Showing posts with label criminology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label criminology. Show all posts

Friday, January 2, 2015

Criminologists: Information for Writers with Diana Bretherick

Fiona -
Welcome, Diana. Can you tell the readers where you're from
and what you do (besides, of course, write fabulous books.)

Originally I am from Warwickshire in the heart of England, but I now live and work in Portsmouth, on the South Coast. I started my working life as a lawyer - a barrister. But after working in the law for 10 years, I wanted a change. So I worked as a counselor for prisoners in Brixton, London. At that time, I also began to study criminology - the theory of crime. I fell in love with that and became an academic.

Fiona -
Can you tell me more about the academic studies of criminal subjects?

I studied for a Masters in criminology and followed it with a PhD in Criminology - where I specialized in Crime and Popular Culture. I did a second Masters in Creative Writing, and I am now studying for a second PhD in Creative Writing. I have brought into my work my love of crime fiction - reading and writing it. The best thing about criminology is that it can incorporate lots of disciplines including policing, criminal law, forensics and psychology as well as cultural criminology. That's why I love it!

As a criminologist I study the causes and consequences of crime and teach at the University of Portsmouth. My particular interest is how crime and criminals are represented in the media and popular culture - so anything from the news to films and TV drama as well as crime fiction. My novel, City of Devils, is a historical novel set in 19th century Turin, home of the first criminologist Cesare Lombroso who is one of the central characters in my story. He believed that some criminals were born rather than bred into crime and that they shared characteristics of primitive man. He also thought that you could identify a criminal by looking at their physical characteristics. The novel tells the story of what happens when he is challenged to use his theories to solve a series of macabre murders. Each victim is horribly mutilated and left with a note, written in blood, saying 'A Tribute to Lombroso'.

Cesare Lombroso, Wikipedia
Very cool premise for a novel. So you don't study criminals directly. You are studying their portrayals?

Diana -
Correct, I look at news media, crime fiction, TV Drama, Films, Theater, etc. and analyse examples to see how crime and criminals are portrayed. This is how most people get their information about crime, so it is important to examine how these messages are conveyed to us. Also, I get to watch a lot of TV and movies and read lots of crime fiction which is a definite plus!

I want that job! Can you tell us where the media gets it wrong? For example - if I am a writer, and I am basing criminal actions on a news account for my fictional work - what aspects would I be missing?

The news media has a different agenda to just reporting news.
(Though they would like us to think they are devoted to giving us the facts.)
They are interested in selling newspapers, television
News Time
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
programs, etc. They present things in a way that we, the audience, will find 'entertaining'. An example is with sex crimes. Usually offences committed by strangers get into the news, but it is acquaintance rape and other sexual offences that are more prevalent. We get the idea that there is more of this kind of crime than is the case. We also see individual offenders represented in particular ways. Women who commit violent offences are often portrayed as being either plain evil
or mad [crazy]. There may be a thousand other reasons for their
actions, but these are not reported. The drama of danger is perceived
as being much more interesting and salable, so that is what makes it
into the news. If you are researching a story for a novel, you will get a
distorted version. The facts may be there, but they are presented
according to the media's agenda. That can mean that accuracy is lost and/or blurred.

Fiona -
How are your studies applied? And are they funded by government grants?

As a cultural criminologist my work informs my university teaching. I don't do funded research although some of my colleagues do on different subjects. I write about crime and culture and teach my students how to be discerning about the information they receive. I feel that it is important to inform people that what they see and read isn't always as reliable as they might think

 In your book, City of Devils, with James Murray on the cusp of the new study of criminology - how does your research inform the book and your writing in general?

Amazon Link
The idea for the book came from my teaching. I was in a seminar discussing with students about the beginnings of criminology. In particular we were discussing Cesare Lombroso, the Italian who is known as the "father of modern criminology." My students asked me whether or not he investigated crimes. I'm not sure that he did in reality, but he could in fiction. I decided to write about it and use a fictional character, James Murray, to ask the questions that we might want the answers to. He is though very loosely based on Arthur Conan-Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories (created around the corner from where I live!) I drew on my knowledge of criminology and also early forensics. I wanted to show how people thought about crime and criminals then, and how it isn't that different today. The media tend to focus on individual criminals and so did early criminologists like Lombroso. Most crime fiction is packed full of criminological theories even though not all the authors are aware of them.

