crime

KN, p. 234 “Do you want to be an FBI Agent? Part 2”

 

Do you want to be an FBI Agent? Part 1” highlighted the backgrounds of two former FBI Special Agents, their differing career paths, salary, and job aspects. Bucky and Chris Cox continued to chat, revealing more agency specifics and notes about a wide range of cases that the FBI oversees, in Part 2. Take a look:

 

FIELD OFFICE PERFORMANCE

Every field office undergoes performance reviews. The FBI is a statistic driven agency. Among other things, internal inspectors count the number of arrests and convictions at each office, looking for reasonable numbers of completed cases, and how efficiently they were concluded. But, the type of crimes is taken into consideration. While a specialist in bank robberies might clear 10-15 cases a year, white collar cases such as bank fraud, health care, or telemarketing can take longer to investigate and prosecute because of their complexity and the fact that they may be occurring in more than one State. Agents also have to prove that the suspect knowingly and willfully committed the crimes.

 

There are mandatory reports to be written after a case is completed. The standard rule applies: “If there is no paperwork, it didn’t happen.” Forms MUST be filled out so that people can be prosecuted and a decision can be made on what parts of the evidentiary findings can be more solidly prosecuted and whether the case will be tried in a federal or state court.

 

If you think this is a 9 to 5 profession, it’s not. There are many wakeup calls in the middle of the night because an agent is on duty 24/7. FBI agents may be called to other States or even to other countries beyond the home base if the case takes them there. If you are counting on a permanent posting in one city, look elsewhere for a career.

 

When applying to attend the Academy, you won’t be able to hide anything in your background and will have absolutely no secrets from your employers. Because of Robert Hansen, an FBI agent who was a spy for the Russians on and off from 1979 until 2001, there are now polygraphs administered at the beginning of the application process as well as several times during a career in order to avoid further infiltrations by a foreign agent. Your personnel file is available to the Defense Attorney that represents the suspects (defendants) in the cases you work on, so if you have Lack of Candor (you lied or covered up a mistake during your career) in your file, you can be discredited on the stand in court. Agent credibility is essential for successful prosecution of the case.

 

 

The FBI’s Wide Variety of Cases 

 

KIDNAPPINGS

After 24 hours, kidnappings that cross state lines come under FBI jurisdiction – use of the telephone or email can make it an interstate crime. The FBI is called in (usually by the police) because of their expertise, resources, ability to negotiate, and quick access to required warrants. The FBI can’t tell families whether to pay any ransom or not, but there is surveillance on the payout if that choice is made.

 

FYI – In general, international kidnappings are handled by negotiators working for the big companies whose employees have been snatched.

 

BOMBINGS

If the FBI is the lead agency, the teams will arrive after First Responders have secured the scene. If the mail is involved, then Postal Inspectors will work the case as well, but if not, then the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) unit and an Evidence Response Team (ERT) will be involved. There is some negotiation between the different agency teams so that no duplication of effort occurs.

DEATH ON THE JOB

People see agents depicted as tough and resilient, but let’s face it, field work can be dangerous. Chasing and apprehending fugitives sometimes includes guns and shooting. Bank robberies and other crimes can involve hostages and lethal force.

 

DUPLICATE DRUG INVESTIGATIONS

It doesn’t often happen, but various other government agency investigations might target the same or overlapping drug cartels. Blue on blue conflict can be very risky, so big cities have de-confliction rooms. Before a big bust, someone checks a database for scheduled buys, so that law enforcement agencies aren’t tripping over each other at the scene.

 

COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION

For people doing the day-to-day work, it’s not about the politics, but agents are cast in the same light as Senior Management. That can happen even if the agents personally might have nothing to do with what’s unfolding in Washington, DC or elsewhere in the world. The FBI played no part in the Rodney King events, but after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, a big bank case came up. A juror on that case said, “If the LAPD can lie, so can the FBI” and that works both ways.

 

WHITE COLLAR CRIME

White-collar crime refers to fraud perpetrated because of a desire for financial gain. Some scams have cost companies/investors billions of dollars and wiped out entire life savings. Among others, the FBI has investigated cases involving money laundering, securities and commodities fraud, bank fraud and embezzlement, election law violations, telemarketing fraud, and health care fraud. They have worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Treasury Department to catch the worst offenders.

Corporate Fraud is a serious threat to the economy and the FBI concentrates on cases that involve accounting schemes designed to deceive everyone about the true financial condition of a company. Agents specializing in white collar crime look for bogus accounting entries, and fake/illegal trades rigged to protect the trader or avoid regulation. They keep an eye out for insider trading, misuse of corporate property, and tax fraud.

