Using common sense when writing about cops

Today, when your keystrokes guide your police officer/detective/protagonist through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the world from total devastation, pause for just a moment and consider the lives of real-life officers. Do your characters measure up to a human officer’s abilities? Have you over-written the character? Are they mindless, superheroes? Have you given them human emotions? Is the danger level realistic? Are your action scenes believable?

I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book, including tons of stories written by readers of this blog. Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite, uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, Sig Sauers, edged weapons, revolvers, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get my ideas? Well … mostly from the mistakes writers make in their books (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).

The same is true at the Writers’ Police Academy and our exciting new venture “Writers” Police Academy Online” that’s scheduled to go live in October 2020. We present workshops mostly based on questions we hear from writers. We also develop sessions that stem from the inaccuracies found in various books, TV shows, and film. Several of the activities at the WPA are based upon actual events that occurred during the year , such as the Boston bombings, school shootings, etc.

Not so long ago I was reading a wonderfully written book when a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. So I backed up to re-read a few lines to make certain that what I’d read was actually on the page and not my mind playing tricks on my tired eyes. Nope, there it was as plain as day, one of the most impossible, unbelievable ways to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail to protect the author’s reputation). Then, to make matters even worse, the scene was followed by a few more paragraphs containing incorrect information about the weapons and materials involved in the goofy slaying. Not even close to reality, and it was obvious that reality was the intention.

This was a problem for me. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll pick up another of this author’s books. Why not? Because he/she didn’t bother to check simple facts. They didn’t even make an effort to use common sense. I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.

Writing Reality

One of the top thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes some pretty over the top action, but he does so in a way that makes you believe it, even though some of it probably couldn’t happen in real life. I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books.

His answer was, “Better to ask if I do any research before I write the last word! I don’t do any general research. I depend on things I have already read or seen or internalized, maybe years before. I ask people about specific details … like I asked you what a rural police chief might have in his trunk.  But in terms of large themes I think it’s difficult to research too close to the time of writing … research is like an iceberg – 90% of it needs to be discarded, and it’s hard to do that without perspective.”

So how does Lee make Reacher’s actions believable? Simple. He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.

By the way, in response to Lee Child when he contacted me to ask what what a rural police chief might have in the trunk of his car, I sent him this photo (below).

I took the shot while visiting a sheriff’s office in Ohio. Yes, you may have read the scene that was based on this very image, along with the description I provided to Lee.

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The trunk of a patrol car is for the storage of evidence collection material, a defibrillator (not all departments issue defibrillators), extra ammunition, rain gear, flares, emergency signage, accident and crime scene investigation equipment, extra paperwork, riot gear, etc.

Department regulations may determine the contents of the trunk. And common sense will tell you that there are no bazookas, portable helicopters, rocket launchers, or inflatable speed boats inside the trunk of a police car.

However, you might find a baseball bat and glove, a football, or a few teddy bears. Cops often come in contact with children who need a friend.

So please, if you’re going for realism, use common sense.

Common sense will also tell you to ask an expert before plunging into a topic you know nothing about, such as “what might a rural police chief have in his car trunk?”


Lee Child teamed up with his brother Andrew Child to write the next Reacher novel, “The Sentinel.” Andrew, though, will take the reins from that book forward to continue the Jack Reacher series.

On a personal note, Lee Child has been a great friend to me and my family. We are blessed that he has been a part of our lives.

I wish Andrew all the success in the world.

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.

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 in use at the Writers’ Police Academy. (Picture at right – author Donna Andrews – 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 from the guidelines range if their during 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.

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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 tissue in 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. Can be used to link a common female ancestor.

N.

Nuclear DNA – DNA located in the nucleus of a cell.

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.

Writers often find themselves stuck, searching for just the right police terminology or phrase. Unfortunately, the answers to their questions aren’t always available at a glance.

You know the questions … Are kidnapping and abduction one in the same? And what the heck is a bucket head? Yeah, those kind of questions.

Here’s a mini dictionary that might be of some use.

A.

Abandonment:  Knowingly giving up one’s right to property without further intending to reclaim or gain possession. Abandoned property can be searched by police officers without a search warrant. Most states deem it illegal to abandon motor vehicles, and the owner may be summoned to civil court to answer charges, pay fines, or to receive notice of vehicle impoundment and disposal.

Abduction:  The criminal act of taking someone away by force, depriving that person of liberty or freedom. A person who has been kidnapped against their will has been abducted. This definition does not apply to a law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duties.

Abscond:  To covertly leave the jurisdiction of the court or hide to avoid prosecution or arrest. A suspect who “jumps bail” or hides from police, while knowing a warrant has been issued for her arrest, has absconded from justice. Film director/producer Roman Polanski absconded to France before he could be sentenced for having unlawful sex with a minor.

AMBER Alert:  The AMBER alert was created in Dallas, Texas as a legacy to nine year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and murdered. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. An AMBER alert is issued when law-enforcement officials determine a child has been abducted. Immediately after verification of the kidnapping, officials contact broadcasters and state-transportation officials, who in turn relay descriptions of the child and their abductor to radio, television, electronic road signs, and other highly visible sites.

Armed Robbery:  Robbery is the act of taking, or seizing, someone’s property by using force, fear, or intimidation. Using a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club, to carry out the same robbery constitutes an armed robbery. You have NOT been robbed when someone breaks into your home while you’re away and steals your TV.