Fiona - 
Can you give me an example of a theory that you see writers using - that they may not know is a criminology theory at work?

English: Old postcards and a magnifying glass.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you have a character who is motivated by the need for material goods, perhaps affected by a desire to have what others do, then they may be an example of Robert Merton's strain theory. People are surrounded by advertisements for things but may not be able to afford them, so they respond to the strain of this by stealing. Someone may commit a violent offence because they have a psychological propensity to do so, perhaps because of a brain abnormality or injury (neuro-criminology).

Fiona - 
Is there a resource that you can recommend to writers who want to write about criminals - their motivations and realities?

First of all, check out a criminology text book that outlines the theories. Then try reading some accounts of their crimes written by criminals or criminologists. There are some great examples and most of them are from the US. Examples include:
* Sutherland, E. H. (1956).
* The Professional thief. Thrasher, F. M. (2000).
* The Gang: a Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago.
* And of course there are classics like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood - one of my absolute favorites.
* But the best book I've come across is by Jack Katz - Seductions of Crime.

Fiona -
One final question - please tell us about your favorite scar.

Diana -
I have two scars - each from an episode where my brain seems to have gone missing. The first is from chasing my dog in our garden when I was 5. I tripped over and cut my lip. The dog was fine! The second is from when I broke my arm. I had a plaster cast up to my elbow, it was itching and I stuck a pen down there to scratch it. You guessed it! The pen had a top but when it came out of my plaster - no top there. Embarrassing!

Thanks, Diana! 

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FREEZE! Information for Writers

The Brain Limbic SystemImage via Wikipedia
Do you remember the old cop shows? “Freeze! Police! Put your hands in the air!” Now it’s “Stop Police!” - It’s weird that I have a bone of contention with this change. But I do. I understand why the change was made; “stop” is a universal word, a word that is recognized in most languages - along with “T-shirt,” “cool,” and “okay.”

That last one, “okay,” is why we’re taught to thump our plastic CPR dummy on its shoulder and yell, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” The presumption being that if the possible victim were from Northern Siberia or the African !Kung Tribe, they would still understand what was being asked. And so if the person had just decided to take a nap on the sidewalk, they could open their eyes and say “Okay,” and I would know to leave the napper alone - that an intervention with my crack CPR/Artificial breath skills was not needed. However, I would suggest that if I were being chased by a police officer yelling at me in a language that I did not understand - I’d still get the gist. A figure with the authority to lock me up is yelling at me? I have some choices to make.

The choices that can be made in the cop yelling scenario come down to the
limbic system. Your rational brain may be saying one thing, but your primordial self, the self that kept your genes swimming in the pool and not dinner for a mastodon (okay mastodons were herbivores, but you get my point). Your limbic brain can say three things:
1. Flee! In our collective backgrounds, this was a bad, bad idea. We’re slow and weak compared to the other animals on the survival show called Earth. Mostly it was a feline that was trying to eat us and movement set off the “MmmmYummm!” response in our predators that rarely turned out well.
2. Fight! Again, we are slow and weak. What’s a human to do? Even with our incredible brains developing incredible weapons, chances are still bad for the human. The last choice - which is actually our brain’s first choice, since it is the most effective - is…

By yelling FREEZE! The police officer bypasses the intellectual brain (which probably isn’t engaged at this point anyway) and speaks right to the inner caveman (or woman). “Hey. I see you. I’m an authority who can put you in jail. You have three choices. Run. Bad choice. Fight. Really bad choice. Freeze. Ah, that’s the ticket. You freeze and we’ll do things the easy way with no one getting anymore hurt than required.”

STOP! To me sounds like a yellow light - a choice. I could try to run it; I think I have enough momentum to make it. Or, I will put on the brakes and come to the asked for stop. “STOP!“ is an intellectual choice - and the intellect is not engaged, so why do it? Because the !Kung tribesman might not understand? Please. (I’m not picking on !Kung tribesmen - I just love the clicking consonants, and it is as far from English as I think we can get.)

