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Category Archives: Police Procedure

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Smart Phones and Not-So-Smart Criminals

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USING SMARTPHONES TO DEFEAT NOT-SO-SMART CRIMINALS

My boss, the supervisor of our forensic unit, insists that soon we will be able to process an entire crime scene with nothing but a smartphone. Everything from photographs to sketching to measuring to note-taking, all on a 2 ½ x 5” flat item which one needs reading glasses to see unless one is under fifty which I, alas, will never be again.

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Most phones now come with 10 or 12 megapixel cameras, which are more than sufficient for forensic purposes. You can get attachments for tripods and flashes. My boss can open and close the shutter from his Apple Watch (important for taking ninety-degree close-ups of fingerprints or tire tracks where the slightest vibration could blur the details).

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Simply browsing through the tablet he got us for crime scene work and nagged us for a few months to use before he finally gave up, I find:

The flashlight app. Of course. (I was at a crime scene yesterday where the two young men were trying to plug my USB into the video system, cleverly hidden in the ceiling panels. It’s dark up there, of course, and they were stymied as they had never downloaded a flashlight to their relatively new phones. I pulled my mini-Mag out of my pocket and suggested they use an actual flashlight. Sometimes us old chicks rule.)

Pill Identifier, with which you can enter the color and shape of a medication and it will help you narrow down to the name of the drug, then link to information on purpose, dosage, side effects and drug interactions.

Photo Measures, which allows you to take a photo of a room and then annotate it with measurements. This way my boss, the detectives, the prosecutors and the jury no longer have to suffer through trying to decipher my hastily scribbled sketches of uneven walls and amorphous blobs representing the pit couch. I can take a photo of the room and write the dimensions right over the picture, then add the feet and inches from the south wall to the bloody knife on the floor. The only catch is you still have to take the measurements yourself.

And for that, we have RoomScanPro. Simply start it up, give each room a name like ‘dining’, hold the phone against each wall, in order but at any particular spot on the wall until you’ve gone around the whole room. The app will create a floor plan including measurements. Do a complete walk-through and it will give you the whole house. Be warned, however, that these apps may only be accurate to half a foot, so that you could wind up with an attorney grilling you how the murder weapon could have been five and a half inches from the victim’s body instead of six.

For traffic incidents, Vehicle Identification System can give you pictures of nearly every make and model available in the last decade to aid witnesses in describing the getaway car. And Cargo Decoder can translate the four-digit DOT code on a truck’s placard to tell you what kind of materials they’re hauling.

There are a number of panoramic photo apps, so that you can quickly scan a 360° shot of the crime scene as is before EMTs, firemen, reporters, angry mobs or bigwig looky-lous breach your perimeter.

So the next time you see a team processing a crime scene it might not only be the nerdy young guy using the newfangled gadgets to do the job. It might be the grizzled old detective using a smartphone and a rubber-tipped stylus.

And reading glasses.

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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.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Car Crashes and “Crime Hot Spots” — Studying Patterns To Prevent Crime

Join Jan Burke and me on Crime and Science Radio Saturday 1-7-17 as we welcome Greg Collins and Dr. Kevin M. Bryant to discuss Car Crashes and “Crime Hot Spots.”

Planning & Research Manager

Greg Collins

Greg Collins is the Research and Analysis Manager for the Shawnee, KS Police Department.  He is primarily responsible for CALEA accreditation, policy review and updating, grant management, overseeing the Crime Analysis function, and managing police department volunteers.

Greg joined the Shawnee Police Department as a sworn officer in 1991.  In addition to road patrol duties, Greg has worked as a D.A.R.E. officer, detective, patrol sergeant, training sergeant, and traffic safety unit supervisor.  Greg has also been a member of the department’s Special Tactics and Response team, and a field training officer. Greg transitioned to his current civilian position in June 2008.

Greg holds a B.A. in Management and Human Relations from MidAmerica Nazarene University and is an IACP Associate member.

Dr. Kevin M Bryant is a professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas. Bryant completed training and was certified in advanced crime mapping by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in 2011 and is currently working toward recertification.

