law enforcement

KN, p. 271 “The Impact of Weather on Guns and Bullets”

BulletsIMG_2261

Not long ago, a writer mentioned in a Facebook thread that cold must have an adverse effect on firing accuracy. Well, yes and no. Assuming that the shooter is a crack shot, it depends on the firearm, the type of bullet, the type of shooting involved, and how extreme the weather is.

 

Both extreme heat and extreme cold can affect the trajectory of a bullet. ‘Extreme’ in this post refers to temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and below zero.

 

Cold air might cause a more noticeable variation in the bullet path than warm air. Cold air can slow down bullets because cold air is more dense, so it’s harder for the bullet to move through it when longer distances are involved. Hunters might choose a different shaped bullet to help with this issue, but the bullet shape and air density really only comes into play for most shooters when the deer is over 300 yards away – the distance of three football fields. But, even at 200 yards, tests have shown that any bullet drop caused by the cold is only going to be a tenth of an inch.

 

Cold can cause misfires as a result of using the wrong cleaning oil for the weapons – one that’s not meant for cold temperatures. Oil that gets gummy with temperature variation doesn’t help any shooter, whether using rifles or handguns. Read “Did you clean your gun this week?”

 

‘External ballistics’ refers to what happens after the bullet leaves the firearm.

 

It can get really windy in the dead of winter, what with huge storm fronts moving in. I wouldn’t want to step a foot away from my toasty house when the wind chill makes me miserable just to be outside, but law enforcement officers in our far Northern States sometimes don’t have a choice. SWAT teams have to take into consideration the effect that the wind, added to the cold, will have on any distance shots they need to take. Wind is unpredictable and rarely constant, and can affect the shot anywhere along the path of the bullet. However, most hostage situations or other interactions with the bad guys, take place at under a 100 yards, which greatly reduces the firing challenges law enforcement might face, to practically non-existent.

 

Over 300-400 yards (mainly applying to snipers in the field, or hunters in the mountains) a windy day does make a fairly large difference when adjusting for the shot. Experts and charts tell us that at temperatures around zero, a bullet can shift wide by as much as four inches off target and drop as much as 2 inches, than if the same shot was made at 90 degrees Fahrenheit at that range. Plus, the greater the distance, the more the variation.

 

Here’s an interesting comparison of shots made by those long distance shooters in different air temperatures, without wind or other factors to interfere.

The target is 1000 yards away – about ten football fields:

  • In 68 degree weather, moderate by most standards, the target can be hit dead center.
  • On a slightly colder day, 50 degrees, without making adjustments to body or gun position, the shooter will miss low, by 6-12 inches.
  • On a hot day of 86 degrees, again without making any body or firearm adjustments, the shooter will miss high, by 6-12 inches.

 

But wait. The gunpowder in the bullet can be affected by the cold as well. Some gunpowder is temperature sensitive, so if you load your own bullets and live in an area with extreme temperatures, you need to buy the temperature insensitive type. The wrong gunpowder in the bullet can slow its velocity. Added to the dense cold air issue, it’s a recipe for missing the long distance target. To be honest, today’s ammo manufacturers are more in tune with customers wanting fewer misses related to this issue, and several temperature insensitive options are readily available.

 

These days, there doesn’t have to be much guesswork involved in adjusting for wind and temperature variations. There are apps for that. If a phone has enough bars out in the woods, the average hunter can get online and check out a ballistic calculator with charts to help with corrections for the conditions being experienced.

 

Law enforcement officers in the steamy South face different obstacles when dealing with heat. Higher temperatures result in gunpowder burning faster, which then causes higher bullet speed. A competitive shooter from North Carolina shared that in the summer he shoots in the early morning, when temperatures never get all that high. But, he’s more concerned about his grip slipping because of the sweat on his palms than from any effect of the temperatures on his ammo. His experience taught him to purchase handguns with non-slip surfaces and grips. In any case, his targets are all under 100 yards away, so the only thing affecting his shots are a bad day at the range and his own sweat.

 

A gun store owner told me recently that hunters out in extreme temperatures are usually accompanied by big game guides who make sure the equipment is properly selected for the conditions.

 

Long distance shooters need to take these temperature variations into account. People using their handguns at under 100 yards? Not so much.

KN, p. 270 “Recovery Times for On-the-Job Injuries”

The human body is a remarkable, self-contained skin, blood, water, and bones system. It has the capability of withstanding deep cuts and bruises, and even with the loss of limbs and blood, can still keep functioning. Amazing as this is, we are expected to accept on TV and in the movies that people can walk away from serious injury, take an afternoon/day off from work and get right back to the job of running after criminals and taking them down. That our heroines/heroes train a little harder than ordinary humans, face the pain in ways that mere mortals can’t, then get on with their service to the community.

Not so fast.

Yes, there is intense physical training at some of the law enforcement academies and in the special ops branches of the armed services. Physical training is included so that patrol officers will have the stamina to chase suspects up staircases and through neighborhoods without having coronaries. Special ops personnel have specialized continuous training because of the harsh conditions and challenging terrain encountered during their service around the world.