 

LOVE IN THE BUREAU

Relationships have been known to begin within the agency, because not many people outside law enforcement understand/accept the demands of the job. For FBI couples that marry, if both spouses are street agents, the relationship is not an issue. But, if one or the other reaches management level, one can’t supervise the other. If a slot opens up where a spouse is posted, the other can apply, but there is no guarantee that the married applicant will get it.

 

WRITE ALL ABOUT IT?

Everyone must sign a non-disclosure agreement because they can never talk about classified cases. There is a special unit that handles whether or not an agent can write about something – all manuscripts must go through pre-publication review. The only cases that can be written about are those closed cases which are part of the public record. Also, former agents are not allowed to write about investigative techniques or their sources.

 

Besides being a top investigator, AN AGENT IS:

  • a sales person (must be able to sell yourself and your case to the Assistant US Attorney, Judge, and Jury)
  • a communicator (talk, write a convincing document, listen well)
  • a business owner (how much will it take to run the case)

 

Ready to sign up?

Many thanks to Bucky and Chris Cox for generously sharing their time and knowledge about the details of the job of Special Agent in the FBI.  🙂

 

*Photo credits: official photos from the FBI     

 

 

KN, p. 169 “WitSec and the US Marshal Service”

 

USMarshalSeal-300

The Witness Security Program (WitSec), was started by US Marshal, Gerald Shur, in the late 60s as a way to get witnesses to testify against high-ranking mobsters and still stay alive. While controversial at the outset, there were enough resulting convictions by 1970 to convince government officials to put money into a formal program to help get dangerous criminals off the streets and disrupt their criminal ventures. As WitSec evolved, the safety of family members became part of the package as well.

 

Why get protection?

In general:

  • The kinds of cases that would need to have witness protection attached are those where the defendants are so dangerous that the lives of the witness and his/her family would definitely be in jeopardy if testimony were even considered.

 

  • The prosecutor is fairly certain that a conviction cannot be guaranteed unless the particular witness testifies.

 

  • The witness(es) may have seen a murder or other criminal activity and be reluctant to testify against the suspect unless they can be guaranteed protection.

 

  • Before WitSec came along, “finks’ or ‘rats’ would wind up dismembered and very dead, in retribution for speaking up against powerful mob bosses.

 

  • More than 80% of the witnesses have been criminals themselves, and are testifying in order to stay alive or to get back at a boss they no longer trust/like.

 

  • Some of the witnesses have been ordinary citizens that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and saw something horrific. The criminal knows he/she has been spotted and WitSec is the only protection the witness has.

 

 

What happens to the witness and the family?

 

Once the witness has agreed to testify, he/she and the family might be placed in the custody of the Marshal service until the trial comes up – sometimes many months – but this may be the only way to keep the witness alive until the court date.

 

For high profile cases, the U.S. Marshal Service handles 24 hour protection right up until the testimony, then provides new identities and moves everyone involved to an undisclosed location. This location is known only by a handful of government people. If the location is compromised for whatever reason, the US Marshals will find a new location for the family and begin the process again with new identities and jobs.

 

Once in the new location, average housing is provided, along with job prospects. The monthly stipends continue until the family can support themselves, usually only a few months. Early in the program, there were few monetary limits which led to abuses of the program by seasoned criminals, but that has changed.

 

Over 19,000 people have been relocated since WitSec began.

 

Some have left the program voluntarily, finding it too restrictive, and some of those people lost their lives as a result. It’s not a bad deal for some, because they get a truly fresh start away from a bad neighborhood, but for most, it is a drastic change.

 

It is possible to get kicked out of the program and it has happened. Returning to a life of crime is cause to get booted out, but the rate of recidivism while in WitSec is less than half that of the rest of the formerly incarcerated population. Less than half.

 

Interesting note: for criminals that testify and are in jail (or about to go there) when they testify, there is a parallel prison system. If they went into the general population, it would be easy to find them and they wouldn’t last long.

 

A few States (California, Illinois, New York, and Texas) have Witness Protection Systems of their own, but the protections and benefits are limited and less broad in scope.

 

Nobody who has followed the federal WitSec guidelines has been killed while under the protection, but it’s not easy to walk away from extended family and friends in the middle of the night, never, ever to see them again. Cell phones with the old names and contacts are gone, losing social media is a problem for some, new identities may mean that new careers must be chosen. A familiar lifestyle must be abandoned.

 

If given a suitcase and told to pack in 20 minutes, what would you take? What could you leave behind?

 

Additional information can be found at:

 

http://priceonomics.com/what-happens-when-you-enter-the-witness-protection/

 

www.usmarshals.gov

 

 

Photo credit: US Marshal Service

 

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FW: “Quick! Grab the glue gun!”


Continuing
the series
of articles about Evidence Collection Training Classes held at SIRCHIE.

