Crime scene investigations have a few terms associated with them that are sometimes misused or misunderstood. Check out some accepted legal definitions.
Robbery or Burglary?
Robbery is a crime where someone takes an item without permission directly from someone else, without any intention of giving it back, and does this by force or threat of force. The wording of the criminal act may differ slightly from State to State.
A burglary occurs when someone enters a home or business illegally, intending to steal an item or commit a felony while inside the building.
While you might think that robbery and burglary are talking about the same act – a theft of your property – they are indicative of different circumstances. In a robbery, someone actually came and took something from you (often face-to-face), perhaps threatening you while demanding your money or cellphone. But, a burglary occurs when you are not present, like a break-in and theft at your house while you’re at work.
Assault or Battery?
Assault and Battery are sometimes used interchangeably but refer to different legal occurrences. Assault is when a person is threatened with attack (someone says they will hit the targeted person), and battery takes place when a person is physically attacked (someone hits him/her).
Battery is the unlawful use of force resulting in the injury of someone else. Battery always includes assault.
Civil or Criminal Cases?
Civil Actions are brought before the court to protect and enforce private rights.
Criminal Law determines what is criminal behavior and sets punishment to be imposed for that criminal behavior. The idea behind criminal law is to prevent harm to society.
Murder or Homicide or Manslaughter?
Homicide is a legal term for any killing of a human being by another human being and is not always a crime. Hearings are held to determine whether shooting deaths are justifiable killings in self-defense. Murder and manslaughter fall under the category of unlawful homicides.
Murder is an intentional killing when it is:
“Malice aforethought” means that the killer intended to kill someone without legal justification. But, in some jurisdictions, malice aforethought can also be in place if the perpetrator causes the victim’s death during an intentional beating or other reckless disregard for life – even if the original intent had not been to kill, but do bodily harm.
Interesting to note that for the “heat of passion” defense to hold up in court, the person must not have had time to “cool off” after being provoked. Example: a husband comes home to find his wife committing adultery and is so incensed that he kills the lover right then.
But, in that same scenario, if the husband chases the lover out of the house, then buys a gun, and only after a few hours goes to the guy’s house and shoots him, that might be considered premeditated murder. He had time to cool off and consider his options before the shooting.
Involuntary Manslaughter often refers to unintentional homicide from criminally negligent or reckless conduct. It can also refer to an unintentional killing through commission of a crime other than a felony.
Manslaughter convictions often result in prison time, depending on the jurisdiction’s laws, as well as the judge/jury assessment of the circumstances and the credibility of the person on trial.
Determining State of Mind at the time of the alleged crime is an important component to deciding whether unintentional second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter has been committed. In general, the decision centers on whether the defendant has been found ethically responsible.
Deposition or testimony?
During a deposition, witness testimony is given under oath, just not in a courtroom. A deposition is not conducted in front of the Judge or the Jury. Information gathered during a deposition can be used to discover evidence that the opposing side has prior to the trial date.
Testimony given either in court or at the deposition is equally legally bound by perjury laws. You can’t lie under oath without consequence, some quite severe.
Barrister or Solicitor? (in England and Wales)
Up until recently, only barristers had an exclusive right to plead in all English and Welsh courts. Barristers are not paid directly by the clients.
Until recently, clients could only hire (and pay) solicitors, not barristers. The solicitors hire the barristers to represent their clients in superior court (high court) if that step is needed. Solicitors are allowed to represent clients in magistrate or county court. Since 2004, if a solicitor has enough experience, they might be allowed to speak in superior court, but serious criminal or civil cases are much more likely to be handled by a barrister with extensive trial experience.
*Source of murder/manslaughter information: www.nolo.com
In “The Swat Team Experience,” I discussed the events that might cause a SWAT team to be called to active duty.
Take a look at some of the equipment/gear they might use during an active crime scene:
The ballistic shield on the left is larger and heavier, covering more of the body, and has an armored viewing port. The smaller, lighter weight shield (#2) is preferred by some officers because it allows for an easier reach around it with weaponry. It does cover a smaller part of the body’s core. See #3: Both versions have hand holds on the back and attachments for neck support.
The equipment might weigh 50-65 pounds when fully hooked up. Many team members carry
They wear cargo pants because of the fit and all the practical pockets. Some tactical grade cargo pants have extra lining, allowing the officers to carry additional magazines (ammo), and are made of rip stop fabric. They are similar in weight and texture to several camping cargo pants I have from LLBean. They breathe well and allow sweat to wick away, but mine aren’t tough enough to hold ammo.
