Using common sense when writing about cops

Detective I. M. Manly here, and I’ve stopped by today to tell you about a serious situation concerning today’s protagonists.

We, the heroes of your stories, have attended numerous meetings in secret, trying to figure out ways to put an end to the torture you force us to endure. For example, and this is indeed a sad, sad, case. I ran into Biff Steele a few days ago and within a matter of seconds I knew I’d caught him at a weak moment.

He’d barely spoken two sentences when his emotions came spilling out. Right there on the sidewalk in front of the Piggly Wiggly, for everyone to see, including Pastor Ben Theredunthat who went inside to purchase a tin of foot powder for his wife. On the way out he offered a quick blessing, an act Biff sorely needed at that moment. Pitiful is what he was, I’m here to tell you.

Attack of the Killer Typewriters

I. M. Manly looking especially tough on the set of his new film, “Attack of the Killer Typewriters,” a gripping thriller based on the book of the same title.

Biff is typically a tough-as-nails protagonist. He rolls with the punches and quite often delivers a few hay-makers of his own. But on this day, Biff was pretty far down in the dumps. He was feeling lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. Feeling blu … Well, you get the idea.

I asked him why he was sporting such a long face. His response was stunning.

He said he’d had about all he could take from his writer. She’d stopped conducting any real research and subsequently turned to the internet where she mined tons of crappy information. Then Biff paused a second before delivering the really big bombshell. He said he was thinking about leaving, maybe even killing himself off in the final pages of the next book.

I couldn’t believe it. Not Biff Steele! I asked what, if anything, could be done to make things right again. That’s when he told me everything. Then, shaking like a leaf on a tree during a hurricane, he drove straight home to confront his writer.

A few weeks later, while attending a popular convention for writers, Biff told a concerned group of protagonists that when he arrived home after unloading his burdens on me, he burst through the front door and found his writer sitting at the typewriter clacking away. He said his creator seemed irritated with the interruption but he started his rant anyway.

This, she said, is what Biff told yelled at his writer.

1. Quit having me smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes. For goodness sake, I’m not that old. Actually, even my parents hadn’t been born when they stopped making that stuff. No. More. Cordite!

2. I love tense moments in stories as much as the next character, but having me kidnapped in every other book? Come on, you know me better than that. Me getting abducted so often makes me look weak. And, quite frankly, a bit stupid.

3. Don’t you remember the discussion we had the last time you had me draw a chalk outline around a dead body? Oh, it’s coming back to you now … That’s right, they don’t do that anymore! Yep, doing so could destroy or alter evidence. Geez … pay attention.

4. For the last time, the FBI does not have the authority to take over my murder cases, my office, or my entire department. Stop sending them into my scenes!

5. Speaking of the FBI … NO, they don’t investigate all kidnapping incidents. So please let me solve my own cases. Your friends stopped writing that garbage years ago and their heroes are looking pretty sharp because of it.

6. So you insist upon writing me as a stupid, bumbling, idiotic clown who can barely find my way home at night, huh? Well, you’re showing a lack of knowledge there, Sunshine. You are aware that I had to pass a ton of tests and show an outstanding ability to solve crimes in order to land the promotion to detective, right? It’s not a job for dummies. Tell me, what are your qualifications that make you an expert on my career?

7. Let’s do this one more time. My sidearm is a Glock semi-automatic. It does NOT have any type of safety that I can “thumb-off.” No Way. No How.

8. Remember book three, back when I carried a revolver, a Chief’s Special? Think hard. Yes, that’s the one. Now think about the scene on page 87 where you MADE me say, “The sunlight reflected hotly from the brass casings as they automatically ejected from my revolver?” Remember that? Well, to this day I’ve never lived it down. Reacher and Bosch and the other guys bring it up all the time, and it’s embarrassing. Why, just the other day I overheard sweet little Kinsey Millhone cracking a joke about it. For the last time, revolvers do NOT automatically eject spent cartridges. I have to push them out manually, using the extractor rod.

9. While we’re on the subject of Kinsey, why can’t I have a steady girlfriend? You know, someone nice, like her? I’m pretty tired of living alone and drinking by myself in dark, dreary bars. I want to have some fun for a change. What don’t you ever let me go dancing, or to a movie? Anywhere where I don’t end up fighting or blasting someone’s brains all over the ceiling. That’s no way to live.

10. You never take me anywhere. I’m tired of living on dusty bookshelves. So I have an idea. I heard the Writers’ Police Academy is launching a brand new series of online courses. Why don’t you do us, and your readers, a favor and sign up the second registration opens? Then you’ll see first-hand all the things you’ve been writing WRONG all these years. All the other writers will be there.

Reacher has been to the WPA. So have Bosch, D.D. Warren, Dance, Rhyme, Jordan, Longmire, Brennan, and, well, the whole gang has been. It’s where all the cool kids go to learn how to “get it right.”

By the way, I heard from a reliable source that the first online session is a killer daylong seminar called “Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction.” My source tells me this session features really cool behind the scenes tips, tactics, and techniques used by top crime scene investigators Lisa Provost and Lisa Black. Also, forensic psychology expert Dr. Katherine Ramsland is scheduled to teach a fascinating workshop about staged homicide scenes, something we fictional detectives should know.

Then, in a rare learning opportunity, #1 bestselling author Tami Hoag wraps up the event with her class “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am.” Hoag’s amazing workshop details how to carefully weave all your newfound knowledge of police and forensic work into your story.

I can’t wait until the Writers’ Police Academy Online website goes live so I can sign up to attend the classes. I heard that there’s a limited number of “seats” available, though.

I hope you’ll join me and take advantage of this exciting opportunity!

 

 

Research is the name of the game if a crime writer’s goal is accuracy about a particular aspect of their story, such as murder, cops, and investigations of crimes. Unfortunately, some writers avoid any and all cop-type research, believing they already have all the answers because they watch crime shows on television, and/or their BFF’s cousin’s next door neighbor once lived in the same town as a guy who used to work with a woman who dated the brother of a man who once stood in a grocery store checkout line next to a police detective’s auto mechanic. Well, that sort of connection won’t quite cut it if the desired result is realism.

So, to assist writers who may have incorrectly used one or more of the terms listed below, well, here you go. Yes, I’ve seen each of these used incorrectly. For example, no, transient evidence is not the evidence left behind by homeless criminals …

ABFO Scales: (American Board of Forensic Odontology scales). An L-shaped piece of plastic used in crime scene photography. Scales are marked with circles, black and white bars, and gray bars. These markings aid in distortion compensation and provide exposure determination. Measurements on the scales are typically marked in millimeters.

Bindle Paper: Paper that’s folded to safely contain, store, and transport trace evidence.

Crime Writer: Person who commits multiple murders within the narrow confines of book covers. Crime writers are known to leave behind scores of evidence and sometimes a handful of cliches.

Faraday Bag: Special collection bags for electronic parts. Faraday bags are lined to protect the contents from electromagnetic forces that could damage or destroy evidence.

Historical Fiction: The official residence of cordite. Actually, historical fiction is the ONLY place where cordite and its odor should be used by writers.

Latent Print: A print that’s not readily visible, or one that’s visible only by enhancement.

Odor of Cordite: An imaginary odor detected only by modern writers who should know better … but don’t.

Porous Container: Packaging through which liquids or vapors may pass (cloth, paper, etc.).

Presumptive Test: A non-confirmatory test used to screen for the presence of substances such as drugs or blood. Test kits used by officers in the field are presumptive test kits. Confirmation testing is conducted in official laboratories by trained and/or certified professionals.

Primary Crime Scene: In homicide investigations, the place where the body is found is the primary crime scene. Typically, this is where the investigation begins. Keep in mind, though, there may be multiple crime scenes (crime scene – any place where evidence of a crime is found).

Scene of the Crime: The location where a crime was committed.

Slide-Racking: The totally unbelievable action of pulling and releasing the slide on a semi-automatic pistol just prior to engaging a dangerous situation. Cops carry guns with a round in the chamber. To rack the slide would eject the pre-loaded round leaving them with one less bullet.

