Commonwealth.

But not all lynchings/hangings were of African Americans. For example, in 1900, two men, Brandt O’Grady and Walter Cotton, were wanted for a string of brutal killings. O’Grady was white and Cotton was black. The two men, after escaping a Portsmouth jail, also killed Justice of the Peace John Saunders and Deputy Sheriff Joseph Welton who were part of the team of men out searching for the murderers. The two lawmen and a citizen tracked O’Grady and Cotton to a cabin near the North Carolina state line. Deputy Walton entered first and was immediately shot and killed. Saunders turned to retreat and was shot in the back of the head. The citizen managed to get away to seek help.

O’Grady and Cotton were eventually captured and subsequently held in the county jail. Citizens were angry over the murders of their local lawmen, and threats of lynchings grew louder by the day. So the Virginia State Militia was dispatched to protect the prisoners. However, the protection detail was withdrawn by order of the governor and, while awaiting trial, a group of those angry citizens stormed the jail and took the two men out to the front lawn of the courthouse where they hanged Cotton, the black man, from a cherry tree.

The mob was comprised of both blacks and whites, and the moment Cotton was put to his death the black citizens demanded equal justice for O’Grady. So they went back inside to pull O’Grady from his cell and then hung him next to his conspirator.

The cherry tree was eventually cut down sometime in the mid to late 1970s. Several county employees and townspeople took pieces of it as souvenirs. The old jail was later demolished and replaced by a newer facility.

Okay, with that bit of history under our belts, let’s explore lynching laws.

Of course, those laws do indeed include include murder by hanging, which is a topic of interest to many writers. But lynching laws are often broader in scope and don’t, as I stated earlier, necessarily include a rope and tree. For example, in Virginia (I often use Va. as my “go-to” since I’m most familiar with the laws there), the definition of the crime of lynching is:

§ 18.2-39. “Lynching” defined.

Any act of violence by a mob upon the body of any person, which shall result in the death of such person, shall constitute a “lynching.”

§ 18.2-40. Lynching deemed murder.

Every lynching shall be deemed murder. Any and every person composing a mob and any and every accessory thereto, by which any person is lynched, shall be guilty of murder, and upon conviction, shall be punished as provided in Article 1 (§ 18.2-30 et seq.) of this chapter.

§ 18.2-43. Apprehension and prosecution of participants in lynching.

The attorney for the Commonwealth of any county or city in which a lynching may occur shall promptly and diligently endeavor to ascertain the identity of the persons who in any way participated therein, or who composed the mob which perpetrated the same, and have them apprehended, and shall promptly proceed with the prosecution of any and all persons so found; and to the end that such offenders may not escape proper punishment, such attorney for the Commonwealth may be assisted in all such endeavors and prosecutions by the Attorney General, or other prosecutors designated by the Governor for the purpose; and the Governor may have full authority to spend such sums as he may deem necessary for the purpose of seeking out the identity, and apprehending the members of such mob.

 

California omits “lynching” from law

Until 2015, California’s Lynching Law (California Penal Code 405a) defined “lynching” as the crime of removing someone from the lawful custody of a peace officer by means of a riot.

What constitutes a riot per this section of California law?

  • Use force or violence;
  • Disturb the public peace; or
  • Threaten to use force or violence with immediate power to execute the threat.

Therefore, (per California law) – Lynching: “to take someone from lawful police custody by means of a riot means to engage in the use of force or violence, disturbing the public peace, or threatening to use force or violence with the immediate power to do so in order to free someone from the custody of a law enforcement agent.”

However, in 2015, then California Gov. Brown signed legislation removing the word “lynching” from the law after a member of the Black Lives Matter group was arrested for interfering with the arrest of a fellow activist during a rally against police brutality. Her arrest was for the crime of Lynching and had nothing to do ropes or trees or even murder.

Still, while having other meanings and legal implications, the term “lynching” is, and will likely always be most commonly associated with the brutal hangings of African Americans, especially those that occurred in the south. According to numbers from the Equal Justice Initiative, nearly 4,000 African Americans were lynched by racist mobs between 1877 and 1950.


Strange Fruit

Here’s Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, a song that was closely aligned with the anti-lynching and American Civil rights movements. The song is definitely chilling and quite visual. It was originally written as a poem by Abel Metropol.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

 

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

scent of magnolia

sweet and fresh

then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

 

Here is a fruit

for the crows to pluck

for the rain to gather

for the wind to suck

for the sun to rot

for the tree to drop.

