Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fast and Furious Investigation

Let’s start with what we know about the Fast and Furious investigation.  The Alcohol, Tabaco & Firearms Agency (ATF), a law enforcement branch of the federal government, started a ‘gun-running’ operation out of there Phoenix, Arizona office.  Guns were allowed to go across the United States/Mexico border in the hope that they would be able to track them from the US into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.  There was poor accountability of these weapons and it was a botched operation from the start.  It has been reported that a number of Mexican nationals were killed in Mexico with guns from this operation.  Brian Terry, a US Border Patrol agent, was killed in a fire fight  on US soil on December 10, 2010 in which one of these weapons was found.
When a law enforcement officer dies, his department carries on an in-depth investigation into the shooting.  They do this prosecute those involved, to find out went wrong operationally and to find out if anything could have been done differently during the gunfight itself to educate and perhaps save other officers lives in future gunfights.  The heads of departments where officers have lost their lives want to know details of what happened and what went wrong, and they want to know it immediately.  One of the guns tracked by the ATF was  found at the crime scene of Agent Terry’s death.  You would think the head of the US Border Patrol, a federal law enforcement agency, would be screaming for accountability regarding this from the ATF, another federal law enforcement agency that specializes in weapon tracking and violations.  You would also think that major players in federal law enforcement would want to get to the truth of this, and let the chips fall where they may.
The Justice department is headed by the Attorney General, the senior law enforcement official in the United States.  That position is currently held by Eric Holder.  The Justice Department initially denied the existence to Congress of the Fast and Furious operation.  Mr. Holder initially stated to Congress in May 2011 that he had only become aware of the operation just a few weeks prior to his testimony.  Note that this is six months after Agent Terry’s death. Six months after that, in November 2011, Holder admitted to Congress that gun walking occurred in Fast and Furious.
Let me see if I have this straight.  The senior law enforcement official in the United States, which just happens to have an agent killed on the border in a highly contentious illegal immigrant smuggling area, claims he had just learned of the failed gun walking operation that allowed weapons to go into another sovereign nation on the US border and of which one was found at the crime scene of a federal law enforcement agent, only after about five or six months after the federal agent’s death. He then admits to Congress six months after that testimony that gun walking did occur in Fast and Furious.
Am I to belief that the senior law enforcement official in the US, with a large staff of trained lawyers and investigators, would knowingly go before Congress and at best not have his facts right about a federal gun walking operation into another sovereign nation and that was also involved in the death of a federal agent?  Wouldn't you think that with the Mexico/US border being such a sensitive issue, coupled with the death of a federal agent, that Mr. Holder would have used all of his department's resources to get to the bottom of things prior to his testimony?  
Here’s another thing.  Are we to believe that a regional field office of a federal law enforcement agency would run an undercover operation allowing guns to go across the border into another sovereign nation, in this case Mexico, without people way, way up in the federal government not knowing about it or signing off on it?
Here’s the last thing on this.  When an individual pins on the badge, whether it is a municipal, state or federal law enforcement department, he or she readily knows the risks they take.  They do this with the knowledge that their fellow officers will to come to their aid, no matter how dangerous or mortal the situation.  They also believe that their agency will leave no stone unturned in order to hunt down the killers, thoroughly review the shooting itself and the operation attached to it, and make tactical and operational improvements in order educate and save their fellow officers in future operations.  If killed in the line of duty, they know that their department and employer (city, state or nation) will do everything for their next of kin and family, including giving them all the details of how and why their loved one perished.
Mr. and Mrs. Terry, the parents of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, are still waiting for that call.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Informants: Working Hard or Hardly Working

When I first started out as a young police detective, I would spend hundreds of hours, often times for naught, trying to solve a heinous or complex crime.  After a while, I discovered that if I spent about fifteen minutes with the right person, in the right place, and maybe throw in a cigarette and a candy bar, I could often crack the case.  In investigating terms, the right person was an informant.  This goes for both police detectives and private investigators.  Often times there is someone out there who has knowledge of the case, but you have to use the right approach and do it in the right location, in order to get the right results. 

Try not to let police movies or TV cloud your vision of how to work an informant.  You don’t approach someone on the street and expect them to talk to you.  By doing this, it also shows your lack of knowledge of the street and you won’t be trusted.  For police detectives, an individual can be interviewed back at the police station or in the lock up. 