By the way, the photo above was taken just last week during a bank robbery in Virginia. It was the second such robbery within a period of a couple of weeks. Both robberies were carried out by men wearing hoodies. In this case, and many, many others, I don’t think the wearing of the hoodie was intended as a fashion statement.

FYI – I once saw a “Breaking News” headline that read something like, “TOM PETTY ROBBED.” Well, I expected to read about a methed-up troll pointing a a rusty knife at the rocker and then making off with his fortune. Instead, the story was about some loser who waited until no was looking and then stole five of Petty’s guitars from a deserted sound stage. Huge difference. This was not a robbery. Instead, it was larceny of property. There was no threat and no intimidation and no weapon of any kind. There wasn’t even anyone around to receive a dirty look from the thief.

A**hole:  Police slang for suspect or perpetrator. (You fill in the blanks. Hint: the first letters of Sinking Ship will work nicely. The same works for the next entry as well).

A**wipe:  Police slang for suspect or perpetrator.

 

B.

B & E:  Break and enter (see Break and Enter).

Bad Check:  A check that has been drawn upon an account of insufficient funds, or on an account that has been closed. A person who writes and utters (cashes) a bad check is considered to have committed larceny, or the theft of cash money. Most states consider bad-check writing to be a misdemeanor; however, the crime is a felony in other states if the check is written for more than a specific amount set by law, such as a minimum amount of $200. Suspects who are arrested for writing and passing bad checks are usually released on their own recognizance, with their signed promise to appear in court for trial.

Badge Bunny:  Nickname given by police officers to females who prefer to date only police officers and firemen. Many of these badge bunnies actively pursue recent police academy graduates to the point of actually stalking the officers. Some have even committed minor offenses and made false police complaints to be near the desired officers. Many police academies mention badge bunnies near the end of the officer’s academy training to prepare them for the possible situation.

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

Picking up bacteria from agar plate. The brownish-red material is the agar. The grayish-yellow coloring at the top of the agar is E.coli bacteria. When incubated, the number of bacteria can double every twenty minutes. Yes, I took this photo, and I must say that it’s a bit intimidating to be in a room where scientists are hard at work with this stuff. And yes, those are the hands of my adorable, but deadly, wife. I sleep with one eye open…

Bitch:  1) Complain. 2) Typically, physically weak and passive prisoners controlled by other dominant inmates. The “bitch” is normally forced into performing sexual favors for controlling inmates. The submissive inmates are often forced into servitude for the duration of their sentences.

Bitch Slap:  Any open-handed strike to the face. The term is often used to describe a humiliating defeat. “It was embarrassing for John to be bitch-slapped by Larry, a man half his size.”

Blow:  Slang for cocaine.

Blow Away:  To kill someone by shooting.

BOLO:  Be On The Lookout. “Officers issued a BOLO at 0400 hours for the suspect of an armed robbery.” BOLO has replaced the use of APB (All Points Bulletin) in nearly all areas of the country. Actually, I haven’t heard or seen “All Points Bulletin” used in many years, except on television and in books written by authors who haven’t done their homework. The same authors who still mention “cordite” and revolvers that automatically eject spent casings.

Here’s a handy guide to help you better understand the revolver.

Revolver

 

 

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

Revolver nomenclature (below)

 

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

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

 

Break and Enter:  These are the words used to describe the essential elements of a burglary in the night time. The actual breaking need only be a slight action, such as opening an unlocked window or pushing open a door that is already ajar. In some states, merely crossing the plane of an open window or door (in the night time) is all that’s needed to constitute a break. The intent to commit a felony in conjunction with the breaking must be present to constitute Breaking and Entering.

Bucket Head:  Term used to describe a motorcycle officer, because of the helmets they’re required to wear when riding.

Bust:  1) To place someone under arrest. 2) To conduct a police raid, especially a drug raid.

 

C.

Can:  A prison or jail. “When does Riley get out of the can?”

Capias:  The process of seizing a person and/or their property for the purpose of answering a particular charge in a court of law. A judge can issue a Capias, also known as a Warrant for Failure to Appear (AKA – bench warrant), for anyone who has been summoned to court who fails to appear for their hearings, and for witnesses who do not show up for scheduled court appearances.

A Capias is a criminal warrant, therefore the subject must be processed in the same manner as any other criminal—he or she arrested, fingerprinted and photographed. It is not unusual for a judge to dismiss the charge of  Failure to Appear once the person is actually brought to the courtroom and successfully completes his or her testimony.

Cooking The Books:  Fixing police reports to make certain high-crime areas appear safer. Also, a person who alters any type of records or documents is often said to be “cooking the books.”

Cop:  1) To steal something. “Susan copped two necklaces while the clerk was on the telephone.”  2) Slang for a police officer. Many police officers take offense to the term being used by the general public. Instead, those officers prefer to be addressed as police officers. In todays odd and turbulent cop-hating times, though, “cop” is not nearly as bad as some of the names they’re called.

Cop a Plea:  To plead guilty to a lesser included offense to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

County Mounties:   Slang for sheriff’s deputies.

Crooked Zebra:   A referee who has been bribed to fix the outcome of a sporting event.

Crop Dusting:  Passing gas (flatulence) while walking through a crowd of people.

