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In large cities law enforcement officers typically become highly specialized in their areas of expertise. Patrol officers there are often assigned to specific sections of the city—precincts—and they know their assigned areas like the backs of their hands. They’re on a first name basis with every drug dealer, hooker, petty thief, and peeping Tom.

Detectives in large departments are normally assigned to a particular duty, such as homicide investigations, narcotics investigations, or cyber crimes. Their training and experience is quite specific. There are full-time units in place to handle CSI, cold cases, SWAT, canines, bicycle patrol, and community policing, to name just a few.

However, in smaller jurisdictions—mid-size to small—where manpower and funding are precious commodities, officers sometimes have to serve double or even triple duty. They wear many hats.

Patrol officers everywhere are the front line defense against crime. They’re the men and women who answer the never-ending stream of calls that range from brutal homicides to people who think they’ve seem aliens landing in their back yards.

But in small agencies a patrol officer may also be a member of the SWAT team. This officer would probably keep his/her SWAT gear in the trunk of their patrol car, ready to suit up on a moment’s notice. They may also serve as a member of the high-risk entry team, or as a bike patrol officer who swaps their cruiser for a bicycle during a portion of their shift.

Some detectives also serve as members of scuba dive teams. Many do their own evidence collection and crime scene photography. There are no CSI units in many, many departments across the country. In fact, many departments don’t have detectives. Patrol officers in those departments investigate criminal cases from beginning to end. Needless to say, this stretches manpower to the breaking point.

In even smaller police departments, where there are three or four officers (maybe the chief is the only officer) duties may branch out further still. For example, a small town of a few hundred citizens may expect their officers to read the town water meters as part of their regular patrol (yes, I do know of a town where this system is still in place).

Another town police chief has an office inside a country store. The “office” is a simple metal desk in the corner near the lottery ticket machine. The town’s highest ranking law enforcement officer only has access to his desk during the store’s normal business hours. He is also required to handle the town’s animal control duties.

So if you’re ever worried that your story seems a little off where police procedures are concerned, never fear. The truth about law enforcement is much more farfetched. In fact, the only thing consistent about police work is its inconsistencies.

What does MOM have to do with catching bad guys? We all know our moms have super powers. They can see through walls, hear a whisper at 100 paces, and they have the unique ability to silence us with a mere glance. But could those unique qualities help nab a serial killer?

In the world of cops and robbers, to learn who committed a crime and why, investigators must first find MOM – the acronym for Motive, Opportunity, and Means. Normally, the suspect who possesses all three is indeed the true bad guy.

The Investigation

I’ve always felt it best to approach a crime scene in a systematic method, in four very basic steps: the initial evaluation, develop and expand the case, narrow the leads (witnesses and evidence), and present the case to the prosecutor and court.

The first two steps in the investigation—initial evaluation and developing the case—are where MOM first begins to appear. In a detective’s initial approach, they should look at the scene as a whole, taking in everything they see, not just a dead body, or an open safe.

Many clues are quite obvious but are often missed because the inexperienced investigator immediately begins collecting the trace, hoping forensics will solve the case for them. Trace and other forensic evidence is actually icing on the cake. Most crimes are still solved the old fashioned way, by knocking on doors, talking to people, and listening. In fact, the best investigators are really good listeners.

When investigating a murder I first looked to see who had:

Motive – The person who would benefit the most from the crime (life insurance beneficiary, jealous spouse, etc.)

Opportunity – The person who had no alibi for every single moment during the commission of the crime and its subsequent acts, including the planning stages of the crime. This stage of the investigation takes an enormous amount of time, lots of leg work, tons of phone calls, door-knocking, and many cups of coffee and hours of thinking. Again, be a good listener is key.

Means – The suspect must have had access to the murder weapon (includes a killer for hire) and all evidence in the crime.

Remember, complex criminal cases are most often solved by eliminating the people who could not have committed the crime, which eventually leads to the last man standing – the perpetrator.


The compound

This blog is coming to you today from our secure compound where we’ve been hunkered down now for eight weeks. All groceries and other supplies are delivered and sanitized and then stored in the garage for a period of time prior to bringing them inside. Then they’re washed with soap and water. We don’t touch mail with our bare hands. This is a process that’s necessary due to my suppressed immune system and the fact that Denene (my wife) is a microbiologist who’s very protective of me and takes no chances with my health.