Part 4 – “Quick! Grab the glue gun!”

 

Wet Lift Print as seen on a Comparator

We often hear it said on TV and in the movies that there are items and surfaces that do not hold fingerprints or that fingerprints cannot be recovered from them. On Day #4 of the Sirchie Evidence Collection Training Classes held at the Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories in NC, we experimented with a variety of surfaces to see what would happen if…

 

Skin is reported to be one of the most difficult surfaces from which to lift a print, because the prints fade so quickly. But, after three days of dusting and chemically treating and lifting and photographing dubious fingerprints, our group of dogged writer/investigators was not to be deterred.

 

The set of prints in the photograph below were lifted from an arm. Not clothing, the arm itself. And not by using fingerprint powder on the arm. A classmate kindly offered up her arm to be grabbed. Then a piece of specially treated paper (chromicoat) was pressed onto the area of her arm where the fingerprints were likely to be found. That paper was then dusted with fingerprint powder and the prints popped up. We now knew it was possible to lift the prints if they were minutes old, but we had access to both the specially treated paper and the powder immediately after the grab. We also knew from experience that our grabber always left really good prints on all the surfaces touched during the previous days.

 

Lift from skin using Chromicoat treated paper

We proposed various scenarios to our instructor (equally curious Robert Skiff, Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist). What if a mugger grabbed a bare arm and tried to drag us into an alley? How close would we have to be to the police station after we got away from the mugger in order to get the prints processed? How much time did we have before they faded away? Would the lift work if we used plain paper, since it was highly unlikely that an ordinary gal would be carrying chromicoat paper in a pocket? What if the police station wasn’t close by, therefore no access to fingerprint powder?

 

The answers were time sensitive. It was possible to lift prints from a bare arm with plain paper, but only if the lift was made during the first few minutes and only if the suspect left a strong sample. It’s possible to use cigarette ashes as a substitute for the fingerprint powder. Conclusions? There were too many variables for this to be a reliable way to catch a crook. Now…if you were grabbed around the corner from a police station OR were a smoker AND the mugger had dirty hands AND you had a clean piece of paper in your pocket AND you had attended this class… Hmmm…maybe in a sci-fi mystery. However, not completely impossible.

 

Another difficult surface from which to lift prints is the dashboard of a car. Think about it. If you press your hand onto a dashboard, your skin (with all the loops and whorls and arches) is also pressing into the crevices of the pebbled surface. Same thing is true for an orange or a football. A straight gel lift or hinge lifter will not do the job effectively. A tape lift may only pick up the top of the print.

 

Dashboard surface

 

But, the investigator sees the possible print and doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to catch the crook. The answer in the past was to dust the likely area with magnetic fingerprint powder, then apply a Blue Glue gel and wait for the gel to cure before lifting it off the dash – about five hours. FIVE hours? The crook is getting away! No time to wait!

 

These days, the preferred lifting product (after applying the magnetic powder to enhance the print) is a transparent liquid silicone (PVS200 – polyvinyl siloxane), applied with an extruder gun. It flows down into the crevices, dries in six minutes, and gets into every bit of the print. After the polyvinyl dries, it can be lifted, and then placed on a backing card to preserve the print. At that point, it can be placed under an Optical Comparator, photographed, and sent off to AFIS for an ID/comparison.

 

This epoxy is not good for every surface (it rips paper, etc) but is very good for pitted, bumpy surfaces like alligator skin and dashboards. Gotcha!

 

Dashboard Lift

 

Another tricky scenario: The cop is in pursuit of an unidentified car thief or robber and chases him through a parking lot.  The cop witnesses the suspect firmly planting his palm on the trunk of a car as he cuts through a tight space. The cop grins as he realizes that even if the guy outruns him, he can catch him through the palm print. And, then, it starts to pour. Does the print get washed away? Or become unusable?

 

Not if the Field Kit is handy! When forced to do a wet lift, it is possible to use SPR (Small Particle Reagent – finely ground particles suspended in a detergent solution). Spray the print with a fine mist of SPR and let set. Lay the hinge lifter just off the print and place it down carefully, employing a squeegee at the same time, to slowly remove the excess water. This method can be used to develop prints on non-porous surfaces – cans, bottles, windows, and other glossy surfaces, but not on paper or cardboard.

 

Wet Lift Prints

 

 

Criminals who tie their victims up during the commission of a crime frequently use duct tape for the job. That duct tape is almost always full of prints that get embedded into the tape. It’s practically impossible to manipulate and tear the tape while wearing gloves (I tried this once and the gloves got so stuck to the tape that I threw the resulting mess away), so he leaves prints while unrolling and tearing the tape. Even if he has wiped the smooth surface of the tape clean to cover his identity, the sticky side can’t be wiped without taking away the sticky. Balls of tape tossed aside by a suspect have been processed successfully for prints, but first the tape had to be released from itself.

