Should know about DNA


Sometimes, we just seem to get our tangs all tonguled up and use the wrong words in our stories. Perhaps we learned those incorrect little language units while watching television, or while reading a novel written by a die-hard CSI fan. Either way,  here’s some words and facts about DNA that all writers should know if their stories involves this area of forensics.


ABI 310 Genetic Analyzer – capillary electrophoresis instrument used in laboratories for DNA testing.

Allele – an alternate form of a gene, such as hair color and the shape of your nose.

ASCLD – American Society of Crime Lab Directors.

Autoradiogram – a sort of x-ray picture of where radioactive probes have adhered to alleles. (It’s a picture of someone’s DNA).

New Picture (1)

Band – a picture of a DNA fragment.

Capillary Electrophoresis – a method of separating DNA using straw-like capillaries.

The scientist is pointing to the eight capillaries.

Chromosome – a very large piece of DNA.

Males have one Y and one X chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes.

CODIS – Combined DNA Index system. Established in 1998.

Degradation – chemical or physical breakdown of DNA.

Electrophoresis – method of separating DNA molecules using an electric field.

Gel electrophoresis

Electropherogram – A plotted printout of DNA test results.

Gel – medium used in electrophoresis to separate DNA.

Forensic Facts

Loading DNA into gel.

Genome – an organism’s genetic composition.

Locus – Location of a gene on a chromosome. (pl. Loci)

Mitochondrial DNA – DNA transferred only from mother to child.

 STR – repetition of four tandomly repeated nucleotides. The FBI typically uses 13 STR loci in forensic analysis.

DNA Facts:

Identical twins have identical DNA.

Humans are genetically 99.9% identical. Only 0.1% of our genetic makeup is different.

It takes about eight hours for one cell to copy its own DNA.

Red blood cells do not contain DNA.

DNA is used to determine pedigree in livestock.

DNA is used to authenticate wine and caviar.

Detergent and Alcohol will not destroy DNA.

DNA can be transferred from article of clothing to another, even in a washing machine. This is called secondary and tertiary transfer.

DNA testing is not 100% accurate.

Criminal cases involving DNA evidence are usually quite serious in nature (homicide, rape, etc.). Less than 1% of that DNA evidence is reviewed by defense attorneys.

*Want to know what it’s really like to work The Graveyard Shift in a busy police department? Find out tomorrow when romance author/police dispatcher Tracy Seybold stops in for a tell-all visit.

Literary Agent Janet Reid Goes Undercover


I’m here undercover.

Lee Lofland thinks he invited me over to do a guest stint on his blog.  What I’m really doing is getting to know you, his readers, and worming my way into your good graces.  Why?  Cause I just sold a book about female police officers and when it comes out next year my author is going to be promoting it to police officers, former police officers and people interested in reading about them.

So why am I here a year early?  Those who know me might say cause it takes a year for anyone to think I’m charming or a year to not think I’m a sarcastic (um…Lee…can I say bitch on your blog??) but that’s only half the answer.

Blogging is just a new form of word of mouth, and building relationships for effective word of mouth, in the blogosphere as elsewhere, takes time. There are no shortcuts.  There aren’t lists of big time bloggers, with their email addresses, and the kinds of things they like to hear about.  Newp.  This is research one click at a time.  Blogroll after blogroll.  Thank god for bookmarks and RSS feeds to help keep track of things but it’s still tedious work.

Tedious, but essential.  I believe the day of the physical book tour is coming to an end.  With the high price of gas, authors spend even more money on what was largely building good will rather than one which sold a lot of books.  Fewer authors are willing to do that. Fewer publishers are willing to pay for it. That makes sense from their point of view of course, but it makes promotion and visibility all that much harder.

Word of mouth marketing online is going to do nothing but grow. It’s not going to grow through social networks like Facebook or MySpace either. Those are so sprawling, and devoid of useful content and so clearly self-serving that, as a marketing ploy, they are basically useless. Effective online marketing is through blogs like this.  Lee provides interesting content – content we come back to read daily or weekly.  When/if Lee finds a book he likes and wants to talk about, and mentions it on his blog, I’ll see it.  I’ll pay attention to it because Lee is someone I like, and read. He’s an effective advocate because I have the sense I know him by reading his blog.