FREEZE! Is not always our friend. I’ve experienced the limbic freeze on occasions when I thought that maybe it was a miracle that my genes made it this far. I remember going to Connecticut to learn how to drive our Land Cruiser over rocks and such. I wasn’t really all that jazzed about doing this, but it was a learning opportunity that had presented itself, and I’m addicted to those. Even though I had been almost a week without sleep, and knew that I was an idiot to go forward, there I was, for six-hours straight, driving down the side of a mountain using the engine brake. At the end of the day, my intellect-self was all used up. I sat at the top of yet another hill. My instructor wanted me to drive between the tree and rock at the bottom. My eyesight was so blurry that I couldn’t see the rock and tree.
”I can’t see. I think I’m done for the day,” I said. “Just this one last run and we’ll be done for the day,” said my instructor.

Bad choice. I started down the hill and my limbic system went into overdrive. I screamed like a girl. My body froze. I remember thinking that I wanted to hand the steering wheel to the instructor, so he could drive. My foot froze on the gas peddle. I tried with every part of my intellect to override my limbic system and lift my foot. The best I could do was to edge my left foot onto the brake slowing us down. My instructor was laughing his head off beside me thinking I was whooping it up as the last hoorah of a productive day of scaling rocks in a car. Yeah. Not so much. As we started to hit trees, it dawned on him. “Hey, this chick is not in control of her body.” He reached over - and this is the part that I don’t get - grabbed my legs and pulled BOTH of my feet off their respective pedals. Now, personally, if I had my brain still functioning, and I was the instructor, I would have left the brake foot down and only pulled up the gas pedal foot. But I have to give the guy a break - he probably was battling his own limbic system as his 50,000$ car hit tree after tree. Sigh. Sometimes these things don’t work out quite like our ancestors might have hoped.

The limbic system does not only engage in instances of imminent danger. Our brains are always searching our environment to try to keep us safe. Our limbic system is always engaged. And to this end is always making little adjustments to our bodies. These show up in our body language. If the limbic concept is interesting to you, may I suggest a book?

What Every BODY is saying - An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro

In his book, he talks about the limbic system and how it controls subtle behaviors. Applying this information would add nuance and authenticity to characters’ reactions.

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.

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Book Review: Police Procedure and Investigation

South Australian Police officers wearing duty ...Image via WikipediaHowdunit - Police Procedure and Investigation - A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland

Is listed on Amazon for $13.59 and used from $9.90

RATING: Highly recommended

Lee Lofland was involved in law enforcement for two decades and is now a writer and the sponsor of The Writers’ Police Academy. (For further information about the 2011 WPA please see my labels below. Also, there is a link under my blog list for Graveyard Shift - Lee‘s blog). In person, Lee is hysterical, and I very much looked forward to reading his book, that I was lucky enough to win in the raffle.

This book walks a crime writer through the labyrinth of law enforcement. Chapter 1 starts with an overview of our policing system. Who is in charge of what? How is a police department organized, and just what does a sheriff do anyway? Lofland reviews the hiring process -which is arduous. The departments look into every nook-and-cranny of a potential hire's life. It’s very intrusive. Lofland then reviews the missions of the various federal, state and local agencies. Very helpful if you are trying to figure out who is going to show up and investigate. For example, I thought that
drug culture fell under vice - it turns out that many departments have a separate drug department because the manpower need is so great. And the illicit drug investigators will work closely with gang investigators, etc.

Lee then spends a chapter helping us to understand the training. Last spring, I had the opportunity to go to our
State police Academy to ask questions. These men and women must maintain high standards in all aspects of their training - one little glitch and they are out. Most police officers with whom I have spoken all tell me that their job is the culmination of a life-long dream; they had always known they were supposed to be officers. Can you imagine the heartbreak of failing to attain the uniform?

Lee goes through the pertinent aspects of the job. He talks about what a police officer does versus a detective. How arrests are made and searches conducted. How death is categorized and investigated along with crime scene investigation techniques including fingerprinting,
DNA, and autopsy. He includes the court process, prisons and jails, and the death penalty. And, Lofland loves to critique TV, so he included a chapter entitled, “C.S…I don’t think so.”

Of further help to writers’ is a glossary of terms, an index of 10 codes, drug quantity, and federal sentencing tables.

