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Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Everything Old Is New Again

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

My character, Cleveland forensic specialist Maggie Gardner, is unrealistic in one respect—she still spends a lot of time at her microscope looking at tiny bits of trace evidence, hairs, fibers, paint, and glass.

No one does that any more. Well, maybe Abby on NCIS, but she’s the most unrealistic forensic person on screen, even though she’s so cute we don’t care.

Sure, on old episodes of Dragnet you can see some nerdy guy in a lab coat explain how these pollen spores are only found in one quadrant of the city, but that art had already died before I started in forensics in 1994. We got spoiled by DNA, by ‘absolutely yes’ or ‘absolutely no’ answers. No one wanted to hear that this red nylon was ‘consistent with’ the suspect’s shirt, because they wouldn’t be hearing how many red nylon shirts were manufactured, how many were sold in this area, and while we’re at it let’s hack into Macy’s sales figures and find out who they were sold to. Unlike television, forensic labs do not have databases of all this information and would probably be violating a few important laws if they did. Nope, ‘consistent with’ was all you got. Take it or leave it.

 

Polyurethane_Fibers

POLYURETHANE FIBERS

They left it. Microscopic analysis became more or less a thing of the past. Forensic techs today wouldn’t recognize a pollen spore or know what to do with it if they did. Fibers are ignored. Hairs are examined only to screen out candidates for, well, DNA.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I peruse the latest Journal of Forensic Sciences and stumble on an article about using something called palynological scanning to rapidly evaluate suspect and victim testimony.

 

pollen

POLLEN

Palynology, it turns out, is a fancy name for…pollen. Pollen and spores and other ‘microscopic entities’ of trees, shrubs and herbs. No hairs, fibers or paint, but you get the idea. This analysis proved useful in some cases of rape or assault, in situations where the victim and suspect both contacted the ground and pieces of the ambient flora could attach to their clothing.

 

trees

 

In one case the suspect said he and his victim engaged on a lawn behind a public building. The victim said he attacked in a heavily wooded area, the spot surrounded by beech, birch and sycamore trees. Each site had a distinct mix of items—palynomorphs– with complicated Latin names. The suspect didn’t deny that he had made contact with the victim so willingly gave up the clothing he’d been wearing at the time, and sure enough, all those little palynomorphs indicated that he had been in the woods and not on the lawn. This did not prove that he had committed the crime. It only proved that he had lied about the sequence of events, and that was sufficient to prompt a confession. Otherwise this case would have languished in an eternal hell of ‘he said vs. she said.’

Of course had this guy listened to legal counsel before he made a statement, he probably would have figured out to come up with an alternative, and innocent, reason to have been rolling on the ground near the crime scene, and all these spores would have been for naught. As it is, surely the defense will bring out statistics regarding the vast number of beech and sycamore trees in the area, perhaps in the suspect’s own neighborhood, and the idea that maybe he had been doing some gardening earlier in the week in that same pair of pants. This is why things like pollen analysis fell out of favor with the courts…but the spores are still out there, voluminous, distinct and quite concrete little buggers that will stick in all sorts of places one might wish they wouldn’t. So are hairs, fibers, and paint. Maybe ‘consistent with’ is all you can get out of them. But maybe, sometimes, that’s enough.

So in my books Maggie still looks at all this stuff because it’s more visible and visceral than yet one more DNA sample. Let’s face it—you’ve seen one cotton swab, you’ve seen them all. Bright clothing fibers are much more entertaining.

And this trace evidence will lead her down a number of roads—some of which, it turns out, she’d be better off avoiding.

Wiltshire et al. “A Rapid and Efficient Method for Evaluation of Suspect Testimony: Palynological Screening.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 60, #6, Nov 2015, pp 1441-1450.

 

L Black

Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Lisa’s Website: http://www.lisa-black.com

 

that darkness cover

 

Hello! Just a quick note to let you know that my new book, That Darkness, is now available wherever books are sold!

It seemed like a typical week for crime scene specialist Maggie Gardiner–a gang boss shot in an alley, a lost girl draped over an ancient grave, a human trafficker dumped in the river–nothing all that out of the ordinary for the Cleveland police department as spring turns toward summer along the Erie banks. The methods are usual, the victims unsurprising–but when she notices a pattern, a tenuous similarity among the cases, she begins to realize that her days will never be typical again. How much of her life, her career, her friends, will she be willing to risk to do what’s right?

Jack Renner is a killer who does not kill for any of the conventional reasons…no mania, no personal demons. He simply wants to make the world a safer place. He doesn’t think of himself as a dangerous person–but he can’t let anyone stop him. Not even someone as well-meaning as Maggie Gardiner.

