Criminal Investigation, Vollmer

Our author of this section, August Vollmer, was the former chief of Berkeley, California and a past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. This is another dry section so I’ll breeze through some of it.
Vollmer seems to be very partial to the old school Detective work. He stressed that a detective well versed in his knowledge of people can far outweigh a scientist with their detailed analysis of evidence. However, he continues by saying one, with the other, is the best possible scenario. A detective who refuses to advance his knowledge of new techniques is an ineffective as an old Doctor who refuses to read new research and procedures. Vollmer details 45 steps to ensure a thorough investigation. I’ll summarize them and we’ll see how many of those steps apply today, 75 years later.
1. Initiate investigation ASAP after crime.
2. Note your arrival time and all weather conditions.
3. Call for backup and assistance if required.
4.Remain calm, take your time, and evaluate the scene.
5. Identify your witnesses, get their info, and kick them out of the scene.
6. Tape off the scene to maintain the scene integrity.
7. Avoid preconceived notions about the crime and its cause.
8. Consider the simplest explanation and refrain from wild theories.
9. He refers to this as a GOLDEN RULE: Never disturb ANYTHING in the crime scene until it has been minutely described in your report.
10. Vollmer explains that there are always plenty of clues and that a dedication to finding them and associating those clues with witness statements will be the best basis for theories and conclusions.
11. Finally, we interview the witnesses. He stresses the importance of recording their exact wording. Disregard any witnesses who can only provide hearsay evidence. Know that this will likely not be the last interview, if the crime is significant enough to warrant such detailed investigation. Interview witnesses separate from each other. (Modern recording devices can help us immensely. I couldn’t imagine having to take such extensive notes every single time!)
12. Allow the witness to tell the story how they want. When they’re done, attempt to isolate “The Who, what, where, with what, why, how, and when.” Do this for every person the witness mentions.
13. Follow up interviews should be conducted in a more relaxed environment. Witness statements should be checked for accuracy and then signed.
14. If the witness mentions time, check their ability to accurately tell time. If they mention duration, use a timepiece to determine their ability to approximate. If they mention distance, check their estimations. If they describe height, check their estimates against known heights. These are all done to ensure credibility of the witness.
15. In interviewing suspects, their exact wording is again important. Don’t interrupt their train of thought. When they’ve finished, then it’s time to hit them with questions. Verifying their time, distance, and other perceptions is again important.
16. Vollmer harps on the important of suspect statements being made freely and voluntarily. Written 24 years before Miranda vs Arizona, courts were already looking at the importance of the conditions under which confessions were garnered. Vollmer stresses the inability to use threats, force or violence, nor promises of leniency can be used. The preferred confession is one in the suspects handwriting, signed by the suspect. He mentions one thing I’d never considered and that was having the suspect read and sign pages of transcription of the interview/interrogation. I suppose this was done to document the entire interrogation process. Video recordings have alleviated this need.
17. After a prelim exam of the scene and initial witness statements are obtained, move on to a cautious exam of the scene.
18. This point focuses on developing a way of examining crime scenes and not deviating from that method. This ensured a methodical search of every scene without question. Examine EVERYTHING and then look up and examine the scene above.
19. If you notice it, document it. And then sketch it’s location.
20. Measure distances of items found from a fixed point so that the scene can be reconstructed. Modern crime scene laser mapping can alleviate a lot of this work.
21. Take as much care in finding exonerating information or information that might indicate a crime has NOT been committed.
22. Don’t touch anything until everything has been documented, described and mapped. Document everything even if it doesn’t seem to support the developing theories.
23. If you can’t draw it, sketch it, or photograph, provide a written detail of the circumstances.
24. If the scene has been altered, document the alteration, and document it as it is now. Explain in later reports why the change occurred and by who’s hand.
25. A Chinese proverb says: “The eyes see only what they look for, and mood for what is already in the mind.” Examine the scene with an open mind and without distraction.
26. Use compass directions to identify locations of objects and document position, class, quantity, form, dimension, direction, style, and color of located items.
27. For exterior scenes, including vehicle accidents, maps and sketches with details of distances becomes even more important. Include tire marks, road marks, and other information that might not be present in an indoor scene.
28. Begin to take your investigation from the “general” level to a “particular” level.
29. Dead bodies: Document exact position. If dismembered, more detail must be included as to position, distance, and condition of each separate part. Document style of dress from head to toe. The author acknowledges that this section cannot hope to be an exhaustive source of dead body exam info. He summarized that every detail of the body, the surrounding area, and any visible evidence should be documented exhaustively and with photographs.
30. Take exhaustive photos of points of injury.
31. Document any changes to the body that occurred after officer arrival but before the investigation began.
32. Again, he stresses the all-inclusivity of the investigation. Care should be taken when interacting with the body due to concerns of contamination.
33. This point covers fingernail scrapings, blood Analysis, fingerprinting, and other things that hopefully are handled outside of your investigations division now.
34. After you’ve examined the body, another round of photographs should be taken.
35. Take casts of injuries.
36-41. All of these pertain to the effective collection of evidence, securely packaging, sealing, and marking them as you go. Also document who packaged and when.
42. Follow-up and make sure those non-Police investigators follow proper evidence collection procedure so as not to destroy evidence.
43. This covered the collection of evidence from arrested suspects. It also covers the importance of knowing you limits as an investigators. Ptah Hotep, prime minister to Egypt’s King in 2880 BC said, “It is a foolish thing to speak with authority on every kind of work.”
44. “There is a clue to every crime; finding it proves whether the investigator is a professional or an amateur.” Sometimes, the only clue is the MO (modus operandi) of the criminal. If no physical evidence is present, much can still be gathered from witnesses, style of crime, circumstances of how and when the crime was committed, and other non physical clues.
45. The final report should a description of the investigators procedures and perceptions, but using only facts. Follow that with suspect and witness statements, preferably signed, descriptions of all evidence, then describe any property involved starting with identifiable and moving to non-identifiable items. End with the best suspect information available, and descriptions of the MO. Finally, the detective can end the report with conclusions, interpretations and recommendations. Supplements will be required and expected unless the case is solved immediately.

