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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Kerrian’s Notebook, p. 147 “Is that a body in the dumpster?”

 

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Last summer, Bridget’s Mustang would not start, just as she tried to leave for the trip back to Texas. We called our trusty road travel service, but there was a problem with the tow truck people they sent out.

Read “How many tow trucks does it take?

 

After a full day of waiting, making phone calls and finally, giving up hope of Bridget getting on the road anytime soon, the car was delivered to the repair shop after hours. Sadly, the story didn’t end there.

 

A fuel pump was replaced at the repair shop before they gave up and delivered the car to the dealer down the road. The new fuel pump didn’t help get the car started, but I had to pay for it anyway. The dealer discovered that it was a battery that had been the issue. They were doubtful about the need for the fuel pump, but hey – Bridget had a new one.

Read “How many mechanics does it take?

 

Apparently, that was the week that never ended its gift giving.

 

Bridget called last night and said that the Mustang had been sputtering a bit, so she suspected coils needed to be replaced and they did. But that’s not all her mechanic discovered.

 

The fuel pump from last year? Proved to be an after market bust and it needs replacing. Yup. After only 5,000 miles and less than a year.

 

This is my kid sister and I let her down by suggesting she take her prized car to be fixed at our local shop. Sheila and I feel so bad about it and the more I think about it, the madder I get.

 

There will be bodies. Several of them.

 

And I know just where to hide them. There is a big tire pile next to the woods out in back of the repair shop, along with a very large dumpster. My buddies and I will find a way.

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Just kidding. Maybe. There will definitely be some loud talking.

 

By the way, I did some research and could not find a single case of a mechanic ‘disappearing’ after doing a lousy job. Looks like lots of people choose ‘loud talking’ over body dumping. That’s probably a good thing. Otherwise, who would we get to fix our cars?

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

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Kerrian’s Notebook, p. 146 “How to Become A Texas Ranger”

 

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The modern Texas Ranger generally dresses in civilian clothes, and most of them wear a western hat and western boots in the course of their daily activities. Badges, still made from a Mexican peso, are pinned to a Rangers’ shirt above the left pocket. Today’s Rangers travel by car, airplane, helicopter, and sometimes by horse. Each Ranger is furnished an automatic, a 12 gauge shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, and a crime scene kit (with materials for taking fingerprints and making plaster casts of tracks and tool marks, and other test kits)

 

Specialized equipment (sniper rifles, night vision scopes, tear gas guns, grenades, black lights, surveillance equipment, and gas masks) are on hand if needed. Their duties vary by assignment, but Rangers still have criminal investigative responsibilities while supporting local law enforcement.

Read “Who are the Texas Rangers?

Read “What does a Texas Ranger do?

 

If you’ve read the previous two articles, you’ve seen what an interesting job the Rangers have. You may even wish you could become one, since there is no maximum age for a potential candidate to apply. Yup, that’s right. If you’re 55 or 60 or even older, have a law enforcement background and can score better than all those young kids applying, the Ranger organization just might take you on. But first, you’d better check out the things you have to do in order to qualify.

First things, first…

Potential Texas Ranger applicants are always selected from the ranks of the Texas Department of Public Safety. There has never been a need to do any recruiting because 200 people often apply for one opening.

Basic Requirements For the DPS Trooper Academy

  • U.S. Citizenship
  • At least 20 years of age to apply and must be 21 years of age upon graduating from the Department’s Trooper Trainee Academy
  • Must have 60 college credits from an accredited college/university or
  • 24 months of Active duty military/full time law officer experience or
  • 24 months of full time work experience with a qualifying Federal Agency or
  • 6 years’ service in the Reserve or National Guard (730 retirement hours)

Only the most competitive candidates get to move on to the entrance testing phase. The written exam is a combination of questions testing 12th grade reading comprehension, grammar/writing skills, and math. Here is a sample of the questions a candidate might see:

 

If the applicant passes the written test, the next step is the Fitness Test. If you can’t pass this, it knocks you out of consideration. Truthfully, it’s not that different from tests given to military inductees or other law enforcement candidates, but it counts toward your overall ranking with the other applicants.

