“Hidden Figures”, unexpected lesson

hidden-figures-posterYour typical Saturday night … a reason to make plans a few days previous with friends for dinner and a movie … so why not combine the two?

That’s how a few hours of entertainment morphed into unexpected perspectives on one of the unnoticed parts of American history and the race into space.

Hidden Figures“, nominee for Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars, is the story of three African-American women who played important roles in the United States race to get man into space.  The movie plays out at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA in 1961.

The three women – a mathematical genius (called “computers” long before the electronic versions), an aspiring engineer, and the de facto supervisor of a group of a pool of data transcribers – struggle to gain respect and recognition in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration‘s (NASA) space program in the Jim Crow South.

The twist – both interesting and discomforting – came in the form of WHERE we decided to partake of food and adult beverages while catching a good movie.

Carol had arranged for us to see a movie Saturday night with friends.  We decided to try a local franchise of the Studio Movie Grill in Upper Darby, PA .. a township, seamlessly fused to the west side of Philadelphia.

images-2 The immediate western suburbs of Philadelphia – like West Philadelphia itself is largely African-American.  No surprise that the audience was almost entirely black.

And not a problem …

But it had not occurred to me what would result from the intersection of movie and audience demographics.  That realization came shortly after the movie started.  We had made a fascinating choice in movie, given the makeup of the audience. It would be an interesting evening, enjoying “Hidden Figures” (a firm recommendation, dear Reader) and noting the differences in perspective.

Perspective was easily observed.

Four African-American women, roughly my age and dressed for a night out, were seated next to me.  As the evening war on, between a flatbread pizza and mac ‘n cheese (a firm NO, dear Reader), we watched a great story.  While I enjoyed the history of the story, they were connecting with Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary on an entirely different level.

There was a bit of verbal audience participation … encouraging advice, pleas to speak out, silent but deep disgust.  I could feel it, but I couldn’t really.

At one point in the film, I laughed when Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) scurried frantically across the Langley campus.  Then I realized she was on a one-mile round trip to use a “colored only” ladies room because one wasn’t available in the building to which she had been assigned.  I stopped myself short and listened.  There was no laughter, only the murmurs of those who grew up knowing such things as intimate history.

I learned what I thought I knew I could never ever really know.

FWIW …. I thought the movie was very good, the story compelling.  Although I have only seen Hidden Figures and La La Land (also very good) on the Best Picture nominee list, I would have thought Taraji Henson deserved a nomination.  Octavia Spencer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and should receive strong consideration.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

For years now, I have had difficulties understanding the attraction of a song we never hear at any time other than the Christmas season. That’s kind of weird really, because whenever you listen to the song you never hear a reference to Christmas or the holidays in general.

Yes … Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

But to be honest, I hadn’t really wondered aloud about why it’s considered a “holiday tune” until I downloaded the song – in one of it’s many, many versions sung by many, many artists – to my iPod. Then, after a few years of hearing it only during the playing of my Christmas playlist, thinking to myself, “What the hell does this have to do with Christmas?”

And in these Days of Enlightenment, the lyrics are simply creepy! At least in Neptune’s Daughter, the movie where the song made it’s premiere wide distribution, the women get a bit of a turn-around in the second part of the song, which featured the comical interpretation by Red Skelton. But it’s the first part of this popular song duet, as sung in the movie by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams, that most listeners connect with.

Unfortunately, and for good reason, that connection – as Jessica Cantrera writes in The Washington Post– is “icky”.

The song obviously is the whimsical version of the classic late-night attempt at seduction. The wily male working his mystical – or mythical – charms to seduce the seemingly attracted, yet uncertain, female. Plying her with compliments, alcohol, and his “worries” she might suffer hypothermia due to the rampant Winter weather.

But in this day and age, when we consider ourselves so much more enlightened, critics point to the female’s repeated desires to leave, although she seems unwilling to “break the spell”, the phrase “Hey, what’s in this drink?!?” (and flashes perhaps of Bill Cosby), and the females pointed, “The answer is ‘No!'” as indications of something more sinister.

Maybe they are right …

Now I have a theory about the hows and whys the song became and remained so popular. It’s my own personal theory, which I do not recall ever hearing discussed, so I’ll lay it out there for you to consider. But first some history on the song itself

Frank Loesser

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was written Frank Loesser – an accomplished Broadway composer (Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) – in 1944, and performed by he and his wife, Lynn Garland at their house-warming party. They performed it together for years before Frank sold the song – to his wife’s consternation – in 1948. The song appeared in Neptune’s Daughter (1949) and won an Academy Award that year for Best Original Song.

