26 April, 2012

Mystery Musings: How to lift that fingerprint?

There's more than one way to lift a print. And did you know that there are three types of prints?  Latent, patent or visible, and plastic or impression. 

Visible fingerprints can be photographed directly, and impression fingerprints can usually be photographed under special lighting conditions. It is only the invisible latent fingerprints that are difficult to photograph. They must first be made visible, and the fact that they are easily wiped away with a cloth or Clorox only makes it harder.

The old stand by standard fingerprint powder is still used, but it's no longer the method of choice.  One reason being that the volcanic ash it is made is extremely fine and almost impossible to remove if dumped on a rug or upholstered furniture. Regular powder can be applied smooth, shiny surfaces such as windows, televisions, kitchen counter tops, painted surfaces, and vehicles—either the painted surfaces on the exterior or on glass. Prints are then lifted using adhesive film.

The Magna Brush uses standard powder with pieces of iron metal added and also works best on shiny surfaces. When dusting for fingerprints with magnetic powder, crime scene investigators must use a magnetic applicator which has a magnet. Besides being available in the colors of black, white, silver/gray and biochromatic, magnetic powder is also available in fluorescent magnetic powder colors like red and green which are useful for objects like soda cans. The fluorescent powder will reveal the print under black light or with a specially coated camera lens. Since it is applied with a magnetic brush, there is less diffusion and less mess, making it the preferred method in most cases.

But what about some of the gee whiz stuff we see on TV?  Turns out NCIS's lab guru Abby Sciutto is right: super glue is effective.  Actually it's one of the glue's components—cyanoacrylate—which, when mixed with heat and humidity, adheres to a print. The print can then be dusted using one of the available powders.  Don't try this at home! Cyanoacrylate contains cyanide and must be used in a closed container.

Finger prints consist primarily of ordinary sweat and other organic components exuded through the fingertips. Sweat is mostly water, and will dry after a fairly short period of time, making them difficult or impossible to lift with powders.  In this case, a ninhydrin solution can be sprayed, swabbed or dripped onto the surface. Ninhydrin reacts with the amino acids in the prints, forming a purple or pink compound.

Iodine crystals can also be used for card stock. The crystals are placed in a glass tube known as a fumer. The CSI then blows into the fumer, causing the transformation from solid to gas. The iodine vapours are emitted from the other end, and if the tube is aimed at a latent print, it will become visible for a short time. Do not try this at home! If inhaled, the fumes will convert back to crystals in your lungs and they are highly carcinogenic.

Silver Nitrate is a less toxic way of detecting prints on paper. Silver chloride turns black in light, and one of the components of sweat is sodium chloride. The silver nitrate is placed with distilled water and applied to the paper. The paper is exposed to light, and any prints will turn black.

On wet surfaces, if there is no time to allow it to dry, police use a small particle reagent (SPR) . The SPR can be sprayed on  wet surface, for instance a car, then hosed off.  Fingerprints will stay clear.

Fingerprints on duct tape, sticky tape, or labels can be lifted using crystal violet which is absorbed by the fatty constituents in a fingerprint, thereby coloring it purple. Again, don't try it at home, as it is highly poisonous and easily absorbed through the skin.

And finally, there is Amido Black, a chemical used to develop fingerprints in blood. A fixing agent is first applied to the blood stain, and then amido black is used, resulting in a dark blue to black staining of the protein that can enhance the contrast and visibility of patterns and impressions and allow for easier documentation.

Fingerprints will not adhere to unfinished wood or rock, although there is a solution which can be used to enhance prints on these surfaces.  Unfortunately it costs $500 per ounce!


23 April, 2012

Tastey Tuesday: Crockpot Carnage

My WIP is simmering on the back burner (sorry for the culinary pun) awaiting final tweaks, so I decided it was time to test and retest the recipes I want to include. 

For those of you not in New England, It's a cold, raw, rainy/snowy day. French onion soup sounded like a good idea at 7 a.m. this morning. Several authors have warned me to my book recipes short, quick, and uncomplicated. Hmmm, sounds like a job  for my new slow cooker.

I've amassed several recipe and culled suggestions from them. First thing: mix onions and melted butter in slow cooker, cover and cook on high for 30 to 35 minutes until onions begin to slightly brown around edges. Forty-five minutes later, the onions were still completely raw and crunchy. After sixty minutes they'd just begun to wilt - slightly. Sixty-one ones after starting, I dug out my trusty Dutch oven and  caramelized them the "old-fashioned" way. Within little more half an hour I had developed a lovely batch of deep brown, caramelized onions. 

Then I faced a dilemma. Go back to the slow cooker or continue with Julia Child's tried and true recipe? Julia won out - she only suggested 40 additional minutes of simmering vs. 4-6 hours in the slow cooker. And this thing is supposedly saving me time? How?

