Consultant for writers on crime, police, & court procedures.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

THE FBI, SWAT, AND CSI


If your novel features law enforcement officers, consider the size and responsibilities of their organization. The size will determine the capabilities of the agency and its officers. Ninety percent of the law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have less than 25 officers. A department with less than 100 officers probably does not have full-time "CSI" technicians nor a full-time SWAT team. Those are usually secondary duties for patrol officers and detectives in addition to their primary responsibilities. Most detectives are going to process their own crime scenes--"CSI" units only exist in large departments and extremely well financed ones.

 

A common mistake in mysteries and suspense novels is using the FBI to investigate the murder. The FBI does not routinely investigate murders--the rare exception would be a violation of federal law. The FBI does not have the authority to take over murder cases. Not even serial killings. 99.9% of all U.S. murders are investigated by local police. In 40+ years in law enforcement, maybe a half dozen of the thousands of cases and arrests I participated in also involved the FBI.  It happens more often in fiction than real life.  The FBI has its own federal investigations to worry about.

 

Now, if you need a character to pair up with a local detective, use a county sheriff's deputy, state police investigator, or whatever state enforcement agency exists in your state. While that's also rare, it occurs occasionally. The odds your local cop will partner up with a fed is slim to none. It just doesn't happen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

MORE THAN JUST CONSULTING

While most writers seek us out for help with matters involving the police, crime, and criminal procedure, we also perform copy editing or line editing on manuscripts.


Copyediting addresses technical flaws. Some call it an incredibly high-end proofread. As part of copyediting, we check:
grammar
punctuation
spelling
word usage
awkward phrases
missing words
typos
repetition
story details
tight writing
detecting ambiguous statements
checking internal consistency
Internal consistency means your plot, setting, and character traits do not change. For example, if you write on page 26 that Tim has a blue truck and then on page 32, the truck is now red, that's a lack of consistency. You might be surprised how often we see mistakes like that.
Line editing involves the manuscript's content and writing style on the sentence and paragraph level. It examines how you communicate the story--how you use language. Some of the issues we look for include:
confusing scenes
opportunities for tighter language
content that does not flow
unclear meaning
opportunities to omit needless words
awkward writing


We give you "two for one" by ensuring your details on crime, criminals, the police, and the criminal justice system are accurate and plausible while providing editing of your manuscript. We work hard so our clients are always satisfied with both aspects of our efforts.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

USING ONLINE INTERVIEWS TO PROMOTE YOUR WORK

An online audio interview is one way to publicize your book. Our client Susannah Sandlin describes her latest here including how we helped her with the law enforcement aspects of the book.



http://www.blogtalkradio.com/circle-of-seven/2016/04/20/book-lights-with-debra-parmley-presents-susannah-sandlin

Saturday, January 23, 2016

TASERS and other ECDS

I've written about TASERS and similar weapons in the past but after reading a suspense novel this week, it's time to mention them again.  

The book was great.  Well-developed characters with a plausible yet suspenseful story line.  The police procedures were portrayed accurately, but for one thing. The writer made the same mistake I have seen in three other novels in the last two years.  The hero is zapped with a "stun gun" which immediately knocks him unconscious.

Does't happen, folks.  Stun guns, or more properly, "electronic control devices" (ECDs) are extremely painful but they don't bring on a loss of consciousness.  And once the current stops, there is no further pain or discomfort.  When the current stops, the effect stops.
An ECD causes all loss of muscle control, so the person usually falls to the floor.  Then, during the moments when the person is still disoriented and in fear of another 'zap,' he can be contained, handcuffed, or whatever.

Less-lethal weapons like the TASER are frequently used by law enforcement agencies to overcome suspect resistance. They have saved the lives of officers and suspects alike. Agencies equipped with TASERs have seen a significant decrease in officer and suspect injuries. I often convinced a combative suspect to surrender merely by shining the TASER’s red laser aiming dot on his chest. TASER (all caps) is a trademarked brand name of a specific electronic control device.  The acronym stands for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle.  While it is the best known ECD, there are other brands. Some models are marketed only to law enforcement; others are available to civilians.  The term "stun gun" is not used in law enforcement to describe these weapons.

If you need to knock your character unconscious, perhaps consider having his head hit something hard when he's targeted with a "stun gun."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

PRAISE FOR WRITECRIMERIGHT.COM

We have to share the kind words of one of our clients. Suzanne Johnson has started a new suspense series featuring Louisiana game wardens.  If you want a change from suspense novels starring big city cops or FBI agents, this may be the book for you.  Here's what she has to say after WriteCrimeRight analyzed her manuscript:

"I can't think of any area as difficult for novelists to 'get right' as the complexities of law enforcement. Thanks to WriteCrimeRight and Wesley Harris's consulting work on my upcoming series, I feel confident that everything from the weapons used to the investigative procedures and officers' reactions feel authentic. I can't recommend his work highly enough."
                      --Suzanne Johnson/Susannah Sandlin, award-winning author for Tor Books and Montlake Romance and author of the upcoming Wildlife Agents series from Montlake.