Now my theory is wrapped in the biggest event circling the globe in the year Loesser wrote the song, 1944 and World War II.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction the song may have had for those in our parents (and grandparents, great-grandparents) generation. At a time when the song was published (1949), many men had come home just a few years prior after witnessing and participating in one of the largest, most tragic periods of American history. Many of these men may have witnessed the deaths of friends in the most grisly of manners. Many had killed men themselves in the most grisly of manners.

In my mind, it’s not very hard to understand a mindset that suggested living Life to its fullest; refusing to allow opportunities for Life, Love, or Fun to pass by. Perhaps the song touched that chord that suggests living for Today and being bold enough to pursue such pleasures.

The same chord might have just as easily been struck in the women of the day as well. Many of them fresh off the assembly lines of the war, building tanks, trucks, airplanes, bombs, etc. Some say the female subject of the song was exercising a form of liberation by not conforming to the expectations and standards of a society after shouldering the burden of liberating the World from fascist oppression.

She earned many a hefty paycheck and the Independence that goes with financial power. Perhaps she is flaunting social convention as held by her parents, siblings, maiden aunt, and even her neighbors … She simply doesn’t sound so sure that’s a good idea!

Maybe … After all the sexual revolution would be just 15-20 years away in 1949; and certainly some of that rebelliousness would have been felt by both sexes coming off four years of liberating responsibility!

Then again … The fact that the original song score referred to the male role as the “wolf” and the female role as the “mouse” coats the entire subject once again in potential ickiness.

Only you simply cannot get past the fact that the song has amassed incredible popularity for those generations that preceded us! You only need look – even now – at performers still singing the song every holiday season: Seth MacFarlane and Sara BareillesIdina Menzel and Michael BubléDarius Rucker and Sheryl Crow. And that is in just the last two years!

But certainly, it seems the song has outlived its playfulness.

Heck, I still can’t get passed the fact that it’s considered “holiday music”. And for the past few years, every time it came up on the iPod rotation I would mention this to whomever was sitting next to me who might – or might not – care. It has gotten to the point where Carol now will immediately say, “Yes, I know … Why is this a Christmas song?!?”

I can be a bit redundant. Surprise!

Now it’s becoming common to drag the song out into the light and bludgeon it with images of Bill Cosby (as Saturday Night Live did recently) or date rape as “Funny or Die” portrayed the song.

Personally, I think that’s a bit unfair as parodies seem to be sometimes. After all in all versions of the song, we are left to imagine what the outcome was. Can any of us say it was Good or Bad? Who are we to judge?

I do have a healthier respect for the song now that I have read of its origins, the man who created it, and its initial purpose. And frankly, until today I had never seen its basic premise turned around 180 degrees, as it was in the second part of its Neptune’s Daughter version.

One must concede that its imagery and language are dated and present complications for a society firmly ensconced in no-pressure sexuality, where slick talk or chemical gimmicks are rightfully seen as robbing individual choice. Yet I can not ignore that initially it was simply a quaintly mischievous song, written by a renown composer to be sung with his wife to family and friends as a way of saying “Good night, the Party’s over.”

Now, someone needs to explain to me how this duet became associated with the Christmas holidays!

Could you walk a mile in her shoes?

logoOK … Let’s get this out there right away.

I did not try it.

  • I was ill prepared for the challenge.
  • I was there – volunteering – with an entirely different task set.
  • I’m not sure I could or would want to.
  • I have weak ankles.

There it is.  My expansive list of extremely relevant factors restricting my participation.

The guys who did it? They looked like they were having fun.  Well, some did …

The event was the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event sponsored by the Laurel House in Norristown, PA.  I was there as a favor to a dedicated instructor and had no idea what the event was about.  We were there to help out with traffic flow and parking for an event at Heebner Park in Worchester, PA.

AR-150429760Laurel House advocates for and empowers those impacted by domestic violence by providing crisis intervention, safe haven, supportive programs and resources.  They also work to advance social change through preventative education and through community training and collaboration to foster a coordinated response to domestic abuse.

Apparently, this women’s shelter was a huge favorite of one of my Citizens Police Academy instructors.  So when he mentioned he was looking for volunteers for a few hours on a Saturday morning, I enlisted.

But it wasn’t until I got there Saturday morning that I saw the red high heels.  At first it didn’t click … That was until I saw the one guy get out of his car in a badly fit red cocktail dress and shiny red, thigh high, 4-inch heel boots.

CLICK!

No way, I thought.  Gotta see this!

But first some relevant facts:

  • 1 in every 4 women in the United States will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime
  • An estimated 1.3 million women in the United States are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year
  • The majority of family violence victims are female (86%)
  • The cost of domestic violence in the United States exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical care and mental health

11150612_377547345771124_6507808536351055125_nAfter two and half hours of Acting Enforcer of Ingress and Parking Privilege, I headed over to the event to watch the antics.  A mile … in ill-fitting high heels … Some of these guys were running in them.  Some just trying to run until realizing there is no way to walk in them let alone run.  How women walk around in those things, I know not.

