Showing posts with label Police. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Police. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cops Gone Bad: Information for Writers with Police Chief Scott Silverii


Fiona - 
Hi Chief, thanks for joining us on ThrillWriting - that's a very nice kilt you're wearing. Can you tell us about the special occasion?
(Great legs, BTW)

Chief Scott Silverii sporting his pink kilt he'll be wearing
at the Warrior Dash to support breast cancer research.

Chief Silverii -
It's great to be back. I love your work - the content is actual police academy quality. 

Sure, My police department - The Thibodaux Police Department is teaming up with author Liliana Hart to raise awareness and money for cancer research. The kilts will be worn by officers and team members participating in the Warrior Dash on Oct 11 in Louisiana - that even includes Liliana Hart.


Fiona -
What a great cause. 

I know that you are very involved with your community and are often seen doing spectacular things to bring awareness and needed funds to worthy causes, I remember your pictures from Breast Cancer Awareness month last year. As a matter of fact, I only know good cops. Really good cops who serve on duty and off. But I also know that's not always the case. Do you mind if we chat about that? Please first tell us about yourself.

Chief Silverii -

Thank you, we are the city's police department after all. Yes, tough topic, but let's talk about it. 

I'm Scott Silverii - I'm from south Louisiana's Cajun Country. I've been in law enforcement over 24 years and currently serve as the Chief of Police in the City of Thibodaux (La). I began my non-fiction writing once I completed my PhD in Anthropology from the University of New Orleans. I self-pub my dissertation - A Darker Shade of Blue and then sold an extended manuscript to Taylor & Francis Group where it was published by CRC Press - Cop Culture: Why Good Cops Go Bad.

Fiona -
Temptation. When one is in a position of authority it is so easy to cross a line. What kinds of roadblocks are inherent in the system that would help to weed out people who might abuse their authority prior to coming onto a police force?

Chief Silverii -
It begins with an in-depth application process that includes a quality background investigation. Too often, agencies accept friend referrals - those usually implode down the road. Education is also key - the officer must be taught the dangers inherently associated with independent positions of authority. Accountability is the base line - without it, everything fails. No room to turn a blind eye, or allow your buddy to slide - paths of least resistance lead to falling for temptation.

Fiona -
Once an officer has taken his oath, as they move deeper into the cop culture, how much do cops overlook the wrongdoings of other cops? It seems to me, if it's not nipped in the bud, you'd have cops gone wild.

Chief Silverii -
It can become a slippery slope. Officers are afforded a wide range of discretionary privileges associated with performing their duties. You can't paint them into a box with policies for every possible encounter. It's difficult for cops to judge other cops on actions attributed to discretion.

Corruption can take many forms and levels from not performing your duties to committing crimes. There is a Code of Silence that is inherent. It's the “us versus them” mentality. This begins in the police academy - cadets learn that the class is punished for the mistakes of one. Therefore, they cover each others butts to save themselves from the discipline - while building brotherhood, it also teaches covering up and the No Rat Rule.

Fiona –
You're writing a novella that takes a fictional look at this, can you tell us about your plot line

Chief Silverii -

I was invited to join you and five other amazing authors in an anthology called Unlucky 7 - each author writes a novella based on a small town murder mystery. My work, Bayou Backslide, looks at the temptations of police work. Even in the face of investigating the ultimate act of victimization - murder. What I find fascinating about writing about police fiction is exploring more about the effect the job has on the officers, than whether or not the officer can do the job. This work will look at how temptation, discretion, autonomy, and misplaced loyalty effect the cop, the agency, and the community.

Fiona -
Very interesting. Okay, let's look at some of those aspects. Just coming home from the Writers' Police Academy, we learned about some of the awful things that cops experience on a daily basis. Over time, they develop an "us against them" mentality. Can you talk about some of the things that impact an officer and the changes that are globally seen by individuals facing the challenge of police work?

Chief Silverii -
WOW - WPA was another amazing event. I'm still on a cloud.

The culture of policing is a powerful influence. If you are familiar with Janis' concept of Groupthink, it's similar in this profession.

Policing depends upon homogeneity or everyone looking, walking and talking the same way in order to be cops- compliant. No room for the Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson characters. Though they make for great movies, they would also make bad reality.

Officers go through transition stages of socialization - or Fitting In.
*Once they enter the academy - they realize that everything they

  thought they knew about the job from watching TV, movies, and
  reading is WRONG.

*They must accept that the only way to succeed the academy is to

  modify their thinking and beliefs to those of the culture.

*In training they must juggle this next life behind the badge that

  requires silence and full commitment - that obviously causes
  trouble at home with spouse, kids, family and friends.

*Finally, the officer is cut loose to work on their own. They are

  vulnerable to the temptations because no one is directly watching
  them over the course of that 12- hour shift.

Fiona -
Over time, how does this effect the "bad cop's" decision making?

Chief Silverii-
Path of least resistance. Complacency becomes the rule. Not making waves is the ethos over “to protect and serve.” - If I work hard, then you look bad. If I make a mistake while making lots of cases, then the sergeant will get the grief - therefore, don't make cases. Mike Roche reminded me of a saying – “Little cases = little problems, big cases = big problems, no cases = no problems.”

So that would be the kind of thing one would expect in any organization.

Let's talk about cops who go over to the dark side. The ones who think they can, and possibly do, get away with some pretty heinous stuff. To charge them would look bad for the sergeant. What kinds of things could a bad cop do that is particular to that cop because of their position?