Speaking of sanitizing items and the reasons for doing so, per request, we’ve added a new session to the 2020 MurderCon lineup. It’s called “A Microbiologist’s Perspective of Covid 19 and the Spread of Disease.” Denene will present this Thursday evening session. The presentation serves two purposes. One, to address covid-19 from its beginning through vaccine. Two, attendees will learn details necessary when writing about bioterrorism and the spread of diseases.You will not want to miss this incredibly important session.

Denene Lofland, PhD, FACSc, 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 she taught microbiology to medical students at a medical school. She’s currently the director of the medical diagnostics program at a major university, where she was recently interviewed for a video about covid-19.

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


MurderCon is moving forward as planned. We have carefully detailed plans in place for proper social distancing and we’re furnishing masks and hand sanitizer will be readily available. Sirchie, our host, is in the loop with state and local health officials since they’re in the business of making PPE equipment, including hand sanitizer and masks, for 1st responders. Between Sirchie officials and our in-house microbiologist, Denene, we’re closely monitoring the situation and making preparations. Your safety, as always, is our priority.

Sign up today to reserve your spot!

MurderCon 2020

Police officers are trained to protect lives and property. They’re skilled drivers, shooters, and fighters. They know how to arrest, how to testify in court, and how to collect evidence. They’re calm and cool when facing danger, and they’re protective of other officers.

But how about after transitioning from wearing a uniform to plainclothes? How do detectives, both real and fictional, prepare for and react to danger? After all, they don’t have the luxury of wearing all that fancy, shiny gear that’s worn by patrol officers.

In the fictional world, investigators have the luxury of their creators handing them whatever they need to survive. Real life detectives don’t have that advantage, therefore, they should follow a few simple unwritten guidelines. If you, as a writer, would like to add a bit of extra realism to your tall tales, then you should have your characters follow in the footsteps of living, breathing detectives. And, speaking of shoes …

1. Footwear

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gun fight,” right? Well, the same is true for shoes. Detectives should never, ever wear fancy, expensive shoes to that same battle. Why not? Because shoes such as the $1,665 leather-soled, perforated Amedeo Testoni Derby shoes pictured below offer practically zero traction during a fight.

The same when running after a criminal suspect whose feet are clad in a pair of Solid Gold OVO x Air Jordans, which, by the way, are the world’s most expensive sneaker with a price tag of $2,000,000.

Remember, sometimes it’s necessary to retreat in a hurry, and you certainly want the hero of your story to make it to page 325, so practical footwear is a must. Detectives should always wear lace-up shoes, not loafers that could easily slip off the feet just when you need them the most. No leather soles, if possible. And female detectives should never, ever wear heels.

2. Handcuffs

TV investigators are often seen with handcuffs looping over their waistbands, with one cuff inside the rear of the pants and the other flopping around the outside. This is not an acceptable method for carrying handcuffs. They should always be secured in a holster of some type, such as the one pictured above. Carrying them improperly is an invitation for a bad guy to grab them and use the cuffs as a weapon against the officer.

The ratchet end of the cuff (above) makes for an excellent weapon. Imagine an offender swinging the cuff, catching an officers cheek and ripping the flesh away. It’s happened.

3. Pistols

Carrying a loaded firearm tucked into the rear waistband without a holster is a definite no. For starters, the weapon is not secure and could easily slip down inside the pants, which could be difficult to retrieve during an emergency. Imagine being on the receiving end of gunfire while pawing around inside your pants, desperately trying untangle your pistol from your Wednesday pair of tighty-whiteys. It’s not a pretty picture.

Besides, an unsecured weapon is easily taken by an offender during a scuffle. But even worse, it would be downright embarrassing to have to fish your gun out of your pants while standing in line at the bank. So wear a holster. There are several designs specifically for plainclothes and undercover officers. For example, Galls’ BLACKHAWK! Leather Inside Pants Holster.

4. Vests

I know this like beating a dead horse, but ALL officers, including detectives, should wear their ballistic vests. Wearing a suit and tie does not prevent an investigator from encountering dangerous people with guns. Suit jackets and shirts can be cut to allow a vest underneath (male and female). I know, they’re hot and uncomfortable, and I’m the perfect example of someone who’s been involved in a shootout and was not wearing a vest. I’m lucky the bad guy was a poor shot and I wasn’t. However, all it takes is one round to start the sound of Bob Dylan’s voice inside your head, singing …

“Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”

Oh, and do tuck the tail of the vest inside the pants, like a shirt tail. It’s there for a reason! Never roll it up under the vest. Doing so allows the vest to ride up, exposing vital organs.