A sniper has to be prepared to observe and report the event as it unfolds, so they choose a spot within 50-75 yards of the scene that is good for watching, as well as shooting in case that has to happen. In order to communicate their intel, they use an encrypted digital signal that can’t be picked up on scanners, but can be heard by other members of the team. SWAT team snipers generally work in pairs, rotating positions every 15-30 minutes. Snipers want to be on the same plane as the target(s). The more off a 90 degree angle they are, the more off a straight line the shot will go after it hits glass, etc. that might be between the shooter and the target.
One of the tricky, but essential, parts in gathering information is to find is where in the house or building the target is. The agencies involved identify positions around the house for ease of information sharing, using letters or numbers. i.e.: “I’m at Position A, ten yards out.”
| Back of house
Or, using positions on a clock, an officer might say, “I’m at 12:00, twenty yards out.”
A SWAT team is not the bomb squad, although they are able to call upon a bomb expert if needed. In general, no robots are sent in to surveil the area, because the bad guy could pick the robot up and put it in a closet.
The scary part of breaching a building is not knowing what’s on the other side of the door. The teams get very quiet before entrance, but the ride after the mission can be very loud as they burn off the high intensity of the operation. The job does take a toll.
What is used to force out the bad guys?
Flash-bangs (stun grenades) are one tool, called that because of the blinding flash and ear-splitting bang meant to only temporarily blind and deafen, therefore disorienting the target. The goal is not to kill the suspects, just to flush them out into the open. Teams try not to use this in domestic situations because of the potential collateral damage.
Gas grenades: The s-6 multi-launcher gas rounds can cause pain in the face and eyes. FYI, the gas gets into the clothes of everyone in close proximity and lasts for more than 24 hours, even in the wash.
Remington Ball Camera: This can be tossed into the house, where it will land and take photos in a 360 degree arc. It also records sound.
In order to show you the relative size, an Academy participant held it upright while I took the photo.
The sniper rifle is very loud (308 caliber) and if shot inside a house might cause permanent loss of hearing to those in the room, so handguns or other firearms are used, if needed at all.
Armored vehicles: the teams wait in them while part of the team is working. Not all towns have them at a price tag of from $180K to $630K. Why the hefty cost? At the high end, the armored vehicles can withstand ammo assault from below and to the engine, are bulletproof through continued attack, and have the option of roof mounted gun turrets. The opening scene in Jamie Freveletti’s novel, “Blood Run,” gives a realistic portrayal of a substantially armored vehicle under attack.
This armored vehicle is used by the Neenah, Wisconsin Police Department.
Curious about salaries for doing this dangerous and challenging job?
Nationwide average in the USA: $59,475
Wichita Falls, TX average: $55,164
North Carolina average: $50,575
Thanks go to the Neenah Police Department members who shared their information and experiences at a Writers’ Police Academy held in Wisconsin.
Many thanks to Lee Lofland for organizing this outstanding annual event.
Additional information from:
All except armored truck: Patti Phillips.
Armored truck: Neenah, Wisconsin Police Department
S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, implying a special level of training and weaponry for the team members. When we hear that a SWAT team has been deployed, we know that a serious law-enforcement-required incident and threat to public safety has occurred, which may be beyond the scope of the typical police department or first responder.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has the reputation of creating the first SWAT teams in the USA, but Philadelphia coined the Special Weapons and Tactics phrase first, in 1964. Philly established a large team whose sole responsibility was to combat the rising number of bank robberies in the city, hoping to stop them in progress. LAPD organized their own program around the same time, but the focus was different, using their teams during civil unrest and riots, when people attacked police and attempted to overwhelm them from all sides.
SWAT team members always have experience in other agencies or departments before applying to and being accepted into this specialized arena.
Depending on the needs of the towns/counties, SWAT teams are larger or smaller, relative to the size and needs of the rest of the police force. The Wichita Falls, Texas, Police Department SWAT Team members are trained in everything from Hostage Rescue to Dignitary Protection during a 60 hour basic SWAT school. Wichita Falls has a little over 200 sworn officers, with a SWAT team of 18. The Wisconsin department we observed was a 40 person department, with a SWAT team of 10, including two snipers.