Man, that was a dry read. I might start skipping parts. Not many reads on these but I find it interesting. Thoughts? Opinions? Should I cover every chapter? Just the best ones? Who decides what’s most interesting.

What tools does your department use to ease the burden of exhaustive investigation? What tools do you recommend? What courses have you attended that have helped you investigate more effectively?

Like, comment, share, send me a message to shut the hell up. I’m always up for a discussion!


Introduction to Scientific Crime Detection, Perkins

Man, this is a dry chapter for anyone who isn’t really into this stuff. Even the dog fell asleep before I could finish it. I will hit on a few interesting points, but most of it is stuff you probably learned in a college law enforcement course.
Perkins addresses how criminals throughout history have usually stuck to one type of crime. Pickpockets keep pick-pocketing. Forgers keep forging. Burglars keep burgling. As an early means of identifying criminals, police of the past would initially reference their know criminals file to start their search. They were called “modus operandi” files. Alias files were eventually developed. John Dillinger, for example, went by John Hall at times. Eventually, fingerprint technology reached a point where individuals were identified solely by their loops, whorls, and ridges. Perkins explains that in 1940, the FBI already had 14,000,000 fingerprint files. Not 14,000,000 fingers. 14 MILLION SETS. He notes that back then every time the FBI received a new set of prints, a special light would flash. At certain points of the day, the flash would occur so frequently, the flashing light provided enough consistent light one could read a book by its glow alone. Back to Dillinger, when he was arrested, his dead body was fingerprinted. At the center of all of his prints was a small blank space. He had attempted to burn the prints off with acid. Enough remained of each finger to make a positive identification.
Despite being written 75 years ago, I was impressed to see how much of the old ways are still important. The firearm and bullet examination, polygraph, powder burns, handwriting and typewriter analysis, and burglary tool examination methods are all still used in some variation or other today.
Perkins details the kidnapping and murder of a young Bobby Franks in the early part of this century. Two men, Loed and Leopold had planned the perfect crime to get ransom money. Going so far as to pre typing their ransom notes and then disassembling and destroying the typewriter so as not to be tracked, they also stalked their target and stole a car. But on the day of their crime, their target had an appointment they hadn’t planned for. They kidnapped Franks instead. With no intention of ever getting caught because of a witness statement, they killed and dumped Bobby at their earliest convenience. Almost getting caught because one of the young men left his glasses near the dead body, they were eventually caught because they had to rewrite an envelope because the original ransom note was addressed to the first boys father. Thinking he was clever, Loeb tried to disguise his handwriting when asked to provide a sample. He changed how he wrote a “c” and a “y” in the word “city” hoping to throw off the detectives. He was caught when the distinctive way he wrote the “it” stood out. Loeb and Leopold eventually confessed to the brutal killing.
I warned you it was dry. And I spared you the most boring parts. Perkins ends with this: “While the scientific crime detection laboratory is an invaluable aid, the peace officer himself is still the backbone of law enforcement.” Hear that fellas? The backbone!