5. Badges

It’s a good tactic for Plainclothes officers to use their non-gun hand to hold and display their badges near the shooting hand while their weapons are drawn. You want it visible because people have a tendency to focus on a gun instead of the ID that’s attached to a belt. If an officer’s badge is not clearly visible the suspect may not realize the man/woman who’s aiming a pistol at them is indeed a cop no matter how many times or how loud you shout, “POLEEECE!. This includes other officers who may think the good guy is one of the bad guys and then shoots one of their own before realizing their little boo boo. #displaythebadge

Takin' Bacon

This “tale” returns per a request I received from a writer. She said a friend had once heard me tell the story during a presentation at the New England Crime Bake several years ago and she wanted to hear it from me. Well, since it’s rare that I present workshops at conferences these days I told her I’d tell the about the adventure here today. I know many of you have already heard it so please bear with me as I share it with those who haven’t. I call this one Takin’ Bacon, and it’s a true story. Really, it is.

Takin’ Bacon

Crime-solving is not always as easy as television would have us believe. Sometimes police officers really have to work hard to get to the bottom of a particularly complex case.

Cops use a variety of means to crack each of their cases, and one really unusual series of events comes to mind when I think about out-of-the-box methods I’d used during my career.

As most of you know, I was a police detective for many years, and part of my job was to solve major crimes, such as murder, rape, and robbery. Sure, I paid my dues early in my career by writing tickets and directing traffic, but my real passion was the puzzle-solving that’s associated with tracking down murderers.

In the Beginning

Before most detectives are allowed to investigate the more serious crimes, though, they’re normally assigned to easier-to-solve, less intricate cases, such as bad checks and stolen tricycles.

One of my introductory cases was unusual to say the least. My boss, a gruff and tough-as-rusty-nails sheriff, dispatched me to get to the bottom of a rash of stolen hogs. No, not the cool and expensive motorcycles—real pigs, as in walking, oinking pork chops.

Someone was stealing live four- or five-hundred pound porkers directly from a farmer’s hog farm, and they were taking at least one or two each weekend. The pigs (hundreds upon hundred of them) were kept in many buildings on the large farm, so my partner and I thought the best way to nab these guys was to wait inside one of the elaborate hog parlors until the criminals arrived to do their dirty deed. Our plan was simple; when the crooks entered the building we would jump up, turn on the lights, and nab the ham-rustlers in the act of felony pig-napping.

“The” Weekend

Friday finally arrived and just before dark we entered one of the hog shelters and sat down on a pair of overturned 5-gallon buckets—one apiece—where we waited for the crooks to show up. I quickly discovered that the combined stench of pig feces and urine and other foul goodies were absolutely overwhelming. I also learned that pigs are sneaky and extremely curious, and that they have very cold and very wet and gross noses. Not to mention the fact that the odor clings to your clothing and shoes and refuses to go away.

We’d been hanging out in the dark, surrounded by fat sows, for nearly two hours when we finally heard the creaky sound of rusty springs stretching as someone open a plywood door near the center of the building.

A bit of moonlight spilled inside and then disappeared as the door closed behind who or whomever had entered the pig parlor. My partner and I both drew our weapons and waited, allowing the thieves enough time to begin the act of stealing. We wanted to catch them with ham hocks in hand.

There was a period of time where we heard two voices, but they were muffled by the sound of low-pitched pig grunts and oinks. The men used a small flashlight to help find their way to the center of the area, a place that was packed with so many hogs that it sort of resembled a concert arena on a night when Taylor Swift or Beyonce’ or Elton John performs. It was Pig-a-Palooza and Pigstock rolled into one.

We figured the bandits were being selective, choosing just the right pigs—this little pig or that little pig—that would fetch top dollar at the market.

Then and unexpectedly, a bright light flashed. Then another flash followed by another and another. I realized, detective material that I was, that the bad guys were taking pictures.

Confused by their actions, but anxious to catch the guys, we couldn’t stand it any longer. So we hopped up, aimed our Beretta 9mms in the general direction of the thugs, and switched on the lights.