Lofland has written clearly, in an accessible voice, with vocabulary free of cop-speak. It is non-fiction that has the hold-you-to-the-page quality of a novel. A great reference - if you’re doing your due diligence and want to get the sequencing, procedure and players right.

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Book review: Making Crime Pay

eigen werkImage via WikipediaMaking Crime Pay, the Writers’ Guide to Criminal Law, Evidence, and Procedure
By Andrea Campbell

Available at Amazon new for $27.50 used from $0.14

Rating: Recommended

I admit that I bought my copy, used on Amazon, for ten cents. I more than got my ten cents worth. I read this book because it was listed as a resource book on the “
Sisters in Crime” website. I have had a course in law, and almost all of my clients were under my care by court order, so I already had a fair acquaintance with the legal system. I would have appreciated having this book back then, for quick reference and better understanding of the process.

This book is divided into three parts:

Part 1 - Criminal law is explained. What is the difference between a
federal crime and a misdemeanor? Crimes are defined as well as defenses, justifications and excuses.

Part 2 -
Criminal procedure - this includes the rights of the accused, search, seizure and arrests.

Part 3 - A Walk Though the
Criminal Justice System - this covers arrest procedures, charging, and booking. There is a chapter on juvenile justice and how that differs from the adult system.

Sprinkled throughout are historic points - which could be a boon to a historic novelist. Also, there are “Writers’ Tips.” These tips help the writer to pick out an interesting twist that could develop the plot line in a new way. There are “FYI” inserts that are like a heads-up to bring an aspect forward that a writer needs to take into consideration when writing a scene. Campbell includes photos of various documents used in the criminal process such as a
search warrant. There is an index, which helps to make looking up a detail easier.

Not a great read for entertinment value. The writing is clear and makes the concepts understandable with straight forward language. I mostly pulled it from my purse to read while waiting for various appointments. Little nibbles were satisfying.

An overall read will give a writer a base from which to launch a plot line. Having this book on the shelf to check on a vocabulary word or resolve a processing question is a handy resource.

I hope this was helpful. If you have anything to add - or if you know a great book that I should look at - please feel free to leave a comment below.
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Book Review: The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds

The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds by Katherine Ramsland

Available at Amazon for 10.20 new and from 7.35 used

Rating: Recommended with reservations

Katherine Ramsland is an engaging and interesting speaker, and I very much enjoyed meeting her at the Writers' Police Academy, where I bought her book on Forensic Psychology. In my thriller series, A Wrench in My Toolbox, I have a severely
mentally ill criminal, and I wanted to do my due-diligence in making sure the crime scene was reflective of the inner workings of this man’s brain. This was not the correct book for me to accomplish this. It was quite different from what I had anticipated from the title and my quick leaf-through at the book table.

I am not a TV watching fan; I don’t have enough time in my day. I have never seen the show Criminal Minds and this was a problem for me. The points made in this book are made in reference to various specific episodes of Criminal Minds. Ramsland does paint a quick picture as a reminder - or for those of us who are not CM fans. I’m sure that if I were reading along and then watched the noted episode on the net, this would all be very rich in further understanding. I would recommend this book as a companion to the CM show. If you are a CM fan and would like to leave a comment about this below, I invite you to do so.

I have a degree in psychology and an MS in counseling and so much of Ramsland’s clinical information I knew; or, it was a different application for what I already knew. I would suggest that someone would get the most from this book if she already had an interest in, and therefore a grounding in, this subject matter. It is not a book for someone to pick off the shelf as a starting place.

Ramsland starts the book with a brief history of
criminal profiling. She continues on to give some information in brainstorming and the development of a profile. Though this section alludes to the process, the process is never revealed. She talks about varieties of deviance, victimology, and risk assessment.

The part that I found most interesting was geographical profiling.
Geographical profiling uses a complex computer analysis system to include the crime scene and the victimology to try to predict the comfort zone of the perpetrator, where he or she might strike next or where s/he might be found. That would be a cool component to add into a writers’ arsenal.

There is a glossary of terms at the end of the book. There is also an extensive bibliography, which might prove helpful. From a writer's perspective of gaining useful, applicable insight, to bring scenes into alignment with science, I would probably go a different route.

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