What are some old school methods you still use today? Keeping in mind this was written prior to DNA, what do you think will be the next major development in crime scene analysis? Come back next time for Part III: Criminal Investigation.


Jeff Lemire Art and signed prints

So, I make what every cop makes. Not enough being a single Dad and bills stacking up. But man, when I see a Jeff Lemire art print for 20 bucks, I get it. I bought most of this from Cadence Comic Art. In fact, there was a shipping error and I think they even added a print or two to make things right. One day I’ll have an original piece to add. I can’t wait to pick it out. Until then, I love seeing my Descender, A.D, and the Lemire Universe on my wall. The Royal City stuff was from a contest I won on Twitter under my personal account. Every piece up there is signed, some more noticeable than others. One day I’ll show some other Lemire pieces I’ve picked up along the way. If you’re not reading what he’s putting out, I highly recommend the stuff he does. Something about his art spoke to me the day I first saw it. And the stories he writes hit me in the heart. Not many books make me feel, but his do. Start with Sweet Tooth, Underwater Welder, or Descender. Move on to A.D. You’ll never regret it. I would be remiss not to mention the beautiful artwork of Dustin Nguyen and the amazing storytelling of Scott Snyder included in these books.


The Beginning of Law Enforcement, Rollin Perkins

Perkins begins by talking about how one day motion pictures with sound effects would become an important part of documenting history. Little did he know just how important video would be to law enforcement in the future. With no video of the beginnings of law enforcement, we have to rely on our minds and imagination to visualize the early days of our profession. He details the “hue and cry” as where it all began. If someone were to discover they were a victim of a theft, they couldn’t phone the police, because of two main problems: they didn’t have phones, and the police didn’t exist. Instead, the victim would alert the village by blowing a horn and shouting “Out! Out!” His neighbors would come from their homes, already armed, to come to his aid even without knowing the circumstances. In the example, a cow has been stolen. A young witness advises he saw a man taking the cow from the village. With this information, the newly formed mob begins a march in the direction the suspect was last seen. They shout. They blow horns. They clang their weapons. Upon reaching a new village, those villagers also come out, armed, ready to assist. The suspects direction is surmised and the now larger group marches on.
—-The authors image presents a few key points. This willingness of neighbors to assist, even before they know the issue is something we have lost over time. People can witness crimes and turn a blind eye. The murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 New York is a prime example. Stabbed and killed outside of her apartment, 35+ people reportedly saw or heard the attack and failed to call the police. It became known as the “bystander effect” or the “Genovese attack.” Although those facts have been disputed over the years, and perhaps people DID report it, many of us in law enforcement have seen time and again people refusing to get involved. This lack of community responsibility has placed more of a burden on the police profession. Another issue raised is the physical fitness of the mob. Once they leave the second village, those less physically fit turn around, leaving the new crew and the more fit of the original crew to continue. I’m not the most physically fit cop around. That being said, a basic level of fitness and a willingness to continue the mission are important not only in the pursuit of justice, but also of utmost importance in not creating more work for our co-workers.
Back to the book:
