While sitting at my desk trying super hard to come up with a new blog topic for the day, I heard the sound of a whistle blowing outside. The sharp but distant tweetings were coming from a nearby soccer field, signaling that what was likely an exciting game was currently underway. And then it hit me, I once wrote an article about, of all things, police whistles. So, without further adieu, I present to you … a Saturday “tweet.”

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Police officers use whistles to attract the attention of motorists and pedestrians, and to call for assistance from fellow officers.

Prior to the use of whistles, officers used hand rattles to summon back up. Radios eventually took the place of whistles; however, the shrill-sounding devices are still used when directing traffic or for signaling pedestrians.

Types of police whistles.

(Wikipedia photo)

The model 300, a solid brass, nickel-plated whistle, comes with a water-resistant cork ball. This high-quality piece of police equipment can even be imprinted with a logo of choice.

Finger whistles are equipped with an adjustable finger band.

Whistles are available in various colors, such as those pictured below. They’re made of molded plastic.

Whistle with lanyard and rubber safety tip.

Rubber safety tips in assorted colors.

Whistle hook (pins to uniform shirt).

20″ snake chain with button hook (attaches to shirt button and whistle).

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Civilian Safety Packs contain a whistle for blowing when in danger, and a key ring that can be used as a weapon of self-defense. The manufacturer advertises this pack as being ideal for people who live alone, college students, women, and senior citizens.

24K gold-plated whistles are sometimes presented as awards. They come in velvet-lined walnut cases.

And, just for fun, the number one song on this day in 1966.

 

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Pistol (semi-automatic)

The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having:

  • a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);
  • and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

Pistol nomenclature (below)

Revolver

The term “Revolver” means a projectile weapon of the pistol type, having a breechloading chambered cylinder so arranged that the cocking of the hammer or movement of the trigger rotates it and brings the next cartridge in line with the barrel for firing.

Revolver nomenclature (below)

*All of the above (text and images) are from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Thanks to the folks at ATF for allowing the reproduction and use.

For Writers: Semi-autos and fully automatic (machine guns) automatically eject spent cartridges. Revolvers DO NOT. Therefore, writers, chances are slim and mostly none of finding empty revolver cartridges at a crime scene. Please remember this when writing the “aha” moment in your WIP.

 

If only police wore body cameras…

“Body cameras will reduce violence.”

“Wear a camera and assaults against officers will decrease.”

“There will be less incidents of force by officers if they’re forced to wear body cameras.”

Those were just some of the comments we heard when the issue of police body cameras first began to emerge. So yes, police officers across the U.S. have begun to wear cameras as part of their duty gear, but the results of their use are a bit surprising.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge worked with eight police forces across the UK and US—West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Northern Ireland’s PSNI, as well as Ventura, California and Rialto, California. The research (a large study involving 2,122 officers, 2.2 million officer-hours, and interaction with 2 million citizens) was comprised of ten randomized-controlled trials where officers either wore body cameras that were switched on the entire time of their shifts, did not wear body cameras, or they wore cameras but were permitted to switch them on or off at the officers’ discretion.

The results:

  • Use of force incidents by officers wearing cameras fell by 37% (suspects readily complied with officer commands).
  • Use of force rose by 71% among officers who were permitted to switch cameras on and off at their discretion.
  • The rate of assaults against officers wearing cameras increased by 15% as opposed to non-camera-wearing officers.
  • Assaults against officers were greater in number when the officer told a suspect they were being recorded or when they announced they were switching on their cameras.
  • Officers wearing cameras reported more assaults against them as opposed to the officers who were not wearing cameras. It’s thought that officers wearing cameras felt they could report assaults because they had video proof of the incidents.

Further study is needed to determine if wearing a body camera causes officers to feel less confident/self-assured which could result in being more vulnerable and susceptible to assault. This could be the cause for the increase in number of attacks against camera-wearing officers.