 

D.

Deck:  A packet of narcotics.

Dirt Bag:  An old-school police nickname for a criminal suspect. “Cuff that dirt bag, Officer Jenkins. He’s wanted for murder.”

Do:  To kill someone. When are you gonna do that dirtbag, Sammy?”

DOA:  Dead on arrival.

Drop:  To take a drug by mouth; orally. “Cindy dropped a hit of acid three hours ago. She’s really tripping hard.”

*More to come…

Good action scenes—car chases, gunfights, and exploding cars and buildings—are great at keeping readers busy turning pages. But, how does your hero survive the barrage of bullets, flames, and KABOOMS? Are you giving the star of your book a realistic way out of all the tough jams you’ve tossed their way? Is what you’ve written a true tactical maneuver, or, did you write your hero into a tired old cliche’ corner? You know what I mean—the karate chop to the wrist which forces the bad guy to drop his weapon. How about this doozy … shooting the gun out of the villain’s hand. I know, it’s goofy and unrealistic. So yeah, those things, the things that are not only far-fetched, they’re downright silly.

As writers of fiction it is your job and sworn duty to deliver believable make-believe, and having your character(s) shoot the gun out of someone’s hand is far from achieving that goal.

So, you ask, how do real-life heroes avoid meeting untimely ends when confronted with deadly situations?

Well, for starters, they should …

When confronting a suspect who’s armed with a long-gun (shotguns and rifles are long guns) it’s best to have the hero approach from the side.

By doing so, your protagonist forces the crook to turn his entire body toward the approaching hero in order to continue the threat/potential shootout.

Otherwise, the thug has no option other than to flee or surrender. The tactic provides the hero with enough time to properly react to the threat.

 

 

  • If possible, place your hero in a good light. By that, I mean to make use of bright lights, such as a setting sun or bright early morning sunlight. The bright light should be at the hero’s back, but with the hero concealed/using cover. The use of this tactic makes it extremely difficult for the bad guy to see. Yet, the hero will be able to clearly see the bad guy and his movements.
  • It’s okay to have your hero experience a bit of fear because fear heightens our sense of awareness, which in turn increases the likelihood that we’ll do whatever is necessary to survive. However, fear can have a negative effect if allowed to overtake the situation. In short, a little fear is good, but too much fear combined with gunfire is the recipe for a badge-wearing babbling idiot.
  • If possible, have your protagonist take a moment to focus on breathing. Yes, breathing properly during a tense situation can help bring things into perspective. It can also help lower the heart rate, and it can prevent fear from morphing into blind rage (sudden bursts of anger could turn into a deadly mistake. Not thinking clearly could result into  foolishly rushing into a no-win situation.

Taking a moment to focus on “combat breathing.” Breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold your breath for another count of four, and then exhale to a third four-count. Count to four and then start all over again. The heart rate should be noticeably lower after a few repetitions. Of course, I don’t recommend taking the time to perform these deep-breathing exercises during a gunfight with bullets zinging by your ears. It’s been my personal experience that “timeouts” are not allowed during gun battles.

Okay, there you have it. No more silly karate-chop scenes or shooting guns from bad guy’s hands, right? Good. Then you’re all set.

But, you know, I can’t recall ever seeing an extremely scared, deep-breathing Jack Reacher standing with bright sunlight to his back while walking sideways like crab toward a guy holding an AK-47.

I suppose an occasional fist to the throat, or a boot to the head is permissible, but only if you’re the hero in a Lee Child book. The trouble is … there’s only one Jack Reacher, and there’s definitely only one Lee Child.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

 

 

You. Will. Survive. Three of the most important words I heard during my entire time attending the basic police academy.

Several years later it was I who was drilling the phrase into the minds of hundreds of recruits. After all, thoughts of my survival speech, and many others like it in academies across the country, could be the catalyst that gives the much-needed shove after an officer is badly wounded and is teetering between giving up and pushing on to live another day. Indeed, three very important words to remember.

You. Will. Survive.

Sure, rookies know it all, or think they do. They’re fresh out of a lengthy and grueling training period that prepares them for whatever could come their way. Well, almost everything. The world still toss out surprises.

But there they are, shiny faces and short hair. Ill-fitting uniforms and new scratch-free equipment on their brand new duty belts that still smell of freshly-dyed leather and oil. New information fills their brains (“Do this. Don’t do that. Watch this and look for that.”).

The’ve just completed Hell Week (defensive tactics where pain rules the day) so arrest techniques are fresh in their minds. Their shooting and driving skills are sharp. They are nothing short of walking, talking, hyper-vigilant cop machines who can run fives miles while drinking protein shakes, cleaning their sidearms, and reciting Black’s Law Dictionary in reverse order, from ZZZZ BEST to A FORTIORI.

The point is, rookies are probably far more alert than the officer who’s been on the job for several years.

Why is it that more experienced officers have a strong tendency to become—here it comes, the dreaded “C” word—complacent?

Well, like other professions, doing the same thing over and over and over again becomes a bit tiresome, especially when that same-old, same-old involves the same two people time and time again (“He hit me.” “No, he hit ME!”). Unfortunately, it’s often the 300th time you respond to Junior, Jr.’s trailer out on Route 5 that he decides to shoot a cop. It could be the meth or the Jack talking, but dead is dead. There “ain’t” no coming back from that mistake.

