Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Road to Reserves - Criminal Investigations 1 & 2

This will be a shorter post than normal, as we only had two evening classes last week. I had been looking forward to these two criminal investigations sessions ever since the academy began.

These classes confirmed my belief that if I ever pursue a full-time career as a deputy, becoming a detective might be my ultimate goal!

Criminal Investigations 1 

Tuesday evening, we heard from two Beaverton Police Department (BPD) detectives who told us about their typical job responsibilities. They explained that patrol officers and deputies handle about 95% of all calls and investigations.

When making contact with victims and suspects, conducting interviews, and writing reports, we must remember we may be laying groundwork for investigators. Being thorough and observant, and mindfully collecting evidence, will assist detectives with case resolution down the road.

Our instructors explained that detectives are initially required to know at least a little bit about a lot of things. This can include interviews and interrogations, DNA, fingerprints, computers, cell phones, social media, blood splatter, and search and seizure authority.

Depending on the elements of each investigation a detective works, he or she will become an expert in one or more particular fields.

Regardless of agency, detectives generally share similar duties. They investigate more complicated, time-consuming crimes, allowing patrol officers and deputies to focus on the immediate calls for service that come into dispatch. Detectives tend to be on call 24/7.

Detectives also communicate with and guide witnesses and victims through the trial process. They may hold a caseload of upwards of 30 cases, depending on their area of focus. A property crimes investigator, for example, will likely have more open cases at any given time than a violent person crimes detective.

We discussed our responsibilities as peace officers. We are frequently the first law enforcement professionals on the scene of a crime, so we can take initial photographs and make rough crime scene diagrams in our notebooks.

With enough experience, a peace officer may conduct small investigations him or herself. Building skill in conducting witness, victim, and suspect interviews can prove useful in solving these cases. Some of the same techniques can be utilized in each of these types of interview. We learned about the differences and similarities in each.

The evening ended with a brief study of an investigation our two lecturers completed. They discussed the details of the case and let us watch security camera footage of a large bar brawl in Beaverton.

Reviewing the video footage multiple times, examining victims’ injuries and the scene of the altercation, and interviewing a number of individuals eventually led to the successful conviction of several suspects.

Criminal Investigations 2 

Now comes the really fun part. Thursday evening we got the opportunity to try solving two murder mysteries!

The same two detectives had set up elaborate “crime scenes” in two different locations. Each scene included a deceased victim and a number of obvious and not-so-obvious clues.

Our class split into pairs. Each pair got to spend up to ten minutes examining each crime scene. An instructor observed the pair’s work and guided them with prompts and questions if the “investigation” stalled. The two classmates would then confer privately and come up with a hypothesis as to how each victim died.
We were given a few pieces of information received from dispatch before entering each scene.

The first scene, pictured below, featured a man slumped over a desk with a pistol in his right hand. He had a gunshot wound on the side of his head and an exit wound on the opposite side. A suicide note and pen sat on the desk next to the man, along with a game of solitaire and two empty beer bottles.

Music played from a radio on the floor and blood was sprayed on the wall behind the man. One lone poker chip stuck out from beneath the desk. A handwritten shopping list peeked from the man’s pocket.

The second scene represented the interior of an apartment or home. A deceased male lay in the far corner of the room, next to an open cabinet in which a pistol sat. The man had suffered four gunshot wounds to his back.

The scene was fairly messy, so we needed to move methodically around the room, paying close attention to the many items we found littering the floor and table. Pieces of used duct tape lay on the floor next to two chairs and a cell phone rested beneath one.
A table in the center of the room was covered with small bags of narcotics, drug paraphernalia, cigarettes, and paper money which had been cut into hundreds of small pieces.

A safe sat open on one wall and it was empty with the exception of a few more small bags of drugs. A spray of red blood was found low on another wall, and a bloody tooth was on the floor nearby.

After all the teams had spent time examining each crime scene and discussing the circumstances surrounding each victim’s death, our instructors played reenactment videos that told the whole story.

Several of our prior BPD instructors had feature roles in these informative videos, so it was especially entertaining to see them in character. We got to see how the “real” stories compared to what our investigations had revealed.

As much as I would like to share the inside scoop about how these faux murders took place, I can’t ruin the mystery for other people who might see these scenarios in another class. This was a fantastic opportunity to put our observation and analytical skills to the test!

I will be taking a short hiatus from writing a blog post next week, as we only have a study night and our final exam ahead of us. With any luck, I will report back after graduation with pictures of all of us in our full uniforms for the first time. Thank you so much for reading!

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