We will post the name and availability of the book once it is released.  Thanks, Suzanne, and good luck with the new series.

Monday, March 9, 2015

WE ANSWER QUESTIONS--A FALSE CONVICTION?

Here's a brief exchange with a writer via social media that illustrates how we can help with a crime story.  This writer's dilemma dealt with understanding how procedure would work in an unusual scenario:


Q:  I have a scenario I want to run by someone knowledgeable in criminal law or law enforcement. It has to do with what is done legally when someone is convicted of a murder and serving time but someone else steps forward and confesses to doing the deed. Is there a hearing? Is the new party immediately arrested? Is he or she arrested only if there's enough evidence to arrest? (False confessions do take place.) What if the crime is so old that it lacks sufficient evidence? On TV, of course, you typically see the new party being led away in handcuffs as if it's a done deal. 

WriteCrimeRight:  The first step would be for the police to question this person to determine if the confession is legitimate. A new police investigation would occur, perhaps a very lengthy one.  A confession alone is not enough to convict someone of murder so the police would look for corroborating evidence. In consultation with the prosecutor's office that handled the original case, they would determine if there's enough to charge the person.

The guy in prison is a different matter entirely. The prosecutor would either ask a judge to overturn the conviction if it was believed to be in error, or they may conclude both were involved. If the guy is completely innocent, it would be a rather lengthy process to release him.  But being completely without guilt is a rather long shot as the standard of proof for a murder conviction and hurtling the subsequent appeals is very high.

Q:  What would the evidence need to be to completely overturn a murder conviction? And what wouldn't be good enough?

WriteCrimeRight: That’s hard to say. You could find DNA from the second guy at the scene and that doesn't mean the convicted one wasn't there and wasn't guilty. The only legitimate reversals I've seen were in faulty eyewitness identifications.  The police will not be content with one piece of evidence but  collect as much as possible so a case doesn't hinge on only one thing. You don't want your case relying solely on DNA, solely on one witness, solely on a confession, etc. You want everything you can get. 


This was a brief and public conversation through social media. When you ask us to help with your work in progress, you get detailed personal and confidential attention. Contact us at campruston@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

ABCs of AMMO, BULLETS and CARTRIDGES

Firearms terminology confuses many writers.  Sue Grafton, a superstar in the world of crime fiction, was blasted by many readers when she equipped her private eye Kinsey Millhone with a measly .32 caliber pistol when any self-respecting ex-cop would carry a .357, 9mm, .40 cal—anything but never a .32.

Confusing “revolver” and “pistol” is a classic mistake. Pistol usually refers to any handgun not a revolver, primarily large capacity, semi-automatic handguns.  Having a revolver eject spent shells onto the ground will prompt snorts of derision from educated readers.

The revolver vs. pistol issue was covered in an earlier blog post, so I’ll move on to some terms related to ammunition that could be used in your story:

Caliber – the dimension of the bullet. Sometimes measured in hundredths of an inch like .38 caliber, sometimes in millimeters (9mm).

Cartridge – complete unfired ammunition consisting of a cartridge case, powder charge, bullet and primer. This is what you load in your firearm. 
common pistol cartridges
Bullet – the projectile attached to the front of a cartridge.  This is what is fired from your firearm.
The bullet is the projectile that is fired at the target. The exterior is often a copper or      
brass jacket covering lead and other metals.

Bullet jacket – the copper or brass outer skin of a jacketed bullet. Sometimes portions of the jacket will fragment off when the bullet strikes an object.






Case - the portion of a cartridge containing the gunpowder. A pistol ejects the case when it is fired. For a revolver, you must physically remove the fired cases from the cylinder to reload. Cases are informally referred to as "hulls" or "brass."

Slug – while sometimes used to refer to a bullet, a slug is a lead projectile fired from a shotgun. Some shotgun shells contain numerous pellets. A slug shell contains only the large lead projectile.
comparison of 00 shotgun shell with slug

“00-buck” shell – shotgun shell referred to as “double ought buck” or “double ought buckshot.” The shotgun shell most commonly used by law enforcement. The shell contains nine .32 caliber lead pellets.

Wad or wadding – plastic, paper, or fiber disk that separates the powder from the shot in a shotgun shell. It is propelled out of the gun along with the pellets, sometimes into the target. The wad only travels a few yards, so drawing a line from the victim back to the wad and extending it will indicate the direction from which the shot was fired.

stippling around entry wound

Stippling – abrasions or ‘tattooing’ produced on the skin by gunpowder when the gun is fired from a short distance.  

GSR – a general term for gunshot (gunpowder) residue. A test for residue is abbreviated GSR.



Powder particles – sometimes visible, unburned gunpowder can be found on the clothing or body of a wounded person.


Magazine – a device for holding cartridges which is inserted into the grip of a pistol.  It is NOT a “clip.”
This is a magazine, not a 'clip.'