Tertiary DNA: DNA can be accidentally transferred from one object to another. A good example could be the killer who shares an apartment with an unsuspecting friend. He returns home after murdering someone and then tosses his blood-spatter-covered shirt into the washer along with his roommate’s clothing. The machine churns and spins through its wash cycles, an action that spreads the victim’s DNA throughout the load. Police later serve a search warrant on the home, seize the clothing, and discover the victim’s DNA on the roommate’s jeans. The innocent roommate is arrested for murder.

Tertiary Transfer of DNA Evidence

The same can occur with touch DNA. A man shares a towel with his wife and his DNA is subsequently transferred to her face and neck. Later, a stranger wearing gloves chokes the woman to death, transferring the husband’s DNA from the victim’s face to the killer’s gloves. The assailant removes the gloves and leaves them at the scene. Police confiscate the gloves, test them, and find the husband’s DNA. He is then charged for his wife’s death while the real killer is free to murder again.

The example above (the choking case) actually happened, and those of you who attended the Writers’ Police Academy session taught by DNA expert Dr. Dan Krane heard him speak of it. He was the expert who proved this was indeed possible and he testified to it in the groundbreaking case involving accused killer Dr. Dirk Grenadier.

Transient Evidence: Evidence which could lose could lose its evidentiary value if not preserved and protected from the elements or other hazards (blood, semen, etc.). This is not evidence left behind by homeless people. It could be, though, if the killer just happened to be someone who lives on the streets. If so, the items collected could then be called transient transient evidence.

White Horse Syndrome: No,  FBI special agents do not ride into town on white horses to take over cases from local cops, nor do they work local murder cases. And … they do not investigate all kidnapping cases. Many writers, bless their hearts, are infected with White Horse Syndrome (WHS). Fortunately, it’s an easily curable disease. Unfortunately, though, some refuse to seek help.

If you or someone you know is affected by WHS, immediate intervention is needed.

To help battle WHS I strongly urge you to attend the upcoming Writers’ Police Academy Online daylong seminar “Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction.” In this session you’ll learn behind the scenes tips, tactics, and techniques used by top crime scene investigators Lisa Provost and Lisa Black. Also, forensic psychology expert Dr. Katherine Ramsland is scheduled to teach a fascinating workshop about staged homicide scenes.

Then, in a rare learning opportunity, #1 bestselling author Tami Hoag wraps up the event with her class “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am.” Hoag’s amazing workshop details how to carefully weave all your newfound knowledge of police and forensic work into your story.

Attending Writers’ Police Academy Online classes could be the important first step on the road to recovery from the dreaded White Horse Syndrome.

Registration details and an all new website are coming soon.

In addition to Tami Hoag’s session, other classes include:

“Little Known Facts About Crime Scenes” – instructor Lisa Black.

Lisa Black is the NYT bestselling author of 14 suspense novels, including works that have been translated into six languages, optioned for film, and shortlisted for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is also a certified Crime Scene Analyst and certified Latent Print Examiner.

 

 

 

 


“Sleuthing the Clues in Staged Homicides” – instructor Dr. Katherine Ramsland.

Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University, where she is the Assistant Provost. She has appeared on more than 200 crime documentaries and magazine shows, is an executive producer of Murder House Flip, and has consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. The author of more than 1,000 articles and 68 books, including How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, and The Mind of a Murderer, she spent five years working with Dennis Rader on his autobiography, Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer. Dr. Ramsland currently pens the “Shadow-boxing” blog at Psychology Today and teaches seminars to law enforcement.


“The Call You Get is Not Always the Call You Get: When a Routine Death Investigation Crosses State Lines and Multiple Jurisdictions” – instructor Lisa Provost, Forensic Supervisor at Aurora Colorado Police Department.

Lisa has completed over five-hundred-hours of forensic training that includes basic death investigation, child death investigation, advanced child death investigation, and officer-involved shooting investigations.

 

 

 


Tami Hoag is the #1 International bestselling author of more than thirty books published in more than thirty languages worldwide, with more than forty million books in print. Renown for combining thrilling plots with character-driven suspense, crackling dialogue and well-research police procedure, Hoag first hit the New York Times bestseller list in 1996 with NIGHT SINS, and each of her books since has been a bestseller, including her latest, THE BOY. She lives in the greater Los Angeles area.

 

 

 


Here’s a brief video of crime scene processing, photography, and evidence collection.

For over a dozen years the Writers’ Police Academy has delivered sensational hands-on training, as well as the extremely popular Virtual MurderCon event that took place in August, 2020.

During those twelve-plus years, many writers, fans, readers, and law enforcement professionals requested that we develop online courses since many people would love to attend our in-person events but are unable to do so for various reasons.

A few years ago I asked our website guru, Shelly Haffly, to create an online teaching platform that would run in conjunction with this blog. Unfortunately, it has sat dormant since that day. My reason for not launching the program was that some of the pre-designed, built-in functions were a bit too complicated for my “tech-less” mind. However, with the rise of Zoom and other video conferencing and teaching programs, well, the time is now right.

So, without further delay, I’m pleased to announce that “Writers’ Police Academy Online” will officially open its virtual doors in October, 2020. The all new website is currently under construction and registration will soon be available for the first daylong seminar called “Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction.”

This first session is live and interactive, meaning that instructors will deliver their presentations and respond to questions in real time. By the way, the instructors for this first seminar are fantastic!

Registration for this fabulous and unique online event is coming soon!


Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction

When: October 24, 2020


Classes and Instructors:

 

Not Just the Facts, Ma’am  

How to take all your newfound knowledge of police and forensic work and carefully weave it into the tapestry of your story.

Instructor, #1 International Bestselling Author Tami Hoag

Tami Hoag is the #1 International bestselling author of more than thirty books published in more than thirty languages worldwide, with more than forty million books in print. Renown for combining thrilling plots with character-driven suspense, crackling dialogue and well-research police procedure, Hoag first hit the New York Times bestseller list in 1996 with NIGHT SINS, and each of her books since has been a bestseller, including her latest, THE BOY. She lives in the greater Los Angeles area.

Sleuthing the Clues in Staged Homicides 

Death scenes have been staged in a variety of ways, and it takes an observant investigator to spot the signs. It might be a 911 call, an inconsistency between the scene and the narrative, an uncharacteristic suicide note, or a distinctive signature that signals something not quite right. Some set-ups have been ingenious! Ramsland uses cases to illustrate actual staged scenes, and describes the types of skills investigators need to be able to spot and reconstruct staged incidents.

Instructor, Katherine Ramsland

Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches criminal justice and serves as the assistant provost. She holds a master’s in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, a master’s in criminal justice from DeSales University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers. She has been a therapist and a consultant. Dr. Ramsland has published over 1,000 articles and 66 books.

Dr. Ramsland’s background in forensics positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness, to collaborate on A Voice for the Dead with attorney James E. Starrs on his exhumation projects, and to co-write a forensic textbook with renowned criminalist Henry C. Lee, The Real World of a Forensic Scientist.

For seven years, she contributed regularly to Court TV’s Crime Library, and now writes a column on investigative forensics for The Forensic Examiner and a column on character psychology for Sisters in Crime; offers trainings for law enforcement and attorneys; and speaks internationally about forensic psychology, forensic science, and serial murder.


The Call You Get is Not Always the Call You Get: When a Routine Death Investigation Crosses State Lines and Multiple Jurisdictions

Case Study – On Valentine’s Day, 2014, the staff of a local dialysis clinic were worried. One of their elderly patients had missed three appointments. They called 911 and asked if officers could check on their patient, wondering if maybe he’d fallen and needed assistance. When officers arrived on scene, they found the elderly patient deceased from an apparent medical apparatus failure. At least that’s what it looked like at first; however, they’d uncovered a homicide. This convoluted investigation took Lisa Provost and members of her CSI team two states away during their investigation.

Instructor – Lisa Provost, Aurora Colorado Police Department Forensic Supervisor

Lisa Provost began studying Forensic Biology at Guilford College, in Greensboro, N.C., where she received a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Biology. In December 2012, she joined the Fayetteville Police Department as a Forensic Technician. 

During her time as a Forensic Technician trainee, Lisa completed a six-month instruction program with the Fayetteville Police Department which culminated with a one-week exam and oral review board. With the training and testing behind her, Lisa began working the road. Her passion for learning and for her work were the catalysts that pushed her to attend advanced training courses, in earnest. In May 2015, she was promoted to Forensic Supervisor overseeing Fayetteville PD’s Forensic Unit. 