Chief Silverii-
It's unlimited - From trading sex for a traffic ticket, to taking bribes for providing security, or looking the other way. Even allowing the drunk to drive off because the cop doesn't want to do the paperwork is unacceptable.

Understand, we are talking about a small population of cops fitting this dynamic - most are committed and honorable public servants, but in a club of over 800,000 there's gonna be bad apples.

Fiona -

Can you tell us writers who are writing good cop/bad cop plot lines what might happen once the police find out that a cop has been involved in something pretty big - a murder or drug distribution for example - how do you police the police?

Chief Silverii –
Internal Affairs are the organization's integrity gatekeepers. They operate independently of general police assignments and are often unpopular among the other cops. Old days they were called the Rat Squad. A chief or sheriff also has the option of referring cases to the state police, the state's attorney general, or a federal agency.

Fiona -
The federal agency would depend on the crime. As my last question - what would you like us to know, what would I never guess about this particular topic?

Chief Silverii –
The process of socialization is so powerful that it takes a special (not impossible) person with an established moral / ethical center to avoid the pitfalls. I applaud those individuals. The old guard is retiring or dying off. This new era of technology and accountability is leading us into the next phase of policing. I’m so excited. It's on the horizon. It takes forward thinking, fearless men and woman to stand in the gap and demand a better way. It's time for a Cultural Revolution in policing.

Fiona -
I am grateful to them for their service and grateful to you for sharing and also for letting us see how fab you look in a kilt.

You can reach Chief Silverii at: 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The All-important Bathroom Break - How to Get Your Villain to 'Fess Up: Info for Writers with Sgt Pacifico

A roll of toilet paper attached to the wall of...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona - 
Well Sgt Pacifico, are you ready to finish the last in our interrogation series? The last time we chatted you were headed to the bathroom ...

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Yes indeed...the bathroom break! So remember back in the beginning when we talked about the constitution a little?

Fiona - 

Yup (Miranda Warnings and the 5th and 6th amendments LINK)

Sgt. Pacifico - 
There is another one called the 14th amendment which addresses coercive things cops may do intentionally or unintentionally that can render an interrogation illegal.

Okay, so here is the scenario. The detectives did a great job building rapport. They conducted a proper interview, learning much from the suspect about his body language and truth-telling style (Those things we spoke about earlier LINK). Now we turn into the interrogation part where we start getting him on the fence, and he exclaims, "I really gotta pee! I gotta go to the bathroom. I can't think anymore, and I can't hold it!" Well, how do we know if this is true or not. And it could be true, we gave him fries and a soda, he may actually have to go.

Fiona - 
Some people have small bladders

Sgt. Pacifico -
If we don't stop and give him a break, our interrogation afterward could - not automatically and always, but could - be determined to be coercive in nature because the man confessed so he could avoid soiling himself. Some may find this acceptable, while others find it ridiculous. It doesn't ever matter what you think. Remember, it is what the judge will rule.

But I digress. In order to avoid this issue, we take a bathroom break. We don't even invite him to go; we just shuttle him there. "Well, guys, I think this is a good place to take a break," the detective says. "I gotta use the head. Come on I'll show you where its at," says the detective to the suspect.

Fiona -
Wait. They pee side by side - that just seems... wrong.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
No. Actually, we take the suspect to the secure bathroom, essentially a small observation cell with a toilet, (a small block wall obscures view of the actual commode). Then we go off and use the employee washroom. We leave him in there with his thoughts, and we are free to roam about our office without the fear of him running away because he is locked in the room. Serves those two purposes wonderfully.

However, if he is a non-custodial interview, we can't lock him in there. We have to walk him back into the interview room and leave a guard nearby to ensure he doesn't wonder about in confidential areas, but not seem like he is under guard. Otherwise, it becomes custodial. Remember that part from earlier?

Fiona - 
Yup.   (LINK)

Sgt. Pacifico - 
What we do once the suspect is settled either in the obs room or back in the interview room is gather together in our sergeant's office and go over what we just learned.

The sergeant, and really everyone in homicide who isn't critically busy, will be watching the interview and interrogation. Everyone wants the detectives to succeed, and this is game time. There may be some jabs and jokes here and there, but it's usually pretty serious. There will be no messing around that causes any interruption in the flow of the detectives or the case.

We discuss what we saw and heard. How did he look when he talked about certain aspects of the story? Did he look direct or away? Did his eyes shift differently? Did his body language change dramatically at certain points? How was his tone, tenor, volume and pitch when we changed from topic to topic getting more and more into the story? Did he seem more nervous or more relaxed? What was an obvious lie, what wasn't? What are we going to spend our time on as a theme to get him to give up the like and confess the truth? What roles are we going to play going back into the room?

Fiona -
Do you use computer software to track micro-expressions?
Also, do you use voice analysis to check for pitch?

Sgt. Pacifico  -
We didn't use any software for micro-expressions. None existed at the time, or at least not at the level of the local police agency. Maybe some of alphabets were using it but not us locals. Voice stress analysis was not considered all that reliable. Besides, when you are good at this, it's way better to be there in the moment, knowing what you are doing. It's like an artist with a blank canvas. A true artist can paint the picture without using paint-by-numbers.
You develop a 6th sense

Fiona - 
So, you've huddled up...

Sgt. Pacifico -
We have all agreed on what we think of this guy and his story. We've also agreed on how we are going to approach him to confront his story. Now its time to head in. For. One. Last. Time. 