I used to scan the daily arrest logs to see if anyone got arrested near one of the crimes I was investigating, or if any of my informants had managed to get themselves locked up.  I’d talk to the detective that was handling the individual’s current arrest to clear it with him, and then I’d go and talk to him.  It’s amazing how many arrestees, knowing that their looking at going back to prison, will talk to you if you have the right approach.  You have to be able to convince them that you will protect them and not reveal their identity.  Start small, and once they give something up that appears to be good, that’s when they get rewarded with the coffee or soda.  The more they give up, and the bigger the case, is when the candy bars and cigarettes come out.  Remember, they get the goodies after they cooperate, not before.

The same holds for private investigators.  You can meet with a possible cooperative informant off-site from his workplace or home.  Whether you’re a cop or a PI, you always pick the time and location.  You want to make sure you’re not being setup.

Different motivations motivate different people to give up information.  It can be fear, revenge, retaliation, power, honesty etc.  You need to find which one is the one that turns your informant.  Find the right one, and your case can be solved.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

George Zimmerman - Defendant’s Rights and the Media

On Thursday, June 14, The Daily Breeze (a newspaper here in Southern California) reported that a judge in Orlando, Florida, had ruled that statements made by George Zimmerman to police detectives after he fatally shot Trayvon Martin can be released to the public.  The judge further ruled that the identities of witnesses who had not been identified yet, can stay private.  The article went on to state that both the prosecutors and Zimmerman’s defense attorney had wanted to keep both Zimmerman’s statement and the witnesses identities private.

Additionally, according to the article, the judge said disclosing Zimmerman’s statements to police detectives would not jeopardize his ability to get a fair trial.  Further, the judge ruled that tests given to Zimmerman after the shooting could be released, as well as some crime scene photos and Zimmerman’s recorded telephone calls from jail.

Where do I begin?  The United States Constitution guarantees the accused the right to, among other things, a fair and impartial jury.  This judge’s ruling allows key elements to the case, including Zimmerman’s statement to police, crime scene photographs, and Zimmerman’s recorded telephone calls from jail to be released to the press.  Among other things, this allows the potential jury pool that will sit in judgment of Zimmerman to view  key evidence of the case before it can be argued in court.  Potentially this information can be splashed all over newspapers and be argued by so-called experts on TV talk shows again before a trial even begins.

I note also that the article stated that both the prosecution and the defense attorneys argued against the release of this information.  Ironic that both opposing counsels argued against it but the judge ruled in favor of the news media who wants to have it.  Is it just me that thinks this ruling says that the rights of the news media trumps those of the defendant who is on trial. 
At least the judge ruled against releasing the identities of the witnesses in the case who have not yet been identified.  Can you imagine the circus that would have ensued if he hadn’t?  You would have had news agencies parked out in front of their houses and knocking on their homes or workplaces just to get an exclusive interview.

I am not arguing the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman here.  That should be done in a court of law with all the evidence presented before a jury of his peers.  What I am saying is that this latest ruling by a Circuit Court judge in Florida troubles me greatly in regards to Mr. Zimmerman chances of getting a fair and impartial jury.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Homicide Rates in the City of Angels

When people talk about homicide rates, I always tell them about the Homicide division I worked in back in the late 1980’s for the Los Angeles Police Department. The police division was the 77th Street Division, which was located in South Central Los Angeles.  There were seven teams of homicide detectives with a total of 14 detectives along with one detective supervisor.  In 1987 there were 160 murders in that division alone, which is the most for any one police division in the city’s history.  Again, that was not the city wide homicide count; it was just our division’s.  I believe there were 18 LAPD geographical police divisions at the time. It was not uncommon for one team that had the weekend on call in 77th Division to have two or three homicides over a weekend.

There is no other way to put it, but that 77th Division was a violent area.  It was the divisional policy to call out a homicide team only if the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.  There were shootings, stabbings, bludgeoning’s and beatings etc. almost daily.  Many of these crimes were gang related with Crips and Blood gangs shooting each other with regularity.  The term ‘drive-by shooting’ became a household word.  On many of these occasions the victim(s) miraculously survived.  Those serious crimes were the victim(s) lived were handled by the crimes against persons (CAPS) unit.  If homicide detectives had to roll out for every serious crime that occurred in the division where the victim was still alive they would have completely worn us out.  It is truly amazing how resilient the human body is and how much punishment it can take. 

I recall on one occasion where we were called out because the victim had been stabbed in the heart and another where the victim had been shot multiple times, including one to the head, and they were still alive but in critical division.   The sergeants at both crime scenes felt that the victims were going to expire and called us out.   We worked all through the night and into the next day conducting the crime scene investigations, canvassing the area and interviewing witnesses.  In both cases the victims survived.  The cases were then turned over to CAPS detectives.  Our case load was too intense to handle anything other than homicides.