Here is a strange

and bitter crop.


*Please, this is not an article about race or politics. Please do not make it so. The information contained in this post is strictly that, information. It’s not an op ed piece nor is  it an invitation to argue personal views about race, police, politics, gun control, the NRA, school shootings, etc. I’ve grown weary of the constant bickering so often seen on social media. But I do wholeheartedly welcome questions and comments.

The writer, a lovely woman who writes as Esther Neveredits and who shares her office with seven cats of various sizes and personalities, opened the first chapter of her first book with the following passage.

“Detective Barney Catchemall followed the cop killer, a man named Folsom Blue, across seven states and forty-eight jurisdictions, to a house in Coolyville, California where he shot Blue in the arm with a single round fired from his department-issued semi-automatic revolver. He bandaged his prisoner’s wound (just a nick) and then brought him back to the city where the homicide took place and where he’ll stand trial before the Grand Jury on a charge of Homicide 1.

He’d been tried for the Homicide 1 charge once before but was found not guilty and set free with a clean record. However,  the vindictive DA decided to try him again, hoping for a more suitable outcome, a conviction, which was practically guaranteed the second time around since the hardworking prosecutor personally handpicked the jury members … twelve badge bunnies. And, as soon as the paperwork was complete, he had plans to seize Blue’s oceanfront condo and his yacht. It was a good day. A good day indeed.”

So, did Ms. Neveredits have her facts straight? Yes? No?

Fortunately, and unlike Esther (bless her heart), most writers are pretty savvy when it comes to writing about cops and criminals and everything in between. And those who have questions … well, they typically ask an expert to help with the details. Or, they attend the Writers’ Police Academy where they’ll receive actual police training—driving, shooting, door-kicking, crime scene investigation, classes on the law and courtroom procedure, and so much more, and it’s all designed for writers.

But let’s return to Esther’s paragraph. What did she get wrong? The better question is how many things did she get wrong and in so few words?

  • Is there an official charge of Homicide I?
  • Are police officers permitted to cross jurisdictional boundaries, shoot a suspect, and then bring them back to stand charges?
  • Do Grand Juries try criminal cases?
  • Can a defendant be tried twice for the same crime?
  • Can a prosecutor continue to bring charges against someone over and over again until they get the results they seek—a conviction?
  • Semi-auto revolver? Is there such thing as a semi-auto revolver?
  • What the heck is a badge bunny?

Okay, let’s dive right in.

Just say no to “Homicide 1”

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It is Murder that’s the unlawful killing of another person. The crime is usually deliberate or committed during an act that showed total disregard for the safety of others.

“I understand that murder is a crime,” you say, but … what’s the difference between murder and homicide? Don’t they share the same meaning? Is there a difference?

Yes, of course there’s a distinction between the two, and the things that set them apart are extremely important.

Again, murder is the unlawful killing of a person, especially with malice aforethought. The definition of homicide encompasses ALL killings of human beings by other humans. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

By the way, animals (horses, dogs, pigs, cows, chickens, etc.), do not fall into the category of “all killings of human beings by other humans.” Therefore, there is no charge of murder for killing an animal. There are other laws that apply in those instances, but not, “Farmer Brown received the death penalty for murdering Clucky, his prized rooster.”

Anyway, yes, some homicides are indeed, L.E.G.A.L., legal.

Another term/crime you should know is felony murder. Some of you attended a popular and detailed workshop about this very topic at the Writers’ Police Academy.

To get everyone’s attention, a bank robber fires his weapon at the ceiling. A stray bullet hits a customer and she dies as a result of her injury. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices could also be charged with the murder even if they were not in possession of a weapon or took no part in the death of the victim.

Also, Manslaughter – Even though a victim dies as a result of an act committed by someone else, the death occurred without evil intent.

While attending a mind-numbing car race where drivers made loop after loop after loop around an oval dirt track, a quite intoxicated and shirtless Ronnie Redneck got into a rather heated argument with his best buddy, Donnie Weakguy.

