Do you ever find yourself searching for the perfect word(s) to help paint a scene with a bit more color and dazzle? Do your characters mumble and grumble about wanting to appear as if they know what they’re doing and saying, instead of sounding like the cliche’-spouting folks on television crime shows?

If so, you might want to toss a few of these terms into your go-to box of words.

E.

Edge Characteristic – The physical characteristics of the periphery of a bloodstain.

Author Donna Andrews photographs print found using electrostatic dust print lifter during a Writers' Police Academy workshop.

Author Donna Andrews photographs print found using electrostatic dust print lifter during a Writers’ Police Academy workshop.

Electrostatic dust print lifter − A system that applies a high-voltage electrostatic charge on a piece of lifting film, causing dust or residue particles from a print to transfer to the underside of the lifting film. Some of you may remember seeing this process in use at the Writers’ Police Academy.

Expiration Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood forced by airflow out of the nose, mouth, or a wound. (Expiration – exhalation of breath).

Extreme Conduct – A defendant may receive an upward departure (a longer sentence) from the guidelines range if the commission of the crime was exceptionally heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim. Likewise, An upward departure from the guidelines may be warranted if a victim suffered extreme psychological injury that’s deemed exceptionally more serious than that normally resulting from commission of the crime.

Brutally maiming and murdering federal agents simply because they dared to ask questions (revenge), well, that may be a crime that warrants an upward departure from the typical sentence.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines – Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that determine how much, or how little, prison time a federal judge may impose on a defendant who has been found guilty of committing a federal crime.

To read more about Federal Sentencing Guidelines, click here.

Felony – An offense punishable by a prison term of one year or more.

Felony Murder: A killing that takes place during the commission of another dangerous felony, such as robbery.

To get everyone’s attention, a bank robber fires his weapon at the ceiling. A stray bullet hits a customer and she dies as a result of her injury. Then the robber turns toward the bank manager to order him to stay put and, while in the process, accidentally stabs and kills the man with the knife he held in his non-gun hand, the implement he’d planned to use to cut open sealed money bags. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices, assessors after the fact, could also be charged with the murder even if they were not in possession of a weapon or took no part in the death of the victim.

Firing pin/striker – The component/part of a firearm that contacts the ammunition causing it to fire.

Forward Spatter Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood drops that traveled in the same direction as the the item causing the force (A baseball bat in motion).

G.

Gabaloo – a real dumbass who believes he’s heaven’s gift to everything on earth—the best singer, the sexiest, etc.

Gag Order – When a defendant becomes unruly a judge may order that he be bound and gagged to prevent further disruptions. The term is also used when a judge orders attorneys, witnesses, etc. to not discuss a case outside the courtroom. Note – Some would prefer the bound and gagging approach be used on attorneys as well as a defendant/client.

Gear Hound – An officer who has far more equipment than that issued by the department. A gear hound is frequently seen shopping in police supply stores.

Get Small – Hide, or run away.

Ghetto Bird – Police helicopter.

Ghetto Cattle – A pack of feral or abandoned dogs.

Ghost Riding – A patrol car rolling down the street without a driver. Officers sometimes are in such a hurry when arriving at the scene they simply forget to shift to park.

GGW – Girls gone wild.

Gh3tto – Gangster

Good Cause – A legal excuse for doing something that’s typically considered illegal. (Think politicians).

Good Moral Character – Do NOT think politicians.

Good Time Credit – Federal prisoners may earn sentence reductions of up to 54 days per year a for their good conduct while in prison. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) awards the credits, not the courts, and they apply only to sentences greater than 12 months. Good time credits may be revoked should an inmate commit rule infractions during their incarceration period—fighting, stealing, possession of contraband such as drugs, weapons, or other prohibited material.

Federal prisoners who play nice during the course of their time behind bars typically see a substantial accumulation of good time credit and will subsequently hit the streets much sooner than those who repeatedly act like idiots.

Due to earned good time credit, federal prisoners who follow the rules are typically released after serving approximately 85% of their sentence.

Gorilla Anus/Gorilla Ass – term used when someone refuses to do something you want them to do. “No, Lil’ Dirt Bag won’t go to the store to get me no Cheetos. He’s being a real gorilla ass.”

Gorilla Biscuits – an old street term for meth.  Zookeepers may have another definition.

Grass Widow – A woman separated from her husband by abandonment.

Grill – Teeth, or face.

H.

Habeus Corpus – To bring a party before the judge.  The most common of the writs is to release a prisoner from unlawful imprisonment. Jailhouse lawyers make a living drafting these for fellow inmates.

Habeus Grab-Ass – To catch/arrest a suspect.

DSC00947

Hairbag – Rookie who thinks he knows it all, even if he’s only been on the job for an hour.

Hatch Act – Statute prohibiting federal, state, and local employees from participating in certain political activities.

Hate Crime Motivation –  If it’s proven beyond any reasonable doubt that a defendant intentionally selected a victim because of their race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation, the courts may impose a sentence enhancement/upward departure of the guidelines.

Hats and Bats – Riot gear—helmets and batons.

Horner – A person/addict who inhales/snorts heroin rather than inject it.

Hillbilly Meth – Mountain Dew (soft drink). The soda was given the nickname due to its high sugar content.

Holster Sniffer – A woman who has sex with cops simply because they’re cops. AKA – Holster Humper, Cop Stalker, Badge Bunny.

Homogenization – process of preparing tissue for analysis by grinding it in a specific amount of water (precisely measured, of course).

Horizontal Highway Hostess – Prostitute who works the streets.

House Mouse – Officer who typically works behind a desk.

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House Mouse

Hurrication – Time off work due to do storms.

Hooptie – Any car that’s still rolling despite troubles, such as windows that won’t roll up or down, hood or trunk lid wired shut with baling wire, missing window glasses covered with garbage bags and duct tape, broken taillights covered with red duct tape, missing hubcaps, radio antennae missing but replaced with coat hanger, and so on. “Lawdy, is Bubba still driving that old hooptie car his daddy bought from the junk yard? “

Hot Blood – When someone’s emotions/passions have been heightened to an uncontrollable degree. A case of “hot blood” may be cause to reduce a murderer’s charge to a lesser offense.

Hydrant Humper – Firefighter.

Hulk-Out – To become extremely angry in an instant. “Seargent, be careful with that guy. He’ll hulk-out on you in a heartbeat. Took six of us to get him cuffed last time.”

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I.

Impact Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from an object striking liquid blood.

Impression evidence – Materials that keep the characteristics of other objects that have been pressed against them, such as a footprint in mud.