An odd thing about the study is that it showed the results varied from one area to another, meaning that camera use in one location within a city may produce a different reaction in another. For example, the presence of a body camera could be welcomed in the south side of AnyTown, but in the north side the presence of a body camera they might anger those residents. The same is true from town to town. Town A citizens might love seeing their officers wearing cameras. However, Town B citizens may feel resentment or enticed to use violence against the officers who’re recording their actions.

My take on the study results – body cameras may or may not be a good thing, and whether they are or are not is controlled by a number of influences over both the police and citizens, including human judgement, human error, and even human emotion—fear, shame, pride, etc. So, like anything else where split second decisions are made…it depends. That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it…maybe.

 

High-Tech crime solving

Biometrics is the measurement/metrics and statistical analysis related to human physical and behavioral characteristics. Typically, biometrics is used for identification and access control, or for identifying people such as criminals/potential criminals who are under surveillance.

Fingerprints are a common use of biometrics. Others include voice patterns, irises, DNA, and facial recognition.

Safran, a company employing 69,000 people, is an international high-tech group whose focus is Aerospace, Defense and Security. One of their many areas of expertise is biometrics, particularly so regarding fingerprints and facial recognition.

Morpho, a division of Safran, is active in the field of biometrics. For example, ABIS is Morpho’s Automated Biometric Identification System. This particular bit of technology is used for fingerprints and palm prints, as well as for iris and facial recognition. But it is their Criminal Justice Suite that is particularly well-suited to aid in crime-solving.

The Criminal Justice Suite is also a crime-solving tool that would work extremely well in crime novels and other stories where high-tech police work is a main feature of the tale. If Morpho keeps this up real-life detectives could become a thing of the past. Looks like those goofy scenes on Castle may not be so far-fetched after all.

Here, see for yourselves.

Morpho also has a cool solution for secure access to restricted areas.

 

Cornflicker is alive and wiggling

Body Cameras. The cry for their use by police officers has been loud and strong, along with a demand that they be switched on nearly every second of an officer’s shift, without any means whatsoever for the officer to switch it off. Tamper proof. No access by anyone. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Well, many of those tamper-proof cameras that are supposed to record every step of an officer’s day without outside intervention, have been hacked.

Yes, many police body cameras are infected with Cornficker, a worm that has infected millions of computers in over 190 countries. Typically, the worm uses the OS system to paw around inside a computer searching for and stealing important data, such as credit card information, passwords, and other personal information.

Body cameras used by police departments, as is the case with any other type of device or item that can be used as evidence in court cases, must be completely tamper proof. Otherwise, the evidence contained within isn’t worth the price of what you paid to read this article.

So far, I believe, the Cornficker virus/worm is limited to the $499 body cameras manufactured and sold by Martel. And yes, Martel has sold these units to agencies all across the country. This particular worm infestation initiates when the data from the cameras is uploaded into department computers via USB. The virus then makes its way throughout the computer system.

A worm eats into the camera, ruining the data inside. The information within is then bad. And we all know what comes next… One bad camera can indeed spoil the whole bunch.

Cornficker is so problematic that it has caused temporary grounding of military aircraft, infection of computers in Naval vessels, including submarines, and the theft of scores of personal and secret data. Just think of the damage other hackers could inflict on a high-profile criminal case that heavily relies on the video evidence captured by an officer’s body camera, such as altering or erasing key parts of the recording.

At the very least, having the Cornficker worm, or other viruses…well, worming its way around the inside of a police officer’s body camera is cause for reasonable doubt. In other words, the dismissal of a very important criminal case.

This information, my writer friends, is excellent fodder for countless plot twists. Imagine the look on the faces of jury members when they view an altered body camera recording. Hmm… What could you dream up for them to see? I wonder…

What Homicide Investigators should do

Investigator G. Gnome is in charge of his department’s CSI unit and forensic lab, and he’s made sure his team has the latest technology available. After all, crime victims deserve nothing short of the best. Such as…

Cops can see through your walls

Ranger-R, like other handheld radar units of similar design and type, allows officers and other first responders to “see” through walls and other obstructions.