Donnie Weakguy

During the exchange of words, Weakguy begins yelling obscenities and with the delivery of each four-letter word he jabbed a bony index finger into Redneck’s chest. Redneck , a man of little patience, took offense at the finger-poking and used both hands to shove Weakguy out of his personal space. Well,  Weakguy, who was known countywide for his two left feet, tripped over his unconscious and extremely intoxicated girlfriend, Rita Sue Jenkins-Ledbetter, and hit his head on a nearby case of Budweiser. He immediately lost consciousness and, unfortunately, died on the way to the hospital as a result of bleeding inside the skull. Weakguy’s death was not intentional, but Ronnie Redneck finds himself facing manslaughter charges.

To address Ms. Neveredit’s additional missteps:

Jurisdiction – A law enforcement agency’s geographical area where they have the power and authority to enforce the law. The location is typically the area where the officer is employed and sworn to enforce the law. A city officer’s jurisdictional boundary is within the city limits (In most areas tthere is small allowance that extends beyond the city limits where officers are legally permitted to make an arrest.

Sheriffs and their deputies have authority in the county and any town or city within those boundaries, state police—anywhere in the state, federal agents—anywhere within the U.S. and its territories. To learn more about the exceptions please click over to my article titled Jurisdictional Boundaries: Step Across This Line, I Dare You.

Grand Jury – A panel of citizens selected to decide whether or not probable cause exists to charge a defendant with a crime. The Grand Jury hears only the prosecution’s side of the story. The defense is not allowed to present any evidence. In fact, the defense is not allowed to hear the testimony offered by the prosecution.

A Grand Jury does NOT try cases

Grand Jury members meet in secret, not in open courtrooms. Now you know why …

Asset Forfeiture – The government is allowed to seize property used in the commission of a crime. Many police departments benefit from the forfeiture of items such as, cash, cars, homes, boats, airplanes, and weapons. These items may be sold at auction, or used by the police.

For example, drug dealers use a 2010 Mercedes when making their deliveries. Police stop the car and arrest the occupants for distribution of heroin. Officers of a joint task force seize the car and subsequently fill out the proper asset-forfeiture paperwork. The vehicle is later forfeited (by the court) to the police department’s drug task force. They, in turn, assign the vehicle to their drug task force where officers use it as an undercover car. Other assets (again the items must be fruits of the illegal activity) are also seized and sold and the proceeds are divided among the agencies who participated in the bust and prosecution—prosecutor’s office, local police departments with officers assigned to the task force, etc.

Double jeopardy – The Fifth Amendment rule states that a person cannot be made to stand trial twice for the same offense.

Badge Bunny – A woman or man who is over-the-top romantically interested in police officers and firefighters, and pursues them relentlessly. And I do mean REE-Lentlessly. They sometimes follow officers around while they’re on duty. The eat in the same restaurants. Watch officers from afar. Bring baked goods to the police department. Call in false reports that bring officers to their homes. Stand or park nearby the police department during shift changes. Make friends with dispatchers, hoping they’ll help get them closer to the officers who make their stalking hearts go pitter-patter. They drive fast, hoping an officer will stop them for speeding, an opportunity to flirt. And, well, you get the idea. REE-Lentless.

 

There’s an old cop saying, “The badge will get you a bunny, but the bunny will eventually get your badge.”

* Badge Bunnies have been assigned a variety of nicknames by officers, such as beat wives, holster sniffers, and lint (because they cling to uniforms).

Now, a final thought …

Here’s a easy rule of thumb to remember that’ll help to sort out the murder/homicide issue.

  • All murders are homicides, but not all homicides are murder.

See, not confusing at all …

WAIT! We forgot to address the semi-automatic revolver. Is there such a thing? Well, typically the answer would be no. However …

 

See, I told you the only things consistent in police work and the law are the inconsistencies therein. And that’s a fact … maybe.

 

Many writers have never, not once, set foot inside a police car, nor have they climbed out of bed at 11 p.m. to swap pajamas for a police uniform, Kevlar vest, gun belt, sidearm, and spit-shined shoes. And they’ve not headed out into the night to spend the next eight to twelve hours dealing with the city’s “worst of the worst,” and worse.

Most people have not left home with their family saying, “Be careful, see you when you get home,” and know they’re saying it because they worry the next time they see their loved one will be at their funeral service. “Killed in the line of duty” is what the bloggers and reporters will say.

