Sgt. Derek Pacifico of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office offers a three-day Crime Writer’s Homicide School, and I’ve just returned, my head swimming with story ideas. Sgt Pacifico is a master storyteller and colorful talker, even while he’s presenting dry facts on probable cause and Mirandizing, and the unlikelihood of arresting a “tax-paying, dog-petting citizen.” He deals in street crime now, after a long stint in Homicide, and he’s honest enough to admit that it’s fun screeching in sideways to a crime in progress, lights flashing and siren wailing.
This three-day course covered the same curriculum he teaches to law enforcement classes across the country (without the tests and memorizing the codes.) Among the topics were autopsies, crime scene and blood spatter analysis. Did you know that dried taco sauce looks like blood? Did you know that signs of decomposition on a body show up first on the stomach?
Pacifico likens a homicide investigation to a game of 3D chess where the pieces are on multiple levels and can move up, down, or sideways. Another analogy was being handed a paper bag of puzzle pieces and a photograph of a horse in the desert. Putting the puzzle together the detective realizes some of the pieces belong to two different puzzles, some of them are car parts, and once solved he ends up with a picture of a cat on a window sill.
This was my second seminar with Pacifico and I learned details that passed me by the first time. and heard new stories. Most interesting to me was the day spent on Interviewing and Interrogation and the accompanying videos. Interviewing is the bullshitting around, getting the subject to like you. It’s all self-deprecating, familiar, general shuck and jive. As Pacifico puts it, “I am who I need to be, the misunderstood husband, the unjustly accused employee, anybody the suspect can identify with.” Hardly the TV notion of Andy Sipowitz coming in and beating the confession out of the guy.
Interrogation is scripted and planned in a huddle. It’s extremely rare to have a subject waive Miranda rights because often he’s thinking this jovial nice guy who’s talking to him like a human being is just “a stupid, donut-eating cop who couldn’t make it in pro sports.”
The only lie the detective cannot tell is to maneuver someone to confess to something he didn’t do. And Pacifico’s stories are mostly about men. Women don’t often murder. I collect Stupid Criminal Stories and this was a new one for me. To clean up a really bloody murder scene, the guy puts in a new carpet, but he’s lazy, so he leaves the old carpet in the back yard for the cops to test for blood.
For any crime writer–or fan–Pacifico’s Homicide School is a must. Find him at http://www.crimewritersconsultations.com/Crime_Writers_Homicide_School.html He is also available for one-on-one story consultations and presentations of any length and he likes writers. We’re interested, ask good questions, and listen hard. Not always true when he does law enforcement trainings. ###