You see, the reason for the bathroom break is coming into focus. We legitimately all probably needed one anyway, but now when we get in there and into the next phase and start making him sweat, and he pulls out the bathroom card, we can say no. We can say right there on the video, which is all time-stamped, "You just went 20 minutes ago. Stop making excuses for not telling the truth and ......" We can say this and not worry about our tactics being considered coercive. 

In the time we have had him, we fed him, gave him drink, allowed him to smoke, and let him use the facilities, all the while treating him nicely. Kinda hard to call us mean ole' detectives who berated defense counsel clients into submission through our horrible tactics.

Fiona - 
I know you're running through a thought process here, but could you take a moment to list the 14th amendment no-nos?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Sure, I'll list them from some obvious ones to the not so obvious. 
* Hitting or striking a suspect probably shoots right to the top. 
   (It doesn't work anyway. A detective so unskilled that he resorts
    to hitting a suspect is probably also leading the statement, and
    forcing the suspect to say what he wants anyway. It's just plain
* Sleep deprivation caused by rotating fresh detectives for endless
* Multiple detectives shouting and crowding like drill instructors in
   the military. 
* Threats are up pretty high but are the ones the television writers
   use the most and probably don't know are coercive and
   ridiculously illegal. It's also where cops learn to say
   these things. For example, "If you don't tell me what I need to
   know, I'll just book you until you can make bail, put you in the
   cell tank with our worst criminals, and see if you want to tell me
   something after they've had a go around with you. How much do
   you weigh? A buck-fifty? Let's see if you can make it through the
   night." Believe it or not, real cops have said these things and
   they're strait from badly written movies and books.
* Promises is right up there with threats. If I promise leniency or to
   do some favor, then I have entered a quid pro quo that can rule
   the confession illegal. He only confessed for the deal or the
   promise made. This is so prevalent in the movies and
   television. Yet in reality, cops have no authority over charges
   and leniency; that's the prosecutor's office who has that power.
   The suspect in the room ask for deals, thinking the cops
   can make those deals happen like in the movies. It is a real dance
   in there. It's very stressful to essentially tell the guy there are no
   deals. Stop watching television and this is how the real world
   works. But doing it with care. I have on occasion, said, "Dude,
   you watch way too much TV. That shit only happens in your 
   living room. In here, there are no deals made by cops. That ain't
   the law and this isn't television." Feel free to use that line if you
Then there is withholding food, water, bathroom. 

Fiona - 
Very interesting.
Thank you.
So there's a technique that could be deemed coercive, I guess, where the detective will not allow the suspect to deny the crime...

Do you know what I'm talking about?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Yes, but that's not coercive, and that's what we indeed do. let me explain.

The hardest thing for new detectives to do for some reason is make a direct accusation. I don't know why that is, but even in interrogation class during mock interrogations they skip over this part. 

What we do when we walk back into the room for the first time after the break is make a strong, affirmative, confrontational accusation. "John, we have completed our investigation. What we have here (pointing to the newly brought in stack of reports and DVDs) is weeks worth of non-stop investigating. Our investigation clearly points to you! You, John, are the one who killed your neighbor!" And then pause....

Interestingly, that short pause you think would give the suspect the appropriate time to deny. The innocent almost always start denying right away. Wanna know how often, loudly and crazily the guilty suspects deny?

Fiona - 

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Almost never. Guilty suspects hardly every say anything and make those, "Hmph. Pfft. Sheesh. Yeah right..." 

That's been my experience most of the time. Or the guilty ones start asking questions like, "Why would I do that? I would never do that!" Now LISTEN to what he ACTUALLY said. "Why WOULD I do that?" Future tense and not a denial of the past act. "I WOULD never do that." Also a future tense and not a denial of the past act. A real denial sounds like this, "I did not kill my neighbor. I didn't do it."

Fiona - 
I didn't, I swear!

The use of the formal "did not" and "neighbor" instead of a name are not distancing (lying) techniques in your experience?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Oh sure, there is far more to it than what I'm giving you here. In this particular area, we spend several hours if not the better part of an entire day in interrogation school. Actually, this notion of what was said and how it was said is talked about all week.

So directly on the heels of making a pointed and direct accusation that the person killed the victim, and without saying, "You are the one who shot, strangled and suffocated the victim" because this is leading. We get the hows and whys later.

Fiona - 
The fine line of coercion here being - "Our documentation points to you." v. "You stabbed Mrs. Cranach!"

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Well, the point is that we make a specific accusation. 

"You Dave, killed your wife! There was no mystery intruder. We know exactly what happened now and have ruled out all other suspects other than you!"

Fiona - 
Okay - I think I have it. You're still saying that you have drawn a conclusion based on documented findings.

Wow, you have to be really on your toes about what pops out of your mouth. Being that vigilant must be mentally exhausting.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Yes, it can be mentally exhausting, but only afterward. My very last case I ever worked as an active detective was coincidentally one of my most marathon interrogations. I interrogated five equally guilty suspects in a robbery-homicide where they all repeatedly beat their "friend" to death. It took all day from morning until night, one after another. I was never tired during the process. We had already been up two days straight before so with some naps here and there, I was essentially going on 36 hours with little to no sleep. During the interrogations I was wide awake. But after the adrenaline wore off, I couldn't drive home. I had to stop once to sleep for like an hour on the side of the road because I was asleep at the wheel.

Fiona - 
They need a recovery room with a cot for the interrogators.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
We actually have a bunk room. I thought I'd make it home. I was fine until I got into the quiet comfortable car with no more noise, interaction, or need for my brain to function. It turned off like a switch.