Complacency kills cops!

So remain alert, even after you’ve been on the job for 30 years. Charm and your good looks will only get you so far. Not everyone thinks it’s adorable that your spare tire loops over your gun belt in several places.

Watch the Hands!

Always watch the hands!

Sure, the eyes are sometimes telling and they telegraph intentions, but it’s the hands that kill, not the eyes. Watch the hands. If you cannot see them then it is imperative that officers consider the person to be armed.

Clues

A suspect’s actions and even clothing are often strong indicators of their intentions. I know, the “action” part is self-explanatory, but how could a person’s dress be an indication of future intent to commit a crime, or to assault an officer? Picture a man wearing a long coat in the middle of August, in Atlanta. That’s an indicator that the man, or woman, could be armed and are using the coat to hide the weapon. Or, suppose a person refuses to show his hands? He may not be armed but there’s no way an officer could know until the hands are seen.

So far, in 2020, 157 officers have lost their lives in the line of duty. 29 of those deaths were caused by gunfire. Of those shooting deaths, if the past is any indication, there’s a strong possibility that at least some, if not most of the officers didn’t have their weapons unholstered at the time they were shot. Those who didn’t have their weapons drawn were most likely approaching a house, a suspect, or a vehicle to make initial contact. Remember complacency? Happens to the best of us.

COVID

By the way, a new killer arrived in 2020—COVID—that, as of this writing, has claimed the lives of 80 law enforcement officers who likely contracted the disease during the performance of their officials duties, while contacting members of the public.

Never relax too soon!

When is the time to relax and let down your guard? Easy answer. When the call is complete and you’re safely away from the scene.

Time

There’s an old saying that goes something like this (I apologize if the wording is off), “Waiting buys time. Distance buys time. Time buys survival.” I’m not sure where or when I first heard the phrase, but it’s stuck with me for many years, and I imagine the words, as sparse as they are, saved my rear end a few times over the years.

So …

  • Call for backup. And then wait for them to arrive before proceeding!
  • Never rush into a scene. Assess it first. Be certain it’s safe to enter.
  • Until backup arrives, if possible, it’s imperative that the officer maintain a safe distance from a suspect (I know, this is not always possible). Remember, you cannot be stabbed from a distance and chances are the bad guy couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when firing a gun (however, he might be an expert), so keeping your distance and finding cover are vital.
  • Maintain focus. Thinking about your kids ballet recital is nice, but save those tutu thoughts for after the shootout. FOCUS!
  • Keep your back to the wall! By this I mean to never allow anyone to move out of your sight, especially behind you.

  • When conducting traffic stops at night focus the beam of your spotlight on the target vehicles driver’s side mirror and your takedown lights switched on to cause a bright glare in their rearview mirror. This prevents the driver and passengers from seeing movement to their rear.. If alone, circle behind the patrol car and approach the suspect vehicle on the passenger’s side. Doing so gives the advantage of surprise because the driver is typically watching to see the officer in his side mirror and then at his window. This slight advantage allows the officer time to see what, if anything, the driver is holding, hiding, reaching for, etc. Passing behind her patrol car also prevents the officer from becoming illuminated by headlights, making her an easy target should someone in the car have bad intentions.
  • Political correctness. I’m sorry but a citizen’s inconvenience is not as important as the lives of people, including that of the officer. Sure, it’s irritating to be the subject of a traffic stop and to have the officer ask that you keep your hands where he can see them, but it’s more important to the officer that they live another day. He/she doesn’t know you or your intentions. And you don’t know that the officer received a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) for a car description matching yours, telling him it was involved in an armed robbery of the Piggly Wiggly in your neighborhood, the reason he stopped you.

Think about that for a moment. The officer stopped a car, believing the driver was armed and wasn’t afraid to use his gun. He stopped that driver fully aware that he was placing himself in danger to protect the lives of others, yet the driver complains because the officer asked to see his hands.

Keep in mind that it was political correctness that contributed to the shooting deaths of five Dallas officers and the wounding of nine others. The shootings occurred during a protest where officers were ordered to not wear protective gear because some people thought it appeared too scary and militaristic. So those lives were taken and the others affected for the rest of their time on this earth because leaders didn’t want to offend someone. The lives of the officers obviously meant nothing to politicians. So no, officers are not keen on political correctness when it compromises their well-being and the safety of citizens, and the very people handing down these stupid orders.

To sum up, officers should remain alert, take nothing for granted, assume nothing, trust no strangers (and some friends), watch everyones’ hands, stand with their backs to a wall, any wall, all while calling for backup, unholstering their weapons when necessary, clearing their minds of everything other than the scene before them, running toward gunfire to save the lives of others, and remembering that …

You. Will. Survive!

*To learn more about officer survival click the highlighted link above (You. Will. Survive.).

 

TODAY is the LAST DAY to sign up for a “Seat” at Virtual MurderCon’s interactive event, and only a few “seats” are available!

I urge you to sign up asap to reserve your spot at this unique opportunity, one that may never again be available. This is a live event, presented in realtime. Q&A is available at the end of each presentation. In addition, the final session is live panel and Q&A discussion with each of the experts. So have your questions ready, because this is the time to gather the extraordinary details that will make your book zing with realism.