Four years later, Lisa accepted a position with the Aurora Colorado Police Department as a Forensic Supervisor. So, she and her husband, an Air Force veteran, packed their belongings and moved to Colorado.

 In 2016. Lisa attended the Management Development Program at the N.C. Carolina Justice Academy. In its twenty-eight-year history, at the time the program was held, Lisa was the only civilian accepted into the program and, of the nineteen attendees in the program, Lisa was the only female. The five-hundred-hour leadership training program was completed over an eleven-month period and, besides the completion of her bachelor’s degree, is one of her proudest achievements.

In addition, Lisa has completed over five-hundred-hours of forensic training that includes basic death investigation, child death investigation, advanced child death investigation, and officer-involved shooting investigations.

Lisa Provost was was born and raised in NY state where she started dating the man who would later become her husband. The couple married in 1998, the time when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. In 2003, when her husband’s enlistment was complete, they moved to North Carolina.


Little Known Facts About Crime Scenes 

An in-depth look at the problems and challenges with crime scene evidence such as fingerprints, arson, bite marks, and more. Instructor, Lisa Black

Lisa Black is the NYT bestselling author of 14 suspense novels, including works that have been translated into six languages, optioned for film, and shortlisted for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is also a certified Crime Scene Analyst and certified Latent Print Examiner, beginning her forensics career at the Coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and then the police department in Cape Coral, Florida. She has spoken to readers and writers at numerous conferences and will be a Guest of Honor at 2021 Killer Nashville.

In her August release, Every Kind of Wicked, forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner track down a nest of scammers. www.lisa-black.com


More spectacular online workshops, seminars, and webinars are on the way!! Details TBA.

 

A&B: Assault and battery

AKA: Also known as.

Aikido: Police defensive-tactics techniques developed from this particular style of Japanese martial arts. 

Abscond: To secretly leave the jurisdiction of a court or to conceal one’s self from law-enforcement officials.

Accessory: One who aids or assists in the commission of a crime.

Aid and Abet: To voluntarily assist another person in the commission of a crime.

Alternate Light Source: Equipment used to enhance potential items of evidence, either visible or invisible light at varying wavelengths.

Amicus Curiae (Latin): A friend of the court; someone who is not a party to court proceedings that supplies information to the court that otherwise may not be readily available.

Arrest: To deprive someone of his liberty, or to seize a person suspected of a crime.

B&E: Break and enter

Bench Warrant: An arrest warrant issued by the court.

Bindle Paper: Clean paper folded to contain trace evidence such as hairs or fibers.

Biohazard Bag: A red, plastic bag used to contain materials that have been exposed to blood and other body fluids and parts. The container will be clearly marked as Biohazard Material in bold lettering.

Biological Weapon: Agents used to threaten or destroy human life, e.g. anthrax, smallpox, E. coli, etc.

Bloodborne Pathogen: Infectious, disease-causing microorganisms found in biological fluids.

Blow: Cocaine.

BOLO: Police acronym for Be On The Lookout.

Bread Slicing: The method of slicing of body organs by a medical examiner. The organs are sliced into sections resembling a loaf of bread.

Breaking and Entering: Any act of physical force in which obstruction to entrance of a building is removed. Simply pushing a door open or raising a window can be considered “breaking.” Breaking and entering are two of the elements of burglary.

Bullet: A one-year prison sentence.

Burglary: Breaking into any dwelling in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony.

CI: Confidential informant

Capital Murder: The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person in conjunction with the following:

  1. Abduction, when the abduction is committed with the intent to extort money or a pecuniary benefit.
  2. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person by another for hire.
  3. The killing of any person by a prisoner of a state or local corrections facility or while in the custody of an employee thereof.
  4. The killing of another during the commission of a robbery or attempted robbery, while armed with a deadly weapon.
  5. The killing of any person in the commission of and subsequent to rape, or attempted rape, or forcible or attempted forcible sodomy.
  6. The killing of any law-enforcement officer when the purpose interferes with the performance of his duties.
  7. The killing of more than one person as part of the same act or transaction.
  8. The killing of any child under the age of twelve during the commission of abduction.
  9. The killing of any person during the commission of or attempting to commit a violation of Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Laws.

(Capital Murder offense laws can vary from state to state. Please check the laws governing your state).

(See murder below)

Carnal Knowledge: Sexual intercourse.

Case File: Collection of documents pertaining to a particular investigation.

Case Identifiers: Alphabetic or numeric assignment of characters used to identify a particular case.

Chain of Custody: A chronological history of the evidence. This is a list of all persons handling, holding, or having possession of a piece of evidence. The document will contain all pertinent information such as names, dates, victims, suspects, etc.

Chemical Enhancement: Use of chemicals to aid detection and documentation of evidence (e.g. semen, blood, fingerprints, narcotics) that may be difficult to see with the human eye alone.

Conspiracy: Two or more persons working together to commit an illegal act.

Contra Pacem (Latin): Against the peace.

Corpus Delicti (Latin): Body of the crime; the proof that a crime has been committed.

Crimen Falsi (Latin): Literally a crime of deceit or fraud.

Criminal Mischief: A crime committed against property.

CSU: Crime Scene Unit

Drop A Dime: To snitch on someone.

Drowning:  Water and mucus in the airway of a drowning victim create a foamy mixture as the victim struggles to breathe. The foam is discovered during an autopsy and confirms that a drowning has occurred.

Dying Declaration:  Statement given by a person who believes he is about to die, concerning the cause of the circumstances surrounding a specific crime or chain of events, usually about his own impending death. A strong piece of evidence highly regarded by courts as truth. A dying declaration is important evidence, but courts no longer accept this type of statement alone as sufficient evidence for a conviction. There must normally be other supporting evidence.

EDTA:  Anti-coagulant in purple-topped blood vials.

En Banc (French) By the full court. A matter heard by the entire appellate court.

ETA: Estimated time of arrival.

Exclusionary Rule: Protects against the use of evidence in court that was seized during an illegal search by police.

Exigent Circumstances: Emergency conditions

Felony: A crime punishable by either death or confinement in a state correctional facility.

First-Degree Murder: Murder by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and pre-meditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate-object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction. (This definition varies in different states.) All other murder, other than capital murder, is defined as second-degree murder.

Fishing: The use of a long piece of string or elastic from the waistband of underwear by a prisoner to retrieve an object from an adjoining cell.

GSW: Gunshot wound.

Habeas Corpus (Latin): You have the body. Tests the legality of imprisonment or confinement.

Homicide: The killing of any human being by another.

Hot Pursuit: The action of pursuing or chasing a suspect in a crime. Hot pursuit allows officers to cross jurisdictional boundaries in order to apprehend a suspect, however the suspect must remain in sight for the chase to be justified as a hot pursuit.

Impression Evidence: Objects or items that have retained identifying characteristics of another object that has been pressed against them (footprints, tool marks, etc.).

Ink: Tattoos.

Latent Print: A print that is not visible to the naked eye, made by contact with a surface by hands, or feet transferring human material to that surface.

Jailhouse Lawyer: An inmate not licensed to practice law who assist other inmates with legal matters, such as appeals.

Lying in Wait: Hiding for the purpose of committing a crime.

Lynching: Any violence by a mob upon the body of any person, resulting in the death of that person.

LZ: Landing zone (typically used when referring to helicopters)

Misdemeanor: All crimes not deemed as felonies and punishable by fines and/or incarceration in facilities other than state or federal institutions (county jails, halfway houses, home confinement, etc.).

Modus Operandi (Latin): The manner of operation. A specific means or method of accomplishing an act.

Murder: An unlawful homicide.

MVA: Motor vehicle accident.

NCIC: National Crime Information Center.

Nolo Contendere (Latin): I do not wish to contend, fight, or maintain (a defense). A plea of not wishing to present a defense in a criminal matter.

Parole: Allows a prisoner to serve the remainder of a sentence outside prison walls. He will serve the sentence under the supervision of a parole officer. If the conditions of parole are not met, the offender will be returned to prison to serve any remaining sentence. Parole is not a part of a sentence.

PD: Police department.

Personal Protective Equipment: Items such as latex gloves, masks, and eye protection used as a protective barrier against biohazardous materials, disease, and to avoid human contamination of a crime scene.