Maggie has the self-sufficiency of a born bit-of-a-loner. She works with a bevy of clever experts surrounded by armed police officers. She is both street smart and book smart, having seen the worst the city has to offer.

But Maggie Gardiner is not safe. And, until she can draw Jack Renner into the light, neither is anyone else.

Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter series, says: “Lisa Black always delivers authentic characters in riveting stories. That Darkness takes things to a spellbinding new level with a taut and haunting story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.”

Publisher’s Weekly says: “The intriguing forensic details help drive the plot to its satisfying conclusion.”

“Black is one of the best writers of the world of forensics, and her latest introduces Maggie Gardiner, who works for the Cleveland Police Department. Her relentless pursuit of answers in a dark world of violence is both inspiring and riveting. Readers who enjoy insight into a world from an expert in the field should look no further than Black. Although Cornwell is better known, Black deserves more attention for her skillful writing – and hopefully this will be her breakout book.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars (Top Pick)

 

Guest Blogger: Megan Inslee: My Love-Hate Relationship with Forensic DNA

dna_rgb

 

What is the most important point to keep in mind when working with forensic DNA evidence?  There are probably a lot of answers to that question, depending on your experience and perspective.  I’ll let you in on my opinion for now, as a former DNA forensic scientist. One of the imperatives of working forensic DNA cases in this modern age is this: accepting that there are cases (many, in fact) that DNA can’t resolve.

Almost every time I testify, I’m asked “why might you not find DNA?” This is a good question, one which I usually answer with a fairly long list of possibilities, but it all boils down to three main points. 1. DNA may not have been deposited in the first place. Does this mean that the incident didn’t happen as reported by the victim or witnesses? Not necessarily – more on that a bit later.   2. Maybe too little DNA was deposited for the lab to test and identify. But can’t you guys detect even a few cells? More on that, later, too.  Or, 3. Perhaps DNA was deposited at an adequate level, but much of it was washed away or degraded over time. I saw a special on cold cases solved by DNA decades later – I don’t believe there’s anything you can’t do. Well, keep reading.

1. DNA may not have been deposited in the first place.

We’ve become so accustomed to DNA evidence being presented in criminal justice cases that we seem to need to take a collective step back to reflect on a case in which it just isn’t there.  It really depends on the scenario and the knowns of the case what this lack of DNA on an evidence item could mean.

The murderer doesn’t always cut herself on the knife and leave drops of her blood at the scene. The burglar may have kept his gloves on throughout the entire crime, never touching anything with a bare hand.  A child molester doesn’t always leave semen evidence for us to test.

And, of course, DNA may not be present on a tested evidence item simply because the scenario didn’t unfold the way investigators believed or the witnesses stated or the victim recalled.  Corroborating DNA evidence with reported scenarios is a tricky business, one which doesn’t always result in a resolution tied up with a big red bow.

2. Maybe too little DNA was deposited for the lab to test and identify.

Remember the days when crime labs couldn’t get DNA from anything smaller than a blood drop the size of a quarter?  And remember when, even when they started getting DNA from smaller samples, the odds of someone else having the same DNA profile was only one in several thousand?  Well, I don’t – that was before my time.

But I was there for the early years of the current DNA typing technology, Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). Those were the days in which we tested mainly blood, semen, and saliva.  We had a good idea of what we could and couldn’t get results from and we ended up with a lot of single-source DNA profiles.  These result in straight forward comparisons to reference samples which yield either an exclusion, if the profiles don’t match, or a match.  In the case of a match, we calculate and issue some crazy-big statistic that illustrates to the reader (the investigator or attorney or juror) just how significant this match is (spoiler alert: the number is often in the quadrillions – matches are pretty darn significant).  And as great as this is and was, the criminal justice system wanted (and in many cases, needed) more.

Science over time, I’ve found, rarely disappoints.  The techniques and products that result from years of experimentation, trial and error, grant funding and academic research end up being a culmination of the best approach among many.

Instead of changing the sites we used for forensic DNA typing, researchers found that we could extract and clean up the DNA a little better and attain higher sensitivity.  They modified the primers and added a few more.  They improved the reagents that we used to get our profiles and made them a little more robust. They made instruments that could automate sample processing so that we could do more samples in less time.  All of this has led to higher throughput and more sensitive results.