If I see a book once on Lee’s blog, that will be nice.  But if I see the book again on three other blogs, then I’ll start to remember.  Market research tells us that consumers need to see something 12 times before the image “sticks.”

As an author, what that means is that you have to start early. Get to know bloggers in your area. Not geographical area (although that is another good place too) but in your area of writing.  If you’re writing about cops, you check out cop blogs. Like this one.  And you read it regularly. You offer a comment periodically so your email address or posting name gets known. You become part of a community essentially.

The trick is that it takes time.  You can’t just barrel in and announce you’re everyone’s friend and aren’t they lucky you have a book out now for everyone to buy.  Well, you could.  But I’m trying to be effective, not stupid. I get those emails a lot from people. I routinely delete them without reply. Every other blogger I talk to does the same thing.  I see those kinds of posts on listservs I belong to, and I skim right over it as the ineffective mention that it is.

The books I do mention on my blog, are by people I know, and like, and want to promote. The books I do notice on listservs are those talked about by actual readers as books they liked (or sometimes didn’t–I am always intrigued when people rant about a book.)

I firmly believe this is the marketing template of the future. And not just for authors at small publishers, for ALL authors.

And now, back to my clever surveillance plan.


*Janet Reid is a literary agent a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City.  She specializes in crime fiction. You can vist her at

Narcotics Evidence


Narcotics officers spend a great deal of time conducting surveillance in some of the worst places imaginable, and they do it while enduring some pretty rough conditions. After all, it’s not pleasant sitting in a patch of poison ivy during a rainstorm while watching a bad guy conducting his business. And, the narcotics officers never know if they’ll be discovered, which could lead to a violent confrontation, possibly even a shootout.

Once the surveillance is over, and officers have established the necessary probable cause for obtaining a search warrant, it’s time to locate and seize the evidence. Tactical teams rehearse for this moment over and over again.


Entry team serving a search warrant


Bale (or brick) of marijuana discovered during a search 


Twenty-five pounds of freshly harvested marijuana

Back at the police department, officers deposit evidence, such as narcotics, into an evidence safe. Once the items have been placed into the opening on the top of the safe they cannot be removed except by the property room supervisor.

Safes, like the one pictured below, are used during the nighttime hours when the property room officers are off duty. Each morning the property room officers remove the items, catalogue them, and place them into the property warehouse, or other storage facility. Some evidence rooms are huge, like the warehouses in stores like Target,Walmart, and Lowes.


Evidence safe


Property room supervisor weighing a bag of marijuana. No one has access to the evidence except the officers who work inside. If officers need a piece of evidence, they must sign for it much like you would do when checking out a library book.


Scales for weighing evidence. The weight is recorded on the yellow evidence tag along with other pertinent case information.

Evidence waiting to be catalogued

After a drug case has made its way though the courts, the drugs are destroyed.


Device used for destroying (burning) narcotics

Photos below are of officers destroying confiscated marijuana.


4/20 Day Cannibis


There’s one job within the police department that really takes special skills, patience, and abilities. It’s a demanding job that requires long, late-night hours, working in extremely dangerous situations, and hanging out with some of the worst criminals in the country.  The job –  narcotics officer.

Police departments take drug crimes seriously, and they take a proactive approach to locating and arresting illegal drug dealers and manufacturers. One reason they take such as hard stance against illegal drugs is because drug activity is often the cause of other major crimes, such as prostitution, larceny, rape, robbery, and even murder.


Drug crimes often spill over from one jurisdiction to another, so in order to better combat the illegal activity police agencies sometimes join together to form a drug task force. These task forces are often comprised of members from local police departments, sheriff’s offices, state police departments, DEA, FBI, ATF, etc. The officers in these task forces have jurisdiction anywhere within each of the member’s home county, city, or state.


Task force members receive specialized training in drug recognition, proper search warrant service, high-risk entries, undercover operations, drug slang and terminolgy, pharmaceuticals, and other areas relating to drug use and abuse. They’re also trained to locate marijuana growing operations.