Petechiae: Tiny purple or red spots on the eyes, neck, face, and/or lungs, indicating death by asphyxiation. (Bleeding does not have to be present. See Petechial Hemorrhage below.)

Petechial Hemorrhage:  Tiny purple or red spots on the eyes or skin caused by small areas of bleeding. (See Petechiae above.)

PO: Probation Officer.

POV: Privately owned vehicle.

Presumptive Test: A test used to screen for the presence of a specific substance, such as a narcotic. The results of a presumptive test cannot be used for evidential confirmation, or as a certification in a court of law. A presumptive test adds to investigators’ reasonable suspicions and is considered to be probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant or a warrant of arrest. The final, legal, testing must be completed in a certified laboratory by certified personnel.

Pro Bono Publico (Latin): For the public good or welfare. Without a fee. An attorney working for free is said to be working Pro Bono.

Projectile Trajectory Analysis: The method used for determining the path of travel of a high-speed object such as a bullet or arrow.

Probation: A sentence in lieu of imprisonment. A probation officer supervises a subject on probation.

Purple Top Vial: A vial used for blood samples, which contains EDTA, an anti-coagulant.

Res Judicata (Latin): The thing has been decided.

Seg: Prison segregation unit.

Shakedown: A search of a prison cell.

Shiv: A homemade knife.

SHU: Special Housing Unit. A special lockup facility within a prison that’s usually reserved for housing violent offenders.

Slimers: A prison inmate who throws urine or fecal matter at people passing by the prisoner’s cell. They sometimes pack the offensive substance into toothpaste tubes and squirt it at their intended targets.

Stop and Frisk: Allows a police officer to search a person for weapons without a warrant. It is a pat-down search of the person’s outer clothing only.

Trace Evidence: Evidence in small quantities, such as hair, fibers, gunshot residue, and particles of glass.

Transient Evidence: Evidence that can be easily lost or destroyed by conditions at a scene if not protected or preserved (evidence exposed to the elements).

Venue: The place where a trial is held.

Voir Dire (French): To speak the truth. An examination or questioning of potential jurors conducted by the court or attorneys to determine truthfulness and ability to serve for jury duty.

Warrant: A written order directing someone to do something.

Yard: Outdoor recreation area of a prison.

 

Let’s all imagine, just for a moment, that an animal court exists where dogs and cats have the oppotunity to present evidence against their abusers. What would the Great Dane judge and mostly dachshund and corgi jury hear about the defendants? That Jeffery Dahmer got pleasure by using sticks to impale and showcase the decapitated heads of dogs, cats, and even frogs.

Would a German Shepherd prosecutor describe Lee Boyd Malvo’s use of a slingshot and glass marbles to brutally pelt defenseless cats? Maybe a televised trial would show an Ocicat defense attorney pleading for leniency for her client because, as a small child, he was forced to watch his father kill and dismember the family cat on the kitchen table. Would the German Shepherd present evidence indicating the abuse, torture, and murder of humans could be next?

We already know that Ted Bundy, Dahmer, and David Berkowitz each confessed to brutally abusing and/or killing animals during their childhood. There are studies that show a disturbing trend of children who grow up in homes where animals were abused, often continue on to become animal abusers themselves. After all, kids do indeed like to “do as mommy and daddy do.”

Studies also report a number of abused women whose battering spouses also injured or killed family pets. In addition, abuser(s) often use violence toward family pets as a means to control their victim(s) – “I’ll hurt the cat if you don’t do as I say.”

According to a study reported in “DA’s Link Pet Abuse, Domestic Violence,” it is estimated that 40% of women elected to remain in the abusive household/relationship due to a very real fear of what would/could happen to the family pet, if they left.

Another trend we see occurring is that 43% of school shooters abused animals at some point during their childhoods. And that animal abusers between  6-12 years of age are at more than double the risk of committing a violent crime during their juvenile years.

In 2019, the County of San Diego’s District Attorney’s Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit prosecuted 55 animal abuse cases. Of those nearly five dozen cases, 17 also involved domestic violence, child and/or elder abuse.


“Often, animal abuse crimes also have a nexus to mental illness.” ~ San Diego County DA’s Office: DA Reports Increase in Animal Cruelty Cases Linked to Domestic Violence (2019)

Jeffrey Dahmer – high school years

Are there steps that could be taken to prevent child animal abusers from growing up to be the next school shooter, or a Jeffery Dahmer copycat? Well, there are no certainties, but a good place to start is:

a) Sit down with the children in the household to discuss unexplained animal injuries or unexpected pet deaths.

b) Urge local law enforcement and prosecutors to take all cases of animal abuse seriously, and to charge those who break the law. Elected officials, such as sheriffs, mayors, council members, prosecutors, and judges, will often go the extra mile to satisfy the voting public.

c) Listen to your kids. If they’re telling you they’ve seen “Little Jeffrey” down the street shooting cats with his pellet gun, well, they’re probably telling you something that’s very important and very real. Don’t ignore them and hope the act doesn’t happen again. If necessary, call the police, approach the child’s parents, or perhaps even notify a social worker or child protective services.

d) Alert your local Neighborhood Watch volunteers to be on the lookout for animal abuse and suspected animal abusers.

e) Alert the police officers who patrol your neighborhood. Also, call your local animal control officer(s). You may not see immediate results/arrests, but the officers will then know what to look for and who to watch.

f) A talk with your veterinarian about the suspected animal abuse may produce positive results. After all, she may be familiar with the animal(s) in question, and your input could be the deciding factor that prompts a call to police.

g) If possible, and without placing yourself in harm’s way, take photos of the abused animal so you’ll have something to present to the authorities.

h) Talk to your children about all the positive aspects of pet ownerships. Demonstrate love for the animal(s) in your home. Remember, kids like to imitate mommy and daddy, and it’s just as easy to grow up as a lover of animals as it is to become an animal abuser.

Finally, if you are considering adding an animal to your family, please do consider adoption. There are hundreds upon hundreds of dogs and cats in shelters that are desperately in need of a home. They’re also desperately in need of love and attention. So go ahead, make their day.

 

 

I’ve been doing the “help writers get it right” for a long, long time, and during all those years I’ve seen a ton of questions and discussions that would buckle the knees of the even the most seasoned detectives and coroners.

Some of the questions I see from writers are out there. I mean WAAAAYYY out there, and that can be a good thing … or a bad thing. It depends.

I know, it’s tough to come up with new material, ideas, and ways to keep readers interested, but you do it and you do it day-in and day-out, and you do what you do extremely well. I can say this with confidence because I read your books.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to remind everyone that you’re writing fiction, which means you’re legally authorized by Chapter 18 Section 12 of Imaginary Law to make up stuff. Really, it’s true. Every single state and country has this law in place. Google it (wink).

Most of you turn to experts who provide factual information as responses to your questions, and those responses typically fact-based and not opinion. Their information is based on their knowledge and real-life on the job experiences. It’s up to you to transpose, mold, and shape those facts into a fictional story that’s believable. Doesn’t have to be true, just believable make-believe, even if just for a few moments, in the mind of the reader.

If you want your hero’s revolver to have the capability of firing 75 rounds while simultaneously ejecting each spent round, then so be it. But you’ve got to show why such a gun is “reality” in your story because readers know that in the real world a cylinder of that capacity would be the size of a dinner plate. Imagine, too, the size of the holster that would also need an explanation.

Or, you insist upon having the odor of cordite spilling from every single page of your book. Well, you know that’s not possible unless you’re writing historical fiction. However, suppose your villain stumbled across a perfectly preserved crate of cordite-stuffed ammunition left over from WWII? That would work, right? Easy explanation.

If you, during your fictional meanderings, absolutely must have the FBI solve every single murder, rape, robbery, trespassing, and Peeping Tom case that occurs in the country, then you’ll again need to find a means to explain why, because we all know the FBI does not work local murder cases. It’s just not what they do. Nor do they work all kidnapping cases.

But this is an easy fix. Have the small town local cops ring up the nearest FBI field office and ask for help. Remember, though, you’d need to have an explanation as to why the county sheriff or state police wouldn’t/couldn’t help, because that’s the typical route taken when assistance is needed. Rarely do locals call on the FBI for local stuff. But you’re the master of dreams and ideas and wacky notions, so coming up with reasons why things happen the way they do in your mind is what you do best.