It also seemed that no one died till after midnight.  When you had the weekend on-call duty, you’d try not to work overtime on Friday and get home and jump into bed for a few hours’ sleep.  The phone calls from the watch commander’s office notifying us of a murder always seemed to come between midnight and 4:00 AM.  You never got enough sleep, you were always working overtime trying to solve cases, and when you did you were constantly in court for preliminary hearings and murder trials.  

You also knew that you and your partner were the only ones that could obtain justice for the victim.

Friday, June 1, 2012


A 33 year old missing person’s case in New York City is again drawing international headlines. On May 25, 1979, six year old Etan Patz disappeared on his way to school.  His photograph was the first missing child to appear on milk cartons.  Although the case has been widely publicized throughout the years, no arrests were ever made.  Recently, however, news reports have stated that NYPD detectives had interviewed an individual in New Jersey and he had confessed to the crime. These same reports stated that the suspect had discarded the victim’s body in a trash bag in the garbage.

From an investigative stand point, this is an extremely difficult case.  First and foremost, you’re dealing with a criminal case that is 33 years old.  Secondly, the victim’s remains have never been recovered.  Witnesses may be difficult to locate, some of the detectives who worked on the case could be deceased, possible crime scenes may have been renovated or destroyed, case files could be misplaced, evidence could be compromised etc.  The neighborhood where the crime took place could be severely altered after so much time has passed.

If the suspect has supposedly confessed to the detectives, probably the most important part of the interrogation from a prosecutorial standpoint is if the suspect told the detectives things that only the killer would know.  Police detectives will always attempt to hold back from the public important details in a crime for just that reason.  It’s not uncommon to have people confess to notorious crimes.  It’s when you get down to specific issues that are unique to that specific crime is how detectives can weed out the sensation seekers from the real suspect.

The job facing the NYPD detectives will be going back and trying to recreate a crime scene from information obtained from the confession.  They will go over everything the suspect told them to see if they can find any type of physical evidence or eyewitness accounts to match his story.  They will be going over New York City Sanitation records to attempt to find out any information regarding trash pickup on the specific date and location that the suspect provided them.  They’ll attempt to locate the truck driver and any sanitation workers that were on the route on that day.  They’ll even go over city dump records in an attempt to locate the specific location in the dump where that specific truck off loaded its contents.

Attempting to file a criminal case against a defendant without any evidence other than a confession would be difficult at best.  The tragedy begins all over again for the victim’s family, who are again thrust into the limelight because of this horrible crime.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

These are the names that are listed on the Vietnam Memorial of the men from my hometown of Linden, NJ who died in that war.  

I grew up with George Farawell.  We played baseball together from Little League through high school.  George had a great sense of humor and was a very good ballplayer.  

Eddie West sat next to me in study hall at Linden High School.  He was a good guy who looked forward to joining the Marines.  

Otto Ostenfelt was from my neighborhood.  He found his niche in the Marines and was going to make it a career.  

Pete Scott was the older brother of one of my best friends.  He introduced us to the music of Bob Dylan and Bo Diddley before he enlisted in the Air Force.

Memorial Day is a special day in which we honor the fallen, those who died in the service of our country.  All of these men had dreams and goals that were never fulfilled.  It is for us, the living, to pause on this day and remember their sacrifice, and to silently thank them for every day we live in freedom.

They will not be forgotten.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Somebody Wrote a Book About It

My father was one of the simplest yet smartest men I ever met.  He always told me that if you don’t know how to do something, somebody who does wrote a book about it.  He taught himself how to type when he was 50 by reading a book and practicing at night after work.  He would read every article and book he could find about his passion, golf.  He not only played golf, he knew golf.

The same goes for investigating.  Want to know the proper way to investigate a crime scene, how to preserve evidence, how to interview someone, how to interrogate a suspect, how to do surveillances etc., there’s some expert out there who wrote a book about it.  

Now with the internet, you can find these books on-line. You can also contact a legal book store near you for assistance. You can also locate the expert authors themselves on-line and contact them directly.  Most of them would be only too willing to share their knowledge and assist you on a case.  The key thing is to be pro active.  So if you want to learn your trade and get good at your craft, read a book about it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Get out of the office

As a private investigator, do you ever find yourself spending too much time in your office?  It is a necessary evil, what with writing reports, making calls, doing computer searches, sending out invoices, marketing clients etc.  But sometimes I think we can become chained to that office chair.  What’s more, I believe some of an investigator’s most important skills can erode because of it.