Fiona - 
I'm glad you took a rest break and got home safe.
Okay, a while back, I broke into your sequencing for your final brow-beating - er, I mean - stage of the interrogation.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
(Continuing as the interrogator) "Now Dave, (he not yet having said a word of denial other than to feign some disgust at being accused) what I want to talk to you about is the "why." It seems pretty clear to me, based on what we've talked about, that you are a pretty good guy. But I think something happened that day you wish you could take back. Something snapped maybe? Maybe all the stresses in your life that we talked about (Here SPORTS AND HORSES - LINK) earlier were just too much for you to handle today. You came in and saw you wife with another new expensive item you can't afford. It drove you into a rage you couldn't control. I get it..."

At this point, or after many attempts at points like this, we call THEMES, the suspect will start to crumble and stop any and all denials - if any existed - and really hone in on what we are saying. Eventually, they will chose a theme. They lie and make some sort of admission.

Fiona -
What are some of the typical themes?

Sgt. Pacifico -
Well, we can totally lie and bluff! We make accusations to innocent people who wind up being great witnesses because once they think we think they are the suspect - and maybe we had it wrong, they tell us what we need to know. Also, sometimes we are led astray. We make an accusation, and the subject flatly denies it - strongly, assertively, never waivers, and continues down a path of innocent behaviors. We can make the determination they are not our suspect and clear them from the case. I've cleared falsely accused thieves and child molesters who were vindictively accused by friends and ex-lovers of wrong doing. These tactics work to prove innocence as well as determining guilt.

Fiona - 
Oh good.

Can you tell me some innocent behaviors?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Innocent people don't make excuses. They don't get nervous, they get angry at false accusations. The anger remains with the continued accusation. Fake anger, put on by guilty people changes to something else because they forget to pretend to be angry.

Guilty people try to stall and avoid answering questions and find other topics to try and talk about it. They try and create physical space distance to "run away." 

Innocent people are adamant, clear spoken, forceful in their convictions, look you in the eye. Get loud and may even be somewhat rude when they weren't before hand. Because the continued accusations of the innocent makes you a jerk, the continued accusations of the guilty makes you a guy doing your job. 

The themes come from the discussions in the interview. The phrase I keep repeating throughout the interrogation school I teach cops is this, "If you don't conduct a proper rapport and interview, how are you going to know what to talk about during the interrogation?" 

Bottom line, we talk in the interrogation until they decide that they know this is not going away, that they are caught, and the evidence has them boxed in. Then they start making micro-admissions to see how much trouble they are in or how they can minimize the trouble they're in.

Fiona - 
Once they admit to a crime, do you make them write it out and sign? Or is it okay just to do it on the video?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Once they confess, the video and audio is all that we need. However, sometimes they want to write an apology letter to the family of the victims, which of course is a written confession. So we let them do that and put a copy on records, of course. 

Well that's really it, I guess for what we can do in this limited time and space. Remember, this is a 40-hour course for basic interviewing and interrogation with another 40 hours of advanced interviewing, forensic handwriting analysis, polygraph is another 80-hour mini-school, and the list goes on. 

We have only touched on some of the basic ideas and tactics. If your readers want to learn more, they should really attend my Writers Homicide School. Sadly, we are not having anymore in 2014. From this point forward we are going to only host one annual WHS per year. It will be a big blow out event in Las Vegas June 6-7. 2015. Then there may be another one in Australia. I've been invited there, and we are working out some details now. 

Also, any writer anytime can sign up for a private consultation to get the specific answers they need regarding interviews and interrogation or ANY aspect of police work they need. They simply go to and sign up for a private consultation.


Fiona - 

 Sgt. - thank you so much for going the extra mile with me and finishing out the series of interviews. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"911, What is your Emergency?" - Emergency Communications Information for Writers

found publicly on Facebook
Fiona - 
Hi David, welcome to ThrillWriting. Would you please introduce yourself to the readers and tell a little bit about your background and your writing?

David -
I am a retired 911 operator living in northern Kentucky. I also worked as an operations manager for a large transportation company and as part of my job investigated accidents. I worked as an emergency operator for the Department of Public Safety in northern Michigan until 2006. I have written in several different genres, mystery, romance, and even some literary, short fiction and novels. I have five published novels

Fiona - 
Is there a difference between a 911 operator and an emergency operator?

David - 
David Swykert
The duties would be the same. 911 is an emergency system. Houghton, Michigan had no 911 system of its own, neither did its neighboring city, Hancock. I worked for the Department of Public Safety for MTU, a large northern university. we were a state licensed police agency for the university, and also our officers were deputized in the county and assisted local law enforcement agencies. We contracted our emergency 911 services to the two cities, and their fire departments, as well as taking emergency
calls for the university. We also dispatched
the police officers for the two cities, and
their fire departments.

Fiona - 
Can you tell me about the qualifications and training of a 911 operator?

David - 
I was trained by the Michigan State Police to obtain a LEIN certification, which is an acronym for law enforcement information network. This certification enabled me to access databases maintained by the states, NCIC which is the FBI's database, which searched for federal warrant information and CMIS, which is a corrections database for prisons. The law enforcement training was done in house for operators by the Department.

Fiona - 
What do your duties entail?

David -

Amazon Link $2.99

Taking emergency calls, although, "emergency" is a pretty broad term. For some people this meant the neighbor's dog was barking.