The device works by detecting movement, even an action as slight as someone breathing. Its capabilities include detecting movement behind walls, floors, concrete, steel, concrete blocks, and more.

The technology is quite similar to a contractor’s stud finder, a handheld device used to locate wall studs (2×4’s, etc.), water pipes, and electrical wiring. When a stud finder locates its target it alerts the user with a bright light and by sounding a tone.

Units used by first responders are far more sensitive and are utilized to determine the locations of hostages, assailants, and injured people. Firefighters also use these devices to locate people trapped inside burning buildings and rubble.

Here’s how the technology works.

Of course, as with all products there is a certain margin of error. For example, I’m not so sure my “stud” finder is working properly today. I set it to “stud scan” and it alerted, but…

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NYPD Detective/WPA instructor Marco Conelli

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WPA instructors ATF Special Agent Rick McMahan and Secret Service Agent Mike Roche

 

3-B's: bullet holes, bite marks and blue ALS

Tired of steaming open envelopes to read the secret messages inside? How about not knowing if the guy with the pudgy hands and lazy right eye standing next to you once held the murder weapon? Is that really a bullet hole? I know, so many questions and not enough answers. Until…

1. Bullet Hole Examination Kit – Sometimes it becomes necessary to determine if the bloody hole in a murder victim’s shirt was actually caused by a bullet, or something else (stick, fireplace poker, ice pick, sword, car antenna, maestro’s baton, etc.). So, the savvy detective then reaches for her handy-dandy Bullet Hole Identification Kit. These kits contain an assortment of reagents (in app. 22 seperate eye-dropper-type bottles) that detect the presence of lead and copper that’s typically left behind when a bullet passes through an object. ($325.00 per portable test kit)

2. Paint Cans – Arson scene evidence, such as material containing accelerants, is collected and then stored in new, lined or unlined paint cans. Metal paint containers are perfect for the job because they’re airtight and leak-proof. ($23.25 per four 1-gallon unlined cans with lids. $36.10 per four lined cans with lids).

3. Footprints in the Snow – Most casting materials generate enough heat to melt surrounding snow, making it nearly impossible to pour and save/retain a suitable casting of footprints, tire tracks, etc. Therefore, investigators should first spray the snow with an insulator of some kind, such as Arrowhead Forensics’ Snow Impression Wax. The wax provides enough insulation to prevent melting and to lock in fine detail. ($20.70 per 15 oz. spray can)

4. See-Through – Once again we visit Arrowhead Forensics to have a peek at a product aptly named See-Through, a spray-on material that when spritzed on an envelope it enables the user to easily observe and/or read the contents inside. The material does not alter ink, and it leaves no trace that it was there. ($31.00 per 100ml spray can)

5. Ferrotrace – An iron-detection spray that’s used to reveal if a suspect has touched a gun. The spray reacts with invisible traces of iron that’s found on weapons. By using this product, detectives can quickly scan the hands of everyone at a crime scene to determine if they’d touched a gun. How? Well, the guilty party will be the person with bright purple hands. ($41.00 per 100ml spray can)

6. Crime Cam Examiner+ – A Canon Powershot camera equipped with a unique ring light. The ring light circles the lens and provides the necessary alternate light sources (ALS) dictated by specific need. Ideal for photographing bite marks, bruising, trace and biological evidence often found in cases of domestic violence. ($3200.00)

 

In the days before semi-automatics took center stage in the world of law enforcement, police officers carried revolvers as their weapons of choice. Cowboys called them six-shooters and gun buffs refer to them as wheel guns, and shooting enthusiasts love them. Why, then, did police officers make the switch? The answer is simple. Law enforcement officers were being outgunned by semi-automatic-toting bad guys.

Most revolvers are capable of firing only six rounds of ammunition. Semi-automatics can pop off fifteen or sixteen rounds as fast as a shooter can pull the trigger. During a gun battle, revolver-toting officers sometimes had to reload two or three times before the crook emptied his first magazine.