To locate outdoor marijuana growing operations, police look for certain things, such as:

– Farm paths that have locked gates.

– Water jugs and fertilizer that’s been strategically placed along footpaths.

– Well-worn footpaths.

-People who regularly visit isolated woodlands.

To locate indoor growing operations, police look for:

– Air-conditioned outbuildings

– Outbuildings with plumbing and electricity.

– Stacks of potting soil and fertilizer

– Unusually large purchases of fertilzer, grow lights, and potting soil.

– Unusually high utility bills.


Indoor growing operation

Officers spend lots of time walking through wooded areas and other prime locations during the marijuana growing season. They also use helicopters and small planes to fly over suspected growing areas. Marijuana has a distinctive blue-green coloring that’s quite visible from the air, even in thick, wooded areas.


Looking down on marijuana plants from police aircraft

Marijuana plants stand out from the surrounding brush. Also, footpaths leading to the crop are like flashing neon lights to officers. Some growers attempt to hide their crops by draping camoflaged netting over their plants. They also grow individual marijuana plants in plastic five-gallon buckets so they can move the entire plant if they think the police may be getting close to their operation.



                              Confiscated marijuana

Drug task force shoulder patches:





Cops are people too


Police officers have a dangerous job, no doubt about it. They drive fast, dodge bullets, wrestle bad guys, and take knives away from rowdy drunks. But, if you take the time to look closely you’ll see that they’re just people, like you and me. They just happen to wear a uniform and carry a gun.













Officers must lock their weapons inside a lockbox before entering the booking area.











Kinesics is the study of nonverbal communication – body language. A suspect’s movements and gestures can tell investigators when he is being less than truthful. Some of these gestures are very slight while others are as plain as the nose on the suspect’s face.


– Like to take up as little space as possible. To do so, they limit their arm and hand movements. They feel safer keeping their hands and arms close to their body.

– Movements are stiff and unnatural.


– Don’t like to make eye contact.

– Repeatedly touch their face, ears, and throat.


– Don’t like to touch their heart or chest area with an open hand.

– Repeatedly touch their nose or ears.


– Timing of gestures are delayed.

– Liars often use gestures that don’t match their verbal responses to a question (frown when they should smile).

– Guilty people are most often defensive.

– A guilty person likes to place an object (a pencil, paper, etc.) between himself and the officer as a protective barrier.

– Liars like to use the officer’s words to answer the question. (repeat the question before responding).

– Liars use contractions (I didn’t do it). Innocent people do not.

– Liars are not comfortable with silence. They ramble, and detectives should allow them to do so.

– Liars mumble and speak in monotone.

– Guilty people love it when detectives change the subject. They immediately become happy. Their sullen moods return when the detective returns to the subject at hand. Investigators intentionally switch topics as a ploy during interrogations.

– Liars and guilty people often use humor in their responses.

Chief of police Scott Silverii


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

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


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

Police chiefs are responsible for:

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

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

– Organize training programs

– Act as liason between the community and the police department

– Develop policies and procedures

– Attend council meetings

– Maintain accurate departmental records

– Prepare departmental budget

– Develop and implement accident and crime prevention programs

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

Others catch big sharks…

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


Nichole Brown Simpson crime scene.

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

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


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


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

Calculating the unknown angle

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

The relationship between these variables is:

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

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


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

Quiz: What fatal mistake have these two detectives made?

Lt. Dave Swords

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

Vehicle searches

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

An officer conducts a vehicle search.

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

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

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

Inventory Searches

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

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

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

Officers must effectively articulate their justification for probable cause.

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

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

Officers should always put safety first.

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

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

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

*Tomorrow – Blood evidence

Lt. Dave Swords

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

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

Search Your Heart and Seize the Day

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


A seizure of a person is an arrest.

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

Consent Search

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

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

Driver gives consent to search his car.

Plain View

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

Marijuana in plain view.

Stop and Frisk or “pat-down” search

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

A search incident to a lawful arrest

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


Pat-down (frisk) search for weapons.

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

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