Perkins addresses the capture of the suspected thief. Spotted in the distance, walking the missing cow, the suspect hears the cries and shouts of the “hue and cry” mob. As they begin to rush him, he flees. The fittest and fastest catch him. There is no “laws delay” in these days. Justice is swift. Appeals are non-existent. For too long, the suspects were presumed to be willing to say anything, to lie because they were obviously protecting their own interests. Refused the right to defend themselves, they had to sit and listen as anyone who had anything to contribute was allowed to build the case against them. In the end, our suspect is hung from the tree. Compared to the all too modern Lynch mobs, the hue and cry was criticized for its focus on justice and inattention to possible innocence. It was ineffective in solving crimes and when they were solved, the question of guilt remained. Was our suspect the actual thief? Was he unwittingly drawn into by the original suspect selling or dumping his ill-gotten goods? Without a process of effective trial, the hue and cry eventually fell from favor.
Centuries later, the “Grand Jury” came to be in the Assize of Clarendon in 1166. An “appeal” in this time was different than we view it today. It was an accusation of a felony. An appeal could be viewed today as charging. Although entitled to a trial, the accused was often only offered trial by combat. Although discarded for centuries, it was not formally abolished until 1819!
—–The Assize of Clarendon. Established by Henry II in the midst of the crusades it attempted to solve many problems. No records were officially maintained as to who owned which properties and disputes were increasing as squatters began to claim supposedly already claimed land. Two warring factions in the kingdom created many property disputes as each faction claimed and dispersed with property they each felt they had a right too. Of extreme importance was the King’s efforts to create a court with authority over the church. The church had been holding court outside of the kingdoms reach. Biased in their rulings, judgements often ran contrary to the kingdoms interests. All of this built the framework for trial systems in common law.
Back to the book:
Perkins described people caught “in seisin of his crime.” Caught red handed, people in the past were denied trials. Ancient tribes, when faced with a tribesman committing evil deeds, were faced with the fear that their god or gods would associate the tribe with the evildoer. To disassociate, they stripped the evil tribesman naked, forced them into exile, and destroyed his home and belongings. Removing all connections, they hoped to avoid any punishment from the gods.
—These outcasts were referred to as “wolf.” They were demonized and could be killed by anyone without repercussion. I found it interesting that even centuries or millennia ago, they referred to their societies worst members as “wolves.” Dave Grossman’s sheep/sheepdog/wolf analogy may be rooted more in history than analogy than I previously thought.
Back to the book:
Perkins describes a process of “exacting.” Rather than the arduous process of arrest, a suspect was accused and indicted in 4 successive county courts. He was expected to appear at one of the courts to face the accusation and defend himself. If at the 5th hearing, the accused failed to show, he was stripped of property and lands, and if later captured, his guilt was presumed and his trip to the gallows was expedited. The main drawback was that one might be facing indictment and miss all 5 court dates without ever hearing of his indictment. If sentenced in absence, and never found, he was essentially “dead” in the courts eyes and could never own property again.
Prior to many of these advancements in law enforcement, sheriffs, bailiffs, and constables were tasked with leading the hue and cry mobs. They evolved with the times into more of what we recognize today. Arrest and detention has become an official responsibility. Not until 1829 did Sir Robert Peel form his “Bobbies.” The London Police had been formed.
Moving to America
Massachusetts 1699 saw the formation of a “watch” to keep the area safe from 9pm until sunrise. The “ward” was responsible for the daytime hours. Able bodied men, 16 years and older, rotated the responsibility without compensation. Eventually paid men took the duties. Not until 1884 did New York authorize the consolidation of watch and ward to form the first modern police force.

Is there a time in history you wish you could be a cop? Are you thankful for the advancements we’ve made? Should the hue and cry come back? Like, comment, share, message. I’d love a discussion.


