Monday, August 24, 2015

Writers' Police Academy - Day 2 (Friday)

Friday was the first full day of WPA and our first look at our new facility, Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center. Whew, that was a mouthful!

Here's how my day shook out:

Crime Lab/Fingerprints, AFIS and Latent Print Development (Instructor: Tim Judas)
There was a bit of a mixup with this one, as we'd been led to understand during orientation that this session would focus on DNA and crime labs in general, however the instructor was under the impression that it was supposed to be about fingerprinting, which is his forte. I took fingerprinting classes at a previous WPA (including lifting my own prints), so I wasn't really looking to take it again, but this class focused more on how AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Information Systems) worked. I learned a few things I hadn't picked up in previous classes:
  • AFIS doesn't actually read the prints themselves, but uses algorithms to search for possible matches. So when AFIS gets a hit on a print, it isn't necessarily a perfect match (like you see on TV) but a possible match. It's up to the AFIS fingerprint tech to check to see if the print is actually a match. Take that, CSI!
  • For purposes of printing, palms are divided into three sections: Interdigital (the top of the palm, from the lower horizontal crease up to the base of the fingers), Thenar (the lower half of the palm on the thumb side) and Hypothenar (the lower half of the palm on the pinkie finger side).
  • Judas said he has seen images that look like smiley and frowny faces within prints. He said it's pretty creepy to see a smiley face when you know you're looking at a print from a suspect in a violent crime.
  • During gestation, fingerprints can start to develop as early as ten weeks, or finally form as late as 24 weeks. 
  • Family members can have similar prints. Identical twins have identical DNA but not identical prints.

From Crime Scene to Autopsy (Instructor: Coroner Amanda Thoma)
This session really packed the room. I spent it sitting on a ledge along the room's windows because all the seats were taken by the time I got there.
  • There are five types of death that a coroner will certify: Natural, Accidental, Suicide, Homicide and Undetermined.
  • She always introduces herself to a decedent before she starts working on him/her. She feels that they need to be shown respect because, although deceased, she still thinks of them as human beings.
  • Despite what you've seen on TV and in movies, Vicks doesn't help hold off the stench of death. It actually opens up nasal passages, which kind of defeats the purpose of trying to avoid the smell.
  • She confirmed that a mass of writhing maggots sounds like Rice Krispies (snap, crackle, pop).
  • No surprise here: notifications are the worst part of the job. She's seen a variety of responses: crying, screaming, fainting, shock and being nearly attacked. When asked how she handles it, she said she doesn't take it personally and stays in what they refer to as "business mode".

How to Write a Killer Query (Instructor: Janet Reid, Literary Agent with FinePrint Literary Management)
Janet Reid is a literary agent extraordinaire with FinePrint Literary Management in NYC. Her highly entertaining session on the do's and don'ts of query letters can be found on her highly popular blog Query Shark

Bloodstain Pattern Investigations & Techniques (Instructor: Dan Feucht)
We happily donned protective gear to swab and test blood samples to determine if they were in fact, blood. We got blood!
  • DNA from co-mingled blood can be separated and identified.
  • Bone marrow recipients, hermaphrodites and individuals suffering from Chimerism will have two separate sets of DNA. 
  • Currently, identical twins will test as having identical DNA, but scientists are only a few years out from being able to identify differences in their DNA profiles.
  • Skunks and ferret blood will test as human. Hey, that's what the man said.
  • On the subject of luminol: yes, bleach will clean up most of the blood, but it also reacts to luminol, so it's obvious there was a clean-up. Hydrogen peroxide is even better than bleach for eliminating blood. Febreeze will also react strongly to luminol, even where there wasn't blood.
The kit. That smear on the cap is what
we're testing for blood.
The results. Green means positive for blood!
The lab. I'm hidden, find me!
Various types of spatter.
This guy, I want his shirt.

Kids Who Kill and Why (Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
I'm not particularly interested in killer kids, but Dr. Ramsland has no peer when it comes to unusual killers and crimes.
  • An important part of studying child/adolescent crime is that you need to understand that their brains have not completely developed and they tend to not understand the lifelong consequences of their crimes. They also tend to only look at things from their own points of view.
  • Some examples of behaviors of concern: Lying, blaming others, avoiding responsibility, avoiding goals, keeping secrets, lack of empathy, exploiting the weaknesses of others. 
  • Some of the youthful offenders discussed: Andrew Conley, Robert and Michael Bever, Tyler Hadley, the Slender Man stabbing and Kip Kinkel
I'm in the process of uploading pics from the event to Flickr. You can see them here.

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