This is not the first recipe I've murdered with technology (if you can call a crock pot technology). So far my batting average is Successful - 2, Never again - 8. Not much to inspire confidence there. But the Japanese short ribs were delicious!

Long story short, it's back to the drawing board for recipes I can simplify and include in my book. At least I have a nice bowl of French Onion soup to eat while I think about them. 

So here's my question: How long would you be willing to spend cooking a recipe in a mystery novel?  Have you ever cooked one? Was it carnage or nirvana? 

21 April, 2012

Fiction Friday: Lessons from a Master

Last Saturday, agent, author and writing guru Donald Maass provided SinCNE members with tips, tricks, and techniques to ramp up their manuscripts.

My favourite advice: Take out obvious words and emotions and put in micro tension on every page.

 My least favourite: Print out your MS, stack it next to you.  Take handfuls of pages and let them fall all around you on the floor.  Gather them back up in random order and go through the pages, one at a time, and try to add tension to every page - in dialog, exposition, and plot.

From nine to five, Maass threw of advice, encouragement, and tools of the trade. 

The most important thing a writer can do, he told us, is to make the reader care about the protagonist, whether s/he/s an "every man", a hero, or an antihero. Readers won't believe in characters they can't feel.  Even if your character is a total jerk, or a dark commando, if you open him up, the reader will stick with you.  
And how do you open your protagonist and antagonist up? Throw adversity in his/her way, then make it worse, and just when s/he's about to break, make it worse again.  Manipulate reader's feelings and expectations, play head games with them, not just red herrings and misdirection, but morally in terms of what readers are thinking.

I came away with 15 pages of single-spaced notes.  Guess I'll be hitting the revision trail once again!

11 April, 2012

Mystery Musings: Week 3 at the Academy -The Constitution and Bill of Rights

Growing up in Europe, I didn't get much US history, and even less about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That got remedied very quickly last night.  We got the Cliff Notes version of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments, and how they impact law enforcement. —especially our "living" Constitution which keeps evolving.

The 4th Amendment deals with unreasonable search and seizure.  With few exceptions, a search requires a warrant, which in turn requires probably cause.  In all states, "search" and "probable cause" are determined by case law.  Turns out my state, Connecticut, is one of the most protective of citizens' rights, thereby imposing added restrictions on the police force. (Texas and southern states tend to give law officers fewer restrictions - or so I've been told.)

There are, however, several exceptions to the warrant rule.  The ones I found most interesting  from a writer's point of view include:

  • Plain feel - if, during a pat down, the officer has reason, based on prior experience,  to suspect a gun, rock cocaine, etc., he may conduct a search without a warrant.
  •  Open fields - "open fields" such as pastures, open water, and woods may be searched without a warrant, on the ground that conduct occurring therein would have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Watch out for those marijuana beds!
  • Curtilage (I love that word) Only the outdoor area immediately surrounding a home requires a warrant— generally within two to three feet of the house or in an open garage. Areas outside the curtilage, including separate structures (barns, studios), do not required search warrants.
  • Motor vehicle/Inventory - a motor vehicle stopped for "reasonable" suspicion can be searched because it is moveable.  If the driver is arrested for any reason, police are required to make an inventory of all items in the vehicle (to protect themselves against allegations of theft). However, they may not extend the search to the vehicle's passengers without probable cause or consent.  Similarly, if a car is found abandoned or illegally parked, an officer may search inside before the car is towed, but not after.
  • Public Schools. The Supreme Court ruled that searches in public schools do not require warrants, as long as the searching officers have reasonable grounds for believing that the search will result in the finding of evidence of illegal activity. [based on NJ vs. T.L.O. (1985)] Similarly government offices may be searched for evidence of work-related misconduct by government employees.
Everyone has heard of Miranda Rights, but do you know how they came about? 

Ernesto Arturo Miranda was arrested, based on circumstantial evidence, for to the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old woman. After two hours of interrogation by police officers, Miranda signed a confession. However, at no time was Miranda told of his right to counsel, and he was not advised of his right to remain silent or that his statements would be used against him. The judge ruled his confession inadmissible.  But wait . . . he was subsequently tried and convicted—without use of the confession—and sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment.

After his release, Miranda was murdered in a bar fight. The suspect, a Mexican national, was released and supposedly fled to Mexico. The Miranda murder case was closed without the murderer ever being apprehended. What goes around . . .