Currently, scientists are not just attempting to get DNA profiles from well-defined body fluid stains, as before, but also from areas of evidence items that have tested faintly positive for a body fluid. They are swabbing areas of items that someone in the case may have touched.  These types of samples have much, much fewer cells than, say, a fat drop of blood.  And, while significant to the case and incident at hand, these samples are likely to contain not only very few cells, but mixtures of more than one person’s DNA, further complicating the analysis.

3. Perhaps DNA was deposited at an adequate level, but much of it was washed away or degraded over time. 

It’s important to remember that DNA is a molecule, one with millions of parts.  Cells must be intact in order to properly preserve the DNA.  And hundreds of cells must be present in a sample in order to obtain a decent profile for comparison. Wiping or washing a surface can remove cells. Environmental factors such as heat, UV light, or bacteria can break cells open, exposing DNA and ultimately breaking it down.

Also, it’s useful to know that the laboratory process, itself, is lengthy, requiring many phases, none of which perfectly preserve all of the DNA in the sample from one step to the next.  If I detect 200 cells in a sample in the lab, it doesn’t mean that 200 cells were originally deposited on the evidence item at the time of the crime.  Even in the best evidence-preservation scenario, there is loss of genetic material on the crime-scene-through-laboratory-testing journey.

In the end, as much as I love forensic DNA (and I hope you do, too), it’s important to keep its limitations in perspective in every case. The presence of DNA evidence does not prove guilt. The absence of DNA evidence does not prove innocence. The current state of forensic DNA technology is, however, amazing! I think we can all relish in that without abandoning our role as critical thinkers.

MInslee

Megan Inslee spent 13 years as a DNA forensic scientist in Washington State.  She has her Bachelor’s in Biology as well as her Master’s in the Genetics track of Laboratory Medicine from the University of Washington. She currently resides on an island outside of Seattle with her husband and three small children, writing technical documents, preparing grant proposals, and providing consultation on a freelance basis.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2016 in DNA, Guest Blogger, Uncategorized

 

Guest Blogger: Anne Trager of Le French Book Interviews Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Anne Trager of Le French Book translates novels from French to English. Her latest offering is an excellent book titled SHADOW RITUAL.

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What’s it about?

Ritual murders. Ancient enemies. A powerful secret.

An electrifying thriller about the rise of extremism. Two slayings—one in Rome and one in Jerusalem—rekindle an ancient rivalry between modern-day secret societies for knowledge lost at the fall of the Third Reich. Detective Antoine Marcas unwillingly teams up with the strong-willed Jade Zewinski to chase Neo-Nazi assassins across Europe.

They must unravel an arcane Freemason mystery, sparked by information from newly revealed KGB files. Inspired from the true story of mysterious Freemason files thought to hold a terrible secret, stolen by the SS in 1940, recovered by the Red Army in 1945 and returned half a century later.

Here is her interview with authors Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne.

Q&A with Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne are the best-selling French authors of the Antoine Marcas mysteries, a ten-book series that has sold 2 million copies worldwide and is translated into 17 languages. These high-action thrillers combine meticulous historical research with unusual plots and a compellingly complex hero. The series is making its debut in the US with Shadow Ritual (http://www.shadowritual.com), an electrifying thriller about the rise of extremism. Giacometti is a former investigative journalist. Ravenne is a literary critic, a specialist on the life of the Marquis de Sade, and a Freemason.

Tell us something about your writing partnership.

We take about nine months to write a novel: one month for the outline, two months of research, and the six remaining months for writing. When we come up with the outline, we see each other nearly every day. We set up the plot, balancing narration and characters, weaving in suspense, planning the cliffhangers. When we go into the research phase, the work is very solitary, because we have already defined who does what. Then comes the longer, harder work of writing. The novels in the series after Shadow Ritual are built around two plot lines—one is set in modern day times with our protagonist, Inspector Antoine Marcas, while the other is historical. We each are responsible for one of the plot lines, but then we each rewrite what the other wrote. This requires a delicate touch, as writers are always very sensitive about their writing. Fortunately, we have known each other since we were teenagers, and we resolved our ego problems some time ago.

Your hero Antoine Marcas is in many ways a unique character. How did you develop his character? Does he contain any elements of your personalities?

As a Freemason he believes in Freemason values, but he has a realistic understanding of the brotherhood and its faults. This isn’t the Mason of popular imagination whose initiation gave him instant access to arcane knowledge. He’s a divorced cop who has problems with his ex-wife and who evolves in a realistic universe. But it’s a universe where occasionally a more esoteric reality appears. Marcas was born from our disagreements. Eric had a negative image of freemasonry marked by its scandals, while Jacques was fed up with reading reductionist articles about the brotherhood. Over the years—we have written ten novels in the Antoine Marcas series in French—Eric has become “Mason-friendly,” but he maintains a critical distance from its influences. Antoine Marcas is an ideal, principled Freemason. In Shadow Ritual he teams up with Jade, a secret service agent who detests the Brothers.