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2017/01/07/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guests-greg-collins-and-dr-kevin-bryant

Link Goes Live Saturday March 4, 2017 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

National Institute of Justice: http://www.nij.gov/Pages/welcome.aspx

Hot Spots Policing: https://www.crimesolutions.gov/PracticeDetails.aspx?ID=8

Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety: https://www.crimesolutions.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?ID=479&utm_source=Eblast-GovDelivery&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=LawEnforcement&utm_content=CSprog479-07112016&utm_campaign=CSreleases

Smart Policing Initiative: http://www.smartpolicinginitiative.com

Evidence Technology Magazine: http://www.evidencemagazine.com

 

Crime and Science Radio: Should We Abandon Use of Lie Detector Tests As Junk Science? An Interview With Morton Tavel, M.D.

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BIO: Now retired, Dr. Tavel MD, FACC, is a physician specialist in internal medicine and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to managing patients for many years, he held a teaching position (Clinical Professor) at Indiana University School of Medicine. He was consulting cardiologist for the Care Group, Inc., a division of St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis and was the director of the cardiac rehabilitation program. His civic activities include, among others, having been past president of the local and Indiana state divisions of the American Heart Association.

He has presented numerous speeches and lectures before national audiences. His medical research includes over 125 publications, editorials, and book reviews that have appeared in peer-reviewed national medical journals. Dr. Tavel authored a book on cardiology (Clinical Phonocardiography) that persisted through four editions over a period of approximately 20 years, and has been a contributor to several other multi-authored textbooks. He has served on the editorial boards of several national medical journals.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/11/12/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-morton-tavel

Link will go live Saturday 11-19–16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

Dr. Tavel’s Recent Books:

Snake Oil is Alive and Well: The Clash between Myths and Reality. Reflections of Physician. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz., 2012

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Hell in the Heavens: The Saga of a WW2 Bomber Pilot, by Tavel, ME and Tavel, DE. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz. 2013.

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Health Tips, Myths and Tricks: A Physician’s Advice. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz. 2015.

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LINKS:

Dr. Morton Tavel’s Website: http://www.mortontavel.com

Tavel, Morton, “The ‘Lie Detector’ Test Revisted: A Great Example of Junk

Science” Skeptical Inquirer. 40.1 (January/February 2016).

Faigman, David L., Stephen E. Fienberg, and Paul C. Stern. “The Limits of the

Polygraph.” Issues in Science and Technology 20, no. 1 (Fall 2003).  http://issues.org/20-1/faigman

National Academy of Sciences. 2003. The Polygraph and Lie Detection, Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph. The National

Academies Press, Washington, D.C. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10420/the-polygraph-and-lie-detection

Zadrozny, Brandy, “The Polygraph Has Been Lying for 80 Years,” The Daily Beast, (February 4, 2015).

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/04/the-polygraph-has-been-lying-for-90-years.html

Zelicoff, Alan P., “Polygraphs and the national labs: Dangerous ruse undermines national security.” Skeptical Inquirer, (July/August 2001). Online at  http://www.csicop.org/si/show/polygraphs_and_the_national_labs_dangerous_ruse_undermines_national_securit

Iacono, William G., Forensic “Lie Detection”: Procedures Without Scientific Basis, Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 1 no. 1 (2001). Reproduced with permission on https://antipolygraph.org/articles/article-018.shtml

American Psychological Association: The Truth About Lie Detectors (aka Polygraph Tests) http://www.apa.org/research/action/polygraph.aspx

Vergano, Dan, “Telling the Truth About Lie Detectors,” USA Today, (September 9, 2009)  http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002-09-09-lie_x.htm

Barber, Nigel, “Do Lie Detectors Work? Should You Ever Take a Polygraph?,” Psychology Today, March 7, 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201303/do-lie-detectors-work

Letter of Aldrich Ames to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, on polygraph tests, postmarked November 28, 2000, reproduced on Federation of American Scientists Website: http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/polygraph/ames.html

Santos, Fernanda, “Vindicated by DNA, but a Lost Man on the Outside,” New York Times, November 25, 2007. [Story of Jeffrey Deskovic, who at the age of sixteen was arrested and told he “failed” a polygraph during a seven-hour interrogation process, and was wrongfully convicted.] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/us/25jeffrey.html?_r=0

Newsweek Article on Mass Shootings: http://www.newsweek.com/serial-killer-mass-shooter-school-shootings-federal-bureau-investigation-367374

 

Crime and Science Radio: Meet Iris, the FBI’s Only Electronic-sniffing Dog: An Interview with Jeffrey Calandra

Criminals and terrorists often hide data on electronic devices and then hide these devices—-and are often very clever about doing so. In such search situations, many subjects hide flash drives, hard drives, and other electronic components so if the police come, the instruments of their crimes may not be found. Take the example of a child pornography case where a subject will put pictures of innocent children on a thumb drive and hide it in the yard, behind walls, and all sorts of other places. In a normal search, a human investigator may not find the media

What’s the FBI to do? Enter Iris, a young, eager, lab who is the FBI’s only canine capable of sniffing out these devices. And she’s one of only seven in the world. How does she do it? How was she trained for such specialized work?

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In this episode Jan Burke and I talk with Jeffrey Chandra about how all this accomplished, as well as how dogs are used in other criminal detection activities.

BIO: Jeffrey Calandra possesses a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Masters in Criminal Justice with concentration in Computer Forensics. He spent 6-1/2 years as a special agent working child pornography, criminal computer intrusions, fraud, and bomb threat cases. HE has also assisted on Counter Intelligence, Counter-Terrorism, Drug, and Gang cases and has served as a member of the Hostage Negotiator team. He is currently a K9 handler for the FBI Electronic Scent Detection K9 Iris.

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Iris, a 20 month-old black lab, is the first of her type in the FBI and one of 5 in the world. She will be the future of law enforcement. Already we are getting requests from across the country for her assistance. For a little background, Iris was trained as a seeing eye dog for a year and then was selected to be a law enforcement dog.

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LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/10/01/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-jeff-calandra

Link will go live Saturday 10-1-16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Video link from WNBC:

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/New-Jersey-FBI-Dog-Electronics-Sniffing-Dog-NJ-Police-380560881.html

http://nj1015.com/how-this-dog-will-help-fbi-take-bite-out-of-cyber-crime-in-new-jersey/

http://www.northjersey.com/photo-galleries/photos-iris-fbi-s-electronic-sniffing-dog-1.1604524

http://www.fox5ny.com/news/164540928-story

 

When Researching Forensics, Remember to:

 

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So you do all that forensic science research for your story and find a bunch of cool stuff. Now what? How do you use it to make your story believable, and convoluted, and of course suspenseful.

Here is a post I wrote for Le Coeur de l’Artiste that might help.

Original post is here: http://www.djadamson.com/lartiste/archives/09-2016

When Researching Forensics, Remember to:

Make the Time of Death Vague: When your disheveled detective is standing over the body and chatting with the coroner and the subject of the time of death comes up, don’t have your coroner/medical examiner say something stupid like, “The victim died at 10:30 last night.” There is no way he could know this. The things he uses to determine the time of death during the first 48 hours – – things like body temperature, rigor mortis, and lividity – – aren’t very accurate. They are merely suggestions. But by using these techniques, the coroner can at least make an educated guess as to the APPROXIMATE time of death. And it is always a best guess. Realistically he should say something like, “The victim died somewhere between 10 PM and midnight.” And that gives you wiggle room in your plot.

Give Your Crime Lab Time to Breathe: Only on television do crime labs get results before the first commercial break. You know, the DNA sample is obtained and three minutes later they have the results, complete with a holographic image of the bad guy. Unfortunately, that is humorously far from reality. DNA analysis, toxicological testing, and most other forensic science techniques take time. The tests not only have to be done, they have to be checked and rechecked, and in high-profile cases, they are often sent out to other labs for corroboration. This takes time. At least days, and often weeks. Remember to allow for this when you’re plotting your story as this delay can add tension.

Make the Evidence Difficult to Find or Not Useful: The truth is that evidence is not always present. Of course, the crime scene technicians look for fingerprints, bodily fluids, shoe impressions, hair and fiber, and any other bits of evidence the perpetrator might have deposited at the crime scene. These might or might not be present, and if present might or might not be found, and if found might or might not be useful. If fingerprints are deposited on a window pane, a tile countertop, or some other smooth, hard surface, then they are often easily found and are clear and useful. If they are on a rough surface, such as a wooden slat or concrete, or if they are smeared or contaminated or altered in some way, they might not be useful. The pattern might be disrupted or difficult to see and if so the print is useless. DNA might be found but it might be so damaged from decay or contamination that it is not useful. So make it difficult for your detective. Don’t make the evidence jump right into his lap.

