Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I have been asked many times what did I consider the most important trait an investigator can possess. After many years in the investigative business, and working with many outstanding police detectives and private investigators, I believe the one trait the best ones all have is persistence. The best way I can describe it is with the technique of canvassing a neighborhood looking for an eyewitness to an incident. It is boring, it is time consuming, and you are constantly going from door to door with negative results. But like I told a client recently, if you find just one eyewitness, you can break your case wide open. If you knock on 49 doors with negative results, you keep going to the 50th one and hope to strike pay dirt. Its going through reams of documents, its spending hours on the phone, it’s pouring through old records and court cases, just looking for that one nugget that will make your case. Its continuing to interrogate a suspect after you haven’t gotten anywhere in 2 hours, and finally asking the right question and getting a confession. Its the plodding, by the numbers, slow and steady investigators that consistently solve cases.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
How do you make yourself blend in to your surroundings? How do you dress if you’re doing foot surveillance or you’re undercover in a specific location and you don’t want to be ‘made’? Most cops who start out in undercover work immediately grow a beard and long hair. It’s almost a dead giveaway, like an undercover uniform. When you see a neatly scrubbed guy with a trimmed beard, long hair, baseball cap, Pendleton shirt and jeans with clean hands and often times a wedding ring in a high crime area, it’s usually a cop.
I got to be good at disguises when I worked Hollywood Vice and other undercover assignments with the LAPD Metropolitan Division. When I started out in plainclothes undercover work I thought, “Where would be the best place to look at lots of people and figure out who didn’t look like a cop?” Answer: The local mall. I would go down there and just sit for an hour or so and watch all the people walk by. I’d take notes on individuals regarding how they dressed, walked and what things they carried. Pretty soon I came up with a number of disguises that I tested in the field. The hardest people to fool in those days were the street walkers in Hollywood, so if I could fool them, I could fool anybody. Here’s a list of just some that I used:
1. Car accident victim-I wore a whiplash neck brace. For added effect, I would put a plaster cast (taped) on my non-shooting hand. If I had someone in the car, I would act like I had difficulty turning my head.
2 .Crutches-I’d practice walking with crutches so I had the gait down. I’d also use a taped on plaster foot cast for added effect.
3. Emergency room scrubs-I put on a pair of scrubs with a stethoscope in my pocket as I drove or walked around.
4. Baseball Uniform-During baseball season I’d put on a baseball uniform and have a bag of bats, balls and a glove or two in the car.
5. Workout clothes-Shorts, sweatshirt or T shirt, towel around the neck and gym bag with a racquetball paddle sticking out. I’d also have a dirty towel along with wet socks and T shirt in the bag.
6. During an interior bank stakeout, I was dressed in a dark suit and tie sitting at a desk in the bank. I had a shotgun between my legs along with a handgun in the wastebasket next to me. I also had another gun on my hip.
7. Passed out drunk-On one occasion I had to be the guarding officer for an undercover female officer on a ‘Trick’ task force. I wore an old watch cap, my old Marine Corps horse blanket overcoat, rubbed in axle grease around my face and hands, rubbed on some cheap wine for aftershave, and for the piece de resistance, mixed wine and oatmeal in a bag and poured it on the ground when I ‘passed out’ just a few feet away from the undercover female on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. Pedestrians literally stepped over me like I was part of the scenery.
8. Homeless-Working undercover with my partner in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, I dressed in an old Navy pea coat, watch cap, unshaven beard, dirty jeans, and carried a sleeping bag tied by some rope over my shoulder. We followed two car burglars for over three hours before they broke into a car and we arrested.
9. Santa Claus outfit-I arrested 4 different prostitutes who propositioned me on Christmas Eve driving around in a Santa Claus outfit. I even put a pillow under my costume to have the fat man look.
Here’s the bottom line regarding disguises; the sky's the limit. Use your imagination and have some fun in the process.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
With the recent death of singer Whitney Houston in Beverly Hills, there has been a rash of media reports regarding the police investigation into the death. Despite the sensational news headlines, celebrity deaths are for the most part, investigated the same way as any other death.