Indictment – A formal, written accusation of a crime made by a Grand Jury. An indictment, once issued, is then presented to a court at which time begins the prosecution of the defendant.

Information – Like an indictment, an Information is a formal, written accusation of a crime. However, the Information is made by a prosecutor, not Grand Juries. This typically occurs in areas where Grand Juries are not utilized.

J.

Judgment and Commitment – Or simply, the “judgment,” is a written record of the defendant’s convictions the sentences.

K.

Kidnapping – An abduction, taking of a hostage, or unlawfully restraining a person to facilitate the commission of an crime. An upward departure of sentencing may be warranted in either of these instances.

L.

Latent print – A print that is not visible under normal lighting.

Locard’s Exchange Principle – The theory that every person who enters or leaves an area will deposit or remove physical items from the scene.

Locus – The specific location of a gene on a chromosome; the plural form is loci.

Luminol  – A chemical that exhibits chemiluminescence, a blue glow, when mixed with an oxidizing agent. Luminol is used detect trace amounts of blood left at crime scenes as it reacts with iron found in hemoglobin. Horseradish can leave a flash positive, but its glow is not as bright as the glow produced by blood. Other items could also produce false positives, but they, too, do not glow as brightly as blood.

M.

Magazine – A container that feeds cartridges into the chamber of a firearm.

Mandatory Minimum – Non-discretionary penalties required by law, such as the federal drug offenses that carry mandatory minimum penalties.

*See Federal Sentencing Guidelines above. To read more about Federal Sentencing Guidelines, click here.

Misdemeanor: A crime that’s typically punishable by one year of imprisonment, or less.

Misprision of a Felony – The concealment and/or nondisclosure of a felony by a person who did not participate in the committed crime. Example – John Iseenit, the man who knows that his friend, Bill Idunit, robbed a bank, yet he allows Bill to hide out in his home along with the stolen cash. When the cops stop by to ask if John knows Bill’s whereabouts, he lies and says he does not.

Mist Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood reduced to a fine spray as a result of an applied force.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – DNA located in the mitochondria found in each cell of a body, with the exception of red blood cells. mtDNA can be used to link a common female ancestor.

N.

Nuclear DNA – DNA located in the nucleus of a cell. Red blood cells do not contain nuclei; therefore, they do not contain DNA.

O.

Obstruction of Justice: Obstruction of Justice is a very broad term that simply boils down to charging an individual for knowingly lying to law enforcement in order to change to course/outcome of a case, or lying to protect another person. The charge may also be brought against the person who destroys, hides, or alters evidence.

For more about obstruction, see When Lying Becomes A Crime: Obstruction Of Justice

Offense Level: The severity level of an offense as determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that determine how much or how little prison time a federal judge may impose on a defendant who has been found guilty of committing a federal crime.

To learn more about these guidelines, go here … So, You’ve Committed a Federal Offense: How Much Time Will You Serve?

Order – The written command issued by a court or a judge.

P.

Parent Stain – A bloodstain from which a satellite stain originated.

Parole: The early and conditional release from prison. Should the parolee violate those conditions, he/she could be returned to prison to complete the remainder of their sentence. Parole, however, was abolished in the federal prison system in 1984. In lieu of parole, federal inmates earn good time credits based on their behavior during incarceration. Remember, federal inmates may earn a sentence reduction of up to 54 days per year. Good time credits are often reduced when prisoners break the rules, especially when the rules broken are serious offenses—fighting, stealing, possession of contraband such as drugs, weapons, or other prohibited material.

* Writers, please remember this one. There is no parole in the federal system. People incarcerated in federal prison after 1984 are not eligible for parole because is does not exist. I see this all the time in works of fiction.

Pistol – A handgun which uses a magazine and ejects fired cartridge cases automatically.

Plasma – The clear, yellowish fluid portion of blood.

Plastic − A type of print that is three-dimensional.

Platelet – An irregularly shaped cell-like particle in the blood that is an important part of blood clotting. Platelets are activated when an injury breaches a blood vessel to break. Platelets then change shape and begin adhering to the broken vessel wall and to each other. This is the start of the clotting process.

Plea Bargain/Agreement – an agreement whereby a defendant enters a guilty plea to avoid proceeding to trial. The agreement contains promises made by both the prosecutor and defendant, and each must must each abide by those written guarantees. Each party benefits in some way. The prosecutor avoids a lengthy and costly trial while maintaining a desired conviction rate. The defendant typically receives a shorter, more lenient sentence for agreeing to help the prosecutor maintain that upper level conviction rate.

Pool – An accumulation of liquid blood on a surface.

Post-mortem redistribution – Toxicological phenomenon of an increase in drug concentration after death.

Pre-sentence Report (“PSR”) – Prior to sentencing, a probation officer must thoroughly investigate all aspects of a defendant’s life—criminal history, family ties, work record, community ties, etc. This information is then compiled into a comprehensive report that’s filed with the courts, under seal. Also contained in the pre-sentence report is information about the offense and offender, the mandatory range of punishment, and recommendations and basis for imposing a departure above or below the guideline range.

Primer – The chemical composition that, when struck by a firing pin, ignites smokeless powder., NOT CORDITE!

Probation – A sentence option that allows a defendant to avoid imprisonment. Although, it’s common to see sentences comprised of some probation in conjunction with short stays in prison, such as the sentence of five years that’s split as three years behind bars with the balance of two years served as probation (this is known as a “split sentence”). Or, a sentence may be served as weekends in jail, confinement in halfway house where the offender is allowed to work during the day but return to the halfway house at night. Even home detention is a prison or jail sentence. It’s merely served in a unique way.. A person on probation is monitored by a probation officer and must follow all rules issued by the judge. Should  probationer break a rule, he may be ordered back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.

Bloodstain pattern investigation workshop #2017WPA

Projected Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from liquid blood that’s leaking while under pressure, such as a spurt or spray.

R.

Revocation – The cancellation or reversal of an act or court order, such as when an offender violates the terms of supervised probation. The probation officer would ask that the judge revoke the offender’s supervised release and return them to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence. Prisoners refer to this action as being violated.

“Why are you back in the joint, Petey?” said One-Tooth McGee.

“That &%*# probation officer violated me,” Petey said.

Revolver – A handgun that has a rotating cylinder. Cartridge casings are not automatically ejected when fired.

S.

Saturation Stain – A bloodstain resulting from the accumulation of liquid blood in an absorbent material, such as clothing or bedding.

Sentencing Table Sentencing guideline, in months. See  So, You’ve Committed a Federal Offense: How Much Time Will You Serve?