Let’s take interviews for example.  One of the most important skills an investigator can possess is that of interviewing.  It’s how we gain critical information which helps us solve cases.  How often have you foregone a personal interview for a phone one?  Oh sure, it’s quick and easy.  But there’s a price to be paid.  It is difficult to develop a rapport with a witness in a phone interview.  Your just a faceless voice on a phone.  How many times have you hung up the phone and realized you didn’t ask an important question or you felt pressed for time.   

In an in-person interview, I’ll spend 10/15 minutes talking to the person about their home, garden, hobby etc. before I get into the interview itself. People love to talk about things that interest them, and they become relaxed with your presence.  You can get a lot more information that way then just going right into questioning them.  You’re also developing and maintaining your people skills.

I think in this technology age we have a tendency to rely too much on the computer.  Don’t get me wrong, computers are great.  They have made our lives and our jobs infinitely easier.  But there is a price to pay, and that is we can become office bound.  If you don’t develop and utilize your people skills, you’ll lose them.

Being out of the office and on the street is like exercise.  You feel better, think clearer, and most important, you can make things happen.  I can’t tell you how many important interviews I got, how many neighbor tips I received, and how many important witnesses I was able to subpoena just because I went out there and did something.

I had a veteran police detective tell me when I first started out as an investigator that you don’t solve cases by sitting in your office waiting for the phone to ring.  You have to go out there and make things happen.  So push yourself away from that desk, turn off your computer, grab that case file and get out there and do something!  You’ll feel better for it and you’ll solve cases.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


When I became a police officer in 1976, we were issued .38 caliber revolvers.  When I retired from the LAPD in 1998, they were issuing 9 millimeters to all the recruits going through the academy.  There was a big difference between carrying a revolver with six rounds versus an automatic with 15 rounds (One in the chamber and 14 in the magazine). With the .38, we carried 6 round speedy loaders to reload. I see officers today carrying two and sometimes three extra magazines on their gun belt.  Each magazine carries an additional 14 rounds.  That’s a lot rounds that can be generated in a gunfight.

With all this firepower available, why do I think officers should carry a backup gun?  Here’s three scenarios that will explain it.   In scenario one, an officer gets engaged in a gunfight with an armed suspect.  The suspect fires the first round, wounding the officer in his shooting arm and preventing him from drawing his weapon.  He is now basically unarmed, as it would be very difficult if not impossible for him to reach across and draw his weapon with his non-shooting hand.  If he carried a backup gun in the opposite side front pants pocket, however, he can rearm himself and engage the suspect.

Scenario two involves an officer who becomes engaged in a life or death physical altercation with a suspect.  At some point the suspect either grabs or is in the process of wresting the gun from the officer’s grasp. If the officer is carrying a backup, he can arm himself and engage the subject.

My last scenario is a real nightmare.  Somehow the officer gets in a situation where an armed suspect has the drop on him.  He may be able to pretend to give up his service weapon while drawing his backup gun and engaging the suspect.  This is a worst case scenario, but some officers have been put in this situation and survived it.

Something to remember about a backup gun.  It’s supposed to be a hidden.  I knew officers who used to stick it inside their gun belt.  You could see the gun butt sticking out.  That’s definitely not hidden.  You should be able to get to it quickly with your non-shooting hand.  That’s one of the reasons I don’t recommend an ankle holster. You have to reach down to your ankle to draw it.  That costs precious seconds you don’t have.  It inhibits you from running in a foot pursuit, and more importantly, it can easily become loose.

You should be able to get to it quickly with your non-shooting hand.  I recommend putting it in the opposite front pocket from your holster.  It should be small enough to be inconspicuous.  For years I carried a 2 inch barrel, five shot .38 in a leather pocket holster that fit just right in my pants pocket.  I would also have a tailor drop my right front uniform pants pocket (I’m left handed) two inches so the gun butt wouldn’t stick out.

Things can go bad on the streets in a blink of an eye.  In a life or death gunfight or physical altercation, a backup gun may just save your life.

Friday, May 4, 2012


During my police career, I put many suspects in prison for crimes they committed.  There were two cases, however, where I proved that the arrestee didn’t do it.  What was even more extraordinary was that both of these arrestees were two of the biggest jerks I ever handled. 