It was funny.  It was absurd … some guys simply shouldn’t even try.  But it was also very cool to see some men getting the seriousness of the problem and doing what they could to help out.  Each participant collected pledges to be donated if they completed the mile.

Now, I have been very lucky.  I was never a witness to or present at a domestic violence situation.  At least not that I know of …

With 25% of all women experiencing domestic violence at some point in their life, you have to wonder.

I’ve been lucky … I think.

Citizens Police Academy: SWAT and hostage negotiations

imagesOur last full session of the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy was held on April 8.  The topics were Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squads and the skillful discipline of hostage negotiation.

The SWAT concept was born out of a range of incidents that occurred in the late 1960s.  Incidents like the University of Texas clock tower sniper and the riots that followed the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. dramatically highlighted the need for teams of law enforcement officers trained specifically in more skillful and specific methods of resolving complex crises.

The clock tower sniper shootings occurred over just an 80-minutes,16 people were killed, 32 wounded in a systematic attack launched from a strategically difficult to suppress firing position.  It wasn’t resolved until three police officers took matters into their own hands.  Accompanied by a civilian, they arrived on the balcony hiding the sniper’s 27 stories above the university mall.

These officers had no specific tactical training for the event or anything similar to what present day SWAT team members receive.  They had no special weapons, using their normal service weapons, a rifle and shotgun.  They were successful primarily because the civilian accidentally fired the rifle he was carrying, which distracted Charles Whitman, the U.S. Marine-trained sniper, as two officers approached his sniper’s nest from the other direction.

The evening started with a demo room incursion by members of the Eastern Montgomery County SWAT.

Eastern Montgomery County SWAT (EMCSWAT) was formed in 1989 and currently holds responsibility for the communities of Hatboro, Horsham, Rockledge, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland, Bryn Athyn and Jenkintown.  There are plans to incorporate the SWAT teams and areas of responsibility for Abington and Cheltenham with EMCSWAT to form Montgomery County SWAT East.

Some statistics on SWAT activity:

  • 17,000 police departments in the U.S.
  • 1200 tactical SWAT teams
  • Only 49 SWAT teams are “full-time”, dedicated fully to SWAT assignments
    • usually located in large metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, etc.)
  • 1999 study showed 566 SWAT incidents nationwide
    • 520 were resolved without shots fired
    • 368 wanted criminals or suspects apprehended
  • In the Eastern Montgomery County area, 90% of SWAT assignments are for serving warrants or to resolve barricade situations (taking of hostages or refusal to surrender within a structure)
  • EMCSWAT averages 1 assignment per month, and has had just ONE INCIDENT where shots were fired!

All SWAT operations consist of the following responsibilities:

  • Perimeter: Outer perimeter manned by uniformed patrol, inner perimeter by SWAT team members
    • Inner perimeter: containment of immediate hostile environment, relay close-in intelligence to Command, ready to control or neutralize threat in any attempt to escape containment or in hostile action.
  • 5021bb06d6caa.imageNegotiator: Sole contact with person-of-interest (POI).  Works to calm subject and control situation.  Relies on available intelligence to decipher situation looking for a “hook” that will appeal to the subject and resolve the standoff.  Stationed away from immediate scene.
    • Assistant Negotiator writes all communications down; monitors progress; reminds Negotiator of pertinent information
  •  Sniper and Observer:  Occupies high ground and provides cover to other responders
    • Average SWAT sniper shot distance: 60 yards
  •  Entry team:  Responsible for entry with a plan should situation warrant
  • Emergency Action Team:  Prepares for “hot” entry without a plan should situation suddenly change requiring quick entry action.
  • Intelligence Unit:  Looks to develop information (the hook) on the POI that can be used to de-escalate situation and elicit surrender
  • Command:  Manages the overall operation; ensures negotiators get what they need; responsible for overall safety

Controls:

  • Pennsylvania prohibits negotiators from recording Negotiator-POI communications unless a warrant is obtained.
  • All potential SWAT incidents are evaluated BEFORE SWAT in authorized to act.  Instrument is a one page chart/questionnaire used to summarize the hostile situation, scored on a weighted scale
    • 0-14:  no SWAT action required
    • 14-20:  requires consult with on-scene commander to determine SWAT appropriateness
    • 20 <:  SWAT action required

Qualifications and training:

  • Minimum two years of service in police duties
  • Rookie school:  40 hours training, usually off-site (e.g. FBI school, Quantico, VA)
  • Regular shooting qualifications: must shoot at 90% proficiency
  • Two scheduled 12-hour training days per month, attendance at one required
  • Annual trips to Ft. Indiantown Gap or Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst where building mockups are available

9607035417_35acb0e8a0_bThe most interesting insight was the expression of what a successful SWAT intervention consists:  no shooting, no assault, no injuries, and the peaceful resolution of the immediate situation.  Another interesting perspective was the answer to the question often asked these days about the “militarization” of police departments.  The point was straightforward and one with which it is hard to argue.  The most successful SWAT operations occur when the POI sees scores of cops, some dressed in a full complement military gear.  They see the vast array of equipment and perhaps the sounds of a helicopter overhead.  And they decide the most reasonable course of action is to walk out of the building – empty-handed – to be taken into custody safely.

