Showing posts with label law enforcement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label law enforcement. Show all posts

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.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bomb Squads 101 Information for Writers


English: Training with bomb robot 1
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We watched the monitor closely; the robot stood flush with the case. A pincer reached out to twirl the locking system, using the combination that I had uncovered while behind the Veil. The mechanical arm moved with amazing dexterity, slowly releasing the catch, retrieving the papers and files. Axel wiggled the toggle and the robot zipped back to us with the booty. Again Axel maneuvered the machine to the case. The robot sent a video image to our laptop; I studied the screen until I could show Axel where the concealed latch protected the hidden compartment. We all held our breath while Axel maneuvered the motorized claw to release the hook. 

The following information was gathered from bomb squad members that I met at this year's Writers' Police Academy. Because of their undercover work, neither their names nor images can be used in this article. A bomb squad member is also called an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Technician. All EOD Techs come through the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama where they undergo an intensive 6 week training session.
* There are at least two people per responding team.
* Typically this team prefers nine members
* On this team, the EOD techs have other police duties and leave those duties to respond to bomb threats.

The Suit

Bomb Protective Suit is a little bit of a misnomer. Though it can help; it will not actually keep someone alive under all circumstances. What makes a difference in survivability?
* How close is the officer?
* How big is the blast? The concussion of the blast can be as deadly as the shrapnel.
* At five feet from the bomb survivability increases by 50%

I am all suited up at the Writers' Police Academy 2013

I'd explain this to you, but then I'd...  EOD Suit WPA 2013

 VIDEO QUICK STUDY - suit and safety features (2:54)

*Is made of various materials including Kevlar to prevent penetration and ceramic plates to help disperse the
Suit Components WPA 2012
  blast concussion.
* Cost? aprox 75k
* The suit weighs approximately 85-100 lbs.
   35 lbs for the trousers
   35 lbs. for the jacket
   8 lbs. for the helmet
   And boots.
   This suits allows little in the way of dexterity and
    agility. More armor might increase protection 
    but make movement impossible.
   (Though this guy is going to prove me wrong: VIDEO QUICK STUDY - dancing in a EOD suit 2:17)
   * The helmet includes a fan unit to help prevent  humidity from building up inside of the visor. But
      does not cool the person inside.
   * The suit has no cooling unit - considering the  weight of the suit, the body response to adrenaline and 
       physical activity, and the ambient temperature a bomb technician has about a twenty minute window
       of operational opportunity. 
   * If there is a possibility of a contaminant or bio-hazard, the team members have access to special suits
      that incorporate oxygen tanks (SCBA Self-contained Breathing Apparatus). These tanks add to the
      weight and loss of agility. These usually have about 45 minutes of air. That time period must include time 
      to "decon" (decontaminate).

VIDEO QUICK STUDY - Tools in use (3:53)
1. Telescopic manipulator - has a claw allowing a technician to work from a safer distance.
2. Ordinance disposal tools - the one we saw was approx. 35 lbs and could shoot the bomb. Also, there
   * robots with hooks, arms, car door openers, etc.
   * water jet disruptors
A Belgian Malinois of a police K-9 unit.
A Belgian Malinois of a police K-9 unit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
   * laser aiming devices, and so forth.
3. Remote viewing systems that might include
  * Borescopes
  * Videoscopes
  * Fiberscopes
  * X-ray technology 
4. Disruptors - can open up the package.
5. Bomb Detection Dogs
   * Dogs are typically taught to sit or lie down when
      they detect the scent.
   * Typically they are rewarded with a ball
   * Dogs are trained to the base component of
      explosives. Once they have these components
      any combination will trigger an alert. Dogs smell
      differently than humans if a human smells "stew," a
       dog  smells carrots, and beef and onion, etc.
WPA 2013 That's my scary  backpack.
 I named the robot  "Molly," because she needed a name.
6. Robots
   * Cost? Approx 125K and up
   * Depending on model, these are around 44 lbs.
   * VIDEO QUICK STUDY (3:41) 
   * Major issue is depth perception. That's
      why these techs practice, practice,
   * Information is transmitted via wireless to
      the  HAZMAT truck

Video Quick Study British EOD Tech talking about the "Long Walk" and assessment  (2:38)
For a bomb to go off there need to be three components:
1. Battery
2. Switch
3. High Explosive Charge
Disrupt any of these and you render the bomb inoperable.

Basic Techniques

(Techniques are kept secret so as not to train the attacker in better ways to succeed)
VIDEO QUICK STUDY - Suspicious Package Investigation (9:02)
1. Determine that there is a possible event. In the case of the technicians I was interviewing, most of their
    calls come from people who have found dynamite, or war souvenirs (WWII from granddad) and not
    from actual concerns about a bomb.
WPA 2013 Bomb Extraction Truck
2. Bring in the team and their trucks
   * Mobile Headquarters with gear also called
      HAZMAT Truck
   * Containment Truck
   * EMTs and fire
3. Clear the area to ensure the public's safety
   * Set up equipment this might include tenting if
      they believe bio-hazardous materials were
4. Suit up
5. Develop intelligence
   * They cannot use radio communication because it could set off the bomb.
6. Formulate a plan
7. Work the plan and leave.
   * If they are exploding something they yell, "FIRE IN THE HOLE!" three times.
   * Exploding the object is called "disrupting the device."
   * Counter Charge - means to put another explosive device on top of the suspected bomb and blow it up
   * Video Quick Study (4:50)

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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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

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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