The first case involved the suspect being arrested sitting in a stolen car that had been taken in a residential burglary.  He had a lengthy arrest record and had already done time in prison.  When I interviewed him at the police station, besides being an incessant chatterbox who just wouldn’t shut up, he tried to tell me that a guy had picked him up and had given him the keys to the car.  He had fallen asleep in the car and was subsequently arrested by some uniform officers.  When it came time for his court date, he asked to see me.  In the lock up interview room he told me that the suspect who had given him the car was also in the lockup that day.  He saw him on the transportation bus from the jail to the court lockup and had even gotten his name.  I followed up on it and was able to prove that his story, incredible as it sounded, was true.  I was able to get the charges against him dropped, and filed burglary and auto theft charges against the other individual.  From that day on, every time he saw me either on the street or when he was at the police station, he always made it a point to thank me.

The second case was another residential burglary.  When I interviewed the arrestee at the police station, he was very arrogant and antagonistic.  As memory serves me, he had been identified by a witness and the case seemed very strong against him.  As I got further into the investigation, however, it became apparent that he hadn’t committed the crime.  When I went to court and requested the case against him be dropped, the public defender told me that his client was one of the most obnoxious persons he had ever represented.  That being said, he didn’t do the crime, and he was subsequently released.

Here’s the bottom line: As an investigator, your job is to find the truth.  If someone is charged with a crime, no matter what his background or record is, if he didn’t do it, then he goes free and you continue your search for the guilty party.  That’s what justice is all about.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Although its not the major part of my business, I do occasional criminal defense cases for some top notch, ethical defense attorneys.  As a retired police detective, I’ve been asked numerous times by current and former police officers why I would do any criminal defense work.  When I do get asked that question, I always respond with the fact that in the United States, every defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a defense.  I then bring up the fact of the Duke Lacrosse players who were filed on for serious criminal charges by a rogue prosecutor, convicted in the press in a trial by media, then ultimately, completely exonerated.  If not for a spirited defense team, these young men would have been sent to prison for a crime that never happened.

On a personal note, I was the defense investigator in a case in which a police officer was accused of excess force in apprehending a suspect. Criminal charges were filed against him and he was facing prison if convicted.  I was able to find an independent eyewitness whose testimony cleared the officer of any wrong doing, which resulted in a not guilty verdict.

A person’s whole life can change in a blink of an eye.  Sometimes, like in the Duke Lacrosse players case, the judicial system can do terrible things. In police work, officers have to make split second decisions that can go horribly wrong.  When it seems like the weight of the whole criminal justice system is aligned against you, it’s just your attorney and your defense investigator that stands between you and jail.  Pray that you’re never placed in that situation, but if you ever have the nightmarish experience of being arrested and formally charged with a criminal offense, you’ll understand why I do criminal defense work.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


How do you defend someone in a criminal case that has been played out in the national press for the last two months?  How do you find a jury made up of people who have not been swayed one way or another by the constant attention in this case by the media?   When was the last time you saw the press describe a defendant as a ‘White Hispanic’? How can you get a fair trial for your client when this case has been commented on and analyzed by elected officials, media pundits and group leaders? That’s the task the defense attorneys of defendant George Zimmerman have in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, and it is very tall one.  The task is made that much more difficult when so many emotional issues are thrown into the mix.

There have been cases throughout history where public opinion has been so inflamed that that the guilt of the accused party was a foregone conclusion, even before the trial began.  For starters, look at the Dreyfus Affair in France and the Atlanta bombing case of Richard Jewel.  In the former, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason for selling military information to the Germans.  He was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devils Island.  After a number of years in confinement, he was exonerated and reinstated back into the French Army.

In the latter case, Jewel was a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.  Discovering a bomb at the site, he alerted the police and helped clear the area of people before the bomb exploded.  Even though there was loss of life due to the bomb, he was credited with saving many lives and initially called a hero for his actions.  He later came under suspicion as a possible suspect and although never arrested, had his life ruined by all the media attention.  Another suspect was eventually arrested and convicted, and Jewel was completely exonerated.

I don’t know if George Zimmerman is guilty or innocent of the charges against him.  I do know that here in America, it is every individual’s right to a fair trial before a jury of his peers based on the facts and evidence presented.  I just hope that after all this media attention they can find twelve objective citizens who will decide his fate.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Here are my thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case.  This is a case where emotions are running very high, both in the city of Sanford, FL where it happened, and on the national scene.  Political pundits and arm chair experts are constantly commenting on every news leak or story that comes out.  From an outsider investigator’s perspective, here’s what is known.  We have a young 17 year old boy (Trayvon Martin) who is dead from a gunshot wound.  We have a Neighborhood Watch volunteer (George Zimmerman) who claimed he shot him in self-defense.  We have a taped conversation between the shooter and a police dispatcher.  Other than that, it’s mostly conjecture and relaying on news leaks.