BUT, after I watched yet another 40+ year old actor ‘survive’ several jumps onto adjacent roofs a story below, continue to run after the suspect, tackle, subdue, and arrest that suspect, I rolled my eyes and questioned a couple of doctors in the know.

Repeated landings onto hard surfaces from elevations that are greater than your own height will most likely result in injury to the legs. Knees, hips, femur, tibia, fibula, ligaments, and tendons all feel the shock of repetitive pounding. Hair line cracks in the bones of legs and/or feet (as well as varicose veins) can result, even for people in their twenties. The cop may be able to chase the suspect on level ground for a few blocks if his/her cardio is in great shape, but jumping and landing from a height of more than a few feet should be followed in the books or movies by ice and/or splints and feet up for more than ten minutes. Ignore the first aid and the injury gets worse, and may result in chronic pain and/or a limp, no matter how heroic the character. Keep jumping over walls onto concrete sidewalks and an orthopedic visit will be on the schedule.

Fight scenes:

After an intense fight, there will be cuts, swelling, and bruising all over body. The body’s own natural adrenaline will carry you through the fight, but sleep, first aid, and ice packs are required to combat the ensuing pain and stiffness. Those bruises will start out as blue/purple, and as they heal will turn yellow/green. It takes about 10-14 days for the bruises to disappear, so the guys in the fight should still have some sign of the struggle on their faces or body for at least a week.

Kneecap injury: Ouch! Ligaments and tendons tear and pop and hurt A LOT! You can walk on an injured knee for weeks, but unless you like to limp, surgery is in your future. Whether minor or major surgery is part of the package, the doc will have you up and walking (with crutch, cane, or walker) the next day. There will be a load of Physical Therapy and maybe a desk job until that knee is fully recovered. (Based on my own knee surgery experiences.)

Broken bones:

A clean break in an arm requires a splint/sling to keep it more or less stable until it can be set. Recovery takes 4-6 weeks, but return to work might only take a few days because an arm is not weight-bearing.

A clean leg bone break? Depends on which bone in terms of recovery, but it could take up to 8 weeks. High on the thigh, or a compound fracture are awful breaks in terms of pain, physical therapy, and recovery, and might even be career-ending injuries. In the real world, nobody chases a suspect anytime soon on a compound fractured femur, even in a cast.

Fall through a plate glass window: the actors jump through ‘sugar glass,’ not actual glass. Anybody that gets through a plate glass window for real would have lacerations on any exposed skin, and other injuries as well, depending on the distance of the fall and what frames the glass. Most people are not big or heavy enough to break through the plate glass, but might get a concussion from collision with it.

Please note: the person in the photo was taking part in a re-enactment of a multiple injury accident scene, complete with fake blood. She was not injured in any way.

GSW (Gunshot wound): Recovery depends on where the GSW is on the body, and how severe the wound. There might be no hospital time with a couple of stitches and a light painkiller, or weeks of recovery, multiple surgeries, infection, and permanent disability.

A bullet graze is usually the equivalent of a deep cut. It hurts, but nobody is going to die from it or need an overnight stay in the hospital.

A bullet that goes through and through will hurt a great deal even if it misses vital organs. Bleeding must be stopped until help can arrive. An abdominal wound requires surgery and recovery time in bed. Holding onto your side after getting shot while you chop through the jungle with a machete ain’t happenin,’since moving increases the bleeding.

If the bullet nicks a major organ and the cop survives long enough to get to a hospital, surgery will be performed. Recovery time? Count on months away from work, not a few days.

If the bullet nicks an artery? It’s possible to bleed out in less than ten minutes (and die at the scene) before help can arrive.

My source of information: anonymous, but a Physical Therapist, an Orthopedic Surgeon, and active friends that have sustained a variety of injuries over the years.

KN, p. 261 “Forensics – What’s It All About?”

 

CSI Field Kit

Forensic: relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems (Merriam-Webster dictionary definition)

 

Back when I began in the Police Department (longer ago than I care to admit) the word ‘forensic’ was rarely used by police officers on the street. We knew to be careful if we were first to arrive at crime scene so that potential evidence wouldn’t be compromised, and the detectives pointed us to what needed to be preserved or uncovered so that a case could be proved. We dealt with physical collection, not analysis.

 

Analysis of the evidence is in the purview of the forensic scientists, the detectives, and the D.A.’s office.

 

Forensic Science is the broad term encompassing a wide range of forensic specialties and these days, is often shortened to ‘forensics,’ as in: ‘Let’s take a look at the forensics on the case.’ But what area of forensic science is required to solve a case? It depends. The prosecutor doesn’t need the findings from a dental x-ray when dealing with a known victim, but might need the results of a forensic toxicologist’s tests to determine a seemingly suspicious cause of death.

 

Most evidence is collected from the scene of the crime by trained local law enforcement personnel (that includes the photographer and the fingerprint person) in smaller jurisdictions, specifically assigned crime scene investigators (CSIs) in larger municipalities, and if needed, the forensic scientists themselves.