You also have some interesting evil-doers. Where did you come up with the idea of the Gardener?

We wanted a character that would embody an implacable killer, a professional sadist who looked like a nice guy to play with contrasts. The Gardener seems easygoing enough, but has a terrible habit of cutting off the toes of his victims with garden sheers. He collects the blood to feed his flowers. The idea for this killer came to me when I was shopping at a local nursery. One of the salespeople looked like a grandfather and was demonstrating a brand new pair of pocket pruners. He handled the tool with dexterity. As he twirled it in the air, producing a steady click-clacking, he joked about how the blades were so sharp they could cut off a finger just like that. Right then, I thought the fellow would make an excellent killer.

What inspired the story?

Shadow Ritual was inspired by a little-known episode that occurred when the Nazis occupied France between 1940 and 1944. In an operation that was prepared in advance in great detail and began the day the Germans entered Paris, specialized commandos pillaged the French Freemason headquarters, stealing most of their archives. The Nazis requisitioned two centuries of French masonic memory—from 1740 to 1940—and sent all the documents to Germany. Those archives, which Eric and I have explored, hold documents signed by the likes of Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. And for many, they must hold some Great Secret. A hidden secret our novel Shadow Ritual set out to find.

Giacometti and Ravenne share their research and inside knowledge with exclusive content. Learn 5 Freemason Facts and a lot more you never knew about secret societies and the world around us. Go here: http://www.Lefrenchbook.com/shadow-ritual-facts-fiction

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Scambaiting

scam money tree

The email showed up in my Inbox one morning with the subject line: I have a genuine proposal of great benefit to you. 

Yeah, that sounds totally genuine.

And thus I entered the exciting and dangerous world of scambaiting. Except it’s more tedious than exciting, and not too dangerous when the perpetrators sit on the other side of the planet and can’t afford air fare.

I hate scammers. I hate Rachael from Credit Card Services who calls twice a day (though sometimes she’s Bridget, and sometime Scott, and once in a while she’s Carmen) trying to get me to hand over my credit card numbers. I hate the emails that tell me I won a lottery I never entered in a country I’ve never been to. I am just waiting for some kid to call me pretending to be a grandson I don’t have, asking for bail money to get out of some totally bogus charge in Greece. And the fake Microsoft people are still trying to convince me that my computer is sending out error messages.

So I declared war.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Do Not Call lists, state or federal, do nothing. I continue to report each and every call to them in the hopes of making any charges they do someday press just that tiny bit more massive. The email scammers are almost always outside our borders, sending false phone numbers to your caller ID, and no one has time to track them down. Therefore, all you can do to strike a glancing blow for Cosmic Justice is: Waste their time. Every minute they spend sending you an email or sitting on the phone writing down fictitious credit card numbers is a minute they can’t spend scamming some poor soul who might actually fall for it.

scam person on phone

There are entire websites dedicated to people’s efforts to derail these scammers, and they are a font of good information and some great laughs. Following their advice I set up a new, free email account and instantly became Chloe, a pretty twenty-two year old, complete with a fetching photo from MS Office Clipart. (This wasn’t just wishful thinking—I thought her youth might explain her apparent naiveté in believing every story sent to her.) Chloe lives in a state I’ve never been to and works hard as a waitress at a Waffle House. I borrowed the phone number of Rachael from Credit Card Services, using the town it comes back to in a reverse lookup search—it doesn’t matter, since scammers won’t pay the long distance phone bill to actually call it. I invented a non-existent address on a real road with a real zip code.

scam you have mail

Then I started writing back. I copied the body only of the emails that came to my legitimate email address and responded—they send out too many at a time to notice one coming back from an address they didn’t contact. I told Ms. Liza Wong from Malaysia that I would be happy to help distribute the dead philanthropist’s money to those less fortunate, and MegaMillions winner Jim McCullen that I would accept the responsibility of disbursing his winnings. I wrote back to a helpful FBI agent in New York (though his IP address said Madagascar) who had found a package of 4.1 million dollars with my name on it (literally) and just needed me to fill out some forms to complete delivery. I found this so helpful of him. Who says the federal government is suspicious and obstructive and overly concerned with things like income tax payments?