Here’s what I think will be important to the case from an investigative standpoint.  If the police did their job, they would have canvassed the neighborhood for witnesses to the shooting.  They would be looking for anyone who saw anything before the shooting, the actual shooting itself, and immediately after the shooting.  The police probably canvassed the area on more than one occasion.  Any eyewitness interviews to the events should have been videoed and tape recorded.  This would go a long way in dispelling any claims of police coercion and also be of assistance if any witnesses subsequently change their story. 

If Zimmerman was knocked to the ground and was subsequently being struck by Martin as some reports are saying, they would be looking for physical evidence of it.  Zimmerman’s clothing would be examined for any evidence of grass stains, dirt or other residue consistent to the ground area where the shooting happened.  Just as important is if there was any evidence of this on his clothing?  Was it on his back, his side etc. 

The press has reported that Zimmerman claimed he was struck in the nose and face and also hit the back of his head when he fell.  If so, they would interview any paramedics that treated him at the scene.  Were there any signs of injury? Photographs should have been taken to show whether there was or wasn’t any injuries that would have been conducive to these claims.  It is important to note that often times swelling and discoloration doesn’t reach its peak until a day or two after an injury.  Subsequent follow-up photos should have been taken.  

One critical piece of this investigation would have been discovered at the autopsy.  What was the trajectory of the bullet when it was fired at the victim? Does it match up with the events as described by the shooter? Was it on an upward trajectory that was conducive with the shooter lying on his back and firing upward or was it at a different angle.  This would be a critical piece of evidence.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


When I first started out working homicide, I was at a crime scene with a forensic team that was assisting us in the crime scene investigation.  One of the items of interest in this case happened to be a box that had fallen from either a table or a shelf to the floor.  I remember that the Forensic team kept running multiple test experiments with the box to see if it fell in the exact place each time.  When I questioned them, they advised me they were testing to see if it always fell in the same place or if it had been moved there by the suspect.

Forensic people look at things from a scientific and analytical viewpoint.  If something happened to a person, item etc., there must be a cause and effect as to how a it happened.  Could a body weighing the same as a suicide victim have hung themselves from a certain height and item (Pole, railing, shower rod etc.) without the item breaking or falling?  Could a spent cartridge at a shooting scene have landed in a certain location?  Could a left handed suspect have stabbed an individual incurring the same wounds as the stabbing victim?  Could a pry tool allegedly used by burglary suspect have made the same indentations as the ones at your crime scene?  Forensic people are always running tests to see if this is the case.

Whether you’re a police detective or a private investigator, the key thing to take away from this is don’t just assume that everything at a crime scene or accident scene is as it should be.  Question things!  If necessary, seek out experts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Private investigators can be called upon by insurance companies to conduct an investigation of one of their client’s claims due to a residential or business burglary.  Usually the claim has raised some red flags with the insurance company and they want an investigator to look at it.  

First, interview the insurance company representative to find out their concerns in the case.  Many times a claimant has taken out a policy shortly before the burglary.  Find out the date the policy was requested, the date it was issued, and the date of the burglary.  Has the claimant made any prior burglary claims?  Check and see if the claimant or his/her significant other has any recent bankruptcies, tax liens or judgments filed against them.

Obtain a copy of the burglary report and review it.  Pay close attention to the point of entry that was made and the object used (Bodily force, pry tool, brick etc.).  Interview the police officer(s) who were at the scene and took the report.  Ask them if they had any concerns regarding what they saw at the crime scene.  Most police officers and detectives have been to hundreds of burglary crime scenes.  Those that appear to be suspicious usually jump out at them.  If any photographs were taken, ask to view them.  Pay close attention to what the photographs show at the point of entry and the amount of ransacking.

Lastly, interview the claimant in person and conduct a crime scene investigation.  Did the claimant have any photographs or sales receipts of the items claimed taken in the burglary.  Is it physically possible that the burglary occurred the way it was claimed?  Could a suspect(s) physically have done what is in the report? 
Burglars usually know the places to look in a residence for jewelry, money, guns, electronic equipment etc.  They may do some ransacking, but it’s usually not extensive because they want to get in and get out quickly before being discovered. They usually don’t take large, bulky items and oftentimes use a pillow case to stash their loot in.

