Monday, September 9, 2013

Writers' Police Academy Day 1 (Part 2) - Mass Shooters, Driving Simulator, DNA

What I learned at WPA:

Conducting Threat Assessment of Pre-Incident Mass Shooters (Instructor: Secret Service Special Agent (ret.) Mike Roche)
  • Mass shooter profile: Age 16-88, 89% male, 87% Caucasian, 87% have education of high school or beyond.
  • School mass shooter profile: Age 11-21, almost 100% male, 76% Caucasian, 63% from two-parent families, 5% failing in school and have exhibited behavior that causes concern.  A vast majority are fans of violent video games.  
  • These are not people who just snapped.  There is a discernible path of violence leading to the act (these are not crimes of passion).  Their actions are well-planned, including attempts to acquire weapons.
  • Possible motive: Avenging a perceived wrong, or bringing attention to a perceived problem. Example: Christopher Dorner and his grievances with the LAPD.
  • Possible motive: Fame: Arthur Bremer, who shot then-presidential candidate George Wallace, wanted to take down President Richard Nixon, but Nixon's security was too tight.  Bremer lamented that he wouldn't be as famous for shooting Wallace instead of Nixon.
  • Possible motive: Personal revenge. In the case of school shooters, the student often feels like an outsider, may have been bullied and resents his more popular and well-adjusted classmates.
  • Some background/personal circumstances: Depression, suicidal, a major loss or life change, stalking/harassment.  Cyber bullying has become an issue the past few years, and part of the reason it's a major problem is that it's 24/7 - there's no getting away from it.

Driving Simulator
I thought this was going to be a police pursuit simulator, but it turned out to be a fire engine.  The instructor gave me a brief run through and then I had to drive the simulated beast to a scene.  I don't know how they drive those things - it felt more like I was wrestling with it than driving it.  Part of it is you have to maneuver around traffic and when you come up on cars you have to make a judgement call as to whether or not they're going to pull over like they're supposed to, or if you need to go around them.  I took out a couple of vehicles, but eventually made it to the scene.

The Science (and Pseudo Science) of DNA Profiling (Instructor: Dr. Dan Krane)
This presentation had a lot of scientific aspects that were way above my head (and, I suspect, a lot of others) but also provided a lot of usable info that could be used in stories. Dr. Krane is one of the top DNA experts in the world and we were fortunate to have him with us.
  • DNA is a relatively new tool in solving crimes.  The first time it was used in a court case was in the late 1980's.  Dr. Krane first testified in court as a DNA expert in January, 1991.
  • Just because DNA is present does not mean a crime has been committed.  The presence of DNA does not establish the time frame or circumstance under which it got there.  An example would be in the case of sexual activity - the presence of DNA itself does not determine if it was consensual or rape.  DNA can also be planted (innocently or otherwise), contaminated or misinterpreted.
  • Although a DNA match is not necessarily a 100% guaranteed match, the odds of another, random person having the same DNA is 1 in 79,531,528,960,000,000 (about 1 in 80 quadrillion).  This has proven to be good enough for juries, who tend to accept a solid DNA match as irrefutable proof.
If you're interested in the subject, Dr. Krane's website has a ton of information.

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