I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that one of the young men was standing directly behind a female pig—a sow, as they’re properly addressed—with his pants down around his ankles and resting atop the goop on the slatted floor (the space between the slats is where pig most waste falls into a deep and smelly pit).

I was even more startled when I realized the man was actually having sex with a big, fat and dirty female pig, and his buddy was taking pictures of him while he did it.

They both stopped what they were doing, in mid-action, and looked toward us. Each man had the same deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression.

(Not the actual suspect)

(Not the actual victim)

We immediately placed the two crooks under arrest and took them to the sheriff’s office for processing (that’s “booking” to laypeople.) During my questioning of the guy who’d been caught with his pants down, the embarrassed animal lover confessed to stealing over one-hundred pigs from several different farms over the past few weeks, and that they’d taken their “booty” to hog markets and sold them for a nice profit.

At the end of his confession, the pig-stealer shook his head and asked how we found out they were going to be there that night. He added that they’d been extremely careful not to leave behind an evidence trail of any kind.

I smiled because the perfect answer crept forward from that goofy spot in my head. I looked at the guy and said, “How did we know you were coming?  It’s simple, the pig squealed on you.”

He just shook his head slowly from side-to-side. After all, what could he have said to justify his little affair with Petunia?

I really should mention that the thief was married, and he wasn’t practicing safe sex with his porcine partners, if you know what I mean. So, if you’re ever having a bad day, just be really thankful that you’re not married to this guy. Unless you don’t mind that his idea of bringing home the bacon is just a bit “different” than that of normal folks.

By the way, I learned that the purpose of the pig pornography (each man photographed the other having sex with a pig) was insurance so that neither of the two men would tell on the other. If one were to snitch he’d face having the photograph sent to family members.  What I didn’t understand was why they felt the need to have a barnyard affair each time they stole a pig. Wouldn’t one photo be enough?

And I truly hope, this being a holiday weekend and all, that you’ll think of this curly little “tale” as you’re tossing the pork chops on the grill…

 

Many people have asked me what it was like working as a police detective. Well, in retrospect, my emotions are mixed. Of course, there are far too many good memories to count, but many events took place I’d consider as some of the lowest points of my life, like the day I was involved in a shootout with a bank robber, or when I witnessed the state execution of a serial killer. The electric chair is not exactly a humane means of execution. Those years were a roller coaster ride, to say the least.

Anyway, my publisher, Writer’s Digest Books, once posted on their website an excerpt from my book about police procedure. The segment is about my thoughts on becoming an investigator, the intro to the chapter devoted to detectives.

I thought it might be fun to share it with those of you who haven’t read the book. Those of you who have read the book, well, we can chat about something else while the others are reading.

To order your copy, click here.

From Chapter Four:

Detectives usually begin their careers as uniformed police officers who work their way up the chain of command, striving to obtain either the position of a uniformed supervisor or move into what some officers think of as the ultimate police job – a detective.

How an officer becomes a detective varies with each individual department. Some departments offer the position as a promotion. These departments post the vacant position and officers apply and test for the job, and the most qualified person receives the advancement. Promotions, or assignments to a detective division, aren’t normally awarded to officers until they’ve completed at least five years of service. Other departments take the rivalry between uniformed officers and the plainclothes detectives into account and simply assign officers to a detective’s position on a rotating basis, which allows every officer a turn as an investigator.

A detective is responsible for the investigation of both misdemeanor and felony crimes. How each department carries out these investigations depends upon the size of the department. Some departments are large enough to have detectives who specialize in certain areas such as credit card fraud, homicide, juvenile crime, arson, narcotics, rape, vice, etc. (We’ll look at some of these areas in greater detail later in the chapter.) Detectives sometimes work in several specialized areas before finding one they like. Once they do, they usually make that area their permanent assignment.

Other departments have only a couple of detectives for the entire agency – if any. In some rural departments where manpower is limited, patrol officers serve as first responders, evidence technicians, and investigators. There are advantages to each situation. The specialized detective becomes very skilled at his particular craft, whereas a detective or patrol officer in a smaller department has the opportunity, out of necessity, to work all kinds of cases.

No matter what the assignment, the duties are the same. Detectives are investigators who gather facts and collect evidence in criminal cases. They conduct interviews and interrogations, examine records and documents, observe the activities of suspects, and participate in and conduct raids or arrests. A detective is usually charged with applying for and obtaining search warrants. To accomplish these tasks effectively, detectives are trained with a more diverse approach than patrol officers.