Take aways from Week 3:
  • Warrants must be specific in terms of what the police are searching for and where they intend to search. For example, if they are searching for a body, they cannot open a desk drawer because there is in reasonable cause to believe the drawer could contain a body.
  •  Mirandizing is not required
    • In cases of a dying declaration - it is assumed that a dying person, even if implicating himself or another person, is telling the truth and volunteering the information.
    • Spontaneous utterances. And these are a lot more common than you'd expect. Our instructors say that if you don't question a suspect, but just let him stew or ramble, he will very often implicate himself.
  • Search warrants are good for one time only, and have a 10-day expiration period.  This is not true for wiretaps.
  •  Phone companies will not track the GPS in a phone for police.  But there are apps which an individual can download and access to assist the police in the case of a stolen phone.
Next week: Patrol Procedures

09 April, 2012

Tastely Tuesday: Lethally Good Asparagus Soup

Spring is here and so are the asparagus. Not only are they plentiful -- and on sale everywhere -- they're at their peak of flavor. And, even though the days are becoming mild, evenings can still be chilly, which means it's still the perfect time for a bowl of asparagus soup.
  • 1 bundle of asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 1 large or 2 small leeks, sliced (white part only)  
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil  
  • 1 medium onion, chopped  
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth  (1-2 cups additional, if you like a thicker soup)
  • 2 Tbsp butter  
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour  
  • Salt and pepper  
  • 1 cup milk, at room temperature  
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped  
  • 3 oz. cream cheese  
  • Chopped chives, for garnish
Rinse and cut asparagus spears in one-inch pieces. Slice leek(s) lengthwise, rinse well under running water to remove all sand and grit, and slice the white part into 1/4 inch slices.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven and add onion. Grate in garlic (or mince very fine). Sauté onion and garlic until tender. Add asparagus and leeks and sauté an additional couple of minutes. Add four cups chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat to control the boil, cover and cook 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
In medium saucepan, heat butter. Add flour and stir to blend. Cook one-to-two minutes. Add salt and pepper. Whisk in milk to blend well and stir until it thickens into a sauce. Add one-to-two large ladles of hot broth from the vegetables, stir, and remove from heat.
Cut cream cheese into small pieces and add to vegetables.
With an immersion hand blender, puree vegetables, broth and cheese in Dutch oven, (or puree in batches in a blender and process until smooth). Add white sauce to the soup. Stir to combine. 
Optionally, you can add additional broth to achieve the thickness you prefer. Reheat, if necessary, and server sprinkled with chopped chives

04 April, 2012

Fiction Friday: Police Academy 2

The topic for week 2 of my police academy course -- Training -- didn't sound like much I'd be able to include in a mystery, but I was totally wrong.

First, I was amazed at some of the facts. You have to be at least 21 (on the day you enroll at the Police Academy), but there is no upper age limit as long as you can pass all the tests. The oldest individual hired into our town's department was 51! And there are no on-going physical requirements (as my instructor joked, pointing to his own expanding waistline).

Listed below are the minimum physical activity requirements for applicants. Now even I could pass the test for my age group (I tried it), yet 35% of applicants wash out during this test. 

Male Candidate
SIT/REACH (Straight-leg)
(1 lift)
20 - 29
17-1/2 in.
1.06 X Body Weight
30 - 39
16-1/2 in.
.93 X Body Weight
40 - 49
15-1/4 in.
.84 X Body Weight
50 - 59
14-1/2 in.
.75 X Body Weight
60 - 69
13-1/2 in.
.68 X Body Weight

Female Candidate
SIT/REACH (Straight-leg)
(1 lift)
20 - 29
 20 in.
 .65 X Body Weight
30 - 39
 19 in.
 .57 X Body Weight
40 - 49
  18 in. 
  .52 X Body Weight 
50 - 59
 17-3/4 in.
.46 X Body Weight
60 - 69
 16-3/8 in.
 .45 X Body Weight 

One of the biggies in the process is the polygraph test. It's not what you lie about (although that, of course could get you thrown out), but the mere fact that you lied, even about something totally innocuous. You won't be disqualified for having smoked a joint in High School, but you will for lying about it, either during the written statement or the polygraph. 

Honesty is paramount in the Police. Lie at any time, about having mailed a letter you actually didn't, or having spoken to a person you didn’t, and you could be out. Even if your captain "forgives" you, if the Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POSTC) finds out via the grapevine, you won't be walking a beat, you'll be saying "would you like fries with that."

My take-aways for this week:

  • It takes a minimum of 56 weeks, from recruitment letter to Day 1 of solo patrol.
  • State Troopers and Police train at the same facility in Connecticut, but totally separate. Police training is 22 weeks, Troopers go for 8 months.
  • It costs the town $7,256 to outfit (clothes and equipment) a new recruit.
  • The cost of the Police Academy is covered by money accrued from traffic fines.
  • Pepper spray has a dye additive which marks the "perp." It also comes in three forms: stream (best for self defense), fogger (best for crowds) & foam (good for "behind- you situations. Also generally causes "perp; to try to wipe it off, thereby rubbing more in his eyes).
  • Milk is much more effective is attenuating the effects of pepper spray than water. 
 And, I'm proud to announce, at least two of the officers in our town department have graduated #1 in their Academy class!