Once the police are notified of a death, the first officers at the scene will initially maintain the location as a possible crime scene. If paramedics arrived first, they will be interviewed as to what they observed and what they did while in the location. Oftentimes they can give a good initial indication as to the possible cause of death. The police will attempt to find out if the decedent had been under the care of a physician for any illnesses or conditions. They will also attempt to identify any possible witnesses (family members, friends, employees etc.) who had access to the decedent just prior to the death.
Once the detectives arrive at the scene, they will conduct an examination of the location for any possible evidence. If a homicide is not readily apparent, they will look at all potential manners of death. In suspected drug related deaths, they’ll be looking for such items as prescription bottles and, or, drug paraphernalia (syringes, narcotics, crack pipes etc). If it appears to be a suicide, they’ll be looking for indications on the body as to the cause of death such as a gunshot wound, ligature markings (hanging), slit wrists etc. They’ll also be looking for the instrument that caused the injury (gun, knife, rope, pills, etc.) along with the proximity of the body to the item(s). Interestingly, many times a suicide decedent does not leave a suicide note, contrary to popular belief.
Photographs of the death scene are usually taken. The detectives will attempt to interview anyone who had recent access to the decedent’s location. If video of the location is available (hotel/motel corridors etc.) they will be reviewed. Here in Los Angeles County, the decedent’s body is not moved by the detectives at the scene. The Coroner’s investigator at the scene maintains control of the body. He or she is the one that does a detailed examination of the body at the scene with the detectives closely looking on.
If the cause of death is not readily apparent (natural, suicide, accidental, homicide) the case is considered undetermined until an autopsy is conducted. Oftentimes the coroner’s office will hold off on a final determination of the cause of death until the toxicological results for drug analysis come back. This usually takes approximately thirty days. Here in Los Angeles County, the coroner’s office is the one that makes the final decision on the cause of death.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
While I was in the LAPD Police Academy, they would have role playing situations for the recruits where they would have staff personnel acting as suspects in field situations. On this one day, we were doing vehicle pullovers. The first recruit officer went through his run and then returned to our group with a quizzical look on his face. We all asked him how it went. He said, “You’re not going to believe this, but the driver of the car was Eddie Haskell, the real Eddie Haskell, and he talked and acted just like him.” Eddie Haskell was the character on the TV show ‘Leave it to Beaver’ when we were kids. Haskell was the guy who was overly polite to everyone’s parents and was mean and ornery behind their backs. Everybody of my generation remembered him.
We all thought the first guy was hallucinating until it was our turn. Sure enough, it really was Eddie Haskell. Well, actually, it was LAPD Officer Ken Osmond, the actor who played the character of Eddie Haskell in the show. After the show had its full run, he had joined the LAPD. At the time I was in the academy, he was one of the staff instructors. He looked exactly as he did when he was on TV. He later became a motorcycle officer with the department. Can you imagine getting pulled over by a motor officer and getting a traffic ticket and looking up and seeing it was Eddie Haskell! I’m sure he had a lot of funny stories as to how people reacted to him when he cited them.
The dangers of police work caught up to Ken Osmond. He went in foot pursuit of a suspect who shot him three times. Two shots hit him in the chest, but luckily he was wearing a bullet proof vest. The third shot ricocheted off of his belt buckle and he survived. He eventually retired from the job.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
What do you do when you lose your Subject? Believe me; if you do enough surveillances, it’s inevitably going to happen. Especially on one person vehicle surveillances, there is no margin of error. Sometimes you don’t make it through a red light, or the Subject’s vehicle makes a lane change and you’re suddenly cut off, or traffic swallows you up and you lose sight of the vehicle. You try to plan for every contingency, but things happen. Whatever the reason, if you lose sight of the Subject’s vehicle, the first thing to try to remember is not to panic. Often time you can find the Subject once you resume travel, so keep driving. Look down the side streets your passing and you might spot his vehicle. There’s a good chance that another upcoming light will have stopped him. If you still can’t spot him, try a quick search of the area to see if he pulled over and parked. Here’s also where a good information briefing with you client beforehandreally helps. When the client is initially providing you all the information he has on the Subject to be followed, make sure you ask the client where the Subject may be going when you’re tailing him. This is when that information will oftentimes pay off if you’ve lost him. Head to that location now and you just might find the Subject there. If you still don’t find him, return to the original surveillance location to see if the Subject has returned. Give it some time, and he might just show back up.