Serum Stain – The stain resulting from the liquid portion of blood (serum) that separates during coagulation.

Spatter Stain – A bloodstain resulting from a blood drop dispersed through the air due to an external force (a bullet, bat, hammer, rock, etc.).

Spines – A bloodstain feature resembling rays/lines emanating out from the edge of a blood drop.

Splash Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from a volume of liquid blood that falls and or spills onto a surface.

Substantial Assistance – Assisting the government in its investigation and/or prosecution of another individual in return for a reduced sentence.  *See “Departure” above.

Swipe Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from the transfer of blood from a blood-stained surface onto another surface, such as the swipe/wipe of a rag or cloth through a bloody area.

T.

Tertiary DNA Transfer – 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.

Transfer Stain – A bloodstain resulting from contact between a bloodstained surface and another area/item.

Crime Scenes … Watch Your Step!

Transient evidence – Evidence that could lose its evidentiary value if not protected, such as blood, semen, fingerprints exposed to the rain.

V.

Vacate – Based on a factual error, to void a sentence and then remand it back to the original court for re-sentencing.

Void – An absence of blood in an otherwise continuous bloodstain pattern.

W.

Waive – To validly give up a right, such as a right to trial or the right to remain silent.

Wipe Pattern – An altered bloodstain pattern caused when an object passes through a wet bloodstain.

“The Edgar Awards, or “Edgars,” as they are commonly known, are named after MWA’s patron saint Edgar Allan Poe and are presented to authors of distinguished work in various categories. MWA is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime-writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. The organization encompasses some 3,000 members including authors of fiction and non-fiction books, screen and television writers, as well as publishers, editors, and literary agents.” ~ Mystery Writers of America
 

Congratulations to the 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Award Winners!

 

BEST NOVEL

Five Decembers by James Kestrel (Hard Case Crime)

 

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

Deer Season by Erin Flanagan (University of Nebraska Press)

 

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks (Europa Editions – World Noir)

 

BEST FACT CRIME

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green (Celadon Books)

 

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense by Edward White (W.W. Norton & Company)

 

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Road to Hana,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by R.T. Lawton (Dell Magazines)

 

BEST JUVENILE

Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Macmillan Children’s Publishing – Henry Holt and Company BFYR)

 

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

“Boots on the Ground” – Narcos: Mexico, Written by Iturri Sosa (Netflix)

 

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD

“Analogue,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Rob Osler (Dell Magazines)


THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD

Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Press – Soho Crime)


THE G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS SUE GRAFTON MEMORIAL AWARD

Runner by Tracy Clark (Kensington Books)


SPECIAL AWARDS

GRAND MASTER

Laurie R. King


RAVEN AWARD

Lesa Holstine – Lesa’s Book Critiques; Library Journal Reviewer


ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Juliet Grames – Soho Press – Soho Crime


 
If you weren’t able to attend, here’s the recording of the ceremonies. Note, the audio is not the greatest quality at first but greatly improves a few minutes into the recording.
 

Writers’ Police Academy Online is officially open, with a brand new June 25, 2022 class, new website, new design, new server, and exciting new, user-friendly live/online and on-demand courses currently in development. Class formats are video, audio, and/or text, or a combination of one or more. Details about the June class are below.

In the meantime, here are a few tidbits of information.

Why do law enforcement officers train by repetition – over and over again?

Each time an officer draws their weapon they perform a series of movements—place hand on the pistol, grip the pistol, release retention devices that prevent someone from taking the officer’s sidearm, remove pistol from holster, aim the gun toward the threat, insert finger into trigger guard, place finger on trigger, and finally, fire the gun.

Because officers train repetively, performing those same actions at the firing range, over and over again, the brain builds heavy-duty motor neural conduits

At the same time, myelin, a fatty substance, forms a layer of insulation that surrounds nerve cell axons. Myelin also escalates the rate at which electrical impulses move along the axon

As a result of repetitive firearms training, shooters build a high- speed connection that provides the ability to perform the “grip, release, aim, shoot” sequence without having to direct thought resources toward the details of the movement.

Instead of losing precious fractions of a second to analyzing “what’s step one, two, three, and four” the officer reacts instinctively to a threat.


WPA Scholarships Available for Writers’ Organizations

As a way of giving back to the many writers and writers organizations within the crime-writing community who’ve supported the Writers’ Police Academy over the years, we’re pleased to offer your organization a free registration/scholarship to the 2022 Writers’ Police Academy.

For details, please ask a board member of your group to contact Lee Lofland at lofland32@msn.com. The process is simple, request a scholarship and it will be yours to award to a member of your organization.

*Scholarship covers registration fee only. Hotel, travel, and banquet are not included.


Interactive 3D Police Lineups Improve Witness Accuracy

The capability of eyewitnesses to correctly recognize a guilty suspect from someone who’s totally innocent of a crime is known as discrimination accuracy.

Since misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S., it is paramount to develop better discrimination accuracy when it comes to police lineups.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology developed new interactive police lineup software that allows witnesses to view lineup faces in 3D. Using the program, witnesses can rotate and maneuver the faces of potential suspects to various angles that most likely correspond to the orientation of the face they remember from the crime scene.

During the experimental study where over 3,000 test witnesses observed a video of a crime in progress, results were astounding. Without a doubt, accuracy improved significantly when the witnesses viewed the lineup from the same angle at which they had seen the offender commit the crime. The results were better still when witnesses rotated the lineup faces to match the angle of the culprit’s face in relation to how they saw it while the crime was in progress.


15 Survival Tips for Real and Fictional Officers

  1. Remember these three words. You will survive! Never give up no matter how many times you’ve been shot, stabbed, or battered.
  2. Carry a good, well-maintained weapon. You can’t win a gun fight if your weapon won’t fire.
  3. Carry plenty of ammunition. There’s no such thing as having too many bullets.
  4. Treat every situation as a potential ambush. You never know when or where it could happen. This is why cops don’t like to sit with their backs to a door.
  5. Practice shooting skills in every possible situation—at night, lying down, with your weak hand, etc.
  6. Wear your body armor.
  7. Always expect the unexpected.
  8. Everyone is a potential threat until it’s proven they’re not. Bad people can have attractive faces and warm smiles and say nice things, but all that can change in the blink of an eye.
  9. Know when to retreat.
  10. Stay in shape! Eat healthy. Exercise.
  11. Train, train, and train.
  12. Use common sense.
  13. Make no judgements based on a person’s lifestyle, personality, politics, race, or religion. Treat everyone fairly and equally. However, remain alert and cautious at all times.
  14. Talk to people. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. After all, it’s often a bit tougher to hurt an officer they know and trust.
  15. Talk to people. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. After all, it’s often a bit tougher to hurt an officer they know and trust.