So please do feel free to use your imaginations to write your fictional concoctions. However, if you’re going for accuracy stick to what the experts tell you. And please, whatever you do, don’t argue with a professional when the facts they provide don’t fit with what you wanted to happen in your story. Asking the same question over and over again, hoping they’ll finally say what you want them to say, is not going to change the facts.

Simply take the information provided and make it fit into the tale. If that doesn’t work figure a way to show why it didn’t.

If readers wanted a strictly factual accounting of a story they’d read the news or pick up a true crime book.

Okay, maybe reading the news was a bad example of factual information, but you know what I meant.

So, by the power granted to you by Chapter 18 Section 12 of Imaginary Law, have at it!

 

“Shots fired!”

“I’m hit”

“He’s running.”

“I need backup.”

“In the alley behind Joe’s Pawn Shop.”

“He’s shooting again.”

Silence.

Then, “Man down! Send paramedics … NOW!”

And then it starts. The looky-loos come out of the woodwork with cellphones and cameras in hand. The cop-haters who’re looking for an excuse to lob a few rocks and bricks and circle around the officer who’s bleeding, and scared and upset, with a million zillion images bouncing around inside his skull. And the “what-ifs” ricochet among those images. It’s a devastating experience, realizing you’ve just shot someone.

The cop’s adrenaline is in crash mode and his emotions are speeding to places they’ve not been before. Time is in full herky-jerky mode, speeding up to catch up to realtime after its abrupt switch to slow motion when the action first fired-up its engines. Sound returns slowly after a bout of “tunnel hearing.”

“If I Only Had a Brain” ~ The Scarecrow, from The Wizard of Oz

Each of us, hopefully, has a functioning brain (there are exceptions for politicians) and it’s that mass that fills the space between our ears that controls everything we do. It’s also in charge of our emotions. More specifically, it’s the amygdala section of the brain that’s assigned charge of emotional responses. The amygdala typically works and plays well with the other parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex that, by the way, controls complex decision-making.

However, when the brain perceives danger, the typically smooth-running operation inside our skulls goes a bit wonky because the moment danger is detected a major dam located in the adrenal glands is breached. This sudden discord sends out adrenaline to flood our systems.

Adrenaline, the hormone that boosts  blood circulation, increases breathing rate and metabolism and causes our muscles to rise up and prepare for battle. Then all hell breaks lose.

The amygdala section of the brain decides it wants to be in charge and leads a successful coup against the prefrontal cortex, taking control of the making of decisions. Since the amygdala has not been properly schooled in decision-making skills, the results are kaleidoscopic and slightly out of whack responses to various situations. It distorts and narrows our visual and auditory senses to the point where we often focus our attentions on a single point, skipping over other often important things taking place around us.

Fellow author, friend, and police psychologist Ellen Kirshman summed up the experience as it relates to police officers as, and I don’t recall her exact words, but were something like, “Police officers are called upon to do the unnatural. They run toward danger, not away from it.”  I read her quote in an article a while back about the deputy in Florida who failed to act during the horrific school shooting that occurred there. She also said something similar to what I’ve said here on this blog time and time and time again … no one but the officer who’s at the scene at the precise moment the danger takes place knows exactly what happened. (Ellen, I apologize if I’ve misquoted you, but I couldn’t locate the article).

In other words …

Monday Morning Quarterbacks Lack the Touch, Taste, Smell, and Motion to Know with 100% Certainty What Took Place

It’s easy for the public to render judgement regarding an officer’s actions, or lack of action, by switching on the TV or their computers to view a video recording of an event. Commentators often offer slow-motion replays, rewinds, zoom views, and various angles, and their opinions as to what happened and/or should have or shouldn’t have happened.

The officer on the scene, however, views the situation in real time, within a time period of a split second or two, while their brain is sending adrenaline throughout their system, with parts of the mind taking charge over other parts that typically supply reason based upon well-thought-out decisions, decisions that take time and energy before an action is performed.

The body of an officer involved in an intense shootout is undergoing many changes all at once. There’s the whole adrenaline thing, of course, while the brain is rapidly switching back and forth between tunnel vision to tunnel hearing, meaning that during the times they’re visually surveying a scene the volume of their auditory functions is greatly reduced, or nonexistent. They cannot use both tunnel vision and tunnel hearing at the same time. The brain does not allow it during times of extreme stress.

Furthermore, during times of extreme stress, the brain may completely shut off auditory functions which is the reason that in post shooting interviews some officers report not hearing the sounds of shots being fired.

I, for one, am a perfect example. During a bank robbery shootout, I saw puffs of smoke (in slow motion) rise from the robber’s handgun, but never heard a single sound. Not even when I returned fire. Actually, from the moment the situation turned violent until I chased the wounded man and tackled him, I don’t recall hearing anything until I rolled him over and then heard the “click, click, clicks” as he pointed his gun at me and repeatedly pulled the trigger. I’ll never forget those sounds. Not ever.

Thankfully, he’d fired the last round before making his final charge. But until that point, it’s like we were in a vacuum.

This experience and others like it explain why so often police officers simply do not recall hearing a specific number of shots fired. In the world of neuroscience this total shutdown of hearing is called auditory exclusion.

A police officer’s overall situational awareness can become dulled to the point of totally blocking out things going on in their periphery, which presents a huge problem for them if the field of danger extends beyond the point of their focus/attention, and it often does—more than one attacker, threat, etc.

Filling In the Blanks

Officers are human, a fact which seems to escape some people. And being human prompts the desire for them to believe they “should have” both heard and seen the action as it unfolded. Therefore, their very human minds attempt to supply the missing information—the sound of gunfire or seeing the man with a gun standing to the side.

To fill in these voids the brain creates a memory by drawing on context and even experience (“I know that’s what a gunshot sounds like therefore I must’ve heard that sound today”).

The same is true in reverse. The officer who’s incapable of remembering a crucial bit of information that occurred during a stressful event, while their attention was distracted, actually may not believe it happened, despite clear and concrete evidence to the contrary.

This, the brain creating “fill in the blank” memories is one reason why so many Monday morning quarterbacks immediately jump to the unfounded conclusion that an officer must be lying or attempting to cover up a misdeed. But it’s just not so. Sure, sometimes people lie. I won’t discount that fact. But in the vast majority of stressful encounters, law enforcement or otherwise, the amygdala section of the human brain is the culprit.

Anyway, the only true means to judge any situation is in real time surrounded by all the sights, sounds, tastes, and emotions that come with it, along with access to the officer’s thoughts and emotions as the event unfolded. Attempting to do so on Monday morning while watching a replay of video is not the same.

Not even close.

Nor is it possible.


OMG! Death of Person Killed By Cops Ruled a HOMICIDE!

Please, don’t let those click-bait headlines get your unmentionables all bunched up, because ALL, and I repeat, ALL killings of human beings by other humans are homicides. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

That’s right, L.E.G.A.L., legal.

New Picture

Yes, each time prison officials pull the switch, inject “the stuff,” or whatever means they use to execute a condemned prisoner, they commit homicide. All people who kill attackers while saving a loved one from harm have committed homicide. And all cops who kill while defending their lives or the lives of others have committed homicide. These instances are not a crime.

It’s when a death is caused illegally—murder or manslaughter—that makes it a criminal offense.

Murder is an illegal homicide.

For example, in Virginia:

§ 18.2-32. First and second degree murder defined; punishment.

Murder, other than capital murder, by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary or abduction, except as provided in § 18.2-31, is murder of the first degree, punishable as a Class 2 felony.

All murder other than capital murder and murder in the first degree is murder of the second degree and is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than five nor more than forty years.

Therefore, those seemingly dramatic headlines that read “Shooting By Cop Ruled a Homicide,” well, they’re often nothing more than words used to affect people’s emotions, induce a reaction, or to encourage people to click over to their website, which, by the way, is how many “news” outlets pay the bills.

So please, un-wad those unmentionables and don’t be a victim of media sensationalism.


Yet another “Please”

Please don’t rely solely on news and social media as a basis for rendering judgement on any incident. Those reports are all over the place, and many are extremely inaccurate. They’re often uneducated speculations, wishes, dreams, etc. of “reporters” hoping to get the first scoop and to stir the emotions of readers and viewers. It’s always best to wait until all facts surface before making a final determination. Unless, of course, there’s a credible video such as the one seen by the world where the officer held his knee pressed into George Floyd’s neck.