A co-worker of mine drew the short straw and thus has been trained in the art of downloading computers to find stashes of child porn and other crimes. She has become my go-to person with tentative questions about How This Stuff Actually Works. Unfortunately whenever I ask her something she tends to burst into Swahili, throwing around terms like ‘data dump’ and ‘NTFS access’. I asked her about the IP addresses for the three emails above (the scambaiters’ site taught me how to find those), since the first two said they were in other countries but their IPs came back to the US and Canada. She said they can route through other people’s IPs. I always believed McGee on NCIS tracing an email that bounces through IPs all over the world to be Hollywood hyperbole, but it turns out to be somewhat accurate. My co-worker can’t do it, perhaps because my city can’t afford the cool flat-screens, but it can certainly be done. But, she said, they would need the cooperation of the host IPs. Aha, I said. Unless they hacked them, she said. Oh, I sighed.

I GoogleEarthed (you know what I mean) my three IPs and found that the US one sat on the edge of a closed Air Force base (yikes) and the other two bordered high schools. My co-worker said they were probably using the free wi-fi—the same reason you see cars in the Starbucks parking lot when the place isn’t even open.

scam check

Nothing all that exciting has happened yet. The FBI agent never wrote back about my box of cash. The other two put me in touch with their banker, who sent me a very professional looking email detailing how, since I live in neither England or Malaysia, I have to deposit a sum to open a ‘temporal account’ to which my large windfall can then be deposited. The UK bank wants $1200, and the Malaysian one a more reasonable $640. I pleaded poverty (it would take my 22-year-old months to save that from her Waffle House paychecks!) and put them in touch with my banker at my fictional savings & loan.  Chloe’s banker is an old family friend and looking out for the sweet girl’s interests, which is why he sent their bankers his own forms, which they must complete and return before they can be allowed to make a deposit at his fine institution. This will be difficult since the form demands to know things like your HBG number, which stands for “I Have No Idea, I Just Made It Up.” If they somehow work their way through this impossible task, then they may encounter further problems trying to fax it to another of Rachael from Card Services’ numbers.

Apparently both bankers found this daunting enough to give up on Miss Chloe, as neither she nor her bank manager have heard from them again. Jim McCullar gave up as well. Liza Wong hung in the longest with a forlorn, ‘have you heard from the bank, what’s going on?’ email.

I did have more success with today’s call from the persistent “Carmen” from “Credit Card Services.” They happened to call as I sat in front of my computer. Did you know you can Google “fake credit card number generator” and bring up a list of numbers for the major agencies? I kept a very polite representative on the phone for nearly fifteen minutes as she tried to ‘verify my balances’. I prepared to insist that, of course those are my correct credit card numbers, I’m looking right at them, but instead after a while she simply, quietly, failed to return from Hold.

But somewhere in the country, some other poor telephone owner got an extra ten minutes of peace this afternoon.

They’re welcome.

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Close to the Bone hits forensic scientist Theresa MacLean where it hurts, bringing death and destruction to the one place where she should feel the most safe—the medical examiner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has worked for the past fifteen years of her life. Theresa returns in the wee hours after working a routine crime scene, only to find the body of one of her deskmen slowly cooling with the word “Confess” written in his blood. His partner is missing and presumed guilty, but Theresa isn’t so sure. The body count begins to rise but for once these victims aren’t strangers—they are Theresa’s friends and colleagues, and everyone in the building, herself included, has a place on the hit list.

Lisa photo

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. Her books have been translated into six languages and one reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list.

 

Guest Blogger: Sergeant Adam Plantinga: Fiction Versus Reality

As a novelist, one of your main jobs is to keep the story moving. And if your story deals with law enforcement, you probably don’t want to get too bogged down in the minutiae of police procedure. But you also want to present a narrative that rings true to life. It’s a bit of a balancing act. So to assist in this endeavor, I have put together nine key differences between fiction and reality as it pertains to cop stuff. Where applicable, I have also added a possible explanation, or an “out” if you really need that fictional element for the sake of a dramatic story arc. Because, after all, reality can be downright boring.

1. Fiction: The private investigator works closely with the local police force to help them solve the big case.

Reality: In thirteen years as a cop working in two different jurisdictions, I have never once had a meaningful exchange with a private investigator. Neither has anyone I know. In fact, on many murder cases, homicide detectives won’t even share everything they know with other police officers, fearing that the info might leak and compromise an ongoing investigation.

Possible explanation: Quite a few, I think. You just have to sell them. Perhaps the P.I. is an ex-cop who has helped the police before, so he has earned some street cred, like Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Or maybe the police are on a tough case and are desperate for leads. Or your character is a witness or victim of the crime the police are investigating, so he or she is already deeply involved in the case (Lee Child’s Jack Reacher ends up in this position quite a bit). Whatever the case, there probably should still be some mistrust or even animosity between the two parties. The cops might throw a few investigative tidbits your P.I.’s way but perhaps they shouldn’t fully embrace him.