The minimum standard for the Fitness Test is the 50th percentile or above (according to their age and gender), but if that’s the best you can do, you more than likely will be cut at that point.

The old requirement was a three-event test (abdominal crunches, pushups, and a 1.5 mile run) but the most recent academy required the new recruits to pass the entrance physical readiness test on the Concept2 Rower instead.

Here’s an idea of what a 35 year old applicant would have to do in the three-event test:

  • 48 Crunches in 2 minutes or less.
    45 Push-ups.
    30 minutes or less to complete the 1.5 Mile Run.

 

If you’re a little older or younger, there was an adjustment for age, but not much – only a few seconds or reps. Face it, ya gotta be in shape. This video from the Texas Department of Public Safety shows what they were looking for in terms of technique.

   Crunches & Push Ups Video

 

But wait… the newest applicants can’t take that test anymore. They have to complete the rowing test instead. Which means rowing 2000 meters (a little over a mile) in less than ten minutes. Adjustments are made for weight, age and gender, but again, not much. The video shows what the rower needs to do in terms of extension, etc.

   Concept2 Rowing Video

 

How do you think you’d do? I might have been able to pass the three-event test before I got shot, but I have never been a rower. Oh, maybe across the pond while I’m fishing, but never distance rowing, ever. LOL

 

So, let’s say you pass the tests for entrance into the Trooper Academy and successfully complete the training. Time to actually do the work of a State Trooper before you can ever become a Texas Ranger.

Trooper Duties

DPS is a state police agency and as such, the Highway Patrol Division Troopers enforce traffic laws, assist during emergencies, investigate most traffic accidents, recover stolen vehicles and stolen property, apprehend wanted persons, and are responsible for security at the State Capitol in Austin, as well as the protection of the Governor while he travels.

 

After at least two years with the DPS, your career is going well and you decide you’d like to become a Ranger. Here’s the next set of…

Special requirements to become a Texas Ranger:

  • Outstanding record of at least eight (8) years experience with a bona fide law enforcement agency (which could be the DPS), engaged principally in the investigation of major crimes (being an MP doesn’t count)
  • Currently employed with the Texas Department of Public Safety, in the position of a commissioned officer with the rank of at least Trooper II
  • Background check, which would reflect good moral character and habits
  • Valid, clean Texas driver’s license
  • 30 years old at the time of becoming a Ranger

An entrance examination is given, and selected applicants with the highest scores appear before an Oral Interview Board before final selection. The questions are not easy and most applicants don’t pass the first time. Even the wives are interviewed.

 

If you make it through

As the needs of Texas have evolved, so have the duties of the Rangers. More and more of the Ranger budget is used to guard the border with Mexico, attempting to keep undocumented immigrants from crossing by land or water, as well as protect against the multiple drug and human trafficking rings. The Ranger companies are assigned to serve with the Border Patrol on a rotating basis, no matter where the home assignment is within the State.

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You read about the many investigative duties of a Texas Ranger in “What does a Texas Ranger do?” There are also…

Specialized Units

The Special Operations Group has six programs:

  • The Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) is headquartered in Austin. When needed, they typically respond to: high-risk situations that include hostages, barricaded subjects, and/or active shooter incidents.  
  • The Bomb Squad is part of the SWAT Team in the Texas Rangers and is accredited by the FBI.  They are the primary responders (and provide investigative support) to crisis situations involving any kind of explosive devices. Members of this highly skilled group train at Red Stone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. 
  • The Ranger Reconnaissance Team carries out undercover missions along the Texas-Mexico border region or in out-of-the-way areas inaccessible by local law enforcement. The team gathers intelligence and disrupts drug cartel operations.
  • Special Response Teams (SRT) are a blend of Highway Patrol officers, Criminal Investigation officers and Texas Rangers and are located in each of the areas covered by the Texas Rangers. They are the first responders to hostage situations, barricaded and/or active shooter incidents. 
  • Crisis Negotiation Teams (CNT) CNT members collect and evaluate information about various ongoing crises, relay that information to the Special Operations Commander, and are sometimes part of the active resolution of the incident.
  • Border Security Operations Center (BSOC) – Joint Operations and Intelligence Centers (JOIC). The Border Security Operations Center (BSOC) is headquartered in Austin, analyzes border security/criminal information, and makes sure that new information is shared with the correct agencies.