 

Separating folded duct tape from itself

A 2% chloroform tape release agent is dropped liberally on the area where the two pieces of tape meet. Two people need to work together on this – one person places the drops continuously while the other person pulls the tape apart. The ends of the tape are folded over (about ¼”) and the tape is flattened for 24 hours before further processing.

 

Adhesive-side developer

After 24 hours, adhesive-side developer is applied to the sticky side of the duct tape, allowed to sit for a few minutes, then rinsed off and voila! The prints are clearly visible, can be photographed, covered with clear tape to protect them, viewed under the Optical Comparator, entered into the system, and sent off to AFIS.  (Crystal Violet can also be used for processing this type of print, but is toxic and should only be used in a lab.)

 

Duct tape prints

 

AFIS – what is it and does it really help identify a person of interest in a crime?

 

Anyone who has watched TV crime shows during the last decade has heard the acronym AFIS. It stands for Automated Fingerprint Identification System.  In 1924, the FBI started a fingerprint identification system. They fingerprinted several thousand prisoners incarcerated at Leavenworth, and stored their prints on cards.

 

As of 2012, the system had broadened to include international prints as well, is an electronic database of 70 million, and contains the prints of both law-abiding citizens as well as those of criminals. While newborn babies are printed, their information is usually entered into a local system unless needed in an abduction case. Real estate agents, childcare workers, Federal employees, and people seeking employment with security and law enforcement agencies are fingerprinted as a matter of course now. Depending on the State, the prints are entered into the State AFIS system, and held until needed in the national system. The fingerprints of any person arrested for any level of crime are sent to the State and then on to the national FBI database. The latest FBI version is named IAFIS (I is for Integrated).

 

Johnny Leonard, a latent fingerprint expert, visited the class in the afternoon to explain what AFIS can and can’t do. He showed us what a fingerprint examiner looks for in every print or partial print he/she sees, using the Henry Fingerprint Classification and Identification method. The average number of minutiae on every complete print is between 100 and 150. There are distinct ridge patterns to look for in a print: arches, loops and whorls.

 

Fingerprint Loops

65% of all fingerprint patterns are loops,

 

 

Fingerprint Whorls

30% are whorls,

 

 

Fingerprint Arches

and only 5% of fingerprint patterns are arches.

 

Thumb prints are the prints most often left at a crime scene, because people use their thumbs for leverage when pushing through doors or opening safes, or grabbing those golf clubs to use as weapons, etc.

 

Identifying 8-12 points of similarity between an unknown latent print found at a crime scene and one in the AFIS database is the standard for declaring a match, but some jurisdictions want more for absolute certainty.  An examiner plots the print in question for distinct characteristics, makes notes to that effect before sending the print off and waits. AFIS & IAFIS return a list (sometimes as many as 30) of possible matches. At this point, the examiner reviews the possibles and chooses the best match in his/her opinion. And, it might not be the first on the list. Then, another examiner verifies the possible match. There is no such thing as an instantaneous match with just one print from the AFIS or IAFIS databases. TV tells us otherwise, but sorry, that’s merely for dramatic effect.

 

Other interesting fingerprint details:

*We know that no two people can have the same fingerprints, but not even the same person’s prints are identical.

*Some people have all three types of ridge patterns on one finger.

*Only positive matches from the state AFIS are verified by examiners; not the negative ones.

*Palm prints are now in the AFIS database.

*AFIS looks for change of direction in the whorls, loops, and arches in order to find a match.

*There has not been a case yet where the DNA has not matched the fingerprints at the scene.

 

 

The photo below shows a positive match between a latent print and one in the database. The latent is on the left. The database print is on the right. This match placed the suspect at the scene and along with other evidence, resulted in a conviction.

 

AFIS match

 

Having been through four days of training, working with prints on a variety of surfaces, we felt confident that we were up to the challenge of matching a few fingerprints on our own. Mr. Leonard showed us 16 pairs of prints and gave us 15 minutes to make decisions. We looked for cluster highlights, tented arches, spots, bifurcations and other techy details. Guess what? The lines began to blur, and not all of us correctly identified all the matches.

 

TV makes it look easy, with a click and a less than five-minute response time from IAFIS. Not possible, with 70 million fingerprints to choose from. This is not an easy job, even with the new digital readers that speed up the process of finding likely matches at the scene.

 

Click here for Part 1 – “Have you been fingerprinted?”

Click here for Part 2 – “Where are the Evidence Collection kits made?”

Click here for Part 3 – “Can’t get rid of the blood?”

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at SIRCHIE Education Training Center in Youngsville, NC.

 

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