Sure, you all know what goes on during a police officer’s shift—fights, domestic calls, shootings, stabbings, drug dealers, rapists, and killers of all shapes and sizes.

But what those of you who’ve never “been there, done that” cannot honestly and accurately detail the sounds heard when someone take a shot at you. No, not the actual gunshot. Its the other noises that help bring super-cool details to your stories.

To learn about those sounds, let’s pretend we’re the officer who’s just been the target of a bad guy’s gunfire. We’re chasing the suspect through alleys and paths that wind through dark wooded areas, all while knowing the guy has a gun and he’s definitely not afraid to use it.

Can’t see your hand in front of your face, so you stop and listen. And then it happens …

That eerie calm.

It causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand tall and straight. Goose bumps come to attention on your arms. A lone pea-sized bead of sweat worms its way down your spine, easing through the space between your pants and the bare skin of your waistline. It feels oddly cool against your fear-warmed flesh.

If this occurred in a movie there would be, of course, background music. So let’s do this right. Hit the play button, take a sip of your coffee, or tea, and then read on to learn about A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

 

10-4, I’ll take this one …

The call came in as “Shots Fired. Suspect is armed with a handgun and caller advises he is still at the residence and is threatening to kill responding officers.”

I was working the county alone so I asked the dispatcher to request backup from a nearby city and from the state police. The trooper in our county was also working alone. Our roles differed, though. He was out on the interstate writing traffic tickets while I responded to the usual plethora of calls. Either way, we were alone when we approached whatever situation was before us, be it stopping a stolen car with dark tinted windows or heading toward a house where I knew a man was waiting to kill me.

The sound of a police radio is far different when it’s heard late at night as opposed to the same radio traffic during daylight hours. Its an unexplained phenomena. It could be that dark skies and night air create different acoustics. Or that working the graveyard shift forces dispatchers to work really hard to battle “the thing” that comes out at night to squeeze their emotions into submission. They typically lose the fight which results in a manner of speech that’s without feeling, inflection, and dynamics.

Nighttime radio traffic echoes and travels far. It’s weird and out of place among the stars and creamy moonlight. Dispatchers drone on like robots … “Robbery at …” “Wife says husband hit her …” “Lost child …” “Possible drug overdose at …” “Loud music at …” “Peeping Tom at …” “Customer refuses to pay at …” Shoplifter at …” “Dead body in river …” Dead body in park …” “Shots fired …” “Shots fired …” “Man stabbed at …” Shots fired …”

Back to the man who wanted to kill me

I acknowledged the call with a “10-4, I’m en-route.” Then I hooked the radio mic back into the metal “U-shaped” clip connected to the dashboard. Next I pushed one of the many red toggle switches mounted into the center console.

With the push of the button, a faint click occurred simultaneously with the eruption of pulsating blue light. I stepped on the gas and heard the engine come to life. Since I was miles out in the country there was no need for the siren. Not yet.

I pushed the pedal toward the floor until I was cruising along at 70 mph. Believe me, that was pretty fast considering the curvy, hilly road that was before me.

There are no streetlights in the country. It’s super dark. Blue light reflects from trees, shrubbery, houses, mailboxes, passing cars, and telephone poles. It also reflects from the white lines painted on the pavement.

Meanwhile, the radio traffic continues with updates for me and with traffic from city officers and the trooper out on the interstate … “Use caution. Driver of the vehicle is wanted for a homicide in …”

My car radio played in the background. Golden Earring’s bass player thumped the intro to “Radar Love” while I attempted to straighten the curves by hitting my marks—drive low in the curves, on both sides of the road. Never at the apex. Unless a car is coming in the opposite direction or you cannot see far enough ahead to safely do so. The guitar player’s eardrum piercing leads began just as I hit a rare straight stretch of the road.

Hey, here’s an idea. Why not join me for the rest of the ride. So climb in, buckle up, and hold on. And, let’s crank up the radio to start the blood flowing. It’ll help set the stage. Off we go!

The blue strobes mounted on top of the car make a clicking sound with the start of each flash. The wig-wag headlamps do the same. The roadway is very uneven with a few cracks and potholes scattered about. They cause the patrol car to dip and sway perilously in the vehicle groans and creaks with each expansion and contraction of its suspension. The extra pair of handcuffs I and many other cops keep handy by hanging them from the spotlight handle that protrudes from the post between the windshield and driver’s door, sway back and forth and bang together causing a constant click, click, click noise.