Most people have little experience with burglary crime scenes.  Their big mistake is that they usually over produce it.  Excessive ransacking is always a red flag.  I vividly recall on investigation where the claimant had dumped multiple drawers in each room throughout the house.  He had even moved dining room furniture and left it by a door.  Large paintings had also been moved to appear that they were being staged to go out the door.  On another case, the point of entry was claimed to be a window smash.  The problem was that the majority of the broken glass shards were on the lawn outside of the house rather than on the floor underneath the window.  It was apparent that the window had been broken by someone standing inside the house.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


One area of investigative work that a private investigator can be utilized in is death investigations.  Often times the family of a decedent has suspicions regarding their loved ones death and question the finding of the police and/or coroner’s office.  After interviewing the client, the private investigator should obtain and review any police reports, autopsy reports and photographs that are available.  A key step in the investigation is an examination of the death scene.  This can sometimes occur days, months or even years after the death.  It is still critically important to view the death location.  Even though some things may have changed at the location, you still need to conduct an on-site examination.  Is what you see at the location consistent with what’s in the reports? Has anything changed?  Is anything wrong?   Is the manner and cause of death listed in the reports consistent to what you see at the scene?  Do the events portrayed in the reports match up with the evidence you see at the scene?  Are there any errors in the report?  Could the decedent have met his demise the way it’s portrayed in the reports?

There is always the possibility that evidence could have been overlooked by the police at the scene, so if you find anything that you think could be of evidentiary value, be sure to photograph it before recovering it.  Take your own photographs, measurements and diagram.  Remember that oftentimes the only police presence at a death not immediately classified as a homicide is usually patrol officers who may not have a lot of experience in death investigations.  Take nothing for granted while you are out there.  If possible, try to conduct your examination of the scene at the same time as the estimated time of death.  Lighting at the scene could play an important part in the investigation and in witnesses’ accounts.

An added benefit to conducting a death scene examination is that it will greatly assist you when you are interviewing family members and potential witnesses.  Be sure to have the diagram and photographs to available to show witnesses.  Try to interview the police officers, paramedics and coroner’s investigator that were at the scene.  They may or may not talk to you, but it’s worth a try.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


A number of people have asked me about the differences in vehicle surveillance work between law enforcement agencies and private investigators.  Probably the biggest difference is that law enforcement agencies usually use at least two or more vehicles in tailing suspects while private investigators usually do it alone with one vehicle.  The difference comes down to money and resources.  Law enforcement agencies usually have specialized surveillance teams with multiple detectives and vehicles.  They can spend days tailing suspects.  Private investigators have to work within a client’s budget and time table.  Rarely does it ever happen that a client can afford to pay to have two or more surveillance vehicles on a case.  Even rarer is when a client can afford multiple days on tailing someone.  Usually it’s one or two days.

In a multiple vehicle scenario, you can have vehicles switch off on the tail, put someone ahead of the suspect’s vehicle, and even parallel the tail.  With multiple vehicles it’s much easier to tail a vehicle when red lights, congestion or other traffic problems arise.  Law enforcement agencies even have helicopter and fixed wing aircraft to assist in the surveillance. You can start out for a couple days of ‘loose’ tailing, and then begin to tighten it up. For the private investigator, usually none of these advantages exist.  It’s usually the one lone investigator tailing the subject. 

 Even though it may seem that the deck is really stacked against the private investigator in this area, there are many outstanding vehicle surveillance specialists out there.  Some have prior law enforcement backgrounds while others learned it on the job (OJT).  They get good by doing it.  They know when to close up on a vehicle in anticipation of a red light or traffic congestion.  They know when to hold back and/or get in an adjoining lane so there not ‘bumper locking’ the tail.  They know when to pull over after turning a corner and yet keep the tailed vehicle in sight.  They know how to get the best photos and video to make their client’s case. 

Because there is usually no margin of error for the private investigator working alone, he or she just has to work harder to get the right results.  And that’s just what many of the really good surveillance specialists in the private investigation field do day in and day out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Solving the NYC Hollywood Mask Robbery

At the end of February 2012 there was a unique crime in New York City that made national news.  Three suspects robbed a check cashing store of $200,000 dollars.  The thing that set this crime apart from other robberies was that the suspects were wearing blue police-like jackets with the NYPD logos on them along with police type badges around their necks.  They all wore sunglasses and two of the suspects were wearing NY Yankee baseball hats.  The media also reported that the police think the suspects may have been wearing expensive, whole head Hollywood style masks.  They may not even know the ethnicity or race of the robbers.