Registration for the Writers’ Police Academy special event, Virtual MurderCon, is scheduled to end at midnight tonight, July, 31, 2020.

Virtual MurderCon is a rare opportunity for writers to participate in live and interactive, “for law enforcement eyes only” training.

This incredibly detailed, cutting-edge tutelage in classes taught by some of the world’s leading professionals, Sirchie’s renowned team of crime scene investigation experts, has never before been available to writers, anywhere. Until now.

Virtual MurderCon Classes, Instructors, and a Special Presentation

This fabulous, one-of-a-kind event opens with “How to Catch a Serial Killer,” a special presentation by Dr. 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.


Art of Blood – Violent crimes and accidents frequently involve the interpretation of blood evidence. This class includes presumptive testing techniques of stains thought to be blood, as well as searching crime scenes for latent blood with luminol when circumstances dictate that the area was cleaned by the perpetrator.

DNA evidence collection is also a part of this detailed session taught one of the top experts in the field.

Child Abduction/Murder – Taught by the investigator who solved the high-profile case that drew national attention, this presentation follows the evidence to tell the story and will graphically show the connections which solved the crime.This child abduction/murder case involves a 12 year old girl who was kidnapped at knife point from her bedroom while enjoying a sleepover with two of her friends.

Instructor David Alford is a retired FBI Special Agent with 21 years of experience investigating violent crimes, terrorism and other cases. He was one of the founding members of the FBI Evidence Response Team (ERT) and conducted crimes scene searches on domestic and international violent crimes and bombings, including the Polly Klaas kidnaping and murder, the Unabomber’s cabin and the 9/11 Pentagon scene. He worked in the Denver and San Francisco field offices and completed his career at Quantico in the FBI Lab ERT Unit. During the 6 years in the FBI Lab, he was primarily responsible for overseeing and teaching basic and advanced crime scene courses throughout the US and many other countries.

In the 6 years before the FBI, David was a Forensic Serologist, Hair and Fibers Examiner and Bloodstain Pattern Analyst for the Kentucky State Police Crime Lab. After retirement, David taught crime scene courses around the world on behalf of the FBI and US State Department. David has been with Sirchie as an instructor and sales representative for Sirchie’s RUVIS and ALS products for the last 10 years. David loves teaching and allowing students to learn through hands-on training.


Drugs/Toxicology NARCAN By Noon – This session will explore drug trends and mortality of drug users, and how can they determine overdose versus foul play.

Instructor Sgt. James Yowell, a counter drug investigator who, as an undercover officer investigated international drug trafficking cases targeting Mexican organized crime.


Entomology: From The Inside Out– Bug and scavenger activity can tell a lot about a corpse. Using entomology and environmental information, a skilled investigator can determine relative time of death, if a corpse has been relocated, and many other key facts. Learn how nature works from the inside out.

Instructor Dr. Bryan Brendley’s specific areas of focus are cell biology, botany, and forensic anthropology. He has conducted years of research on the impact of insects on decomposing bodies with his students. He teaches a comprehensive forensic science program.

 

 

 


Fingerprinting: Who’s MARK – Attendees will receive instruction on developing impression evidence from dust utilizing a electrostatic dust print lifter, and on porous surfaces, including paper and cardboard utilizing chemical processes. Cyanoacrylate (“superglue”) techniques for non-porous surfaces will be addressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructor Jim Gocke is a graduate of West Virginia University and West Virginia College of Law. In addition, he completed a Fellowship in Forensic Medicine at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and earned a Master of Science in Forensic Sciences from The George Washington University. He was employed by Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories, Inc as Vice President/General Counsel and Director of Education and Training from January 1979 until March 2008. He was employed by Sirchie Acquisition Company, LLC as Director of Education and Training from March 2008 until his retirement in July 2015. Currently, Jim serves as an Independent Contractor to Sirchie, providing expertise in Education and Training, product development and evaluation and technical assistance.


Footwear Evidence: A Step In The Wrong Direction – Similar to fingerprints, footwear has unique and probative characteristics that are often used to track down criminals. Learn the tactics, techniques, and the one-off physiognomies that help lead investigators to the source of a crime du jour.

Shoes, Glorious Shoes: Lifting Footwear Impressions – This fascinating session provides details of the various techniques utilized to process areas conducive to footwear evidence. Instructor Andy Parker demonstrates the electromagnetic dustprint lifter, gelatin lifters, and other CSI techniques.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructor Andy Parker has a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology / Criminal Justice from Florida State University. He began his career in law enforcement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. After seven years with FDLE, he worked crime scenes, analyzed latent prints and footwear evidence for the Tallahassee Police Department. In 2002 he began work with the City-County Bureau of Identification in Raleigh NC. At CCBI, he has held the position of Latent Print Examiner, Latent Print Section Supervisor, Deputy Director in charge of the Identification Division, Deputy Director in charge of the Laboratory and currently is responsible for the Investigations Division.  He is a certified Latent Print Examiner with the IAI. Andy is also a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy.