Presented by Writers’ Police Academy Online – “Behavioral Clues at Crime Scenes”

June 26, 2022

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. EST

Registration is OPEN for this fascinating live, online seminar taught by Dr. Katherine Ramsland. Session covers staging, profiling, character development, and more!

Sign up today at writerspoliceacademy.online

While you’re there, please take a moment to sign up for the latest updates, news, tips, tactics, and announcements of upcoming courses and classes.

About Dr. Katherine Ramsland

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she is the Assistant Provost. She has appeared on more than 200 Dr. Katherine Ramslandcrime 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 1,500 articles and 69 books, including The Forensic Science of CSI, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer, she was co-executive producer for the Wolf Entertainment/A&E documentary based on the years she spent talking with Rader. Dr. Ramsland consults on death investigations, pens a blog for Psychology Today, and is writing a fiction series based on a female forensic psychologist.


In addition to the Writers’ Police Academy Online website moving to a new server, The Graveyard Shift is officially and finally up and running on the same server. Its new look is underway. The Writers’ Police
Academy is next to make the move and to receive an overhaul.

By the way, there’s still time to sign up for the 2022 Writers’ Police Academy!

Click here to view 2022 WPA hands-on sessions

If you’ve already registered please reserve your hotel rooms asap!

Reserve Your Room

Hilton Appleton Hotel Paper Valley
333 W College Ave, Appleton, Wi. 54911 – Phone: 920-733-8000
When calling, request reservations for the Writers Police Academy Block or, if reserving online, select dates of stay and enter group code 0622WRPA.

Online Reservations


Writers’ Police Academy Merch

Writers’ Police Academy merchandise is available through our Zazzle store, including the 2022 t-shirts in a variety of colors.

Click here to view the selections. 


Together we can better the world of crime fiction, one scene at a time.

Realism in fiction is important, when it’s needed and when placed in the proper context. The ability to weave fact into fiction is a must. But writers must have a firm grasp of what’s real and what’s made-up before attempting to use reality as part of fiction. Otherwise, the author is offering readers fiction as reality, and that’s a fact. Or is it fiction?

The above paragraph is as clear as mucky pond water, right? Well, that’s the sort of muddy writing readers must wade through when writers don’t conduct proper research before diving into to write their next story. For example, confusing a semi-auto pistol with a revolver, or a shotgun with a rifle. Those are the sorts of things that cause writers to lose credibility with their readers. A great example of this is in a current book I read a few weeks ago, where the main character racked a shotgun shell into the chamber of her rifle. Silly writer, shotguns shells are for shotguns, not rifles. Therefore, one does not “rack” a shell into the chamber of a rifle.

The writing in the book was absolutely wonderful … until I read that single line. At that point, as good as the book had been, as I continued to read I found myself searching each paragraph for more errors.

Anyway …

Have you done the unthinkable? Are there words in your latest tale that could send your book straight to someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile? How can you avoid such disaster, you ask? Fortunately, following these four simple rules could save the day.

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.

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. Andy was the sheriff (the boss) and Barney was his deputy.

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. Freeze. 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 Avenue and Stupid Street.

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, grab a bottle of white-out and immediately begin lathering up that string of goofy words because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can remove his name plate from the desk and replace it with one of her own along with photos of her family and her pet guinea pig. 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 rolling 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 without stopping in their tracks to wonder if they should, even if only for a short time. If your character carries a rifle that accepts shotgun shells by “racking” them into the chamber, then you must devise a reason for that to become reality—your character is a wacky scientist who invented the new-fangled long gun, for example. Your readers must believe you and your characters.

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 encyclopedic info dump. Provide readers a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

Still, if you’re going for realism then please do some real homework. I say this because you certainly do not want readers to barely make it halfway through the first chapter of your latest gem when when they suddenly toss it into my WRIAMY pile (Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years).

It’s sometimes painfully obvious when a writer’s method of research is a couple of quick visits to crappy internet sites, and a 15-minute conversation with a friend whose sister works with a man whose brother, a cab driver in Dookyboo, North Carolina, picked up a guy ten years ago at the airport, a partially deaf man with two thumbs on his right hand, who had a friend in Whirlywind, Kansas who lived next door to a retired security guard who, during a Saturday lunch rush, sat two tables over from two cops who might’ve mentioned a crime scene … maybe.

Please, if you want good, solid information, always speak with an expert who has first-hand knowledge about the subject. Not a person who, having read a book about fingerprinting or bloodstain patterns, suddenly believes they’re pro and hits the writers conference circuit teaching workshops. Sure, they may be able to relate what they’ve read on a page, however, those mere words are not the things writers need to breathe life into a story. Reading about bloodstains is not the same as standing inside a murder scene, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions felt by the person who’s there in person. The latter is the true expert who can help a writer take their work to the next level, and beyond.

So, is there a WRIAMY pile in your house? Worse … have you written something that could land one of your tales in someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile of unreadable books? If so, perhaps it’s time to change your research methods.

A great means to assist in adding realism to your work is to, of course, attend the Writers’ Police Academy! Registration for the 2022 WPA’s 14th anniversary blowout is now OPEN! You will not want to miss this thrilling experience. It is THE event of the year! Sign up today, and please bring a friend!


If only the title of this blog piece were as ridiculous as it sounds. Unfortunately, it is not.

Twenty-two-year-old Justine Johnson of Iosco County, Michigan told police investigators she had received and carried out orders from the fictional cartoon character SpongeBob, who commanded her to kill her daughter Sutton Mosser.

SpongeBob, according to Johnson, said she would die if she didn’t obey his demand. Sutton Mosser, the child, would have turned three just two days after her mother brutally stabbed her to death.

During an interview, Johnson told investigators that she didn’t remember exactly what happened to her daughter Sutton. But she did recall experiencing hallucinations due to a lack of sleep combined with heroin withdrawal. She told police that she’d not been sleeping well for approximately two weeks, and a few days prior to the murder she’d left her mother’s house walking and passed out in a graveyard.

Child Protective Services investigator Ryan Eberline interviewed Justine Johnson in jail after her arrest. He later testified that it was Johnson’s belief, through the TV, that she’d received specific instructions from SpongeBob to take her daughter’s life or “they” would kill her. SpongeBob, she said, was saying those things directly to her. At the time, Johnson said “she was hallucinating, was afraid for her life, and that she’d lost her mind.”