In addition…

Unsolved Crimes Investigation Program
The Unsolved Crimes unit allows Texas law enforcement agencies the extra edge to investigate unsolved murders when there seems to be a link between several crimes. A local agency may investigate one crime, have no suspect after a reasonable period of time, and set the case aside until some clarifying piece of evidence shows up. The Unsolved Crimes unit has easier access to information about similar cases statewide or nationwide and may be able to tie all the information together and focus efforts on a particular suspect.

Texas Ranger Forensic Artists

Since the 1980s, the TXDPS has employed full-time Forensic Artists. They help criminal investigators by completing:

  • Composite drawings of suspects
  • Post mortem images of unidentified deceased persons
  • 2-D and 3-D facial reconstruction images using skeletal remains
  • Age-progressed facial images of missing persons or fugitives

The Forensic Artists sometimes testify in court as to their findings. They also work with the TXDPS Missing Persons Clearinghouse, the Unidentified Persons and DNA Unit.

 

In 2013, the average Texas Ranger was around 44 years of age, so the job is not about youth and daredevil showboating. The job is about experience, perseverance, a keen investigative mind, a willingness to be “subject to call” 24/7, and the ability to bring in the criminal, whatever it takes.

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Many thanks to Texas Ranger, Ret., Richard (Dick) Johnson, for his generosity in sharing his experiences and expertise about the Texas Rangers. Thanks also to his wife, Connie Johnson, for introducing me to Sargent Johnson and sharing her own perspective about the Rangers and all the amazing things they do. Any errors in fact are mine, not theirs.

 

Photo credits:

First and last photos taken by Patti Phillips at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas

Map: the Texas Department of Public Safety

 

 

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Kerrian’s Notebook, p. 145 “What does a Texas Ranger do?”

 

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Last week in “Who are the Texas Rangers?” I chatted about a bit of the Texas Rangers’ colorful history. But, what do they do? Are they really like “Walker, Texas Ranger,” the old TV show? Or the “Lone Ranger” of TV and movie fame? Well…yes and no. Most Rangers do not go around karate chopping the suspects or jumping from car to car on the roofs of trains barreling down the railroad tracks. That makes for great TV, but not for smart investigation and apprehension of the criminal types. Setting aside the flamboyance of the entertainment characters, here is what the Rangers’ area of investigative responsibility might include:

  • burglary rings
  • bank robberies
  • fraud
  • sexual assault
  • kidnapping
  • murder
  • jail suicide
  • cold cases
  • serial killers investigations
  • public corruption
  • officer involved shootings
  • border security operations
  • apprehending escaped/wanted suspects and convicted criminals

Basically, they are the primary criminal investigative arm of the Department of Public Safety in Texas and serve in whatever capacity will help the local law enforcement agencies. They are ‘subject to call’ at any hour of the night or day, in the counties to which they are assigned. When needed, they also assist in counties outside their own jurisdiction. Texas Rangers are a bit like a State Bureau of Investigation that operates in other States. Think CSI, without the TV glitz or instantaneous results.

 

These guys do it all, from the beginning to the end of a case, selecting and collecting evidence, photographing the scene, conducting the investigation, searching for, capturing and questioning the suspects, filing the reports, and more.

 

The Texas Rangers out in the field have to be able to handle every type of case that comes their way. And, I say “comes their way” because they are invited by local law enforcement to assist and/or take over certain cases. If a small town Police Chief normally has nothing more than drunks carousing on a Saturday night to deal with, and a bank robbery occurs or a murder is committed, he/she is likely to call the area Texas Ranger to help out with evidence collection and/or investigation/questioning.

 

With that in mind, a Ranger maintains a well-supplied trunk load of gear, including tire impression kits as well as chemical testing and other kits, so that he’s ready for whatever he’s asked to do.