The Atlanta officer-involved shooting resulted in the death of a person, but the circumstances involved were far different. Sure, there was video, but what we saw occur on this particular video is not as clear cut as the one recorded in Minneapolis.


Remember, the law says we’re not allowed to play Monday morning armchair quarterback. Instead, we must base our decisions on the reasonableness of a particular use of force from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene. Not the opinion of @I.B. Lion, the guy in his mom’s basement who pumps out dozens of false media reports on social media sites.

From Tennessee v. Garner

“The use of deadly force is not justifiable . . . unless (i) the arrest is for a felony; and (ii) the person effecting the arrest is authorized to act as a peace officer or is assisting a person whom he believes to be authorized to act as a peace officer; and (iii) the actor believes that the force employed creates no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons; and (iv) the actor believes that (1) the crime for which the arrest is made involved conduct including the use or threatened use of deadly force; or (2) there is a substantial risk that the person to be arrested will cause death or serious bodily harm if his apprehension is delayed.”


The Supreme Court said in the Graham v. Connor decision, “The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”


*This post is not a political statement, nor is it a defense of any officer’s actions.

I was not at the location where the man was shot and killed by police in Atlanta so it would be impossible for me to know exact details. I will never know the precise thoughts going through the officers’ mind and/or the state of their emotions and perceptions at the time of the shooting. No one could.

Again, I’m not pointing fingers or offering an opinion as to right or wrong. Just the facts.

Did you know that not all sheriff’s deputies are police officers? How about that some sheriffs in the U.S., and their deputies, do not have any arrest authority? Is it possible that you, as writers, haven written scenes incorrectly based on not knowing the above facts? Well, there’s a super easy solution to fixing this lack of basic knowledge … Do Your Homework!

It takes a minimal amount of effort to check the policies, procedures, laws, and rules and regulations in the area where your story takes place. Of course, if your town is fictional then you’re the law-maker in charge. But if the setting of your latest tale is Doodlebop, Alaska, then you should conduct a bit of research to learn how things operate in Doodlebop’s town limits and surrounding areas. After all, what happens in Doodlebop, Alaska is most likely quite a bit different than the goings-on in Rinktytink, Vermont.

For example:

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S. Even the slang for carbonated beverages varies from place to place (soda, pop, soda pop, Coke, drink, etc.).

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre quest to take down Mr. Big. Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass and Mistake.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour…well, get out the bottle of white-out because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can set up shop. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her guvment vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now I’m giving a big roll of my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality, even if only for a few pages. Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But for goodness sake, give them something to work with,—without an info dump—a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

Saying This Again

If you’re going for realism, and I cannot stress this enough, please do your homework. Remember, no two agencies operate in exactly the same manner, nor are rules and even many laws/ordinances the same in states, towns, counties, and cities. Actually, things are never the same/uniform across the country. Therefore, it’s always best to check with someone in the area where your story is set. Again, rules and regulations on one side of the country may not be the same on the other. And the middle of the country may also be totally different from the other localities.

For example, there are 3,081 sheriffs in the U.S., and I can say with certainty that neither of those top cops runs their office in a manner that’s identical to that of another. Each sheriff has their own set of policies, rules, and regulations, and each state has their own laws regarding sheriffs and their duties.

The same is true with other agencies, including the offices of medical examiners and coroners. State law, again, dictates whether or not they utilize a coroner system or that of a medical examiner.

*By the way, three states do not have Sheriff’s Offices—Alaska, Connecticut, and Hawaii.

Location, Location, Location!

As when writing about a sheriff’s office, if your story features a medical examiner, or coroner, you should narrow your research efforts to the area where your story takes place.  Here’s why …

In some locations, typically rural, a medical examiner does not always go to the scene of a homicide. Instead, as is the case of many areas within in the Commonwealth of Virginia, EMS or a funeral home is responsible for transporting the body to a local hospital morgue where a doctor or local M.E. examines the victim. If an autopsy is to be performed, though, it is not the local medical examiner who’d conduct it. Instead, the body is transported to a state morgue which could be hours away.

In Virginia, there are only four state morgue locations/district offices (Manassas, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke). Each of the district offices is staffed by forensic pathologists, investigators, and various morgue personnel, and this where autopsies are conducted, not at the local morgue/hospital.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is located in Richmond (the office where Patricia Cornwell’s fictional M.E., Kay Scarpetta, worked). This is also the M.E.’s office that conducted the autopsies on the homicide cases I investigated. The real-life Kay Scarpetta was our Chief M.E.

There are several local medical examiners in Virginia (somewhere around 160, or so) but they do not conduct autopsies. Their job is to assist the state’s Chief Medical Examiner. by conducting field investigations, if they see fit to do so, but many do not. Mostly, they have a look at the bodies brought to hospitals by EMS, sign death certificates, and determine whether or not the case should be referred to the state M.E.’s office for autopsy. They definitely do not go to all death scenes. Again, some do, but not all.

An example (one of many) was a drug-related execution where I was called on by a nearby county sheriff to assist his department in the investigation. Following the evidence, I and sheriff’s detectives located the killers. After interrogating one of the suspects he led me to the crime scene where we found the deceased victim after an exhausting search. The suspects carried and dragged the body several yards, deep into a wooded area. The local medical examiner did not attend. Instead, he requested that the body be delivered to a local hospital.

Above – Me standing on the left at a murder scene where a drug dealer was executed by rival gang members, who then hid the body in a wooded area. I was asked to assist a sheriff’s office with the investigation. The medical examiner was called but elected to not go to the scene. The body and sheet used by the suspects to drag the victim were placed into a body bag and then transported to the morgue via EMS ambulance.

Pursuant to § 32.1-283 of the Code of Virginia, all of the following deaths are investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner:

  • any death from trauma, injury, violence, or poisoning attributable to accident, suicide or homicide;
  • sudden deaths to persons in apparent good health or deaths unattended by a physician;
  • deaths of persons in jail, prison, or another correctional institution, or in police custody (this includes deaths from legal intervention);
  • deaths of persons receiving services in a state hospital or training center operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;
  • the sudden death of any infant; and
  • any other suspicious, unusual, or unnatural death.

* Remember, “investigated” does not mean they have to go to the actual crime scene.

Again, me on the left as a sheriff’s office crime scene investigator points out the location of spent bullet casings, drag marks, and a blood trail. Pictured in the center are the county sheriff and prosecutor. The M.E. elected to not travel to the scene. As good luck would have it, we had the killers in custody at the conclusion of a nonstop, no sleep, 36-hour investigation.

After a lengthy interrogation, two of the four confessed to the murder. Of course, they each pointed to someone else as the shooter, and he, the actual shooter, placed the blame on his partners. But all four admitted to being present when the murder occurred and all four served time for the killing.

Take Two Bodies and Call Me in the Morning!

In the areas far outside the immediate area of Virginia’s four district offices of the chief medical examiner, officials rely on local, part-time medical examiners who may or may not visit crime scenes.

In those rural areas, once a death is confirmed, detectives call the local, part-time M.E. who typically defers to EMS to determine that the victim is indeed dead. They then advise the detectives to, once they’ve completed their on-scene investigation, have EMS bring the body to the local morgue where they’ll have a look at their earliest convenience..

Since most local M.E.s work full-time jobs they are not always readily available to visit a crime scene.

“Yeah, he’s dead, now gimme my money.”

The pay for local M.E’s in Virginia is a “whopping” $150 per case, if the case referred to the state is one that falls under their jurisdiction. The local M.E.s receive an extra $50 if they actually go to a crime scene. Again, many do not. Interestingly, funeral homes pay the local medical examiner $50 for each cremation he or she certifies.

The requirements to become a local M.E. in Virginia are:

  • A valid Virginia license as a doctor of medicine or osteopathy, Nurse Practitioner, or Physician Assistant
  • An appointment by Virginia’s chief medical examiner
  • A valid United States driver’s license

Once someone is appointed as a local medical examiner their term is for three years, beginning on October 1 of the year of appointment.

The four district offices employ full-time forensic pathologists who conduct all autopsies. Obviously, a physician’s assistant is not qualified to conduct an autopsy, nor are they trained as police/homicide investigators. They do attend some training courses, however.

