L.J. Sellers, best-selling author of The Detective Jackson Mysteries, shared with us six things she learned about police work, while conducting research for her series. Learn more
The best part about writing police procedurals is listening to law enforcement personnel describe their work and tell their favorite on-the-job stories. Even better is getting to participate in some of their activities. Here are eight things I’ve learned:
1. Forensic work sometimes resembles home life. The processing bay, where technicians fingerprint cars, ATM machines, and other big items looks a lot like a homeowner's garage, complete with a little blue kiddie swimming pool. And inside the lab, there’s a refrigerator, where they hold many things, including entomology evidence (dead flies), and a shower for rising off chemicals.
2. Patrol officers are adrenaline junkies. Just being in a police car in the middle of the night watching for suspicious activity is a rush. I realized this when I did a ridealong. When the officer spotted a drunk driver and chased her at high speeds, with lights and sirens blazing—I thought my heart would burst with adrenaline. I asked the officer what it was like for him after years on the job, and he admitted that cops are all adrenaline junkies.
3. Detectives have less fun. I once had an opportunity to attend a homicide scene, and became giddy with excitement—a true “Castle” moment. But when I arrived, the detectives were all standing around, eating pizza. The reality of processing homicide scenes is much more tedious than you’d expect. It takes about six hours to collect all the evidence, map the coordinates, and interview witnesses. A detective told me they once spent two days in a victim’s house, looking for clues. But they never found any, and the case is still unsolved.
4. Don’t judge a scene by its blood. Another homicide detective told a story of arriving at scene where a man was dead on the floor in a pool of blood. In fact, blood was everywhere in the room, and they thought a horrific murder had taken place. After investigating, they learned the man had had a heart attack—and a bloody nose at the same time. He’d paced the room, spraying blood everywhere, then finally collapsed.
5. Dusting for fingerprints requires a vacuum. Or more specifically, a downdraft table, where technicians use various colors of powder to process fingerprints. The downdraft sucks up the excess powder, which would otherwise go everywhere. I learned this during a tour of the crime lab.
6. Superglue is a crime-fighting essential. Technicians don't really use superglue, only one of its chemical components, cyanoacetate. They put evidence into what they call the superglue chamber, then release steam and cyanoacetate to form a coating all over the objet. The coating reveals latent fingerprints when it hardens.