2. Fiction: The lone detective doggedly pursues the serial killer and confronts him alone, insisting “there’s no time for backup.” And if he does call for backup, it takes an incredibly long time for help to arrive, long enough for the hero to resolve the situation completely on his own.

Reality: There’s time for backup. It’s bad business to go after killers alone. You typically have a partner and you often enlist a SWAT team to do the heavy lifting. And if you get on the radio and call for help, your fellow cops will drop whatever they’re doing and come to your side. It’s like the bell-ringing scene at the end of Witness. They’ll get there quickly, and they will be out of breath when they arrive, because they had been running to reach you. 

Possible explanation: The hero tries to call for other units but his handheld radio gets damaged in a struggle with the suspect. Or he’s followed the bad guy into another jurisdiction where his signal is out of range. Or his partner gets wounded and can’t go on. I think it’s okay to get creative here. After all, if you spend your whole book setting up an epic confrontation between the hero cop and villain, only to have the hero step aside in the end so some anonymous SWAT team can take the villain into custody without incident, your readers may feel a bit cheated.

3. Fiction: The cops get DNA results back from the lab in three days.

Reality: I had a burglary that happened in November and I got DNA results from the scene the following July, which was actually pretty quick for San Francisco. Even for homicides, which are fast-tracked, the quickest turnaround for DNA results is probably going to be one to three weeks.

Possible explanation: Maybe your jurisdiction just received a federal grant to hire a team of new lab techs. Or your story simply takes place in a fictional universe where DNA results come back faster than they do in real life. That’s okay. Fiction allows you certain freedoms; your protagonist is probably better-looking and drops more clever one-liners than any real cop anyway. 

4. Fiction: The cop confronts a gunman and tells him to drop his weapon. If the bad guy doesn’t drop it, the cop often will warn him again.

Reality: Odds are the cop will shoot that guy right away. That is what police training dictates. As a firearms instructor once told me, “What are you waiting for? This guy has a gun, he’s ten feet away, and you’ve got no cover. Shoot him.” Warnings are fine when practical, the instructor explained, but action always beats reaction so the bad guy can plug you before you can even get a “Drop the” out of your mouth. So shoot instead of chat. And, he continued, if you feel so strongly about saying “Drop the gun,” say it to the guy after you’ve fired.

5. Fiction: As soon as the handcuffs go on, the cop immediately reads the suspect his Miranda rights.

Reality: As a police officer, you are required to read someone their rights only after they are in police custody and you are about to interrogate them about an offense. Custody plus interrogation equals Miranda, not before.  It is often tactical to wait to Mirandize a guy for a while because the offender may make a spontaneous, incriminating statement prior to formal interrogation.

6. Fiction: Your hero jumps in his ultra-efficient, lightning-fast police cruiser and chases the suspect vehicle through a dozen jurisdictions. The pursuit only comes to a halt after the hero rams the suspect car and shoots out its tires.

Reality: While suspects may drive as recklessly as they wish, as a police officer, you have to drive with “due regard.” This means at each intersection, you have to slow to look for oncoming traffic and take it easy on the hot-dogging, even if you have your lights and siren on. Also, pursuit policies vary by department, but generally speaking, you are only allowed to pursue violent felons and even then, you’re not allowed to ram them. You may deploy spike strips to puncture the fleeing vehicle’s tires, but you’re not supposed to shoot out tires because firing at a moving vehicle is far more dangerous than practical. And there’s always a supervisor listening to the chase on the radio who will terminate the pursuit if it sounds like things are getting out of hand.  Also, in a pursuit, the suspect vehicle may just flat outrun you. Police patrol cars aren’t anything special. Their most exotic feature is anti-lock brakes, which let you steer even in a skid, but they don’t have turbo-charged engines or double-reinforced tires. They’re just big cars made in Detroit, painted in police colors with some lights slapped on them. Sometimes their transmissions blow right in the middle of the chase.

Possible explanation: If your protagonist is chasing a murder suspect, the monitoring supervisor will likely let the pursuit go until the wheels fall off. And if it is an especially heinous murder, perhaps the supervisor will authorize the use of extreme measures to capture your quarry. Just know that if your hero elects to ram the suspect vehicle, it is often considered a use of deadly force—the same as if the hero fired a full clip at the bad guy.