We answered the phone like this: "Public Safety, what is the nature of your emergency?" 

At this juncture, you determined a course of action, i.e. my house is on fire. Or, my
husband is threatening me. I'm going
to hang myself. There was protocol
for almost every emergency you can
think of. 
* Fire - I would engage the alarms for the appropriate fire
   department and forward the information. 
* Police calls, depending on the nature of the call determined what
   action I would take. 
* Domestic violence, generally we would send a car and always
* Suicide call, we would try and keep the caller on the line and send
   initially a police car to the scene, the officers observations then
   would determine further action, i.e. notification of the emergency
   at the nearest hospital.

Fiona - 
In an emergency, do you talk the caller through stabilizing the situation? For example, in a fire do you make sure they leave the house?

David - 
Not in a fire. We would advise them to leave and wait across the street for the fire department. For a domestic violence call, I would ask them to stay on the line with me until the officers got there, and there is some information I'd want, for instance, "Is he armed? Are there weapons in the house? Are you injured?"

Most common call was about what kind of situation?

David - 

Amazon Link $6.50

One of the most common calls we would get would be lockouts. "I locked my keys in my car." Our officers all carried a tool that would allow them to unlock cars. But the newer cars with all the electronics it's getting tougher. We insisted on the driver signing a waver, in case the officer yanked a few wires loose trying to open the vehicle.

Fiona - 
See and I thought that was a call to AAA unless my kid or dog was inside (which would NEVER happen).

David - 
Some police agencies refuse to do lockouts, too many damage complaints. But our officers were very proficient with a "slim Jim"; the tool they lifted the lock with.

Fiona - 
What was the most bizarre call you ever received?

David - 
One was a report of a large group of very naked young men running down US41 at about 3 a.m. The only officer on duty anywhere near the area was a young female officer. And yes, I sent her to investigate. She found them, got out of the car and went in pursuit of them. She cornered about a half of dozen of them and ended up with all of them, buck naked, in the car with her, crammed in the back, and she transported them like that to the jail. I asked if she wanted me to run any records on them. She said, "No, they're not carrying any ID, no wallets."

Fiona - 
Do you get to know the outcomes? Or is that protected under privacy laws?

David - 

Amazon Link $5.79

I took the job thinking it would provide me with great stories for writing. But, no, you often don't know the outcome of an emergency. You aren't at the scene, and you have other calls coming in. You take the call, you do what is necessary to handle the situation, then you move onto the next call. However, I would often see the officers coming on duty or leaving, or on quiet nights they'd stop by the station and
sit around. And I'd find out how
certain situations ended. 

Most of the calls are quite routine. We would answer what is called a call for a "well being check." Which mean someone was concerned about someone and asked us to check. Calls about murders and things are pretty far and in between. I worked with a couple of officers from large metro police departments. Even there, the kind of calls they responded to were mostly routine. We did have a couple of murders, but these entail investigations I would not have access to. I did take a call where there was a man stuffing a body into a burn barrel. At first I thought it would be just something he was burning. Nope, it was a body.

Fiona - 
When you're watching TV, or the movies,or reading a book that includes a call to 911, what are the writers getting incorrect in the plot line and is there an interesting twist that would change everything?

David - 

Found publicly on Facebook
The only TV shows I recall watching that involved 911 operators were shows about 911. And these were actual calls and operators. 

The operator is a very peripheral participant in the investigation. Our duty is merely to identify accurately the
nature of the emergency
and decide a course of action, 
which is pretty straight forward. 
Send an officer. But then our 
official involvement ends.

I learned a lot about how police departments function, but not a lot of information about a specific case, unless I followed it up myself on my time.

Fiona - 
Traditional ThrillWriting Question: Will you please tell us the story behind your favorite scar and if you have none, could you fill in with a harrowing story?

David - 
I have a long scar over my left eye. Did not get it on duty. I got it in an automobile accident, hit a tree.

The worst 911 call I ever took was from a woman who said, "I'm going to hang myself." Then she hung up the phone and hanged herself. She was found hanging from a basement rafter, deceased, when the officers arrived. 

I had another terrible call with a woman who called that her husband was unconscious and barely breathing. She was hysterical, and I had a difficult time getting the house address. The officers, and ambulance, I had called both, could not locate the house with the number. As it turned out, it was a newer home and the husband hadn't put the numbers out on the house yet. He also was DOA.

Fiona - 
That brings up a good point. Once my daughter was having a seizure - I had been through many of them but this was the first that my husband saw. I sent him to call 911 while I tried to stabilize her. When he got the operator on the phone, he could not remember anything - my daughter's age, the cause of the crisis, where we were. He just stammered into the phone. I could hear her prodding him - and started screaming the information out as loud as I could, so she could hear me from upstairs. You never know how you will do in a crisis especially if it's a loved one, and this is a first time. How do you help people in that kind of situation?

David - 

Found Publicly on Facebook
You're describing a very similar situation. The house was outside of our system, so I had to get the address from her, and she is just unglued, screaming, crying, and perhaps being a new house didn't even know what the address was. He had a heart attack. Anyway, by the time medical techs and our officers got there, he was blue and not responsive. He never regained consciousness. I think that's the 
worst call I ever took, you feel 
helpless, unable to help. By and 
large the job overall is very rewarding.

Fiona - 
Thank you kindly for sharing this information. 

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Death Notifications: Is Your Heroine About to Get Bad News? Information Writers

English: Buick Flxible Hearse (note spelling f...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A ThrillWriting reader asked me about the process of death notification, wanting to get it right in her plot line. 