The child’s body was discovered when Johnson’s brother arrived home from work and saw a small foot protruding from a garbage bag outside the home. He reported his finding to police who found the remains of Sutton Mosser. Her body, dressed only in a pink and white disposable diaper, was wrapped in bedding and then placed inside the garbage bag.

Johnson was later located by police and arrested.

Justine Johnson is currently being held in jail without bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 28, 2022.


Since most of you are accomplished writers of crime fiction in some form or another, and many of you have backgrounds in journalism, I’d like to offer the follow paragraph for your review.  Not to take away from the extreme horror of this case, but as a learning tool. It’s from a news source reporting the SpongeBob murder.

Please, read it carefully. I did not make this up. I copied and pasted directly from the article. Yes, this was in a national well-known news publication and was written by someone who actually received money for writing it, a journalist whose credentials read – “a multimedia journalist with more than 10 years of experience in broadcast, digital and print production.”

From the article written by the veteran journalist …

“Officers found Johnson hours after the discovery of her daughter’s body walking along railroad tracks. She told officers she did not want to talk about her child’s death, the affidavit states.”

That’s a line for a novel written by Stephen King or Dean Koontz, not one for real news.

I’m still shaking my head.


Writers’ Police Academy Registration to Reopen Very Soon!

After a week off to repair a severe break in our registration system, we’re pleased to say those fixes are nearly complete and the sign-up process will be back online in a couple of days—hopefully, Thursday or Friday. So stay tuned. We’ve also planned a nice bonus as our way of saying thanks for your patience and understanding during this situation, a first in the 14 years the WPA has been in operation.

Bonus details TBA soon!

Please tell all your friends and ask them to tell their friends!

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

A well-written book engages a reader’s emotions, as well as each of their five senses—touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. To do so, writers must call upon their own experiences to breathe life into their characters, setting, and actions.

Crime writers, the folks who take their fans into shootouts, car crashes, explosions, police pursuits, fights, courtroom trials, homicide investigations and crime scenes, and other situations that are highly atypical for the average person, face the reality of not having the background and know-how to draw upon as a resource.

Therefore, because they have no personal experience, writers of crime fiction have only a small handful of “so-so” available options to help with crafting those scenes. And, typically, their research tools are limited to relying on the word of another, read about it, or watch a video.

The results of this type of research often comes across on the page as being “flat,” as if something important is missing. For example, characters lack the knowledge of living cops and robbers, making them not quite up to par with their multi-layered real-life counterparts. Scenes are unbelievable and lack the depth that comes with having “been there, done that.” Dialog suffers because the author doesn’t quite understand the lingo and how and when to use it, other than hearing a television character speak.

The list of potential pitfalls is far too long for the writers who’ve never been involved in a shootout with an armed robber, or investigated a string of murders committed by a serial killer, applied handcuffs to the wrists of a criminal suspect, booked a subject into jail, driven a patrol car on an emergency vehicle training course, been in a deadly force situation where they had to decide whether to shoot someone, or not, fired a gun, tossed a flash-bang into an armed suspect’s home before “going in,” or ripped apart a vehicle using special power equipment.

Each of the above actions invoke the senses of anyone who’s present when they occur. If you’re not a law enforcement officer or other first responder whose job regularly requires involvement in those activities, it’s simply not possible to properly and accurately write those types of scenes in a manner that activates each of the senses.

How could a writer possibly describe the scent of gunpowder if they’ve not smelled it in person. Sure, they could read about it and then use someone else’s words in their work. But if that person’s description was inaccurate, then the story of the writer who used the secondhand information will also suffer the wrath of readers who know better.

A great example is the writer who describes detecting the scent of gunpowder in this way. “The detective knew the murder occurred recently because the odor of cordite lingered in the air.” 

We’ve all read this description time and time again, right? The author who writes this, I’m sad to say, doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about because cordite hasn’t been used in ammunition since its production ceased in England at the end of World War II, nearly 80-years ago.

No one will smell cordite at a crime scene or anywhere else unless, of course, the 100-year-old shooter used ammo he had leftover from his service during the Battle of Nuremberg in February of 1945.

So what’s a writers to do to solve this dilemma, you ask? Easy, no-brainer answer—attend the 2022 Writers’ Police Academy.

Attending the hands-on sessions at the Writers’ Police Academy is the best and ONLY means you have to experience those things in real-life, in real time, short of signing up to work as a law enforcement officer. There is no substitute for this one of a kind event, anywhere on our planet.

Here’s a preview of some of the 2022 exciting hands-on training sessions and classes taught by top experts.

Arrest and Booking – This session is the real deal. Once you arrive at the jail with a criminal suspect, you’ll take the subject out of the squad car, through the booking process, and finally to a cell, an unforgettable moment that’s punctuated by the sound of a steel door clanging shut behind them. This session includes use of the academy onsite booking area and actual holding cells.

Court Process – Taught by a sitting Wisconsin judge, this course covers the legal implications of bad decisions, from an initial appearance to motions hearings and ultimately a trial. Experience what it’s like to testify in court, recalling incidents, responding to legal questions, and more. Learn how your testimony affects and influences a jury.

Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVOC) – Hop in one of our patrol cars and buckle up, because during this exciting session you’ll maneuver the police vehicle through our Emergency Vehicle Operator Course on 26 acres of a closed training facility.

Firearms – Attendees delve into the types of weapons that officers use in their everyday duties. Learn the fundamentals of a Glock pistol and AR15 rifle. Become familiar with sight picture, sight alignment, stance, grip, and trigger control. Fire force on force ammunition on the indoor pistol range.

Tribal Policing – The United States has 574 federally recognized tribes in 35 states. The course guides attendees through the unique aspects of policing on tribal land. Some of the WPA’s academy facilities are situated on Oneida tribal land.

Use of Force Virtual Reality simulator – A heart-pounding, eye-opening, and extremely realistic session where you must decide, within a fraction of a second, whether to use deadly force. Experience how quickly situations unfold for officers. Once the headset is on, you’re there, in the thick of the action and it’s up to you to make the split second decisions.

Vehicle Extraction – Attendees use the Jaws of Life and see how these unique tools can lift vehicles and cut through virtually anything.

Vehicle Contacts – Law enforcement officers stop more than 32 million people per year. Traffic stops involve lots of moving parts, thoughts, tactics, and crimes. They can be, and often are, one of the most dangerous aspects of police work. This session will take you beyond the basics. Be prepared for … well, anything!

Forced Entry/Room Clearing – You and your team are dispatched to a location (our full-scale forced entry structure) where potentially armed and dangerous suspects are hiding. Upon arrival, you and your partners must enter to clear the building.