Forensic Geology: “Sedimental” Journey– Think rocks and soil are boring? Not when presented by one of the few forensic geologists in the country who has testified in murder trials about her examination of soil collected as evidence from murder scenes that linked killers to known locations. Certain to be one of the most unique and intriguing sessions at MurderCon 2020, this session conducted by Heather Hanna will intrigue and inform attendees about the role of a geologist in mapping different soils throughout the United States—and a global level—and how forensic geology can prove useful as a foundation for comparison soil evidence in criminal investigations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructor Heather Hanna is a forensic geologist specializing in the analysis of rock fragments and mineral grains in soils as trace evidence. Since 2009, she has been involved in multiple forensic investigations and has testified as an expert witness in four first degree murder trials, the first of which set a legal precedent in Wake County for using geochemical analysis of mineral grains in court. As a result of her forensic work, she has been an invited speaker at many law enforcement conferences and continuing education programs including the Conference of District Attorneys, the North Carolina Criminal Information Exchange Network, the North Carolina Homicide Investigators Association, and the North Carolina International Association for Identification. She has also presented her forensic work at national and sectional Geological Society of America meetings and as an invited speaker for the Soils Science Society of North Carolina.


Gazing Into The Cloud – No one is anonymous. Your digital footprint is wide spread and mostly out of your control. The Cloud is an ominous vapor of data that can haunt the most cautious criminal or victimize most innocent of people. What can be found in the cloud? Learn how easy it is to mine the cloud and use this data for good as well as nefarious activity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructor Stephen Pearson combines more than 29 years of law-enforcement experience with in-depth expertise in today’s most pervasive Internet, computer, and digital device technologies. Stephen developed computer forensic tools and coursework for the US Army Military Police School, as well as served as a computer investigator with Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office (FL). As a founder of High Tech Crime Institute, he has developed and conducted courses for NATO, the Federal Government, and various law enforcement agencies. Stephen holds a B.S. in Computer Information Science as well as an MBA. He is also a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, an US Army Master Instructor, and a certified Cellebrite Trainer, in addition to holding various other certifications for digital investigation.


Homocide Or Homicide: You Decide – Have you ever wanted to spend time picking the brain of an experienced homicide detective? Well, here’s your chance. Having investigated a wide variety of murders, attendees will find this session fascinating in content due to the breadth and depth of homicides that will be discussed. Included in the “new” topic will be the discussion of why the United States suffers from over 200,000 unsolved murders. These “cold case” murders rarely get examined or investigated once they are “put to bed” due to a wide variety of causes and reasons. Learn from one of the best detectives around who has investigated several hundred murders!

Murder Case Studies – In this intriguing and highly-detailed workshop, Detective Jeff Locklear takes attendees on a behind the scenes journey into actual murder scenes. Learn the investigatory tools and tricks of the trade used by a top homicide detective as he sought and captured brutal killers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructor Detective Sergeant Jeff Locklear, a 21-year veteran law enforcement officer, currently works with the Fayetteville North Carolina Police Department as a homicide police specialist and training officer.

As a homicide detective he’s been involved with over 350 homicide investigations. He’s also investigated hundreds of violent felonies including rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, and missing persons.

During his career he has responded to hundreds to death scenes such as suicides, homicides, accidental deaths, and natural and unexplained deaths.

Detective Locklear has conducted thousands of interviews of violent offenders, including cases featured on 48 hrs (The Kelli Bourdeaux murder), Swamp Murders, NCIS – The Cases They Can’t Forget: The Holley Wimunc Murder, Scorned Love Kills 2014, The Today Show, and numerous other news and media outlets, such as People Magazine and Time Magazine.

He’s a founding member of both the 2008 Fayetteville Police Homicide Squad and the 2016 Fayetteville Police Violent Criminal Apprehension Team (VCAT). In addition, he’s served as sheriff’s deputy , Forensic Technician, Patrol officer , Crimes against persons detective, homicide detective, gun and gang task force detective, and as a Violent Criminal Apprehension Team Detective.

Detective Locklear has presented cases workshops at a number of conferences and events, including the North Carolina Homicide Investigators Conference, North & South Carolina Arson Investigators Conference , Fayetteville State University (Criminal Justice), Fayetteville Technical Community College (Registered Nursing students), Methodist University, and more.

Having spent the majority of his career investigating violent crimes, Detective Locklear has a unique and vast perspective of being the first officer on scene, the Forensic technician processing the scene, the detective investigating the crime, and the detective whose task it is to track down and capture the suspects who committed the crimes. He’s a dynamic speaker who can “escort you” to a crime scene, “walk you” through what happened, “show you” who did it, and then “lead you” to where the suspect fled after committing the offense.


Murder-Mayhem -Session covers Cause, Manner, and Mechanisms of death, Coroner vs. Medical Examiner systems, differences in legal terminology for murder, homicide, and manslaughter, as well as, the realities in death investigations that are equivocal in nature. Physical, testimonial, and circumstantial evidence as introduced into the courtroom will be applied to death investigations. A case study of a very unique and rarely scene murder by hanging, and the forensic evidence obtained from the physical autopsy will be presented. This presentation includes a discussion of psychological autopsies and when they are utilized in criminal investigations.

Instructor David Pauly retired from The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command as a Special Agent-in-Charge/Commander and Forensic Science Officer. He performed duties in over a dozen states, and frequently worked with local, state, and federal agencies. He also performed duties in Panama, South Korea, Afghanistan, Haiti, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Sinai, Egypt, Canada, Guam, and Nigeria. He holds a Master of Forensic Science degree from The George Washington University and is currently the Director of Applied Forensic Science at Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC.

