Just the Facts, Ma'am

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It’s The Little Things

It’s The Little Things

By Gerry Goldshine

 

I just ran across this in a recent Associated Press story on the tragic stabbing death of an eight year old girl in Calaveras County, California, “Sheriff’s officials say investigators collected fingerprints and what they believe is DNA from the home.” You’re now looking at the screen going, “Yeah, so?”

Well, first of all, crime scene investigators do NOT collect DNA. They collect hair, semen, blood and other type of physiological evidence from which a DNA profile may be extracted. The same applies to items such as cigarette butts, beer bottles, linen and the like. The DNA technician processes such evidence to extract a biologic sample from which a unique DNA profile is built. This profile can then be compared to a database to look for a matching suspect. DNA profiles can also be used to rule out possible suspect.

So this is about semantics, right? No, it’s about accuracy. One of the most valuable lessons I came away from the Army with was that “the little things” matter. Failure to pay attention to small details ultimately leads to larger systemic failures. As a traffic accident reconstructionist, I knew that major case, involving multiple vehicles and multiple victims, could hinge on a something as insubstantial as how the little coil of wire inside a single light bulb may have looked. Get that detail wrong and perhaps a vehicular manslaughter case collapses and a guilty person escapes justice.

The minutiae matter in establishing your veracity as a writer regardless of the genre. Give Captain Kirk a light saber instead of a phaser and regardless of how compelling your story happens to be, you’ve lost most of your readers. In the DNA situation, I start wondering what else the reporter doesn’t understand about police work, crime scenes and evidence collection. From that point it doesn’t become that much of a stretch to call into question the accuracy of the entire story.

With the wealth of information instantly available today because of the Internet, such lapses are inexcusable. As a writer, you have the same responsibility as I did as a traffic investigator to get the all the particulars correct, be they large or small.

 

Traffic Officer Gerry Goldshine aka T-36  Petaluma Police Department mid-1980's

Traffic Officer Gerry Goldshine
aka T-36
Petaluma Police Department mid-1980’s

Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California. 

Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in

the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty

in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement

in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, and a trainer at Petaluma Police Department.

Gerry is married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.

Gerry is a regular contributor to Just the Facts, Ma’am. Check in weekly or so to see his newest posts.

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One comment on “It’s The Little Things

  1. billiepaytonsettles
    May 15, 2013

    Interesting, Thonie. I enjoyed hearing your expertise on that subject.

    Billie

    Like

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This entry was posted on May 15, 2013 by in Law Enforcement, Tales from the Barking Muse and tagged , , , , .

Cop Talk

For all things about cop culture-the work, the family, the days off.

The purpose of this page is to educate writers of all genres to be accurate in their portrayal of law enforcement professionals. This includes meter maids (I was a "lovely Rita" many years ago), dispatcher, patrol officers, detectives, and administrators.

I have many resources in my 35 year career in California law enforcement. I index and explain common errors that found in all media. Guests will also post about police professionalism today and tomorrow as well as historical articles about the way things used to be, "back in the day".

Examples of police media myths: missing persons cannot be reported by anyone but the family; missing persons reports can't be taken until the subject has been missing 24 hours; all cops eat donuts.

You get my drift.

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Just the Facts, Ma'am posts Sundays and Fridays. Sundays scheduled writers Hal Collier, Ed Meckle, Mikey, and John Schick take us through the days and nights of those who protect and serve.
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Extra postings will include California 'Officer Down' notices or something special. I will update progress of my current literary project as they develop.
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