There are so many police duties that are misrepresented in media that I was pleased to be able to speak with a law enforcement professional about this aspect of their job. Karla (her full name and agency will remain anonymous for privacy's sake) is a 15 year POST Certified Law Enforcement Officer with a Masters Degree in Psychological Counseling. She is also a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Karla has been working with victims and their families for over 21
years and has made hundreds of death notifications. 

Fiona - 
Welcome, Karla. My first question for you is about the level of training an officer gets to perform the task of death notification. Surely, your credentials and level of expertise are unique.

Karla -
Death notification is one of the most difficult tasks in our profession. Most LE (law enforcement) officers receive training during the police academy, but it is usually brief and limited training. 

I teach this topic in our academy. There are other organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving that offers this training to LE agencies. Some agencies, such as ours, have officers that specialize in this task and many use an Agency Chaplain for this role.

In order to make a successful death notification……you have to CARE.

Fiona - 
What happens when it's a small town? Do they have trained personnel come in from a bigger dept?

Karla - 
Small town agencies can deliver notifications just as well as larger departments – they just need to provide the right training for their officers and the training is available.

Fiona - 
What kinds of interventions do you do in person versus over the phone? 

Karla - 
I would never give a death notification over the phone. Even if we have to make a notification to someone out of state, I would contact a LE agency in that 
person’s area and have them go to make personal contact. You have no control over a situation if you 
make the notification over the phone. Someone could attempt to
harm themselves after they receive the news, and you would never know. I make notifications in person for deaths and serious injuries. I will go to wherever that person is. I have even boarded a helicopter to make a notification to someone working offshore on an oil platform.

An HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to land...
 (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

Regarding death notifications, the shift supervisor would contact me when there is a need. I would gather the exact name of the deceased and the name of the person I need to notify, and I make SURE that I contact the correct person.

I obtain the details of how the victim died, and I will provide that (to a certain extent but will spare “gory” details when I can). When I deliver the actual news.

Fiona -
What are some of the typical reactions you see when you offer a family your information.

Karla - 
People react to trauma differently. I have had people try to attack me and tackle me to the ground, and I have had those that just stare at me with a blank stare and no reaction at all.

Usually, they beg me to tell them that “it’s not true” and cry and sob. Most immediately want to go to their loved one and see them. Sometimes it is not possible, and those cases are the hardest because the families need closure/proof that their loved one has really died.

Fiona - 
Have you ever had anyone go into shock or need medical intervention after receiving the news?

I try to find out if the survivor has any type of medical condition (such as heart problems, mental issues, or pregnancy) and I contact the ambulance service and have them “standby” down the street from where I’m making the notification. I have never had to use them thus far.

Fiona - 
Under what circumstances can they not see the body.

Karla - 
If the deceased in part of a crime scene, the family cannot see the body. This is for evidentiary purposes. In those cases, they would have to wait until the coroner releases the body and would have to go to the funeral home to view their loved one. On occasion, they may go to the coroner’s office. I have also had cases where the body was so damaged that there wasn’t much left to see.

Fiona - 
Do they need to go and identify the body?

Karla - 
I have only had a rare few cases where we needed a family member to identify the body, and when that happens, they go to the coroner’s office.

If the survivor has to go to another location to view the body, such as the funeral home or coronor’s office, I always go with them.

Fiona - 
How does your department go about finding the next of kin or someone to inform? Say that they were an unmarried adult orphan without any obvious family ties?

Karla - 
We have an extensive LE database that we use and can usually find a next-of-kin within an hour or two. Only in cases where we are delayed in identifying the victim does it take longer than a couple of hours. In those cases, we may have to finger print the victim or work with other LE agencies for identification.

Two little girls in a park near Union Station,...
 (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)
Notifications to children are extremely hard. I always make sure that an adult that the child trusts is with me.

Fiona - 
What do you do if the deceased are the parents and the children are home alone?

Karla - 
If I have to notify a minor child, I make contact with another adult relative first and take that relative
with me to make contact with the child.

What if it is a child who died and there is joint custody/separate residence - do you seek out both parents?

Karla - 
If it is a child and joint custody is in effect; ideally I like both parents present but will make the notification with one present if I have to. I don’t want to delay a notification because news travels fast in south Louisiana and I don’t want them to find out that way. That is another topic….social media! It becomes a nightmare when a tragedy happens.

Fiona - 
Yes - how has social media changed things - have you ever arrived to panicking family who just read something on Facebook?

Karla - 
MSI laptop computer
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Social media has certainly made this difficult. Often, we arrive to deliver a notification and someone has already read about the tragedy on Facebook or worse, someone has sent the survivor a message or even a picture of the scene! I can just imagine how awful that must be to receive something like that. I have
had many situations where I was in the midst of delivering the notification and the survivor’s cell phone get going off with social media notifications.

Fiona - 
How long is your typical contact in terms of staying at the initial point of contact and making sure everyone is stable? 

Karla - 
Each case is different in terms of how long I will stay with a victim. I make it a common practice to make sure another relative or friend arrives to support them before I leave the survivor. Typically, I will remain for about an hour. 

Fiona - 
You've seen the notification process portrayed on the TV and other media. What common mistakes do you see that you would like people to know are untrue? Are there any other aspects of your job that you would like to convey?

Karla - 
I don’t like the way TV portrays death notifications when the officers appear so cold and calloused. We are not all like that. Some of us care very much about the people that we have to notify because someday, we may be on the receiving end of a notification.

