This work week has been a busy one, so my blog has taken the brunt of the neglect. In the little bit of downtime I've had this week, I started reading more about YOUR craft. I may know all about the realities of police work, but I'm fascinated with what you do in crafting protagonists, antagonists, mentor characters and story arcs.
As a voracious reader, I'm familiar with those concepts. More importantly, I don't have daunting task of filling that blank white page with brilliant fiction as a blinking cursor taunts you. My cases don't follow a three act arc and my characters are real life people. You amaze me with your creativity. So I am taking it upon myself to learn more about YOUR craft to better help you.
I am not a writing coach. I am not an editor, although my Command Staff often asks me to proof their press releases and memos for errors. Yet, I do write for a living.
I was lucky to grow up in a neighborhood with excellent public schools. My high school required graduating seniors to pass the University of California's 5-Point English exam prior to graduating. At the time, I had no idea what an advantage this would prove to be.
Many of the Detective stories I advise upon have protagonists that make the rank of Detective quickly. I "made Detective" at the age of 24, with a whopping two and a half years police experience. So I leaned first hand what it takes to be a fast-burner. It wasn't my arrest record. It wasn't a high profile case. It wasn't an A-type go-go-go personality or a PhD.
So how does a rookie patrol officer get noticed by Command Staff and promoted to Detective at age 24? It came down to this one simple thing: Being able to WRITE!
More than 50% of the radio calls handled by Patrol Division result in a report. Those reports are what initiate the investigations assigned to Detectives. In other words, those reports are your work product. So the first thing the Detective Bureau looks for in the applicants aspiring to join their ranks is "Does this officer write like a Detective?"
It wasn't until I began authoring search warrants and investigative follow-up reports that it dawned on me just how far my writing may go. It wasn't just my Sergeant reading my work. My report detailing a confession or my search warrant affidavit gets read by every attorney involved in the subsequent trial. My written words could potentially land upon the bench of the Supreme Court. (To my knowledge, they haven't. But that is something I keep in mind every time I am writing.). That's how high the stakes are when it comes to writing as a Detective.
I have no doubt that you, the Writer reading this, write at or above a "Detective's level." This very fact puts you that much closer to writing a convincing detective story. Never underestimate the power of strong English skills. After all, the Constitution was once just a blank piece of parchment paper.
5/16/2015 0 Comments
You may notice that my Twitter handle has changed to match the new name of the website: www.writersdetective.com and @WritersDetctive. If you already follow me on Twitter, the change occurred automatically. However, if you see the @LETechAdvisor twitter username anywhere, the link won't be good anymore. I hate to have to change things, but I felt the new URL an easier name for anyone trying to type it out. Just like removing a Band-Aid, it's best to just get it over with as quickly as possible.
In much more interesting news, I wanted to share a short article I found at theguardian.com interviewing LAPD Detective Christopher Barling. It's a quick read, but very insightful. Det. Barling supervises the Homicide Unit in LAPD's 77th Division. You can follow him on Twitter: @77thHomicideCop
It’s a familiar scene: A dead body is on the floor, blood spatter is everywhere, and spent shell casings are strewn about the room.
The first police officer on scene checks the area for the shooter: GOA (glossary link)
The officer then checks the victim for a pulse: DRT (glossary link)
This is a murder scene.
The crime scene is locked down, the yellow tape goes up, and Homicide Detectives are called. So what happens next?
Before CSI swabs a single blood droplet or a Homicide Detective opens a single drawer, your Detective needs a warrant.
I know what you’re thinking: But this is a homicide scene!
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Mincey v. Arizona that even though a homicide occurred inside a building, it does NOT give law enforcement carte blanche to search the premises for evidence beyond what is in plain view.
In other words, if investigators want to search beyond what is immediately visible, (things like bullets stuck in walls, blood spatter behind a bookcase, or looking in drawers, etc.) they need a search warrant. To further bolster the warrant argument, the Court ruled that it was NOT reasonable for law enforcement to freeze the crime scene for hours and hours or to bring in scientific experts (that aren’t sworn law enforcement officers) without a warrant.
Meet the “Mincey Warrant.” It’s a relatively short, fill-in-the-blank search warrant for a crime scene. To see what a real one looks like, I’ve posted the Mincey Warrant used in the Sandy Hook homicide on my Resources page.
Pages 5 through 8 are the Detective’s “affidavit” (or application for the warrant.)
Page 10 is the actual “search warrant” (the order issued by the Judge.)
Further down on my Resources page, you will find more information on Mincey Warrants and the reasoning behind the Supreme Court’s decision.
The next time YOUR Detective responds to a crime scene, consider mentioning the Mincey Warrant to add a bit of realism to your story.
So at this point, the Mincey Warrant has been approved and your investigative team can go into the scene and do all the CSI processing you’ve seen on TV.
But what’s it really like in the crime scene? The image you probably have in your mind is one of important looking people doing important things all over the place: blood spatter experts readying their swabs, CSI photographers photo-documenting everything, ballistics experts plucking rounds from walls and plotting trajectory angles, detectives in suits with little blue booties on their shoes trying not to disturb anything, maybe even a uniformed officer standing at the entrance to the scene with a clipboard. This familiar scene absolutely occurs in real life, but it’s not what the crime scene initially looks or feels like.
Remember in the beginning of this scene (before the Mincey Warrant) where we talked about the scene being locked down and yellow tape going up? That lock down is a time-out; everything stops.
What you don’t see on TV is what it’s like to be the first one back inside the crime scene. It can be very surreal, like you are stepping around inside a photograph.
I remember the scene of an Officer Involved Shooting where officers engaged multiple suspects in a gunfight as the robbers fled from a jewelry store robbery. The battle occurred in the front yards of a residential street, after the officers’ foot pursuit of the suspects led them into a neighborhood of small houses with decent sized front lawns.
It was after dark when I arrived. The entire street was locked down. Our CSI team had already set up spotlights on tripods, illuminating part of the street like a night game on a football field.
Our CSI team was short-handed that night, so I was assisting the CSI photographer by “painting with light” the areas not lit by the spotlights.
The CSI photographer and I were the only two inside the scene, which was literally an entire city block.
As I slowly moved around the scene with a light source, the CSI photographer kept the shutter on her camera open to capture as much detail as possible.
Everything behind the yellow crime scene tape was in an eerie, real-life, freeze-frame. Time seemed to stop.
A police car was stopped halfway on a lawn with its front doors open. A police motorcycle was on its side in the middle of the street. Spent shell casings were strewn about the street and sidewalk. A jewelry thief lay dead on a front lawn. The only things that seemed to move and make sound were the emergency lights from the police car and police motorcycle. As the police car’s light-bar whirred and clicked, its lights danced across the trees and houses. Everything else in the previously chaotic scene was perfectly still.
How will you capture the surreal feeling of frozen time when your Detective first enters a crime scene?
(From my guest-post in Author Sue Coletta's award winning crimewritersblog.com)
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