And, Again …

Keep in mind, things are never the same/uniform across the country. It’s always best, if you’re going for 100% realism, to check with someone in the area where your story is set. The rules and regulations on one side of the country may not be the same on the other. And the middle of the country may also be totally different from the other localities.

Coroners

The same inconsistencies seen in the running of sheriffs’ and medical examiners’ offices occur in individual coroner’s offices. For example, in one Ohio county, one of four coroner’s investigators respond to a scene, if they believe it’s necessary. Then, after the body is brought back to the morgue by the coroner’s team, within the next day or so, a pathologist conducts the autopsy. The same or similar is so in many, many areas of the country … or not.

Per state law, a coroner in Ohio must be an MD, but they may or may not be the person who conducts the autopsy. In the office mentioned above, autopsies were typically performed by a part-time MD/pathologist who also works at the local hospital. The same MD there now was the pathologist who conducted autopsies when I was last there. I checked today, in fact.

Pathologists in the Ohio county are paid per autopsy. At the time I was there, the office received $1,500 per autopsy, with $750 of the sum going to the pathologist performing the exam. (the sum was $750 the last time I viewed an autopsy there) with remaining $750  going to the coroner’s general operating budget. The pathologist was not a full-time employees of the coroner’s office.

Oh, yeah, there’s a difference between a coroner and a medical examiner, but that’s a topic for another article.

Fun Fact – Some California sheriffs also serve as coroners. They are not medical doctors, obviously. Coroners are elected officials and could be the local butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, as long as they won the local election.

So, from me to you, here’s your homework assignment …

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!

Believe me, your readers will love that you’ve “gotten it right.”

Speaking of doing your homework, here’s the ultimate training event for writers …



Register here!


Featuring David Baldacci – Guest of Honor

 

David Baldacci is a global #1 bestselling author, and one of the world’s favorite storytellers. His books are published in over 45 languages and in more than 80 countries, with over 130 million copies sold worldwide. His works have been adapted for both feature film and television. He has also published seven novels for young readers.

David is also the cofounder, along with his wife, Michelle, of the Wish You Well Foundation®, which is dedicated to supporting adult and family literacy programs in the United States.

David is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He lives in Virginia.

 

With special guests …

Judy Melinek, M.D. was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.

T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.


Ray Krone is co-founder of Witness to Innocence. Before his exoneration in 2002, Ray spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he did not commit.

His world was turned upside down in 1991, when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar where Ray was an occasional customer, and he was arrested for the crime. The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposedly “expert” witness, later discredited, who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Ray’s teeth. He was sentenced to death in 1992.

 


With a special presentation by Dr. Denene Lofland – A Microbiologist’s Perspective of Covid 19 and the Spread of Disease.

Denene Lofland  is an expert on bioterrorism and microbiology. She’s managed hospital laboratories and for many years worked as a senior director at biotech companies specializing in new drug discovery. She and her team members, for example, produced successful results that included drugs prescribed to treat cystic fibrosis and bacterial pneumonia. Denene, along with other top company officials, traveled to the FDA to present those findings. As a result, those drugs were approved by the FDA and are now on the market.

Calling on her vast expertise in microbiology, Denene then focused on bioterrorism. With a secret security clearance, she managed a team of scientists who worked in an undisclosed location, in a plain red-brick building that contained several laboratories. Hidden in plain sight, her work there was for the U.S. military.

She’s written numerous peer reviewed articles, contributed to and edited chapters in Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, a textbook used by universities and medical schools, and, as a professor, she taught microbiology to medical students at a well-known medical school. She’s currently the director of the medical diagnostics program at a major university, where she was recently interviewed for a Delaware public service announcement/video about covid-19.

Denene is a regular featured speaker at the annual Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference, and she’s part of the faculty for the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners.

She was recently named a Fellow of the Association of Clinical Scientists, an elite 200-member association of top scientists from around the world that includes pathologists, clinical chemists, molecular and cell biologists, microbiologists, immunologists, hematologists, cytogeneticists, toxicologists, pharmacokineticists, clinicians, cancer researchers and other doctoral scientists who are experts in laboratory methods for the elucidation, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases. 

Perpetrator v. percolator

Police jargon, or slang, is truly a language of its own. It’s a collection of words that can and do vary greatly from one area of the country to another. Even neighboring counties and cities sometime have their own special slang terms that are unique.

If a writer’s goal is realism, I strongly urge the storyteller to do a little homework to avoid dialogue and terminology that doesn’t ring true, especially within a specific location or agency. A quick phone call to a police department’s public affairs office will normally provide you with the needed information.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with police officers all across the country about this very topic. Athough, my focus was on the use of three specific terms/words that I often see used in works of fiction—Perp, Vic, and Juvie. I wanted to see if cops truly used those slang terms. I already knew the answer but, as always, it’s best to do our homework if we’re aiming for facts (hint).

Here’s what I learned.

1) Perp – Not many police officers use the shortened form of the word perpetrator. Instead, they use the more common terms, suspect, actor, or ***hole. Listen to police scanners and you’ll rarely, if ever, hear an officer say, “We apprehended the perp at 0100 hours.” Typically, it’s, “We apprehended the suspect at 0100 hours.”

Perp is generally a specific, regional term. I’ve heard it used more in the New York and Boston areas more than any other location. Still, it’s not used by all officers.

FYI – the term perpetrator is NOT to be confused with the closely-sounding “percolator.” Confusing the two could prove to be quite embarrassing.

Yes, I once saw the perpetrator/percolator faux pas in a manuscript. Imagine reading a book written by your favorite author and you see this on page 47 – “10-4, Captain, the percolator who robbed the hot dog stand was short and stocky, and a witness said he had a tattoo on his forehead that she believed spelled the words ‘Ken’ and ‘More.’  Could be his name—Ken More.”

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By the way, you’ll probably not hear the other, more colorful term “a**hole” used on the police radio. It and other profanity are not supposed to be spoken on the air, but when the adrenaline is high and the bullets are flying, well, you just might hear anything.

“The a**hole just fired two rounds at me! Send &*%@ing backup. NOW!!”

2) Vic – This is another one I’ve seen in books countless times. Again, not all cops use Vic, if any, when referring to the victim of a crime. Well, TV cops do, but not all real-life cops. Actually, some real-life cops refer to their police cars as a Vic, if they’re driving a Ford Crown Victoria.

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To hear a fictional officer misuse the term can be a bit humorous. And, when a reader is thinking one thing but reading another, like – “I really put the Vic to the test. Put my foot in ‘er and drove ‘er hard, first up the mountain and then back down. Wide open all the way. Didn’t let up for a minute. I finally backed off because she started to spit and sputter. Overall, it was a good ride and I’d like to try it again.”

It’s probably a great idea to provide a lead-in so readers will know your hero is referring to a car, not the unfortunate murder victim from chapter three. Ouch!

What word do cops use when referring to a victim? That’s an easy one—victim! Or … dead guy, DB (dead body), maggot snack, etc.

3) Juvie – This is a nickname given to a place of detention for juvenile offenders, or as a generic word for kids.

Again, not all members of law enforcement use this term.

Most simply say “juvenile” to describe those innocent little darlins’ who are always on their best behavior.

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The year is 1982 and I’m assigned to patrol duty in a town called Peaceful. We’re bordered by the towns Mean and Nasty. Peaceful, where I work, is the county seat.

My name is Officer Hartogold and I work the graveyard shift. I carry a gun and wear a badge. It’s my job to protect and serve.

Peaceful is generally a quiet place with very little crime. The streets are lined with green leafy trees and flowers of every color and scent imaginable. The walks are clean and straight and the air is fresh. People smile and say howdy, even to strangers who pass through on their way to here and there.

Our coffee is hot and soft drinks are ice cold. No one curses and no one argues. Kids are polite and respectful. Parents happily attend school functions and entire families enjoy meals together.

Schools are for learning and children love their teachers. The lake is full of sparkling water and fish “this big” are seen each morning leaping as high as three or four feet into the air to catch a bug or two for their breakfast. The skies are blue and grass is soft and velvety.

Everyone in the area works hard to earn a living. The local university produces top-notch graduates. Many of them move on to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, writers, and other such careers. Some finish high school and proudly attend the technical school where they learn to cook, build, design computer systems, and drive big rigs. The dropout rate in Peaceful is very low, and drunk driving charges are nonexistent.