7. Fiction: The cop protagonist recovers fingerprints off just about anything: rocks, stucco walls, quesadillas.

Reality: There are only a few surfaces conducive to the retrieval of fingerprints. Non-coated glass gives you the best shot, but many painted items are also good. Glossy paper and some metals, particularly aluminum, have a decent chance. I’ve heard of prints being taken off live plants before, and Band-Aids. But the list of surfaces where fingerprints don’t show up is longer, and includes undressed wood, bricks, cloth, and, well, most everything else. If a suspect touches a dusty surface, he’ll just remove dust instead of leaving a print and the kind of hard plastic most electronics are made of don’t tend to hold prints because of their textured surface. Also people leave more prints when it’s humid out and their fingers are oily than when it’s cold and their hands are dry. Manual laborers or workers who deal with chemicals for a living often have hands so gnarled and scuffed from their jobs that they couldn’t leave prints at a crime scene if they tried. And then there are, of course, burglars who merely wear gloves, which you can buy for two and a half bucks at any retail outlet and foil the ID tech.

Potential explanation: I’m not really sure. Maybe your fictional CSI team is just that good.

8. Fiction: The cop hero gleans valuable information from a street hooker, who is his informant and perhaps even his love interest. The hooker is alluring, funny, helpful and well-adjusted.

Reality: The vast majority of street prostitutes are out there on the corner because they’re hopelessly addicted to narcotics and selling themselves means earning quick cash to get high. You will likely never encounter a street hooker with a sense of humor, or an athletic, winsome one with a heart of gold like Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places. Real prostitutes have faces so ravaged by street life—pockmarks, sores, caked-on makeup—that it’s hard to look at them. They smell bad. They twitch. They have head lice. Drug addiction has made their daily existence lethargic and bleak, like the final stages of a progressive disease.

9. Fiction: The detectives locate the killer through some exotic means—like the suspect leaving behind traces of rare clay unique to a small fishing village in New Brunswick. Or they find an obscure clue on a surveillance tape that leads them to their man. (“Okay, Ned, play it back. Now forward. Freeze on that!”)

Reality: Criminals are caught because they impulsively shoot someone in front of multiple witnesses. Or because they accidentally drop their wallet containing their ID at the scene of the crime. Or because they tell their crackhead pals about the carjacking they committed and are subsequently turned in for the Crimestoppers reward. Basically they are caught because they’re idiots.

Possible explanation: I wouldn’t sweat this one too much. As a writer, you have some room to operate here. Such exotic and obscure clues can be fun to read about and they propel the story forward. I say let ’em rip.

Adam Plantinga

Adam Plantinga is a sergeant on the San Francisco Police Department and the author of the just-released book 400 Things Cops Know, available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, local booksellers, and from the publisher, Quill Driver Books

 

400 Things Cops Know Cover

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Guest Blogger, Police Procedure

 

Guest Blogger: Juan Dillon: Sherlock Holmes: Forensic Science Pioneer

Holmes

 

There are very few characters that have managed to assume a personality as pronounced as that of Sherlock Holmes. Even though he was a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes was and still is often given the same respect that one gives to a real person. Apart from infusing life into his characters, Doyle was a visionary as well. He created this amazing character that solved crimes with panache and used methods that would be adopted in the field of law making only decades later. Forensic science was not even in its infancy when Holmes solved all those mysteries. When Doyle wrote Holmes, the situation was such that it required eyewitness accounts and ‘smoking gun’ evidence to convict a murderer. It was very easy for murderers to roam scot free as there was practically no evidence against them.

Holmes used fingerprints, blood stains and chemistry to zero in on his suspects. It was fascinating because these methods were not in prevalence at that time. In many ways he has contributed to the existence of the modern detective. Holmes used blood splatter patterns and bullet trajectory analysis to solve some of his cases. Every forensic detective today has a lot to learn from Holmes when it comes to toxicology. There were many cases where Holmes used scientific methods that involved chemical analysis and even analysis of handwriting. One of the biggest contributions to the world of forensic medicine by Holmes is the ‘exchange principle’ according to which when two things come into contact with each other, one leaves a trace on the other.

The ramifications of the exchange principle were enormous. This means that cases could be solved years or even decades after they were committed. There are instances of how people were exonerated years after they were erroneously imprisoned. There have also been cases of how cases were solved years later and the culprits brought to book. This was possible only through the methods made famous by Holmes. Poisoning was one of the most popular methods of murder in those times and the reason for that was because it was virtually impossible to detect many kinds of poison with the technology available at that time. Holmes would use scientific methods to check the presence of poison in corpses and detect whether a death was indeed natural or unnatural.