David graduated the FBI National Academy (Session 195), Canadian Police College – Major Crimes Course, Miami-Dade Police Department – Bloodstain Interpretation Course, and National Fire Academy – Arson Investigation Course. He is a Fellow of The American Academy of Forensic Science, and is a current, or past member of the International Association of Identification, North Carolina Chapters of the IAI and FBINAA, International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, North Carolina Homicide Investigator’s Association, The Vidocq Society, American Investigative Society of Cold Cases (AISOCC), and various other professional law enforcement and/or forensic science associations.


The event concludes with a live, interactive Q&A panel discussion with each of the instructors. So have your questions ready!
Sign up today while there’s still time, at www.writerspoliceacademy.com

What is it that sets writers of crime fiction apart from, well, everyone else in the entire world? Well …

1. The worst murder scene in the world pales in comparison with the thoughts roaming through your mind at any given moment of the day.

2. You actually do wonder what human blood smells like.

3. Somewhere in your house is a book containing photos of crime scenes and/or dead bodies.

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4. You want to ride in the back seat of a police car.

5. Your internet search history has a file all its own at the Department of Homeland Security.

6. At least once in your life you’ve asked your significant other to pose in a certain way so you can see if it’s possible/believable to stab, cut, shoot, hack, or strangle them from a variety of angles.

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7. You own a pair of handcuffs, and they’re strictly for research purposes.

8. The cop who lives in your neighborhood hides when he/she sees you coming with pen and paper in hand.

9. You attend more police training workshops than what’s required of the police officers in your town.

10. While other people fall asleep listening to soft music or gentle ocean waves, your sleep machine plays the sounds of police sirens and semi-automatic gunfire.

11. Your favorite bookmark is an actual toe tag from the morgue.

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12. Writers in other genres listen to classical music while working. You, however, have a police scanner chattering in the background.

13. When using a large kitchen knife to chop vegetables, your thoughts drift to how a killer would use the blade to dismember a body.

14. You see a cop and instantly know the caliber and manufacturer of the pistol on his side.

15. You’ve searched high and low for a perfume or cologne that smells like gunpowder.

16. You own a police flashlight.

17. Your screensaver is a photo of a police K-9.

18. Your cellphone ringtone is the theme song for the TV show COPS.

19. You think you know more about crime-scene investigations than most of the cops in your city, and you probably do.

20. You’ve registered for the 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon because it is without a doubt the most thrilling experience for writers that’s available anywhere on the planet. And yes, were pleased to announce that a few new spots are now available!

2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon

 

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. 

It was 40 years ago today when the north slope of Mt. St. Helens exploded, sending a plume of ash 15 miles high, ash that would soon enter the jet stream and travel around the world.

The top 1,300 feet of the mountain was gone in a flash.

Miles and miles of majestic fir trees were leveled by the blast

Eighty-three-year-old Harry R. Truman, owner and caretaker of Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake, near the foot of the mountain, refused to leave his home when authorities alerted him to the potential eruption. He, along with his 16 cats, are believed to have been killed in less than a second due to heat shock generated when the mountain blew. Their bodies instantly vaporized and the spot where they once were was then buried in 150 feet of landslide debris.

Fifty-six others also died that day.

Several years later, Denene and I visited Mt. St. Helens during a time when a new, rising lava dome suddenly began to form in the mountain’s jagged, gaping mouth. Occasionally it belched billowing plumes of steam as proof of the fire in its belly.

I often think about our trip to the eerie, yet tranquil volcano that unleashed the firestorm of devastation that destroyed vegetation and wildlife for miles. It consumed an entire lake.

The place reminds me of the corner of my mind where I go to when I want to be alone, the place where there are no sounds to disturb my thoughts. No movement to distract my imagination. It’s the place where I’m certain that Alfred Hitchcock, Poe, and Stephen King are each somehow connected. It’s the gate to the real-life Twilight Zone. The muse of all muses.

We saw signs of returning life nearly thirty years after the 1980 eruption—small flowers, young trees, grasses, and even a darting field mouse and a screeching hawk. But the thousands upon thousands of dead trees, all lying on their side-by-side and end-to-end, like rows and columns of matchsticks, all facing the same direction as a result of the blast, well, they’re a reminder of just how small and insignificant we humans really are.

A bit of Mt. St. Helens sits on a shelf in my office—two once molten rocks and a small chunk of Douglas fir that survived the blast.

Writers, you conduct an incredible amount of research about cops, forensics, and more, and your readers deeply appreciate your efforts. Therefore, to assist with your hard work, here are six tidbits to add to your gatherings of vital information.

1. There’s been a ton of media coverage devoted to anti-police protestors and activists, and in those vivid live reports we sometimes see people expressing their anger by assaulting innocent inanimate objects, such as garbage cans, dumpsters, streetlight poles, and even police vehicles.

This type of behavior is not new. Not at all. Modern day cop-car-turner-overers are not at all a new species. For example, way back in 1899, the Akron, Ohio police department introduced their first police car, an electric buggy equipped with lights, a stretcher, and a gong used as a warning device (sirens eventually and wisely replaced the gong-banging).