The cacophony of speed and sights and sounds—creaks, clicks, and whirling, blinking, and flashing vivid blue lights, together with the combination with the car’s groans and moans and squeaks and rattles, the dispatcher’s monotonous voice, and the frenzy of the music—are out of sync and in total discord. Adrenaline, at this stage of the game is that a feverish pitch. It’s organized turmoil.

I switched off my lights a ways before reaching the scene—didn’t want to shooter to know  we were there—and stopped my car on the shoulder, a bit down the road from the driveway. I called the dispatcher on the phone to let her know I’d arrived. The use of the phone was in case the bad guy was listening to a scanner. I turned down the volume on my police radio. Way down. Remember, the sound travels far. I wished backup didn’t have to do the same (travel far).

I opened my car door slowly to avoid making any noise. The interior light was not operational—disconnected in police cars to prevent illuminating the officer and/or blinding them to goings-on outside the vehicle.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to remain here, for now,” I say to you. “it’s for your own safety. Lock the doors, and no matter what you hear or see do not get out of the car. I’ll be back soon.” I open my wallet to retrieve a spare car key. “Here, just in case.”

As I slid from the seat my leather gun belt creaked and squeaked and groaned, as leather does when rubbed against other leather or similar material. To me, the sound was as loud as fourth of July fireworks. My key ring (in my pants pocket) jingled slightly with each step. So I used a hand to hold them against my leg. The other hand was on my pistol.

I walked up to the house to peek into a window before knocking on the front door. I wanted to see if I could, well, see anything. But, as I closed in on the side of the house a large mixed breed dog stepped into view, showing its teeth and upper gums. The animal, with matted-hair and a crooked tail,  growled one of those slow and easy rumbles that comes from somewhere deep inside. I held out a hand for it to sniff. It backed into the shadows.

A quick peek inside revealed a family of five. A woman with two black eyes and three crying children. Two girls, not quite teenagers, but close, probably, and a wiggling and squirming baby. A man stood near a tattered recliner and tall floor lamp. He held a pump shotgun in his right hand. At the moment, the barrel was aimed toward the floor. He yelled a few obscenities and started to pace. Then he looked straight at me, or at least it seemed like he looked at me.

My heart pounded against the inside of my chest. It bumped so hard I could hear the sound it made with each beat. It was that song’s intro all over again …

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

I’ve been driving all night
My hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
It’s my baby calling
Says “I need you here”
And it’s half past four and I’m shifting gear.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump—

Then, from somewhere deep in the shadows.

Grrrr …….. Growl …..

From inside the home.

A baby crying.

A woman pleads and sobs.

A young girl. “Please, Daddy. No more!”

Sirens wail in the distance, beyond the black tree line that connects sky with earth. Sounds travel further at night, right?

The air-conditioning unit beneath the window snaps on. Its compressor humming and fan whirring. The metal casing rattles slightly. Probably missing a screw or two.

A Cop’s Nighttime Melody Approaches the Finale

I knew what I had to do and started toward the door with my leather shoes and gun belt squeaking and keys jingling and heart thumping. As I reached for the knob I took a deep breath.

The expansion of my chest pulled at the Velcro that held my vest tightly against my torso.

Crackle. Crackle. Crackle.

Right behind me now.

Grrr …. Growl …

Crying.

Screaming. 

Whir.

Thump. Thump. Thump!

Jingle

Squeak.

The door.

Turn and push.

“Drop the gun!”

BANG!

BANG!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Crying.

And crying.

“10-4. Send the coroner.”

So, my friends, those are the sounds of working the graveyard shift … A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

Thanks so much for joining me. I hope to see you again, soon.

 

*This is a repeat post per request. Thanks!

 

“Shots fired! Officer down! We’re taking rounds from somewhere but we don’t know where! It’s a set up. Send help. Now!”

Ambush. It’s a nightmare scenario for police officers, and it’s a nightmare that’s difficult to predict. It’s also a nightmare that’s nearly impossible to avoid because when people call and say they’re in trouble, well, the police have to respond. It’s what they do and the bad guys know this and they use it to their advantage.

However, there are some things officers can do to protect themselves. Like assessing all situations before plowing in head first. But that’s just plain old common sense.