 

Underwater Recovery Bag

 

For the most part, the processing of body evidence is completed in labs or during autopsies in hospital, police, or State morgues. Other than body tissue or bodily fluids, things that shouldn’t be there (bullets, metal fragments, gravel, etc.) are sent out for testing. Experts might be tapped for their opinions about certain marks on the body that would have caused a blunt force trauma or other types of violent death, or for the condition of recovered remains.

 

Non-body evidence would be gathered from the scene and sent for processing to a lab that specializes in that area of analysis. Most States in the USA have centralized labs for various umbrellas of expertise, since smaller towns just don’t have the financial wherewithal (equipment and personnel) to handle finite investigations. In these days of post CSI TV shows, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike need to nail down the suspect’s guilt with absolute certainty for the public, so they rely on forensic test results and/or experts in the field to convince the jury of a suspect’s guilt or innocence.

 

So, who does what and how do they help the prosecution or defense teams? Listed below are some of the many forensic specialties.

 

Bloodstain Pattern Specialist determines the point of origin of an impact pattern as well as the movement of people after being hit or shot.

Drip Patterns

 

Digital Forensic Analyst recovers or investigates data from electronic or digital media, including audio and video recordings, and computers. These days, the skill set may also include the ability to investigate cellphones and other mobile devices for the call history, deleted messages, and corrupted SIM cards.

Forensic Accountant finds accounting discrepancies and interprets them for fraud or tax evasion cases as well as other criminal activities.

Forensic Anthropologist helps identify skeletonized human remains.

Forensic Ballistics expert investigates the use of firearms and ammo from a crime scene.

Forensic Botanist can determine where a body or suspect may have been because of the plant life found in or around the body or suspect.

Forensic Chemist detects and identifies illegal drugs seized during a drug bust, or found in a body.

Forensic DNA analyst does paternity/maternity testing or places a suspect at a crime scene.

Forensic Document Examiner interprets document evidence to determine authenticity of wills or potential forgeries.

 

Ninhydrin-Noveck sprayed on outer envelope

 

Forensic Entomologist exams insects in, on, and around human remains to help establish the time and place of death.

Forensic Facial Reconstructionist works with the skulls of recovered remains to identify them.

Forensic Geologist analyzes trace evidence establishing where a body was killed or whether it was moved to a different location.

Forensic Limnologist analyzes evidence collected in or around fresh water sources. Examination of biological organisms can connect suspects with victims.

Forensic Odonatologist compares dental records with teeth of the corpse when facial recognition isn’t likely or possible.

Forensic Pathologist applies principles of medicine and pathology to determine a cause of death or injury for legal purposes.

Forensic Photographer creates an accurate photographic record of a crime scene to aid investigations and court proceedings.

Forensic Serologist tests body fluids for rape cases or to determine if blood on the body belongs to that person or someone else.

 

 

Forensic Toxicologist analyzes the effect of drugs and poisons on the human body.

Trace Evidence Analyst analyzes trace evidence including glass, paint, fibers, hair, etc. that occurs when different objects contact one another.

 

Shoe companies, gun manufacturers, tire companies, etc. all keep records of their products made and distributed over time. In the age of computers, some enterprising criminalists created a variety of national databases with information on multiple companies and their products. The goal? To make it easier to match up shoe prints, or skid marks, or bullets to a particular person or crime scene. With a little luck, and research/chemical testing, even filed down serial numbers can be revealed, and a firearm can be traced back to its manufacturer, point of sale, and the owner. Tire impressions at a crime scene can be matched to a database to discover the make and model of a vehicle that may have been there. Distinctive shoe prints in the mud outside a house can be matched to a suspected burglar, or rule him/her out.

 

 

Who makes sense of all of the information observed and gathered at a crime scene? Generally, it’s a team effort, not the achievement of just one person that heroically solves the mystery of the who, what, when, where, and why of a crime scene. But the Forensic Scientists (or Criminalists) play a big role in identifying the pertinent pieces of the puzzle. They can answer questions about what they discovered while comparing body evidence, trace evidence, fingerprints, footwear impressions, drugs, ballistics, paper trails, etc., and the detectives or investigators most familiar with the case pull it all together.

Wet Lift Print as seen on a Comparator

Somebody asked me recently if just anyone can tack ‘Forensic’ in front of their job title. Not likely. For instance, a Forensic Accountant is much more than a savvy bookkeeper. They have advanced degrees and certifications specifically geared toward discovering whether a crime has occurred in complex situations, evaluating whether there might have been criminal intent, and then communicating that information in a way that a layperson can understand it. From Investopedia.com: “The reason we understand the nature of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme today is because forensic accountants dissected the scheme and made it understandable for the court case.”

 

This level of expertise is required in every area of forensic analysis.

 

Related articles:

Can’t Get Rid of the Blood?” 

Crime Scene at the Beach”    

“Who Murdered Jake?” in Kerrian’s Notebook, Vol. 2: Fun, Facts, and a Few Dead Bodies

                                      

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

 

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