Well, soon after the fancy police car was put into use, a group of angry citizens who were demanding justice for the assault of a six-year-old girl by a man named Louis Peck. Police had arrested Peck the previous day but the mob wasn’t satisfied with just an arrest. They wanted to lynch him right then and there, without a trial (he confessed to the police). So the mob attacked the police department/city building with bricks and dynamite, and they set fire to the Akron fire station and burned it to the ground. They also attacked the firefighters and prevented them from putting out the fires. The group finally tossed the city’s only police car into a canal, which was no small feat considering the car weighed 2.5 tons.

2. Today, police officers and sheriff’s deputies typically drive department cars such as the Dodge Durango Pursuit or the powerful Dodge Charger with the 5.7L HEMI® V8 Engine, and even Ford’s Defender Police Interceptor Utility. Back in the 1930’s, however, it was the Deuce Coupe that reigned supreme with police agencies. Of course, the car was so popular and powerful that the bad guys drove them as well.

Speaking of the Deuce Coupe, let’s take moment to brighten what is a cloudy and cool day here in Delaware.

3. In the days before GPS and 911 calling, police officers and dispatchers relied on a caller’s directions to their locations. It was not pretty. For example:

Dispatcher – “Police department.”

Caller – “My daddy’s stuck in a tree ’cause our bull chased him up there.” Please hurry!”

Dispatcher – “What’s your address?”

Caller – “Don’t got one. We get our mail at Billy Buck’s General Store.”

Dispatcher. “What is the location of your house?”

Caller – “Well, you go down Corn Meal Road till you pass the spot where the old mill burnt down, and then you turn to your right at the oak tree that was split clean open by lightnin’ back in ’53—“

The sound of the caller spitting—probably tobacco “juice”—is heard at the other end of the line.

Caller continues. “You remember that gulley-washer of a storm, don’cha’? It was a doozy, weren’t it. Anyways, you go on till you pass eight telephone poles—count ’em good ’cause nine is too many—and turn into the first dirt path to your right. You can’t miss it. Cross the creek—it ain’t deep—and you’ll soon see daddy up in the tree. He’ll be easy to spot ’cause it’s the only tree with a bull standing under it. Hurry, ’cause I don’t know how much longer daddy can hang on. He turned 94 his last birthday and he says startin’ to lose the strength in his arms. Arthritis done ’bout got him”

4. People offer all sorts of wild excuses for doing the things they did. A few of my favorites are …

  • – It’s not my fault. I was drunk.
  • – I lost control of the car when I dropped a lit joint in my lap.
  • I didn’t mean to kill her. She stepped in front of my gun when I shot at her lover. I was trying to kill him.
  • I have no idea how that bag of drugs got into my underwear.
  • If you find my DNA inside that woman it’s because somebody planted it there. I’m not well-liked, you know.
  • You mean this isn’t my house? My mistake. I’ll be going now. Can I have my tools back?

5. You know about Miranda (you have the right to remain silent, etc.), right? Well, the same strategy can work to an investigator’s advantage. Like the suspected killer sitting across the desk from a detective who chose the “silent approach” to interrogation.

Detective – “You know why you’re here, right?”

Suspect – “You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Detective – I sat there staring at the guy, saying nothing for a full minute, then …

Suspect – “Well, maybe I was there when she fell and hit her head on that hammer. But I didn’t hit her.” 

A pause …

“You might find my fingerprints on the hammer because I borrowed it last weekend to fix my kitchen door.”

Another pause …

“Okay, she might’ve run into the hammer when I was swinging it to drive a nail.”

 A long pause, then …

” Dammit, yes. Yes, I killed the nagging b***h.”

6. Searching people for weapons and other items is not high on a cop’s list of things they enjoy, and suspects definitely do not make the task any easier. Sometimes it becomes downright embarrassing, such as time I arrested a guy on a warrant for assault. I’d chased him on foot for a block or so before catching and handcuffing him. Of course, by that time a crowd had gathered and were taunting me.

I was in the midst of a quick pat down, checking for weapons when, while running my hands up one of his legs, my hands made contact with … well, you know. I glanced up and saw him smiling a cheesy ear-to-ear grin. Then he said. “You go any higher or faster and I’m going to need a cigarette when you’re done.”

The crowd around us burst in laughter, and so did I. His comment definitely lightened the mood of the angry crowd, and I credit it for unintentionally preventing a difficult time getting him back to my car without trouble from the mob.

Still … yuck.


ATTENTION!! ATTENTION!! ATTENTION!!

This year at MurderCon, Dr. Denene Lofland, will present a new and extremely detailed and eye-opening session about Covid-19 and the spread of disease. *Session title and description coming soon.

Those of you who’ve attended Dr. Lofland’s classes on bioterrorism at Writers’ Police Academy events will remember her detailed sessions regarding the spread of diseases. In fact, her class just last year, ironically, was called “Biological and Chemical Weapons: Is the End of Humankind Near?”

Denene, an expert on bioterrorism and microbiology, has managed hospital laboratories, and for many years worked as a senior director at biotech companies specializing in new drug discovery, such as medications prescribed to treat cystic fibrosis and bacterial pneumonia. She and her team members produced successful results and Denene, along with other top company officials, traveled to the FDA to present those findings. As a result, those drugs 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 was for the U.S. military.

Sign up today to reserve your spot at MurderCon 2020! It’s a one of a kind experience!

2020 Guest of Honor – David Baldacci

https://writerspoliceacademy.com