Participants experience first-hand the heart-pounding, adrenaline rush of “what if.” What if someone is truly in the building? What if they don’t belong there, and what if they have a weapon? What if they’re a wanted person who’s threatened to kill all police officers who try to capture them? Where are they hiding?

*Explosive devices will be used during this session; therefore, participants will be required to wear protective gear during this thrilling hands-on exercise.

Body Cameras – We’ve all seen police seen body camera footage—some good and some not so good.  These cameras have become a game changer for law enforcement and, in addition to merely recording in real time, have capabilities that are nothing short of amazing.

Defense and Arrest Tactics – Participants learn and perform techniques officers use to control behavior of cooperative and uncooperative suspects.

K-9 Operations – Everyone loves dogs, well, everyone except criminals! Spend some time with a K-9 officer and their K-9. Learn the ins and outs, from drug searches to tracking suspects. Bring your questions and cameras (please, no videos allowed) because these four-legged cops are anxious to show off, just for you! This session shows police dogs doing what they do best. Session may be outdoors, weather permitting.

Cops Doing Counterterrorism: Life In the Joint Terrorism Task Force – In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, state and local government officials around the country were faced with a sobering reality: the job of preventing and responding to terrorism was not solely the responsibility of the federal government.  Moreover, the work of the 9/11 Commission revealed the problems of depending on select agencies with classified investigations: sharing the previously un-shareable with local partners was a necessary part of the solution. But should John McClaine be entrusted with exceptionally sensitive national security information?  Which Jack has the need and the right to know?  Bauer? Ryan? Reacher? Black? Sparrow? Retired Acting Assistant Chief Alan Hardwick discusses his experience transitioning from parking tickets and domestic disturbances to briefing the nation’s leaders on secret operations, along with the impact on local investigators who never dreamed they’d be in the middle of a secret war not only for their country, but for their own lives.

Armed in America – Retired ATF Special Agent Rick McMahan discusses the legal commerce and the misuse of firearms. The presentation touches upon the historical events that have been impetus to the nation’s guns laws. We will dispel some of the errors and myths about firearm laws, including why the most repeated line on TV crime shows and in books is completely wrong— “The gun was registered to the suspect.” The presentation examines legal definitions of various types of firearms, criminal schemes, and motives (i.e. firearms trafficking and theft), criminal manufacture and distribution of firearms (such as “ghost guns”), as well as restricted types of weapons. In addition, the class will explore firearms evidence forensically and how firearms are investigative tools for law enforcement.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent – Has your main character been dropped into the middle of an old investigation and quickly discovers much is wrong? Has a crime been solved, the accused are convicted and the real bad guys walk free among us, with society none the wiser? Join former NYPD Detective Marco Conelli as he takes you through the course of a real investigation that instantly carved its place in the New York news as well as the law journals of America.

The Spingola Files: An Evening With Steven Spingola – A captivating session presented by author Steven Spingola, a nationally renowned death investigator who was heavily involved in the high-profile case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Known to his colleagues as “the sleuth with the proof,” Spingola is an investigator and on-air personality for Cold Justice, a popular Oxygen Channel true crime program.

Conversations With The B.T.K. Killer, Dennis Rader – This class, taught by Dr. Katherine Ramsland, focuses on the immersive process of interviewing a serial killer, the challenges of the prison system for such work, and the experience of co-producing the documentary. After hundreds of hours spent inside the mind of this serial killer, in the context of many other killers Dr. Ramsland studied, she offers multiple insights for crime and mystery writing.

Touch a Truck – A variety of public safety vehicles and equipment for attendees to view and explore. Officers and firefighters will be on hand to explain the functions of vehicles and tools used by first-responders. Q&A and demo. Indoor event.

Live, Action-Packed Scenario – this adrenaline-pumping, dramatic, and riveting event unfolds in realtime!


Writers’ Police Academy Registration Opens Tuesday,

February 1st at Noon EST 

Guest of Honor – International Bestselling Author Robert Dugoni

~

The action is real. The instructors are real. The knowledge gained is phenomenal. 

The Writers’ Police Academy experience is invaluable. 

*Images above are from past Writers’ Police Academy events. Raise your hand if you see someone you know. I see Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, and …

 

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

 

Writers understand that active voice is when the subject of a sentence performs the action represented by the verb.

The bank robber counted the loot.

In the sentence above, the robber is the subject who performed the action (counted).

Passive voice, on the other hand, is when the subject receives or is affected by the action. They are not the “doer” of the action. Instead, they’re the recipient of the action.

In passive sentences, the object of the verb, the subject, is usually followed by the verb, which is typically a form of “to be,” a past participle, and the word “by.” Passive voice can confuse readers.

The loot was counted by the bank robber.

Passive voice shoves the subject (the bank robber) to the back of the action, instead of at front and center. And this, the shifting of action in a sentence, is why police officers should avoid the use of passive voice when writing reports and other official documents, and when providing official testimony. Passive voice, unfortunately, is often a part of “cop speak” that causes much unnecessary grief for officers and prosecutors, but is goldmine for defense attorneys.

For example, fictional Officer I.Iz Baddrighter typed this sentence in the narrative section of an incident report:

A wad of cash, two gold necklaces, and a gun was found under the living room couch.

If this occurred in real life, when prosecutors received the case, since the report was written in passive voice, they’d have no clear idea who found the items, who conducted the search, etc.

A better report, written in active voice, clearly indicates who performed the action.

I, Officer I. Iz Badrighter and Officer Dewey Good, served a search warrant at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, where Officer Good found cash, two gold necklaces, and a gun under the living room couch.

Written in active voice, the report detailing the same event, tells who was there, why they were there, and who found the items.

Use of Passive Voice in Law Enforcement is a Bad Idea

An officer’s use of passive voice can result in all sorts of troubles, including a stumbling courtroom testimony where the officer is vigorously cross-examined over “who did what and where,” and even the dismissals of cases.. All due to innocent but ambiguous wording.

Imagine a super-savvy defense attorney seizing upon the statement, “Due to our prior knowledge of Ricky Robber being a carjacker and knowing he always carries a couple of pistols, a high-risk traffic stop was conducted by us.”

The officer is in the hot seat in this situation, because he has to explain who or whom he’s speaking of when he wrote “our” and “us.” How “they” knew Ricky Robber is a carjacker? Did the officer arrest Robber for the same crime in past? Did the officer run a criminal history and carjacking was a crime Robber served time for committing?  The mention that he always has a pistol or pistols in his possession. Is he never without a sidearm? Are officers watching Robber every minute of the day, even as he sleeps? These are all points a defense attorney could hammer and hammer until the officer eventually becomes confused by their own words.