Both detectives and patrol officers are required to attend, at minimum, semiannual in-service training to stay abreast of new laws and procedures. In addition to the in-service training, a detective’s education must be endlessly updated, and his base of knowledge must be constantly expanded. Criminals are continually developing new ideas and methods to get around the law, and the detective has to make every effort to stay one step ahead of them.

Modern criminals are more highly educated than offenders of the past, and today’s crooks rehearse and practice every aspect of their craft, like actors studying for a Broadway production. The thugs even hone their shooting skills. I was once searching the trunk of a drug dealer’s vehicle and found an automatic weapon, several rounds of ammunition, and a police silhouette target. The center of the target was filled with bullet holes, and Lee Lofland was written above the head. That was an eye-opener.

There are many new ways to fight crime in today’s computer and technology age, but nothing can compare to the old-fashioned method of the detective getting out and beating the streets for information and clues.

The image of the detective has changed as well. It has evolved from the trench-coat-wearing sleuth to a more stylishly dressed investigator. That image possibly reflects a larger clothing allowance than was once provided by departments. I think, years ago, I wore the long coat not because I was cold, but to cover my outdated cheap suits. All my sport coats had torn linings from years of friction caused by my gun’s hammer constantly rubbing against the fabric. When I began my career, the pay was around 8,400 dollars annually, with no clothing allowance. Also in those days, we had to buy our own guns, handcuffs, flashlights, raincoats, ticket books, and shoes. Oh yeah, and bullets. If we thought we might need them, we purchased a handful of those as well.

Today, all expenses are paid by the officer’s department, including clothing allowances for undercover officers who sometimes must wear really unusual clothing in order to blend in with their working environment.

A case begins with the commission of a crime. Uniformed patrol officers are often the first officers on the scene, and they gather the pertinent information-the who, what, where, why, when, and how, if available. It’s the duty of the uniformed patrol officer to secure the scene until a detective or the officer in charge relieves him. The officer who gathers the information later passes it on to the detective assigned to the case. Cases are usually assigned on a rotating basis, or a detective can be assigned to a particular case based on her particular knowledge and skills that relate to the offense. Once assigned to a case, a detective will follow it through until the case has been solved and the suspect is tried and convicted. The detective may use other officers to assist in the investigation, but the case will remain in her charge.

Fact gathering is a must in police work. Detectives can only relate specific details in a court of law and may not offer opinion, as a rule, for testimony. However, during the investigation, gut feelings and instinct play a large role in the detective’s search for information. Years of experience can be, and often are, the most formidable tool in the detective’s arsenal.

IN THE LINE OF DUTY: ON BECOMING A DETECTIVE

Note: These In The Line Of Duty headings appear a few times throughout the book. They’re my real-life reflections of something that actually happened to me while I was on the job.

When I raised my right hand to take the oath to serve my state and my country, I felt a lump rise in my throat. It was such an honor and a thrill to finally be sworn in as a police officer. The feeling of putting on a uniform and pinning a shiny, silver badge to my chest was one of the greatest moments of my life. When the day finally arrived, though, to transition from a uniformed officer to a plainclothes detective, I couldn’t wait to trade the uniform for a new suit and to hook a new, gold badge on my belt. After all, my childhood dream was to become an investigator, and I could finally wear cotton again instead of double-knit polyester shirts with fake buttons that zipped up the front and pants that retained enough heat to bake bread. (Of course, that cool stripe down the leg offset all negatives!)

I turned in my marked patrol vehicle and received my first department-issued, unmarked car. It was an old, beat-up Chevrolet Caprice, a car I write about fondly in my books and stories. The car was midnight blue, several years old, and would reach its top speed of eighty-five miles per hour only after going downhill for about three miles. I didn’t care. It was mine. I washed it, cleaned the tires and wheels, and put my things-a fishing-tackle box filled with fingerprint equipment, a shotgun with an eighteen-inch barrel, extra ammo, hand cleaner, paper towels, and a roll of crime scene tape-into the trunk. I’d get more tools later as I figured out what I needed. For now, I was ready for my first case.