Peaceful is a nice town.

Sure, Billy Buck “Bubba” Johnson occasionally goes off the deep end and tears up his kitchen or living room, and once in a while somebody catches his wife in bed with a neighbor and subsequently uses his trusty 12-gauge to generously aerate her lover’s nude body.

And once, the president of the First Savings and Loan Bank ran off with with one of the tellers, a big-haired woman who, at the time, was married to a local peanut farmer. They’d grabbed a few thousand dollars from the vault before hitting the road. They didn’t get far, though, before the Highway Patrol caught up with the adulterous couple in Happytown, near the state line. The couple gave back the stolen loot, begged forgiveness, and then disappeared again while out on bond.

For the most part, though, Peaceful PD officers answer barking dog and peeping Tom complaints. We write a few traffic tickets, and we keep the undesirables outside the city limits (those Mean and Nasty folks can be downright ornery, especially so on Saturday nights).

Pot smokers and growers—long-hairs we called ’em—were once a bit of a concern for us. Not only was marijuana illegal, our government, and Mexico, had been spraying the weed crops with Paraquat, a chemical linked to cancer and possibly to Parkinson disease. And they’d done so since the time when Nixon was in office.  Pot was a big, illegal business and President Reagan and his wife Nancy were leading the anti-pot crusade.

Next came George Bush, Sr. and Desert Storm, a war that sent a lot of police officers back into active military duty. Some never came home and we eventually filled their positions, sometimes with more former soldiers who managed to survive their deployments.

Occasionally we’d hire a recently discharged soldier whose mind was infiltrated and battered by ghosts and demons from the battlefield. Deep down we knew the odds were in favor of someday finding at least one of those guys sitting inside his patrol car with the barrel of his service weapon jammed tightly against the roof of his mouth.

The poor fellow’d have the hammer cocked and a trembling index finger hooked around the trigger. His face peppered with tiny pearls of sweat and his eyes leaking tears that dropped onto his Class A uniform shirt from a jawline so sharply chiseled that looked as if a stone mason had carved it from a slab of granite. Tough as rusty nails they were, until war turned their emotions and minds to mush.

Sometimes we were able to talk them down, and sometimes the situation ended with bagpipes, a riderless horse, and handing a folded flag to a sobbing, heart-broken spouse.

We kept a close eye on the long-hairs and the people they hung out with, making sure to snag them if we saw them driving while stoned or selling the stuff to little kids. Our narcs where forever finding  and destroying grow operations, but the dopers always popped back up in new locations. As always, drunk drivers added their own special dangers and problems, so we watched for them too.

Then, practically in a flash, crack cocaine entered the picture and things really went sour. That’s also the time when bad guys started carrying semi-automatic pistols instead of cheap pawn shop revolvers. We, however, still had six-shooters sitting in our holsters, which meant the crooks were far better outfitted than the police.

Therefore, to “keep up with the Joneses” we made the switch to the newfangled semi-autos. What a learning curve that was, to go from carrying 18 rounds (6 in the gun and 12 in speed loaders) to 16 in the pistol and an extra 30 in spare magazines worn on our gun belts. The training was a bit intimidating at first, but we got the hang of it. Still, a few of the old-timers opted to keep their old wheel guns in lieu of the semi-autos. Change is tough, especially when it comes swapping a tool you’ve counted on for so long to keep you safe.

With the influx of crack came a drastic increase of criminal activity. Property crimes increased enormously as abusers and addicts began to steal nearly everything that wasn’t nailed down so they could fund their intense, overwhelming cravings for the drug. Assaults were up. The number of robberies increased. Murders and other shootings became commonplace. Shots-fired calls became a regular thing. Stabbings increased. Rapes. Car thefts. Break-ins. They all topped the stat charts.

Small time drug dealers hung out on street corners and in front of “drug houses,” selling to “customers” as they drove up. Curbside service was the preferred method of transaction for the sellers because they only carried a small amount of crack on them that could easily be swallowed or dropped if they saw us coming. Or, they could simply run away before we had time to stop the car and get out. The main stash was inside one the nearby houses, but pinpointing which one required significant surveillance and manpower. Unfortunately, our manpower was usually tied up working on keeping the ever-growing crime rate at a manageable level.

We were simply outnumbered. Crack was ruining our beloved Peaceful.

Not long after crack took hold, criminals began to resist our attempts to arrest them. Prior to crack, it was a rarity to encounter someone who seriously fought with police officers. Yes, there were some, but not every Bill, Chuck, and Susie.

Next they started shooting and lashing out at us with knives. They punched, kicked, and bit and threw rocks and bricks. They tried to hit us with cars as they made their escapes. Then they killed an officer. And then another.

Crime in general grew worse over the years. Criminals grew weirder with each passing week. Along with tho increases in the overall bizarreness came the change in people.

Politicians stole and cheated and lied. Police chiefs and sheriffs were arrested for corruption. Infrastructure started to fail. Kids were texting and driving and crashing their cars. Children were abducted, raped, and killed. Both male and female teachers were caught having sex with students.

Riots, drive-by shootings, property destroyed, mass shootings. School shootings. Arson.

Long gone are the days when I could pull up beside the Billy Buck “Bubba” Johnsons of the world and tell them to get inside my car because they’re under arrest for a crime they’ve committed. And they’d do it, without question. Not today. No, sir. Now you have to chase bad guys. Then when they’re caught you have to wrestle with them while a mob of bystanders kicks and punches you and tosses rocks at your head. And it never fails that a few screaming looky-loos will have their cellphone cameras shoved in your face hoping to record someone delivering a solid kick to your skull. Then, when you are assaulted or beaten those same looky-loos cheer and clap for the man or woman who caused your blood to gush onto the pavement.

Just a few short weeks ago, practically out of nowhere, came “the virus,” and within an instant the entire world changed, again. As a result, cops today are faced with even more challenges. But we’ll save those issues for another day.

In the meantime, someone ought to write a book about this stuff. I’d bet a dollar to donut that it would sell.

Speaking of donuts … A few months ago I offended someone with my use of “donuts” as the spelling of the round sweet treats with the hole in their middles. And the person said I was ignorant to do so. And, that since I was no more than a dumb cop, it was not surprising that I didn’t didn’t know the proper spelling of the word is “doughnut.”

Well, in the old days, back in Peaceful, Dunkin’ Donuts was a pretty popular donut shop. Of course, in 2019 they dropped “Donut” from their name and are now known as “Dunkin’. I wonder if they realize that they’ve also spelled Dunking incorrectly?

Shouldn’t somebody contact these folks right away to tell them their company names are also spelled incorrectly?

Boston Donuts – Leominster, Massachusetts
Casper’s Donuts – Pueblo, Colorado
Country Donuts – Elgin, Illinois
Cravin Donuts  – Tempe, Arizona
Crispy Donuts – Shreveport, Louisiana
Curry’s Donuts – Wilkes-Barre (Kingston), Pennsylvania
Daily Dozen Doughnuts – Warren, Michigan
Daylight Donuts – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Dipping Donuts – Leominster, Massachusetts
Dixie Cream Donuts  – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Donut Bank  – Evansville, Indiana
Donut Bistro – Reno, Nevada
Donut Cafe – Worcester, Massachusetts
Donut Connection – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Donut Country – Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Donut Crazy – New Haven, Connecticut
Donut Delight – Stamford, Connecticut
Donut Dip – West Springfield, Massachusetts
Do-rite Donuts – Chicago, Illinois
Donut King – Minneola, Florida
Donut King – Massachusetts
Donut Mania – Las Vegas, Nevada
Donut Palace – Van, Texas
Donut Professor – Omaha, Nebraska
Donut Stop – Amarillo, Texas
Donuts, donuts, DONUTS!

“When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.”

Will Rogers


By the way, there’s still plenty of time to enter your story in the Writers’ Police Academy’s annual Golden Donut Short Story Contest. The winner receives the prestigious Golden Donut Award and free registration to the 2021 Writers’ Police Academy! And, to sweeten the pot, New Arc Books will soon publish a collection of these fabulous 200-word tales. Your story could be included!

All you have to do is to fire up your imagination and write a tale using the image below as the main focus of the story. And, the stories must be told in exactly 200 of your very best words.

The contest judge is Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine!