Welcome to the How-to Author Series!
Featured How-to Author: Lee Lofland!
Post a comment today – and you may win:
POLICE PROCEDURE & INVESTIGATION: A Guide for Writers, 2007, by Lee Lofland
A Lecture Packet from me, Margie Lawson
A big Thank You to Lee Lofland for joining us today. He’ll drop by the blog several times to respond to posts.
Factoids and Funtoids about Lee Lofland:
- Police Procedure & Investigation -- Macavity Award Nominee for Best Mystery Non-fiction
- Police Procedure & Investigation -- a Writer’s Digest Bestseller
- Former police detective with two decades in law-enforcement
- Nationally acclaimed expert on police procedure and crime-scene investigation
- Consultant for bestselling authors, television, and film writers
Instructor -- and Instructor Trainer Police Academy
- DEA Trained Intelligence Investigator
- Recipient of the
Association of Chiefs of Police Award for Valor Virginia
- Lee’s uber-popular, informative and entertaining blog, The Graveyard Shift
Add -- The Graveyard Shift to your favorites! Check out the March 24th blog – Lee critiques police procedure from TV show Castle. www.leelofland.com/wordpress -- Beware – Lee’s blog is addictive!
- Lee’s website, http://www.leelofland.com/
- Lee is Keynoting and hosting A Writer’s Police Academy in Hamilton, Ohio, in April, 2009
Jeffery Deaver, International Bestseller:
"A masterpiece . . . Police Procedure and Investigation offers everything, I mean everything, an author--novelist or nonfiction--needs to know about law enforcement: from police headquarters and laboratories to crime scenes to courthouses to jails. And Author Lee Lofland pulls off another coup--he's managed to gives us this encyclopedia of information in a style that's crisp, concise and damn fun to read. "
ML: Could you share your top-five list of situations officers fear the most? Which one is at the top of your list – and why?
LL: Fear is a good word to use. I can’t think of a single officer who hasn’t been scared a time or two. But they do what they’re trained to do and then worry about it afterward.
Domestic violence calls top my list of dangerous situations. These are extremely volatile circumstances, and there are a few reasons why—tempers are high, kids and other family members are present, weapons are often in hand, or nearby, and pets are excited and sometimes aggressive as a result of the turmoil. It can be quite chaotic.
Normally, when officers respond to a call where violence is involved, the suspect has left the scene. In the case of domestic violence, both suspect and victim are usually on hand when officers arrive. The couples are often still arguing, and sometimes they’re still exchanging blows. It is very important to separate the two in order to hear both sides of the story, which is nearly impossible for a single officer to accomplish.
Then, after all is said and done, and the officer begins to place handcuffs on the abuser’s wrists, he’s often attacked by the victim who suddenly realizes the spouse is going to jail. The hardest I’ve ever been struck (with a fist) was by a woman when I attempted to arrest her husband for beating her.
Other dangerous situations are vehicle stops, search warrant executions, crowd dispersals (bar fights, riots, etc.), and hostage situations.
ML: You open your awesome chapter on DNA with this line:
There are two sides to the DNA coin, and when tossed, it doesn’t always land heads up.
Could you tell us about a situation where improper DNA evidence was the reason a case was overturned?
LL: There are many, but one particular case that comes to mind is one where the lab technician simply mislabeled evidence, placing the wrong person’s name on the wrong evidence. Even after she realized her mistake she didn’t make the effort to change the names. The error was discovered, and amends were made, but only after an innocent person was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit.
ML: In your discussion about search warrants you describe the conditions under which a search warrant is issued. If an officer has a warrant and is searching the home of a suspect for a knife – is everything he finds in that home admissible? What about the suspect’s car in the driveway? What if the officer sees a bloody shirt on the floor of that car; is it admissible?
LL: It depends (That sounds like a typical legal answer, doesn’t it?). Search warrants are very specific. If an officer is searching a home for a knife, and she finds the knife in question lying beside the front door, she must stop the search immediately. Also, if the officer is searching for a large item, such as a stolen wide-screen TV set, she may not search in areas that couldn’t possibly contain the television. For example, she couldn’t look inside dresser drawers, or inside the pockets of clothing hanging in a closet. If she does look in those prohibited areas and discovers cocaine worth a trillion dollars, she couldn’t use the evidence in court. She, of course, would still seize the drug and have it destroyed, but would never win the case in court, because her search was illegal. She may even face a lawsuit for her actions.
In the old days, officers could get by with searching anything on the property, listed on the warrant or not, as long as they had a search warrant. Courts today normally want to see vehicles and outbuildings listed on the warrant. There must also be a very detailed description of the vehicles. The warrant can’t simply read “any cars on the property.” If officers have legal authority to be on the property and see evidence inside the car, then it’s fair game, because it’s in plain view.
ML: In Chapter 4, DETECTIVES, you describe undercover officers as being taught to lie. Can you share an undercover situation where you had to lie to save yourself or others?
LL: This is an easy question to answer. I was working an undercover drug operation with a multi-jurisdictional task force when I arranged to buy a large quantity of cocaine from a dealer in
The woman (Let’s call her Sally) and I drove to pick up a friend of hers who was a runner (someone who sells for the main dealer), and together we went to meet the “boss.” We pulled up in the yard and gave the okay signal, two short beeps on the horn followed by a longer one. Three of the boss’s heavily armed thugs came outside to make sure everything was all right. They made me get out of the car, patted me down, pulled up my shirt to check for wires, took off my shoes and earring (I had long hair, a beard, and a pierced ear) to check for hidden cameras, and they searched the car. During this process, a fourth man came outside to help with the “security screening,” which was much more thorough than those conducted by TSA.
My heart leapt into my throat when I saw the fourth man. I’d arrested him for narcotics possession a couple years prior. I knew he’d recognized me by the expression on his face. He also gave me a knowing wink. His partners in crime questioned me extensively, asking about where I lived, where I’d worked for the past ten years, my social security number, etc. The questioning was relentless, and I lied like a cheap rug the entire time. Sally held up well during her interrogation, too.
I passed the inspection and, surprisingly, the man I’d arrested never said a word about my identity. I made the buy and Sally, her friend, and I left. The next day, I made a point to look up the bad guy who’d kept my secret, which quite possibly saved my life. Sally’s too, probably. His reason for not outing me: He said he might need a favor from me someday. Believe me, I paid that debt, too. He’d earned himself one big get of jail free card.
ML: How effective are polygraphs? How often are they used?
LL: Polygraphs do work, and they’re very effective tools used for garnering confessions. They also let police officers know if they have the right suspect. They’re used more often than you think. You don’t hear about polygraph use much, since the results are not permissible as evidence in court.
ML: A routine traffic stop can be lethal for an officer. Could you share the dynamics of a traffic stop that lead to an officer being injured?
LL: Let me begin with the old cliché that there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop. There’s not a more guy-wrenching feeling for an officer than to stop a car with dark, tinted windows, at night, in a rural area.
Form this image in your mind. Not a house or business for miles, and no moon. The only lights around are your headlights and flashing strobes (which are extremely eerie even on a good night), and the suspect’s headlights. Your radio crackles softly with that canned dispatcher voice as you approach the suspect’s car. The sound of bass thumping inside the car masks any talking or movement. You can’t see who, or how many people are waiting to ambush you. Is there someone inside the trunk with an automatic weapon? Of course, to make matters worse, the computers are down so the officer can’t check the license plates to see if the driver is wanted or the if the car is stolen. The only thing you can see in the windows is your own reflection. This, my friends, is an experience straight out of a Stephen King novel.
Officers should never, ever let down their guard. However, even the most cautious officers can quickly become victims. A perfect example of how quickly things escalate are the recent shootings in
LL: There’s a simple formula for achieving credibility in court—stick to the facts, use your notes, and never lie. Once an officer decides to stray to embellish a story, he’s done. A defense attorney will be all over him like a shark in the water. If an officer loses his credibility, he may as well start thinking about a career change, because that one’s over.
ML: What are some reasons for conducting a strip search? How is the strip search carried out?
LL: Strip searches are performed when officers suspect an arrestee of hiding contraband in a body cavity. Remember, officers are not medical personnel. They don’t put on rubber gloves and begin “fishing” expeditions. Normally, officers have the suspect:
- remove all his clothing
-open his mouth and lift the tongue
- open his hands and spread the fingers
- lift the feet, one at a time (to look at the bottoms)
- run his fingers through his hair (to dislodge foreign objects)
- they look in and behind the suspect’s ears
- raise the arms
- AND, then comes the ever famous, spread your cheeks, squat and cough.
If a search of body cavities is needed, a medical doctor conducts that, and a search warrant may be required.
ML: When were you in the most danger on the job? How did you handle your emotions at the time? Did you experience PTSD? If so, how did it impact you and for how long?
LL: Do we have enough space and time to answer this one? Let’s see, I’ve been shot at, cut, stabbed, knocked unconscious with a piece of lumber while attempting to arrest someone, spit on, slapped, hit, and more than once someone has called me ugly names. Now that really hurt!
Seriously, I’ve seen the business end of a weapon on more than one occasion. Each time was no less frightening than another. But I’m guessing you’re asking about the shootout I was in with a bank robber. At first, emotions were not a problem. It was much later when the PTSD symptoms began to arrive. The impact this event had on me was life changing. In fact, it’s the reason I finally decided to leave police work. I simply didn’t want to be placed in the same position again. I didn’t want to hurt anyone else.
How long did this affect me? Well, I no longer experience the symptoms of PTSD, but not a single day passes when I don’t think of that shootout and of the man I killed. I’m always trying to think of ways that I could have prevented that young man from dying. But there are none.
ML: Can you share what a hardwire write blocker is – and the circumstances under which a hardwire write blocker would be used?
LL: Trained forensics experts use the hardware write blocker when they’re examining a suspect’s computer. The device allows information to be transferred from the target computer onto a police computer without allowing any information to travel from the police computer back to the suspect’s computer. It’s like a one-way street for information. Files can leave, but they can’t come back. Neither can anything else. This process prevents cross-contamination of computer evidence.
ML: You wrote a very detailed chapter on DNA. You even describe the use of paper bags to store suspected DNA samples. What is the protocol now for DNA samples to be collected? What types of crimes?
Evidence collection is key. Officers, detectives, and crime scene techs must all be trained to properly handle evidence of all types. Paper packaging is used for wet evidence, such as blood, saliva, and semen, because plastic bags create the perfect environment (a sort of mini greenhouse) for bacteria. And bacteria will absolutely degrade DNA.
ML: When writing about police procedures, what are three things writers usually get wrong? Any other tips for writers that you’re dying to share?
2) Police procedure
3) Police procedure
Seriously, I think many writers simply try too hard to get the facts right. I don’t think the public reads mysteries and thrillers to learn about PCR, DNA, and how much gunpowder is in a 9mm round. That’s what research books are for. But I do believe writers owe it to their readers to get the facts they do use, right.
It’s best to allow your facts to gently mingle with the rest of the story. Robert Crais did a fantastic job of this in his book The Watchman. Of course, the list of authors who are masters at the craft of mixing fact and fiction is long. Some (and I do mean only some) of those folks are:
Reed Ferrell Coleman
Robert B. Parker
Any of the three Kellermans
Another huge mistake writers make is not doing their homework. Please, please, please do your research! Ask a cop. Ask an attorney. Ask a plumber if your story features something about a drain, or a faucet. But DO NOT use television as a research source. For example, I really like the show Castle, but the police procedure is quite often wrong.
For some reason, TV shows get away with improper procedure. Writers can’t. Readers just aren’t that forgiving.
For fun, I post a blog about the Castle show each Tuesday. In my blog post, I pick apart the things they’ve done wrong. I also point out the good things. It’s a great learning tool for writers.
If your story is set in
I have to plug the new Writers Digest Howdunit series. This new selection of books is a great foundation for all your police, forensics, and evidence research. And they’re all written by writers, for writers.
The books in the series are:
Book of Poisons (everything you need to know about killing your characters with poison).
Police Procedure and Investigation (my book)
Forensics for Writers (written by my good friend Dr. DP Lyle)
The next book in the series is a WIP, and it’s about weapons. This one is written by another good friend of mine, former ATF agent Sheila Stephens.
By the way, Sheila and I will be teaching workshops at the Writers Police Academy in Hamilton, Ohio, next month. I hope to see some of you there. It’s going to be a fantastic event!
ML: Lee – A
Thank you for answering my questions – and sharing your expertise, time, and wit.
Your Howdunit, POLICE PROCEDURE & INVESTIGATION, impressed me with the content and writing craft. Your on-the-scene stories hooked me. When I read your four-page piece on THE SHOOTER, I had a visceral response. That’s strong writing, especially for nonfiction. ;-)) Like Jeffery Deaver said, your nonfiction reads like a thriller!
FIVE SCRIBE BLOG READERS:
Now it’s your turn to ask questions. Lee will respond to your questions today until 8:00 PM Eastern Time. I’ll draw the two winning names at 9:00 PM Eastern Time – and post the winners on the blog.
Post a comment or question! Don’t miss your chance to win:
- A signed copy of POLICE PROCEDURE & INVESTIGATION
- A Lecture Packet from me, Margie Lawson