A SWAT team is called out for:
The team’s mission is to save lives. A hostage rescue is the most complex and the most man power intensive of the possible assignments. The goal is to end it sooner rather than later. If there is no hostage in the house, with just one person in an isolated place, then a negotiator might be used, since the safety of others and time considerations would not generally be a factor.
The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) sets the standard for the country for the management and protocols in a hostage situation. The participants are identified and divided into categories:
The civilians are cleared out before a SWAT assault begins. Other jurisdictions may be called in to help. Past experience has shown that in situations like school shootings or bank robberies where a number of people are involved, everyone, including small children, is asked to leave the building with hands up in the air. This way, the law enforcement groups on the scene will know that the children have nothing hidden in their hands and/or are not being used to create more chaos or danger for the waiting crowd(s).
It’s important to note that school patrol personnel might have been employed a few years ago to keep drug dealers off the campus just by their very presence, without any expectation of violent confrontation. Now, more and more often, they are being trained in active shooter scenarios in order to be pro-active in the minutes before a SWAT team can arrive.
A SWAT team member’s mindset:
The men and women in SWAT have a warrior mindset and are confident in the fact that they will get the job done, that they are the best candidates for the job, and they are not afraid of being under fire. For a set period of time (6-12 months in various departments) after training, Field Training Officers (FTO) guide rookie SWAT officers through the many different scenarios that may occur. Team members are always ready for the callout, so training is intense and constant. If the team stays trained and never gets called upon, that can be tough on morale – “when am I going to be able to show what I can do?” It’s like a fine-tuned machine that never gets used. In big cities, that would never be an issue, but in smaller, less populated areas with fewer SWAT-needed situations, it might become a factor.
Many of today’s police departments have a greater social work component to hostage situations than in the past, so a hostage negotiator gets involved before SWAT starts knocking down doors. Often, negotiators are specifically assigned to the SWAT teams.
There is a certain gender bias that women must fight against in the job, mostly because it is thought by some that a woman may not be strong enough or tough minded enough to carry through in a hostile situation. The capability to shoot is never in question, but sometimes the willingness to shoot is a factor in the negative thinking. The physical tests are not adjusted in most jurisdictions, so women must do the same pushups and gear carries that men do. In truth, women perform valuable functions on the SWAT teams in the roles of negotiators, even if they can’t pass the physicality tests to breach buildings. In general, women have been found to be more observant, better at interviewing than some men, and more emotionally aware at a crime scene, valuable attributes for negotiators.
If negotiations fail, and/or the hostages are at risk of being injured or killed, more aggressive methods are used.
Unless a police department is headquartered in a big city, SWAT teams are often part-time, coming together as a unit when needed, perhaps once a month. However, training continues whether there is a case or not. It’s important for safety and efficiency for the team to train as a group on a regular basis – In Neenah, Wisconsin’s case, they train together for about 16 hours a month.
A team might be shared by other towns in a county, and the home town team members often perform other duties within the department until required for a bank robbery or other kind of hostage scenario. There just isn’t enough money in the budget for a small town to support a team they only need occasionally, but when SWAT is required, it’s essential that they be highly trained. It’s smart to share that capability.
Training, training, always training
You may have noticed photos of law enforcement officers on the front lines carrying large shields. The men carrying those shields must have excellent upper body strength, since they have to carry the shield in place with one hand and a rifle (or baton) in ready-to-fire position in the other. Try keeping your arms chest high in front of you, bent at the elbows, while holding ten pound weights in each hand. How long can you do it continuously without getting tired or losing focus?
Physical Fitness training needs to be done on their own time, and SWAT members make sure it gets done. Their lives and those of their team may depend on maintaining that strength, agility, and split second timing while carrying the 25-65 pound gear/equipment in all kinds of weather during attack or defensive actions.
A typical practice for snipers includes (while carrying a 25 pound pack)
Followed by a 2 minute break then (perhaps) 40 overhead lifts of that pack in 2 minutes.
Then, a two minute break followed by holding a plank position for 80 seconds.
Then, a standing broad jump of 6-7 feet, followed by a two minute break.
Then, a timed 1/4 mile run with the pack on the back.
Then, they repeat the whole routine in reverse.
*Many thanks to the Neenah, Wisconsin SWAT team members who shared their knowledge and experiences during a Writers’ Police Academy session held in Wisconsin.
Next up: “SWAT Equipment and Strategies”