 

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If the Police Chief or Sheriff has never had experience with the particular case at hand (serial killers, kidnappings, etc.) he/she may ask the Texas Ranger to take the lead on the case – and then the local law enforcement follows the Ranger’s direction. Local people handle the press and dealing with the public. The smart Rangers work hard at establishing a good working relationship with the cops and sheriffs in their territory. Building trust is key.

 

Technical Training:

The Texas Rangers have ongoing training. They are required to take 30 hours of training a year, sometimes in firearms, but in any area that needs to be addressed. The hours might be spent on:

  • CSI – technical information
  • Murder Investigation
  • Criminal Profiling

When blood spatter analysis was being looked at as a viable method of crime scene investigation, the Rangers trained in that. Other areas, such as better ways to collect fingerprints, etc. also became part of the preparation. You can’t be an expert in everything, but they have to know where to find the experts.

 

Firearms training:

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m really a stand-and-shoot guy and would never be able to shoot a rifle while on a moving horse. I was happy to discover that firearms training starts with bull’s-eye shooting for a Ranger. I could at least handle side-by-side with them at that stage. Lol They start with stand-and-shoot, then over the range of their careers, they learn to move-and-shoot, with a moving target and a moving shooter. They become proficient with handguns as well as long guns.

Sometimes, special circumstances require more than just one Ranger to show up. For those times, there is the Special Operations Group. Under that umbrella?

  • Special Weapons and Tactics
  • Regional Special Response Teams
  • Crisis Negotiation Units
  • Explosive Ordnance Disposal

 

Famous Cases:

I recently had the privilege of meeting with Texas Ranger, Ret., Richard (Dick) Johnson, who chatted with me about a few of the cases he worked on.

 

A nurse in small town Nocona, Texas, likely killed 23 people under her care. From December 11, 2000, to February 18, 2001, Vickie Dawn Jackson murdered ten patients at Nocona General Hospital, probably another ten, and attempted to murder five more. She was not a mercy killer trying to help patients who were terminally ill or in terrible pain. Prior to her killing the patients, she had appeared to be a sweet, caring nurse. She knew most of the victims personally. She injected the patients with mivacurium chloride, a muscle relaxant used in surgeries. The only murder that seems to have had any clear motive behind it was the last one, when she injected the grandfather of her ex-husband.

 

Sergeant Johnson collected the evidence, including exhuming the bodies, and stayed with the case until it was concluded. It took six months to do the collection and investigation and he had to handle all of his other cases and anything else that came up during that time. It was grisly work, not like the glamorous stuff we see on TV.

 

Another case of his involved chasing four Texas capital murder convicts into Oklahoma. The FBI was called in, and then they deferred to Dick Johnson. It took 160 hours over ten days, but Dick and a team caught the guys.

 

During a kidnapping case, he was in ‘hot pursuit’ of the kidnapper and had to cross the Red River (the border between Oklahoma and Texas) but he was not about to wait for permission to enter the next jurisdiction and lose the suspect and the victim. So, he radioed the dispatcher and told her he was about to cross the Red River. He figured he could deal with the investigation later. Thanks to his clear thinking, the suspect was caught.

 

Ranger Johnson had five counties under his responsibility during his time in North Texas. Those counties are miles wide and include everything from small towns to good-sized cities to ranches and mesquite trees. If he got a call in the middle of the night telling him that shots had been fired and a crook was on the loose, he might have asked, “How soon do you need me?” and “Do you need horses or dogs for the manhunt?”

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The man had an amazing career, to be sure. He enjoyed working in the trenches, and is one of the guys that preferred the “Mud, blood, and the beer,” rather than the glamor and glory attached to being part of one of the most respected law enforcement outfits in the world.

 

Many thanks to Texas Ranger, Ret., Dick Johnson for generously sharing his experiences and extensive knowledge of the Texas Rangers organization. Any errors in fact are mine, not his.

 

For more information about the ‘Angel of Death’ please see:

http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/angel-death

 

Next week: The Modern Texas Ranger and how to become one.

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

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