In my early days as a patrol officer, I looked on with envy as the detectives came in and took over my cases after I’d done the dirty work. They were the guys getting their pictures in the newspapers and getting all the glory for doing nothing … or so I thought. It took just a few months of being a detective to dream of an eight-hour shift, like the old days, instead of a twenty-hour day, and of not being called out in the middle of the night, every night! The thought had never occurred to me that it would be irritating to have newspaper reporters snapping photos of me while I struggled to hold in my lunch at a gruesome homicide scene, or that reporters would write things in the paper I didn’t say or leave out the important things I did say.

Nobody teaches you how alienated you become from your old co-workers, the boys in blue, once you become a detective. Uniformed officers sometimes feel a bit of jealousy toward detectives, and detectives sometimes experience a bit of an unjustified superiority complex toward uniformed officers. It’s a rivalry that’s always been in place and probably always will be.

Nobody explains the many hours you’ll spend sitting in the woods, or in the bushes, with hungry mosquitoes and spiders and snakes, or in the rain or snow, watching suspects in your attempts to build cases. Nobody tells you how it feels to work undercover and to walk into the middle of a drug deal, unarmed and without a radio. Nobody describes how it feels to be shot at, spit on, beat up, kicked, scratched, stabbed, cut, knocked down, punched, and pepper sprayed (with your own pepper
spray), all the while wearing a suit.

Yes, I was finally a detective and it was absolutely … glorious!


BIG Writers’ Police Academy NEWS!!

By now, you may have heard that the Writers’ Police Academy is teaming up with Sirchie in 2019 to present an absolutely fantastic one-of-a-kind special event featuring Sirchie’s top team of expert instructors, among others, who’ll present exciting hands-on workshops and lectures relating solely to homicide investigations. Of course, as always, there’ll be surprises.

The Sirchie team, WPA staff, and our wonderful website designer, are all hard at work ironing out details, including an all new website and special logo just for the 2019 event, all of which we hope to announce in early January in advance of the opening of registration in mid February.

Since this is such a unique event, one that’s never been made available to non-law enforcement folks, well, you’ll definitely not want to miss out on this rare opportunity to train and learn at the source of “how it’s done,” the very private and elite Sirchie compound just outside of Raleigh, N.C.

*Sirchie, the Global Leader in Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science Solutions; provides Products, Vehicles, and Training to the global law enforcement and forensic science communities.

Please keep in mind that space at Sirchie is extremely limited; therefore, we’re offering spots on a first-come, first-served basis.

So, mark your calendars for August 1, 2019. Hotel and other details coming very soon.

With that said, I hope to see each of at …

 

 

 

 

 


*The Writers’ Police Academy is pleased to present Heather Graham as our 2019 Guest of Honor.

Police officers in large cities become highly specialized in their areas of expertise. Patrol officers there are often assigned to section of the city, a precinct, and they know that area like the back of their hand.  They’re on a first name basis with every drug dealer, hooker, and numbers runner. Detectives in those areas are normally assigned to a particular duty, such as homicide investigations, narcotics cases, and cyber crimes. There are full-time units in place to handle CSI, cold cases, SWAT, canines, bicycle patrol, and community policing, to name just a few.

However, in less-populated jurisdictions—mid-size to small—where manpower and funding are precious commodities, officers sometimes have to serve double, or even triple duty. They wear many hats.

Patrol officers everywhere are the front line defense against crime. They’re the men and women who answer the never-ending stream of calls, ranging from homicides to people who think aliens have just landed in their back yard.

In small agencies, though, a patrol officer may also be a member of the SWAT team. That officer would probably keep his/her SWAT gear in the trunk of their patrol car, ready to suit-up in a flash. They may also serve as a member of the high-risk entry team, or as a bike patrol officer, swapping a cruiser for a bicycle to finish out the remainder of their shift.

Some detectives also serve as members of scuba dive teams. Many do their own evidence collection and crime scene photography. There are no CSI units in many, many departments across the country. In fact, many departments don’t have detectives. Patrol officers in those departments investigate criminal cases from beginning to end. Needless to say, this stretches manpower to the breaking point.

In even smaller police departments, where there are three or four officers (maybe the chief is the only officer) duties may branch out further still. For example, a tiny town of a few hundred citizens may expect their officer(s) to read the town water meters as part of their regular patrol. Yes, I do know of a town where this system was and may still be in place.

Another town police chief has an office inside a country store. His “office” is actually nothing more than a metal desk positioned in the corner near the lottery ticket machine, and the town’s highest ranking law enforcement officer only has access to his work space during the store’s normal business hours. He is also required to handle the town’s animal control duties. Once each week, this town’s top and only cop swaps his patrol car for a pickup truck and utility trailer so that he can collect the garbage set out on the curbs by the town’s residents.