Elements of Police Science

As an avid reader, a student of history, and a police officer, I find myself interested in reading the history of policing. Part of my police memorabilia collection, I acquired a book called Elements of Police Science, by Rollin Perkins. It’s from 1942. That’s 75 years ago! In the coming weeks, I’d like to cover different topics addressed in the book and counter it with some modern perspective. Maybe we can learn a thing or two. Maybe we’ll uncover a long lost secret of law enforcement. Either way, stick with me and hopefully we can all come out a little better than we are today.
I’ll start with a summary of the preface:

The author, Rollin Perkins, describes policing as “the regulation and control of a community especially with reference to the maintenance of public order, safety, health, and morals.” 75 years later, I think it’s safe to say our primary goal is still regulating public order and safety. Health and morals have somewhat moved out of our realm. Morals have become uncontrollable and nobody wants to hear about health from a cop. The author iterates that no other profession is of more vital importance to a community.
While most of us today would groan when we walk in anywhere and hear someone loudly say, “Here comes THE LAW,” or even worse, “They’re here for YOU, Bob!” it was thought of as an expression of confidence in the police by those who supported law and order.
Perkins, in 1942, refers to an “old notion” of police as bullies using loud voices and force to keep people in their place. In his time, he describes the friendly picture of cops helping old ladies across streets, giving motorists directions, or as youth coaches. The badge and uniform were “an emblem of honor.” It begs the questions: has the world changed or have we changed? Both? Will we see a return to this simpler time?
Perkins addresses cops who have tarnished the badge. Comparing them to members of clergy who have disgraced the profession, he uses an interesting phrase. He states they “forgot themselves.” How many officers have had their careers destroyed by them “forgetting themselves,” and making horrible decisions? Apparently in 1942, much like today, one bad officer was capable of destroying the reputation of many. He ends with “The officer and the law-abiding citizen must be firm allies in the war on crime if there is to be real efficiency in the enforcement of law.”
Perkins continues by addressing education in law enforcement. It’s apparent this book was written prior to extensive training and education for cops. Individual departments were setting up their own schools and state wide special courses were beginning to make an appearance. He states “Experience has shown, let it be added, that the officer is peculiarly eager to obtain the information needed for the most effective performance of his duties.” I think this is still the case and educational and training opportunities should be the crave of every officer. Perkins details the key expectations for officers of the period.
Criminal Law
First aid
Scientific crime detection, at a basic level enough to know which expert to call
Firearms proficiency
Proper courtroom testimony
—-I have to expound on this. “The work of the modern police officer requires many contacts with persons not of the criminal class; and the impressions he makes as a result of these contacts may determine to a large degree whether or not the average citizen is to have due respect for the law itself.” Although last on his list, I think it deserves more attention. I’ve always thought that every police contact provides an officer the opportunity to build a friendship, and alliance, or at the very least, chip away at some level of bad blood. Being a jerk, or rude, can provide the exact opposite reaction.
Perkins predicts the growth of police academies and the licensing of police officers. He felt police of the future would require education and training on par with doctors and lawyers. He really missed the mark on that one. There was concern in ’42 that the old cops would be replaced by the new guys with their new training. He assured the readers then they’d be safe, and that only NEW officers would be required to have these new levels of training.
In 1942, educational materials on police matters were few and far between. It was taken less seriously, because being a cop was not considered a profession. People would work as a cop to make money and then move on to another job. The author encourages communities and officers alike to hold law enforcement in higher esteem. Once viewed as a profession, Perkins predicted a boom in books and materials. Although he saw a need for officers to specialize, he still saw the importance in education in police basics.
“Let it be admitted quite frankly that no one book will fill this need.”
Hopefully this preface summary has you interested in learning about policing in the 1940’s. I truly hope we can all learn something.

Please comment or message any lessons you learned from old-timers. Any opinions on this summary? I love discussion. What major changes are you expecting to see in the last 75 years? Think I should cram the book where the sun don’t shine and focus on the future of law enforcement and not the past? Share it!