Calla Light Bulb
Calla Light Bulb (Photo credit: big/sara)
Some of my notifications have been very difficult. One that stands out in my mind involved an elderly man that was killed in a farming accident. I went to his home to notify his wife and found her sitting at the kitchen table with a birthday cake on the table. It was her birthday, and she was waiting for her husband to come home so they could light her candles. 

I have been referred to as the “Grim Reaper” and the “Angel of Death.” Someone once told me that they wouldn’t take my job for a million dollars. Aside from these comments, there are the people who are so grateful that I showed compassion and empathy when bringing them the most difficult news of their lives…..they are the people who enable me to continue this difficult task year after year. I care about each and every one of them that I have ever had contact with.

Fiona - 
Karla, I can truly sense your deep care. What a wonderful gift to the families at their lowest most difficult point to have someone who is sensitive and strong there for them. I imagine those negative comments come from people who are deeply afraid and want to distance themselves from the possibilities in their own lives. I personally am so very grateful knowing that there are people out there like you who have the capacity to do this job. 

So a heartfelt thank you.

See how this article influenced my plot lines in my novella MINE and my novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Police Interviews: Preparation and Rapport Building with Sgt. Pacifico


detective (Photo credit: olarte.ollie)
Fiona - 
Good morning, Sgt. Pacifico - Thanks for stopping by ThrillWriting.

Today, I have a some questions for you about the interrogation process. I was watching a movie last night where the arresting officer was the one who conducted the interrogation - is that the norm?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Well, that depends. Was the "arresting officer" as you called him a uniformed police officer who knew nothing about the case and just picked the guy up at someone's request or maybe a warrant? Or was he the one who had conducted the investigation?

In this case, he was on patrol, witnessed the crime, and made the arrest. Can you help me understand why you're making a distinction in your question?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Sure. First, let me say that in  the scenario you posed, yes he would conduct the interview. Here is how (in most places and agencies) it works. Contrary to television, the vast majority of interviews and interrogations conducted on a daily basis throughout law enforcement are done by uniformed patrol officers. 

Although the best interrogators are often displayed as detectives -and this is often true - there are far more interrogations and inteviews happening in the uniformed ranks. 

Detectives don't steal cases from patrol officers and start interrogating a suspect without knowing the case very well and having done some of their own work on it. Just like the FBI doesn't come in with their hands on their hips and take cases away from local police departments. 

English: Omar Khadr is interrogated by two Can...
English: Omar Khadr is interrogated by two Canadians (faces obscured) while a female CIA agent oversees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A detective will conduct an interrogation of a suspect after he has been assigned the case through an administrative process, or if it is the natural assumption of the major case in progress that detectives respond to from the very beginning. In the natural order of things, as the police officers are no longer needed at the scene, they are relinquished back to handling calls in the field.

Something to consider, if we had complete control over the investigation process, the very last action we want to take is to interrogate the suspect. Often that is done very early in a case both in real life and also in fiction. But it is a mistake.

Now the reality is, sometimes we don't even know our suspect is our suspect when we first talk to them. We may think he is a witness....we just don't know either way. I hated it when my suspects would be put in my lap at the early stages of the investigation, and I didn't have enough knowledge to interrogate properly. Asking questions to which we don't know the answer is a dangerous area to be in.

Fiona - 
At what level of concern will a case require a detective to join the team?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Detectives get involved in cases for a couple of different reasons. Most often it is a manpower issue. The detective doesn't need to fly off to some other call and can spend all day, or the next three days or intermittently the next three weeks working the case. Patrol officers have to field numerous calls every day and be as available as possible for dealing with emergencies - domestic fights, bar fights, traffic crashes, fires, medical emergency calls (we are sometimes the closest unit to a medical call) and any other 911 you can think of. 

So if we have a major case brewing that is going to require a lot of coordination, follow-up and by its nature is too enormous for patrol to handle, then detectives are requested by the field supervisor. In most cases this is a sergeant. But then there are those cases which naturally get detective calls without any further ado: homicide, severe crimes against children, some rapes, bomb and arson cases for sure, and some serious assaults

Fiona - 
Some rapes?

Sgt Pacifico - 
Me grilling Dan McD in Law & Order SVU's inter...
Me grilling Dan McD in Law & Order SVU's interrogation room (my buddy MikeC works on the show and let us look around the set!) (Photo credit: dpstyles™)
The reason for the "some rapes" is this - If the case is pretty basic in its investigative properties (readers follow the technical answer not anything emotional here), and you have a seasoned officer with great interrogation skills who is a renowned investigator, and you can spare him from patrol, there is no reason to call a detective. 

A basic investigation might include a date rape. Here a friend/acquaintance or family member is the suspect. The location is accessible. And, there is easily obtainable evidence because it was the victim's or suspect's residence. Also, all involved parties are local and available. A good patrol cop will handle this. 

A stranger rape, unknown suspect with extreme violence, a crappy outdoor and contaminated scene or a late reported case where evidence is lost...that is going to need a heck of lot more work and a detective will likely spend weeks if not months on it. 

Remember, detectives don't just materialize from no where as super interrogators. It's those great street cops that we promote to detective. On Friday, he was a street patrol officer; but come Saturday morning, his orders are effective, and he is now officially a detective. The only thing that changed was his clothing

Thank you for clarifying. I feel better.

How might early interrogation or interviews interrupt a good outcome - good meaning finding the guilty person and removing them from society?