The officer in this case could’ve saved himself a ton of grief by simply writing:

“At 2200 hours, I, Officer I. Iz Badrighter and Officer Dewey Good witnessed Ricky Robber driving west near 24 Elm Street in Mayberry. Earlier in the shift we received a “Be On The Lookout” (BOLO) radio message stating Robber committed a carjacking on Main Street at 1935 hours. A check of Robber’s criminal history indicated sixty-three past carjacking arrests. In each of those cases, arresting officers reported Robber drawing a pistol from his waistband and pointing it at them. Knowing these facts and for our safety, Officer Dewey Good and I conducted a high-risk traffic stop. Robber was subsequently placed under arrest for the outstanding carjacking warrant.”

With this report in hand, prosectors know exactly what happened, who did what, when they did it, and why. A copy of the report during courtroom testimony is also extremely helpful to the arresting officer.

Using Passive Voice

So yes, active voice is typically the best route. However, sometimes, to avoid embarrassment, passive voice is the better use of words, like the time …

It was back during my time as a patrol officer working the graveyard shift when we received a fight call involving multiple suspects armed with various weapons. Three of us responded, stopped our cars, and hopped out to break up the melee. When all was under control we headed back to our cars. But, instead of three cars only two remained in the spots where we’d left them—my car and a car belonging to the other officer. The missing car was that of the sergeant who’d also answered the call. He’d committed a serious faux pas, leaving the doors unlocked, the engine running, and the keys in the ignition. So we and several other units spent the next hour searching for the stolen patrol vehicle. Then, when it was spotted, we spent the next hour chasing the car at high speeds, with the car thief listening to our radio traffic.

Anyway, it was far less of a blow to the sergeant’s ego for us to write the report in passive voice.

“Sergeant I. Goofup’s patrol vehicle was missing for three hours. It was later found in the possession of Ima Crook.”

Written in active voice, well, the report wouldn’t have sounded quite as kind.

Sergeant I. Goofup, while leaving his vehicle to respond on foot to a fight-in-progress, left the engine of his patrol car running with the keys in the ignition. All doors were unlocked. Ima Crook, a 27-year-old male, stole Sergeant Goofup’s car, an action resulting in a high-speed chase. Crook was arrested for the larceny of the department vehicle, reckless driving, eluding police, and disregarding signal by law-enforcement officer to stop.

 

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

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

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

Number One – All serial killers absolutely LOVE Jodie Foster …

Oops, wrong list.

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

Messy Desk

Ah, yes. Here we go…

Serial Killer Fact Checker

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

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

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


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

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

6. Not all serial killers are white males.

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

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

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

10. Serial killers may have multiple motivations.

Finally, to help with your research

 

 

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


*Jodie Foster image by Alan Light (background removed)


Full details coming soon!

 

 

Simply put, buckshot are projectiles.

Unlike a single bullet fired from a handgun or rifle, shotgun shells contain a group of small balls (pellets) made of lead, steel, or a combination of other metals. When the shell is fired the individual shot travel down the barrel (bore) and when clear they begin to spread out/scatter in a funnel-like shape. The farther the pellets travel the wider the funnel (shot pattern) becomes. It’s this scattering action that makes it far easier to hit a target, as opposed to firing single rounds from handguns and rifles. For comparison, it’s easier to hit a tin can by tossing a handful of pebbles at it than it would be to strike the can with a single rock.


Remember the old westerns where cowboys mentioned using scatter guns? They were speaking of shotguns.


Also found inside the plastic or paper outer hull of a shotgun shell are:

  • Wad – The wad keeps the shot in place within the shell. In addition, it helps to prevent them from deforming as they pass through the barrel (bore).

After traveling a ways, the wad loses velocity and falls away and down from the shot as they continue onward toward their target. However, if the shooter is close enough to the target when the weapon is fired it’s likely the wad will also strike the mark. This is obvious when shooting at paper targets since each pellet separately punctures the paper, leaving behind small pellet-size holes. As the wad tears through the paper target it creates a large, jagged hole that’s at least the size of the wad. In many cases the resulting hole is larger than the actual size of the wad.

Not to scale, obviously.

Also found inside a shotgun shell …

  • Powder/propellant powder – Unlike rifle powder that must burn slowly in order to build up the necessary pressure to send a bullet down the barrel, shotgun powders are designed for the quick explosions needed to propel a load of shot or a slug. The nature of fast-burning powder results in less accuracy than rifles, at distances; however, shotguns are ideal for hitting moving targets at close range because of the spread of the pellets/shot.
  • Primer – A primer contains a small amount of explosive mixture. When the trigger is pulled it causes the firing pin to strike the primer. When struck, the explosive material ignites and sends a stream of hot gases forward into the cartridge case. In an instant, those gases increase in temperature and pressure. It is this combination that ignites the propellant powder.

The primer pocket houses the primer.

Shotgun Pellet Sizes

Shotgun shells come in various sizes and with varying contents, including a few different sizes of buckshot. Smaller shot are used for hunting small game such as birds, squirrels, and even for shooting pests (rats).

For example:

The sizes of buckshot range from No. 4, approximately .24 (caliber) to 000 (aka “triple aught), approximately .375 to .380 (caliber)

00 buckshot (double-aught buckshot) is likely the most recognizable shotgun ammunition since its often used in TV and film. It’s also commonly used for hunting large game, such as deer, hence the name “buck” shot. 00 buckshot pellets are .330 inch in diameter.

00 buckshot is widely used for home defense due to its stopping power—eight or nine .330 (caliber) pellets flying at over 1,300 feet per second. That’s enough force to penetrate car doors. Each of those eight or nine pellets are approximately the same size as that of a .32 caliber bullet fired from a pistol.

 

 

Hunting Use

00 buck is most often used to hunt larger game, such as deer. The preferred range for shotgun hunting is typically 50-60 yards or less. Of course, this distance depends upon how tightly the shot hold their pattern as they travel away from the weapon. Tightly patterned shot, a smaller more tightly formed “funnel” may reach targets at further distances. Obviously, the closer to a target the better the chance of bringing it down. At greater distance the shot pattern grows larger which increases the chance of stray shot striking something other than an intended target—another hunter, for example.

Slugs

Not to be confused with the mostly nocturnal garden variety shell-less mollusk pictured above, shotgun slugs are used for both hunting and target shooting. Their design, a single very large projectile that provides for incredible stopping power caused by both impact and massive wound channels.