The best avenue for safety is to think like the bad guys. Be creative. How would a crook set up an ambush? What are some scenarios that would lure a police officer into the spider’s lair?

Well, this should all come as second nature for a cop. After all, police officers ambush bad guys all the time, and they’re quite good at it too. But most officers probably never considered that ambush is one of their best tactics.

Let’s compare a crook’s ambush plan to a police officer’s plan of attack when arresting a dangerous suspect. Any similarities?

1. Good guys –  Police officers gather intelligence on the suspect before moving in.

Bad guys – Study the habits of their police officer target before making a move.

2. Good guys – Before attempting to arrest a dangerous suspect try to get him alone, away from partners.

Bad guys – Before attempting to kill a highly-skilled police officer try to get him alone, away from his partners.

3. Good guy – When making the arrest always be in charge. Go! Go! Go! Stay on the offensive.

Bad guy – Don’t wait for the target to make a move. Be aggressive. Go! Go! Go!

4. Good guy –  Get the suspect on your turf and terms. Maintain control of arrest/take down location.

Bad guy – Get the cop off balance. Take him out of his element. Call 911 and report a crime in a deserted area. Maintain control of kill zone.

5. Good guy – Always find and use cover. Stay protected.

Bad guy – Stay hidden. Never expose your location.

6. Good guy – When the time is right go with all your might. Take ’em down fast and hard.

Bad guy – Cut him no slack. Take him out, fast.

So, you see, a cop’s arrest planning and execution is quite similar to a crook’s planning and execution of an ambush. Cops should definitely use this “inside” knowledge to help protect themselves against an attack.

What’s the best defense against an ambush?

1. Always assume that someone could be waiting to ambush you. Don’t take a risk to save time, or because it seems foolish to take an extra precaution. Being teased by fellow officers is much more appealing than having your kids grow up with only memories of a parent.

2. Habits are costly. Never stick to a routine. Change the route you to take to work/home. Don’t eat at the same restaurant every day. Don’t sit in the same booth. Don’t stop at the same coffee shop on the way to work each morning. Don’t jog the same path after work.

And never, ever sit with your back to the door. Always, always, always sit where you can see all entrances and exits. If possible, have a quick look at everyone who enters. Note their body language and demeanor.

3. Don’t enter locations/situations with only one way out. Always have a retreat strategy and plenty of backup.

4. Look for things and places you can use for cover BEFORE you need it.

5. Go with your gut. If that extra cop sense tells you not to go, then don’t. Wait for back up. A cop’s instinct is usually on the money, so believe in it. Trust your gut and trust your training!

Finally, it’s not your job to be a hero. Your duty is to protect the public. Besides, a dead hero is never anything more than, well, dead.

Let’s see how well you do with a common scenario that officers often encounter. Good luck, and remember the tips above.

AMBUSH!

The call is at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The caller, a Mrs. Munster, reported that her husband has been feeling a bit green with jealousy and has threatened her with a gun several times during the past few days. In fact, he’s waving one around right now, she says, and tells the dispatcher to please hurry before he kills somebody.

Officers respond. A neighbor meets them at the curb, telling them she heard lots of screaming, yelling, glass breaking, and what she thought was a gunshot. The patrol cops thank the neighbor and ask her to go home where she’ll be safe. Then they knock on the Munster’s front door.

Ms. Lilly Munster answers (she has a black eye) and says her gun-waving husband is now calm and is in the bedroom watching his favorite television show, COPS. She says everything is okay and then invites them inside to have a look. But she seems nervous. Very nervous.

What should the officers do? Immediately go inside to speak with Mr. Munster? Wait for back up and then storm the house? Order Mr. Munster outside? What about Mrs. Munster? What happens to her?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.


Obviously, officers cannot predict and/or prevent every bad situation. But using caution, training, and common sense are crucial elements of living to see another day.


Thanks to author Kendra Elliot for allowing me to photograph her during her time at the Writers’ Police Academy firing range. That’s Kendra at the right (and above), taking aim. I was not harmed even though Kendra is a crack shot. Of course, the rifle was not loaded nor was I standing in the line of fire. Instead, we’re simply good at staging photos.

Also on the WPA firing line was author Melinda Leigh (below left). Both she and Kendra are longtime loyal sponsors of the event and we deeply appreciate their continued support.