In fact there were a few avid readers of Doyle who became so fascinated with the world of forensics that they even set up laboratories for the purpose of research. A Frenchman named Edmond Locard built a forensics lab 23 years after Doyle envisioned a similar one in one of his books. In his lab he kept samples of soil, hair and mineral fibre. This was perhaps the first ever lab that eventually evolved into the state-of-the-art labs that are used by Scotland Yard or FBI. Holmes was also obsessed with something that has now become a science of sorts. He used to analyse shoe prints to solve many of his cases and now that is called Gait analysis. He was also the person who came up with the idea of using dogs to track criminals. He was aware of the ability of a dog’s keen sense of smell way before his contemporaries.

The use of footprints, fingerprints, handwriting etc were a few innovations that can be attributed to Dolye’s intrepid detective. He even did decryption of ciphers, a science that would not be developed even decades after Doyle’s death. It can be said without doubt that Sherlock Holmes, if he was a real human being would have been the world’s first ever forensic scientist. And the credit to that goes to his creator, the visionary called Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Author Bio: Juan Dillon is a freelance writer and currently working as a review developer at EssaysOrigin.com, and online platform for customers to choose best essay writing services by evaluating the professional reviews on various companies. He loves the profession as it’s also covers some sort of intellectual findings while working on review creation.

 

Guest Blogger: Daphne Holmes: How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

DNA

 

How DNA Testing Helps Determine Paternity

The impetus for determining the paternity of a child likely dates back to the most primitive tribal cultures. Particularly in patriarchal cultures where females were regarded as the property of males, it was deemed important to ensure that a man’s “property” had not been shared, and that the virtue of the female was beyond question. As societies became more sophisticated, the need to establish paternity became as much an economic issue as a moral one. In modern cultures, paternity testing is used primarily to establish whether or not a man is responsible for providing financial support to a child, as well as determining whether the child carries any of the father’s genetic predispositions for health challenges.

Physical appearance – In more primitive cultures (some of which continue to flourish), the objectives behind determining the paternity of a child were culturally and/or emotionally based. If a child was born who lacked identifying characteristics of either parent, it was frequently assumed that the father was someone other than the woman’s mate. The repercussions to the mother were quite severe, often culminating in her death. Unfortunately – especially for the women – the comparison of obvious physical traits was highly subjective, and many women suffered dire consequences, even if their husband/mate was indeed the biological father.

Blood typing – With the early 20th century discovery that different individuals had different blood types, and the recognition in the 1920s that those blood types were genetically inherited, a more accurate means of determining paternity came into common use. It was discovered that by comparing the parents’ blood types, it was possible to determine the most likely blood type of the child. While this was admittedly a step above the “he has his father’s eyes” paternity test, it was still only about 30% accurate.

Serological testing – It was discovered in the 1930s that specific proteins not considered during blood typing could establish the presence of genetically inherited antigens that would more accurately identify the child’s biological father. Unfortunately, serological testing only improved the accuracy of paternity testing to about 40%. Hardly conclusive evidence.

Tissue typing – In the 1970s, the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) was discovered in abundance within white blood cells. When samples of this genetically inherited antigen taken from the mother and child were compared to the sample taken from the father, paternity could be established with roughly 80% accuracy. While this was a significant improvement over previous methods, the collection procedure itself was unpleasant, and the size of the sample required made it hazardous to the child, particularly if the child was less than six months old. Obviously, more work needed to be done.

DNA testing (RFLP) – In the 1980s, the technique called restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) was discovered that looked at a significantly wider spectrum of variables in the blood than had been analyzed with earlier techniques. It was discovered that the offspring of two parents would have half the unique characteristics of each parent. This technique elevated the accuracy of paternity testing to the level of statistical certainty. Unfortunately, the amount of blood required for accurate sampling was, like tissue sampling, large, posing potential problems for the child. In addition, the potential for genetic mutations in the child could render a false negative, indicating that neither the woman or the man was the child’s biological parents. For these reasons, RFLP testing has been all but abandoned.

DNA Testing (PCR) – By the 1990s, the RFLP testing was replaced by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. This technique involves the computerized replication of DNA collected from even a minuscule sample that is collected anywhere on the individual’s body, then comparing the subjects’ profiles. In addition to requiring a very small sample (typically via an oral swab), the subject is not submitted to discomfort as in earlier test techniques, and the computerized analysis takes far less time, while still providing accuracy at the level of statistical certainty, 99.99%.

Author: Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from www.ArrestRecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.

 

 
 
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