Thursday, December 26, 2013

Writing about Law Enforcement

            Pet peeve and red button time!  I have been stepping over bodies and visiting celebrities in their freshly burglared homes for about nine years.  I work as a crime scene photographer for the Los Angeles Police Department.  To say that I have seen it all seems somewhat redundant.
            So here is the thing that is stuck in my craw:  People who write about crime without any people in it frosts over my will to continue reading.  WHAT!?  You heard me; stop writing as though anyone who carries a gun and a badge is devoid of personality.  I work with FBI agents who have a better sense of humor over life and its lessons than the DMV-styled officious maunder that is today’s attempt at getting a reader behind the yellow tape.  By the way, the LAPD invented that stuff to keep politicians and other ilk from trampling over evidence.
            Example:  PIII Juarez led XA-21 mission ready as always.
            Result:  I am going to find where you live and…. 
            Let us see this more clearly shall we?  A PIII has been with the department for a while, approximately five years.  They can stay at that level, many choose to do so, or promote to detectives or administration by way of Sergeant.  A PIII is a Police Officer III.  Everything has a rank.  I am Photographer III, which is right below supervisor, who could also be ranked at various levels.
            It begins at the academy where an officer is either a boot or field trainee.  After graduation, they are sent out into the field and are become another officer’s partner.  On duty, a partner is like a ventricle; you cannot pull one out and have a functioning heart.
            Rank is important.  I have been on scene where two Detective III’s had to fight over who was in charge, and it came down to date of hire.  Oh, the poor fellow who graduated first.
            XA-21 is a Unit.  Basically, two officers patrolling anywhere in the area designated as 21.  It is somewhat of a mouthy insider; do not  use.
            Avoid power words like maximum or turbo.  Relate the relatable like an officer who sees their first dead child and it looks like their cousin.
            Tensions rise on scene when brass shows up.  It gets worse when politicians are involved.  Once, the District Attorney got me on the phone to tell me directly what to photograph.
            We all have our own method of writing.  Just think about the heart behind the badge that covers it.
            Some insider things you should know.  Bulletproof vests are never comfortable.  In the summer, they do not breathe and will make a hot day even more hellish.  In the winter, they are dense, causing the cold to come straight through.  They also bunch up when you sit down.
            A car is called a unit or shop; some still call them radio cars.
            SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics and it saves more lives by less than lethal means.  Less than lethal are stuff like tasers, water cannons, ladders, so on and so forth.  They go the extra mile to stop someone from hurting themselves, but primarily anyone else.  Shootouts are nowhere near as common as you are led to believe.  The people in SWAT are extraordinary; they are in amazing shape and practice safe takedowns constantly. They are not the biggest badasses on the department.
            Special units and, in our case, Metro cops are far more likely to get into a nasty fight than anyone else.  They are also some of the nicest people I know.  Funny how true badasses know they are the 600 lb gorilla and do not need to flex.
            Officers cry.  I was shocked the first time I witnessed it.  I always let them know it is okay around me.
            Please, let us connect with the human being first before you start taking us into the world of your creation.  Detectives have been single moms needing a solid job or fresh out of the military with no idea of what to do with their lives.  It is true that all of us behind the thin blue line go into a mode when it is time, but we also have to go to the bathroom and find chow if we are stuck on a long scene.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Not much else to say but here it is.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Taking over

I was in college when it looked like the Japanese were going to take over the world. For the time that I worked for Japanese production companies I found them rather fun loving and quite respectful of America. They were fascinated by the endless wide-open spaces; the 115-degree heat of the Mojave Desert just plain freaked them out.  Did you know that handling a black camera in those conditions sucks out loud?

Now I find it amusing that the Chinese are being looked at as taking over the world. No, wrong, it’s not going to be a country or ideology that will encompass us all.

Information will crush under everyone and everything. It will deliver more details and less truth. We have become bathed in ideas and a dearth of understanding.  We are infused with data and drained of logic.

We think were learning. Were learning not to think.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Turning the Page

            I thought eight years of working with crime scenes would make me somewhat immune to grief.  Unfortunately, it has not worked out that way.
            Parker Center, named after Chief Parker in 1966, started to go up in 1952 and was completed in 1955.  There were many quirks to the building.  To name a few, it was overly built, yet unable able to take earthquake retrofit; they spent more than ten million dollars installing a fire system that never worked; it had a helicopter pad on top and palm trees in front; it was referred to as PAB or Police Administration Building; and it was HQ for a long time.  I made a complaint once about rats humping at the back entrance.

            I don’t really miss the idea of being there.  The location for my workplace was a leftover hand-me-down that we made work.  Craftsman originally did the retrofit from crime lab to photo lab.  Fifty years later, the very best craftsmanship had shown the wear of neglect.  
            We made jokes by writing on the huge cracks in some of the walls created by earthquakes and made larger with every one that came along.  There were toilets that did not work and sinks that would not turn off.  I did not like the building at all and am glad to be moving out.
            The only memorable things the building held for me were memories of those who passed away and left us behind.  As I walked in and out of small rooms and stared out of a night-filled window, I remembered one of the kindest people to ever work there.  He was my introduction to the City and LAPD in general.  
            I am filled with such grief that he is now departed and there will be no place for me to go to remember him on a daily basis.  In another room, I recalled the last conversation I had with another kindly gentleman who passed away just two years prior.  In that moment, I could not believe the torrent of emotions that came over me when I realized I was looking a glimpse of the past for the last time.
            My memories will last a bit longer than my stay at Parker Center and even LAPD.  Tomorrow, however, the page must be turned.