Make Everyone Involved in the Investigation Honest and Capable, or Not: The best-selling horror writer John Saul has said that he places his stories in small towns because the cops are stupid. This might be true in many cases, but I think what John means is that they are not sophisticated, experienced, or well-equipped to handle many criminal situations. This might be because they are poorly trained, or never worked in a major city, or solved any major crimes and therefore a murder in their small town might be beyond their capabilities. Or perhaps the city’s budget for crime-fighting is so small that they can’t afford to hire experienced officers, or forensic experts, or even do autopsies. It might be that those in power are just flat out criminally corrupt, or lazy, or incompetent. If your story is set in a major city, such as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, or Miami, then sophisticated crime-fighting techniques, equipment, labs, and experts are easily available. But if it’s set in a small town, none of these are available. Use this to add tension to your story.

Make the Evidence Controversial: Just because a certain individual’s fingerprints or DNA or shoe impressions are left at the crime scene, it does not mean that person is the perpetrator of the crime. The thing about evidence is that it creates linkage. It links a person, an object, or a place to another person, object, or place. That is, if Joe’s fingerprints are found at the scene of the crime it means that at some point in time Joe was at that location. It does not mean Joe is the one that killed Martha. This is why when police begin their interrogation of Joe they will first ask him if he has been in Martha’s home, or if he even knows Martha. If he says yes, he knows her well and has been in her home many times, then there may be a perfectly innocent reason for his fingerprints to be there. If he says no that he does not know her and has never been in her home, then Joe has some explaining to do. Such evidence that points in the wrong direction is very useful for creating classic red herrings in your story.

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Crime and Science Radio: Crime Scenes, Criminalistics, and the Cutting Edge

Crime and Science Radio: Crime Scenes, Criminalistics, and the Cutting Edge in Los Angeles: An Interview with Former LASD Criminalist Professor Donald Johnson of California State University, Los Angeles

BIO: Professor Donald James Johnson is an expert on criminalistics, with emphasis on crime scene investigation and reconstruction (homicides and sexual assaults), and forensic biology. His research interests include the application of new technologies to the field of criminalistics. He was formerly a senior criminalist at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he was involved in the scientific investigation of violent crimes.

NOTE: This show was recorded live at the MWA-LA Chapter meeting in Los Angels, CA

LISTEN: LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/09/10/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-dr-donald-james-johnson

Link will go live Saturday 9-10-16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

California Forensic Science Institute: http://www.calstatela.edu/hhs/cfsi

School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at CSULA: http://www.calstatela.edu/hhs/crim

CSULA Masters in Criminalistics http://ecatalog.calstatela.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=11&poid=3452

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Scientific Services video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SboLJ7WwnXQ

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: http://sheriff.lacounty.gov

American Academy of Forensic Sciences http://www.aafs.org

 

Crime and Science Radio: The BTK Killer and Other Serial Murderers: An Interview with Psychologist and Author Dr. Katherine Ramsland

This Saturday at 10 a.m. Pacific Jan Burke and I welcome Dr. Katherine Ramsland to the show to discuss her years of research into one of America’s most notorious serial killers Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer and her wonderful book that has resulted form this work.

 

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Dr. Katherine Ramsland

 

BIO: Dr. Katherine Ramsland, director of the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program at DeSales University, also teaches the forensic psychology track. She has published over 1,000 articles, stories, and reviews, and 59 books, including The Mind of a Murderer, The Forensic Science of CSI, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Ivy League Killer, and The Murder Game. Her book, Psychopath, was a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s list. With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she co-authored a book on his cases, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators among Us, with Dr. Henry C. Lee, The Real Life of a Forensic Scientist, and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, judges, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including CSI and Bones She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today called “Shadow-boxing” and consults for numerous crime documentary production companies. Her most recent book (August 2016) is with serial killer, Dennis Rader, called Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. She will also publish The Ripper Letter, a supernatural thriller based on Jack the Ripper lore, and a textbook, Forensic Investigation: Methods from Experts (2017).

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/03/30/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-dr-katherine-ramsland

Link goes live Saturday August 13, 2016 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Website: www.katherineramsland.com

Blog: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Kath.ramsland/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatRamsland

 

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