So if you’re ever worried that your story seems a little off where police procedures are concerned, well, fear not because the truth about law enforcement is much more farfetched. In fact, the only thing consistent about police work is its inconsistencies.

To Preserve and Collect

To Protect and Collect

The first hours of a murder investigation are crucial to solving the crime. I say this because  as time passes memories fade, evidence can become lost or destroyed, people have the opportunity to develop excuses, stories, and alibis, and the bad guys have the time to escape arrest.

Here’s a handy list to keep on hand that could help solve the cases investigated by the detectives in your stories. Keep in mind that time is of the utmost importance! So, in no real order, off we go …

Serving a search warrant. Knock, knock!

Investigators start the search at the scene and then extend the search area as needed.

Police Public Information Officers (PIO) are the direct line of communication between departments and the public.

It’s important to keep the bosses informed. They do not like to be blindsided with questions they can’t answer.

And then it’s time for …

*Remember, no list is all inclusive since no two crimes are exactly the same. And, no two detectives operate in the exact same manner.

 

 

 

The investigation of criminal cases is often a time-consuming process that involves numerous hours of leg work, interviewing potential witnesses and/or suspects, evidence collection and, well, you know the drill. It’s intensive. However, there are also the cases that practically solve themselves with little or no investigative skills needed.

For example …

It was a dark and non-stormy, but bitterly cold night.

I was on call and, as my luck goes, my pager sounded off, beeping and buzzing on the nightstand next to my head. Hoping it was an informant I could ignore until morning, I reached for the device and saw the number for dispatch on the tiny screen.

My next wish was for it to be something I could handle by phone. After dialing the number, a perky female voice answered and told me that I was needed at a structure fire, one that a patrol sergeant had reason to believe was arson. Great. Just great, I thought. Not only was it 3 a.m. and as cold outside as a well digger’s hind parts, but the freakin’ case was an arson, and I absolutely despised working arson cases. They’re dirty and stinky and I despised getting dirty and stinky, especially at 3 a.m. when the outside temperature is hovering at one notch below “Brrr and Shiver.” Give me a good old murder to solve, any day. At least there was a good chance the body would’ve been indoors.

I rolled out of bed, apprehensively, and slipped on some clothes I wouldn’t mind tossing in the garbage a few hours later, and headed outside where the frigid air slapped my cheeks and launched an instant assault on my eyes nose, ears, and lungs. Even my unmarked Crown Vic seemed pissed off and protested by withholding heat for at least ten very long minutes.

I arrived at the scene, an agricultural-based business, where fire crews were still hard at it, spraying water at yellowish-orange flames that reached heights well above nearby trees and telephone poles. As horrific as all fires are, the heat from this one was not at all offensive. My toes were cold, cold, cold.

The patrol sergeant who’d requested my assistance waved me over to where he was engaged in an arm and hand-waving, finger-pointing conversation with the fire chief and a couple of shivering bystanders.

The Evidence

On my way, I saw something on the ground that reflected the brilliant colors of the dancing flames. You’d never guess, in a million years, what it was, so I’ll tell you (yes, crooks are often as dumb as a rock).

The reflective object was a driver’s license. So I picked it up, told the sergeant and fire chief that I was pretty sure I knew who’d started the fire and that I’d give them a call in a little while. I turned around and walked back to my car. I’d been at the fire scene all of two minutes.

It wasn’t that I was some sort of super-detective, or anything close. Not at all. You see, the drivers license I’d found belonged to a man who’d served time in prison for setting a couple of previous fires. I drove to the man’s house where I promptly told him I had solid evidence that placed him at the scene. Then I bluntly asked if he’d set the fire.

He first patted his pants pockets as if feeling for something that “should’ve” been there (a driver’s license), and then slowly looked down at his muddy shoes and nodded his head (a classic sign that a confession is about to spill from the lips).

I told him he’d need to do better than that. He looked up until his gaze met mine, and said, “Yeah, it was me. I set it.”

On the way to book the arsonist I called the patrol sergeant to tell him that I had the firebug in custody. It was not quite two hours after I’d received the page from the dispatcher. All without getting dirty, or stinky.

By the way, my car still refused to put forth any heat on the ride home. My toes were still cold.