How do detectives go about solving this type of crime?  Because the crime was caught on the store’s video, they will examine every frame of the film to look for any idiosyncrasy they can find on the suspects, such as a scar, tattoo, mark, watch ring etc. that the film reveals.  They’ll canvass every store and mail order business that specializes in whole head masks looking for similar purchases.  They’ll be contacting makeup artists who may have had some recent clients around the time of the robbery.  They’ll be contacting other police agencies nationwide to see if they have had any similar crimes and suspects.  Get-a-way SUVs were used in the crime.  They’ll be looking for stolen vehicles that were similar to the ones used and looking to find both where they were stolen and recovered.  There’s a chance that one or more of the suspects may have been arrested in their past for a similar robbery using the same MO.  If so, they’ll want to know everything they can about that crime, including interviewing the detectives who handled that investigation.

One of the most important tools in solving this crime is getting information from informants.  Suspects have friends, wives, girlfriends, drug suppliers and competitors who all have information about what went down.  The suspects had to get police-like badges, jackets, masks and vehicles to pull this off.  That’s a lot of working parts and other people would have to either be involved or have some knowledge.  Vice, narcotic and plainclothes detectives will be or should be talking to every arrestee in the city along with their regular informants to find out who knows something.  Whether they’re working off an arrest, greed or revenge, somebody is going to talk.  When that happens, the heat is on and the case will be solved.  

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.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Here are some driving tips for the actual vehicle surveillance.  First, always try to do a reconnaissance or at least a Google map check of the location sometime before you do the actual surveillance.  This will help you to know when there are parking restrictions on the street, what the street parking situation looks like, likely avenues of travel, and what the subject’s home or business looks like.  When you park your car and are setup, always be sure to lock your doors and keep your keys in the ignition.  You don’t want to be fumbling around for your keys when your Subject starts to move.  Practice ahead of time on how you’re going to quickly move from the back seat to the driver’s seat.  More than likely as a PI you’ll be working alone, so be sure to stay close enough to the Subject’s vehicle when he first takes off so you won’t lose him.  Once you’re comfortably behind that vehicle, try not to bumper lock him.  Initially on surface streets, you may have to be behind him due to traffic.  That’s all right, because most drivers are unaware their being followed and never check for it.  Once you’re comfortable with the traffic flow and the way the Subject drives, you don’t have to be in the same lane in order to follow him.  Be aware of your surroundings, especially to the lanes on your right and left.  You can move into them so as not to be constantly behind the Subject.  If traveling on service streets, pay attention to the on-coming green lights in case you need to close the gap so as to make the light.  If you’re traveling on a lightly congested road or a major freeway, you can always let a car in between you and the Subject’s vehicle for cover.  If your Subject pulls over and parks, you can always drive past him and park.  Use your side or rear view mirror to view him.  If I’m sitting in the front seat when my Subject pulls away, I always like to duck down until he drives by.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Here are some good tips to start you off about vehicle surveillances.  These are good for both private investigators and police detectives.  The first thing to look at is your vehicle.  Try to use one that is a neutral colors or lighter shades of gray or blue.  Stay away from the garish colors like red or orange because they really stick out.   Try not to use a white or black vehicle, because they also stand out.  The next thing to look at is to use a vehicle that blends in to the area.  In cities and suburbs, small SUVs are perfect because so many people drive them.  The next thing to think about is what can people see inside your vehicle when their close up.  Most vehicles come with at least the rear passenger and rear windows tinted.  Here in California you can’t have the front windshield or front driver and passenger windows tinted.  You can still cut down on the lighting by using a good front sunscreen shield.  You can also hang dark clothing on the side window hooks to cut down on light and interior visibility.  Next thing to think about is creature comforts.  Make sure you thoroughly clean all your windows, both inside and outside, before you leave home base.  There is nothing worse than having difficulty seeing through on-coming headlight glare at night due to dirty windows.   You’ll need bottled water, protein bars and I always bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some fruit.  Remember, you’re going to be in this vehicle for potentially four hours plus.  You definitely need something to use if nature calls.  I like to use something with a large rounded top, like a Snapple bottle or a hospital urine bottle.  Bring some pillows you can use to prop up your neck and back against the seat for creature comfort.  If you’re uncomfortable and moving around in the vehicle, this will cause it to shake and possibly give you away.  I like to bring a small portable radio to listen to on low volume because it helps the time go by.  Do not bring any reading material because you have to concentrate at all times.  If you’re a smoker, don’t do it in the vehicle.  Make sure the dome light is off or rendered useless.  Nothing worse at night then getting out of the vehicle and having the dome light silhouette you.