Buckshot for Home Defense

Due to the scattering pattern of shot/pellets, there’s no real need to take precise aim when firing a shotgun during a life-saving defensive action. Merely point the business end of the weapon at the threat, pull the trigger, and let the spreading action of the pellets and the 00 ammo’s incredible stopping power and penetration do its job.

Keep in mind, as with all firearms, one must train and practice firing a shotgun to understand the weapon and to become at ease with how it functions, and to experience what happens when the trigger is pulled. There is a bit of kickback when a shotgun is fired, so be prepared.

Safety, safety, safety!!!!

And my dear writer friends, please do your homework before writing about firearms. It’s extremely jarring to be well into a terrific book and then “hear” the protagonist tell us they “racked” a bullet into their single barrel .12 gauge shotgun. As a rule of thumb, bullets are for rifles and handguns. Shotgun shells are for shotguns.

 

“Hollow point bullets are designed to hit the animal they’re being shot at, let’s say a deer for example, and explode inside that body, correct?” – Prosecutor Thomas Binger, during questioning of defendant Kyle Rittenhouse in a Kenosha County, Wi. courtroom.

Rittenhouse replied, “No, I don’t think so.”

Rittenhouse, on trial for murder, was absolutely correct. Hollow point ammunition does not explode.


Prosecutor Binger’s hollow point blunder is the perfect example of someone who hasn’t done their homework before sharing their lack of knowledge with the world.

Unfortunately, this massively incorrect statement was most likely absorbed into the brains of many folks who’re following the trial, and a number of them will repeat it as fact merely because it was spoken by someone, a prosecutor, who should know better. Then the snowball effect begins, with more and more people repeating the untruth until it eventually makes it way into everyday conversation, the media and, well, crime fiction.

I’m addressing this topic only because I don’t want to see Binder’s error wind up in your books. Of course, the fact that Binder used false information in a real-life murder trial is far more than concerning than to see it appear on page 102 of Sally Sue’s next thriller. Perhaps, though, Binder picked up the morsel of untruth from a novel written by someone who didn’t care to do their homework before settling in to write. You know, the same writers who have their characters smell the odor of cordite when entering a fresh shooting scene. Hmm …


Say NO to cordite! Click here to see why.


Before discussing hollow point rounds, it’s important to understand full metal jacket and hollow point bullets (the actual projectiles).

Jacketed bullets – lead bullets that are encased either partially or completely in copper or a similar alloy. The term “full metal jacket” (FMJ) refers to complete jacketing of a bullet. The entire bullet is encased inside a jacket.

Jacketed bullets

A FMJ round typically punches straight through through soft tissue, a through-and-through wound, and that’s because its hard jacket usually doesn’t allow the bullet to deform and expand. The FMJ bullet typically retains it sleek design as it passes through the body. However, the fired FMJ bullet could become misshapen if hits something hard, such as steel or concrete, and sometimes bone.

Wounds Caused by FMJ Rounds

Soft tissues are elastic and pliable and tend to close around a wound, attempting to retain the tissue’s original form. Therefore, both entrance and exit wounds are much smaller than the explosive and cavernous destruction that TV and film would have us believe. In fact, even 9mm FMJ rounds often leave behind wounds not much larger than those caused by rounds fired from a .22 pistol. Actually, even the more substantial and plumper .45 rounds often leave wounds smaller than the diameter of the bullet, after tissues begin to shrink once the round passes through. The same is so regarding the the wound cavity where the bullet travels through the body on its way to and out the opposite side. Therefore, for a FMJ round to kill or fully incapacitate, well, it usually must strike a vital organ or blood vessel. Thus, a shooter must be accurate with their shots.

Now for the “scoop” on hollow point ammunition.

Hollow Point Ammunition

Hollow points “mushroom” upon impact with tissue or other material/surfaces

Hollow point ammunition is designed to expand, or mushroom, when it strikes soft tissue. Expand, NOT explode.  The void at the tip is the key. Upon impact, it fills with matter, and that action combined with the forward motion of the round causes the lead surrounding the void to peel back and away, sort of like peeling a banana at 1,000 feet per second, or so.

As a result, the expansion of the bullet forces the round to quickly lose velocity while creating a much wider wound channel, thus a greater chance of it remaining inside the body, the opposite effect of an FMJ round. Therefore, hollow point ammunition reduces the risk of accidental collateral damage—a round passing through a body and traveling on to strike other people when firing in self defense or defense of others), or animals, buildings, and other people when hunting.


Hollow point rounds are an excellent ammo choice for law enforcement and for civilian self-defense.


 

 

Like the rounds pictured above, many hollow point bullets are jacketed, which allows for smoother feeding into a semi-automatic and automatic weapons. Jacketing also reduces “lead shaving” and damage to gun barrels. Jacketing hollow point ammunition also aids in penetrating targets, as well as helping the bullet expand in a uniform manner.


Lead shaving – deposits of lead are “shaved” from a bullet as it leaves the chamber and barrel. Deposits are often left in the bore of a firearm which can alter the shape of a bullet and/or the lands and grooves of a barrel. Sometimes the shaving is so egregious that tiny bits of hot lead blows outward onto the face, arms, and hands of the shooter. Occurs mostly with revolvers.

The first firearm I was issued by a sheriff’s office, a Ruger .357, shaved lead horribly. So much so that it peppered my face and hands with tons of hot lead each time I pulled its trigger. In fact, after firing between 40 -60 rounds the lead build-up around the chamber and cylinder was so great that the cylinder could not rotate. The revolver was, at that point, totally useless. It would not fire until it was thoroughly cleaned and the lead deposits scraped away. Needless to say, I plead my case with the boss and was issued a new weapon.


Many jacketed hollow point bullets have factory-cut notches/thin grooves/fault lines cut into the outer copper jacket, around the tips of the bullets. These cuts are purposeful weak points help that ensure that expansion and mushrooming occurs as it should.

 

 

So no, hollow point rounds do not explode.

FYI – Prosecutor Binder’s questions about this type of ammo was a bit puzzling since it had previously been confirmed that the ammunition fired from Rittenhouse’s weapon were full metal jacketed rounds, not hollow points. Just one of many head-scratching moments during a bizarre trial.


*This post is about ammunition only. I merely used an ill-informed prosecutor’s inaccurate question/statement as fodder for an article that could benefit writers of fiction, or fact. I am in no way offering an opinion of Rittenhouse’s guilt, innocence, or any combination thereof. So please, let’s avoid discussion about the case and trial, race, politics, etc.