Reloading a revolver has always been a problem, especially when the officer was under fire. Cops carried their spare rounds of ammunition in rectangular, leather pouches called dump pouches. Dump pouches hold six bullets and are attached upside-down to the officer’s utility belt.

To access the extra bullets, officers simply unsnapped the pouch cover to “dump” the ammunition into their non-gun hand. The officer then had to feed the individual rounds into the open slots in the revolver’s rotating cylinder, one at a time. Needless to say, this process is much easier said than done when someone is shooting at you.

Barney’s dump pouches (two pouches) are attached to his utility belt, to the right of his tie (his left). The two release snaps are clearly visible near the bottom of the pouches.

The answer to faster re-loading? Speed loaders.

Speed loaders hold six rounds of ammunition (may vary depending upon the capacity of the weapon). The rounds are automatically positioned to line up with the bullet slots in a revolver’s cylinder. A twist of a knurled knob on the end of the speed loader releases all six rounds at once. Shooters could then easily and quickly re-load their revolvers during tense situations, even in the dark.

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Revolver, speed loaders, and speed loader pouches. The pouches attach to a police officer’s utility belt.

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A revolver’s cylinder is designed to swing out for reloading. The knurled button between the hammer and the wooden grip is the cylinder’s release button.

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Speed loaders position rounds so they line up perfectly with the bullet slots in the cylinder.

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A twist of the knob in the officer’s right hand releases all six rounds at once.

*This post is primarily for those of you writing historical fiction. You know, way back in the 1970’s or so, and before. FYI – It’s absolutely depressing to know that I’ve been around long enough to carry both dump pouches and speed loaders while on duty as a police officer. Sigh…

Uniform Bling: How to tell who's who

How do officers know, at a glance, when they’re addressing a ranking officer from another department? Well, the answer is as clear as everything else pertaining to law enforcement…it depends.

Police departments use many symbols of rank designation. Some department supervisors wear white shirts (some departments issue white shirts to all officers), while others issue gold badges to their higher-ranking officers. But the easiest way to tell an officer’s rank is to look at their collar insignia. Each pin is a representation of the officer’s rank.

Collar insignias, beginning with the top ranking officer (chief)

An eagle (birds) on each collar – Colonel, or Chief (some chiefs prefer to be addressed as Colonel).

Sheriffs and chiefs may also wear a series of stars to indicate their rank.

Oak leaf on each collar – Major

Two bars on each collar – Captain (the two bars are often called “railroad tracks”)

One bar on each collar – Lieutenant

Three stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve – Sergeant

Sometimes rank is indicated on the badge.

Two stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve – Corporal

Chevron, or single stripe – Private, or line officer

 

* An officer without a collar insignia is normally a private.

Hash marks on the sleeve indicate length of service. For example, each hash mark normally represents five years on the job. Sometimes, to avoid a sleeve fully-covered in long row of hash marks, stars are often used to represent each five years served. In the case of the officer above, each star in the circle represents five years of service, plus four hash marks, each  indicating a single year. 5 stars and 4 hash marks = a total of 29 years on the job.

Other pins and medals worn by officers may include…

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Here’s a closer look at the bling.

(from top to bottom):

– Name tag.

– Award ribbons – Community service award, length of service, expert marksman, lifesaving award, medal of valor.

– Pistol expert (to earn this award the officer must consistently shoot an average of 95% or better on the range).

– FTO pin worn by field training officers.

– K9 pin worn by K9 officers.

– Indicates outstanding service, above and beyond.

*Remember, ribbons and pins and other do-dads will vary in individual departments and agencies.

Pins on the back of name tags, ribbons, etc. are used to attach the insignias to an officer’s uniform. A small clasp (similar to an ear ring backing) is pressed over the pin tips to hold them in place.

Unfortunately, the clasps often fall off during scuffles with rowdy bad guys and, if the officer is not wearing a bullet-resistant vest, which was typical back in the day, could result in the pin tips puncturing the officer’s skin.

For a quick fix in the field, lost clasps can be temporarily replaced with pencil erasers.