Sgt Pacifico -
Well, the interruption of getting a suspect too early is that without any evidence to provide the investigator with confidence he is the person, it takes a lot of the power of the performance away from the interrogation. That is part of the preparation. Knowing what we know that only the suspect and cops could know. Having some form of proof of his involvement, OR having such knowledge of something that we know we can bluff him with evidence that doesn't exist, but he would believe does exist. That is a whole discussion on themes that we will engage in the future.

Fiona - 
Okay so let's say the crime is one of the one's you listed earlier. The police chief wants to put his crack, A+ detective on the scent. What does the detective do prior to entering the interrogation room? (Besides making sure he had an in and out burger a bathroom break and a cig)?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Interrogation (255/365)
Interrogation (255/365) (Photo credit: andrewrennie)
First of all, the chief ain't involved. That is done by the captain of the division. The chief is running the entire department, (unless we are talking about the small 15 man departments, then yes he might become directly involved in making personnel requests.) 

If a detective is involved in the case at the late hour and was not part of the investigation and now being brought in, he will indeed make sure about the food, water and bathroom and then he will sit down with the investigating officers and get completely briefed on the case. That could take 10 minutes to the better part of an hour. Hence, the In-N-Out Burger is vitally important to obtaining rapport after the detective enters. (And thanks for reminding me that I'm hungry...) 

A good detective will also go over the suspects rap sheet and any written information on the suspects history available. It is in these little bits of history and truths that we know that we can use to test a suspects honesty. 

We want to know as much about a suspect as we can before entering the room to give us an edge. 

Lastly, we need to determine his status. Is he indeed in custody or did he come voluntarily? If he came voluntarily, did he ride in a cop car? If so was he handcuffed? In the cage portion or up front? All these things matter - they help determine the potential defense issues as to whether or not there was defacto custody or not. Bottom line, do we need to do Miranda or not based on the current set of circumstances.

Fiona - 
Now that our detective is up to speed. How does he build the all important rapport necessary to get a confession? Also, concerning Miranda - will the detective who comes in read the miranda rights just to CYA?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
No, with Miranda warnings, we don't automatically read them like on television. If he is NOT in custody we do not need to advise him of his constitutional rights per the Miranda decision if we are NOT going to ask him questions against his self interest or regarding information related to the case in chief. 

As part of the rapport building phase, like in any interview including a hiring one, there is usually chit-chat to break the ice. The cops and crook are strangers to each other most often, and there is a need to get to know each other. So we talk about what I call "sports and horses."

However, before we ask any questions that could illicit an incriminating response AND we plan on keeping him now in custody, then we will need to advise him of Miranda. If though, we are going to let him go regardless of what he confesses to, then we don't have to do a miranda warning. But see, now we are getting back to our previous Miranda discussion. Like I said, there are a bunch of variables to Miranda situations that takes hours and days to discuss and learn.

Fiona -
What might a sports and horses discussion look like - "Hi, I'm Sgt Pacifco. I'd like to put your butt in jail for the rest of you life - hey, did you catch the Nicks' game?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Well, cut out the first part, and you got it right. "Hey there, I'm Derek, this funny looking, lanky guy over here is my partner Rick. Don't mind his gawdawful tie, his wife is out of town and didn't lay out his clothes for him this morning. You get something to eat? You gotta piss?" 

And it goes on from there - "You a baseball fan? Me too. Can you believe Jeter is retiring? I'm kinda glad. He should go out on top. Don't want to see him stay past his abilities. I'll bet he'll be on the networks doing commentary before next spring training." And away we go.... maybe for a half-hour, a full hour.

Then using the prep work, we ask some questions we know the answer to in order to establishing his truth telling style, his truth baseline. Even a mass murdered isn't going to come in and lie about their hobbies, the weather and conversational stuff. Knowing what his full legal name is, we will still ask him to tell is his name. We want to see where that takes us. If his legal name is William Mark Smith, and you call him Will, William or Bill only to find out he hates his first name and goes by Mark, then you have started on a hated foot.

Fiona - 
So whether you like it or not - you have to read the sports page.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
No, you don't need to read the sports pages. For many years I didn't know enough about sports and really still don't - only baseball. As my son got more involved in playing, we started watching it more. That's why the sports and horses comment. I once had this 15 year old female murder suspect who was neither sport, music, or artfully aware of the world, but she loved horses. Fortunately, I finally found something to talk to her about. Having some knowledge of horses from a summer I spent with some folks who had a horse ranch, I knew enough to ask my suspect questions and have some conversation about something she liked that broke the ice and allowed us to have a meaningful conversation. All the while, I'm reading her facial expressions and body language as it related to something she was comfortable speaking about.

Fiona - 
This is very helpful information - obviously the interview process is key. I'm looking forward to your next visit so we can continue learning some of the tricks of the trade. In the mean time, can you tell me how things are shaping up for the Writers' Homicide School? I bet your novelists are compiling their lists of questions to bombard you with.

click HERE

Sgt. Pacifico - 
I look forward to it as well! The Writers Homicide School is having its next session on June 9-10 in Las Vegas, Nevada. We have writers coming in from as far away as Australia and Canada. Registrations are on sale now, but we will be closing off ticket sales pretty soon so the crowd isn't too big to handle. So if you want to get a ticket, you'd better get in soon. We have a variety of packages available at THIS LINK

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

P.S. If you found this blog article helpful, you might also want to read these other ThrillWriting articles featuring Sgt. Derek Pacifico:
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