Shock and awe might be the cop’s best friend!

The second half of the session addressed hostage and standoff negotiations, where the first choice of law enforcement is – once again – the peaceful resolution of the most easily inflamed situations.  The presentation was given by retiring Detective Dave Bussenger, a former negotiator who stepped aside to ensure experienced negotiators were developed before he left the force to retire.

download-41Bussenger’s presentation, rich in personal experience and the insight gained through years of being the #1 Negotiator, made you want to pay close attention.  His most surprising tidbit was his belief that the movie Dog Day Afternoon (Al Pacino, John Cazale) was perhaps the best portrayal of what an actual negotiation situation is really like.

Detective Bussenger confided that what drove him to be successful in his negotiations was to consider the consequences of failure … the lives affected on both sides if a subject could not be talked out peaceably.  He allowed that one of the most important skills he had as a negotiator was the ability to understand what a subject was feeling and experiencing during a standoff.

He allowed that the BEST thing he could hear from a barricaded criminal was a set of demands, no matter how bizarre or impractical.  The reason?  It indicated that the  ensnared individual WANTED to live because they had a plan for surviving.

The worst scenarios were those where the individual had hostages trapped with him that he knew intimately (spouses, parents, siblings, friends) yet made no demands for resolving the standoff.  This characterized an expressive form of behavior that set a red flag for the negotiator.  Many are suffering from psychological issues like severe depression or chemical imbalances or inappropriate emotional responses.  These situations hold the greatest potential for suicide.

Bussenger listed the characteristics of a good negotiation:

  • Patience
  • Soothing voice
  • Finely tuned listening skills
  • Ability to leave emotion out
  • Conveying the message that the negotiator is there to help
Police+Seal+Off+CBD+Negotiators+Talk+Man+Building+WbNq4gtsjPGl

Negotiators with potential suicide victim

A successful negotiator insists from the very beginning that the subject must come out; he can never lie to the subject; never say “no”; and must be able to empathize with the subject’s perspective.  And in cases where suicide is a possibility, the negotiator must be able to stress the stark realities of taking such action versus the other positive options and outcomes available.

The first 15-45 minutes of any potential standoff situation is the most important.  In cases where mental instability is present the negotiator can never indulge in the subject’s hallucinations, less he set himself up to caught in a lie and destroying all trust.

Negotiating teams generally include 4-10 individuals.  The primary negotiator will conduct all direct contact with the POI.  A support negotiator takes note of all communications and assists the primary in tracking progress and keeping tabs on details.  In the meantime an Intelligence component of the group will speak to family and friends in an attempt to glean pertinent information and discover a “hook” which can be used to bring a standoff to a successful conclusion.

Citizens Police Academy: Anti-Terrorism

When you attend your local Citizens Police Academy – and you should – you will learn a lot about the mundane and terrifying aspects of being in law enforcement.  Much if it is interesting, some of it only in the sense of appreciating a difficult job.  But some of what you will learn can be fascinating.  And that was the case when retired FBI Agent Jeffrey Tomlinson stood in front of us to address the topic of Anti-Terrorism as a law enforcement function.

police-academy-banner

… and in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Mr. Tomlinson spent 20 years in the FBI, beginning in 1990.  He was a local kid, who attended William Tenet High School and graduated from West Chester University.  In a unique twist. Tomlinson followed up 20 years of FBI service by giving back to local communities, as Safety Director for the Hatboro-Horsham School District and as a patrol officer in Hulmeville Borough, Bucks County!

He currently teaches Law Enforcement Management and Terrorism at DeSales University, where he earned his Masters Degree in Criminal Justice.

His first assignments took him to New York City, working organized crime.  He was part of the FBI team that investigated the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.  In 1998 he was transferred to Philadelphia, where he worked anti-terrorism.  On September 11, 2001 he was – bizarrely enough – one of many law enforcement types attending an anti-terrorism workshop in Quantico, Virginia.

Mr. Tomlinson’s began his presentation with a look at where international terrorism has originated.  There are three primary sources:

  • Fallout from the Israeli-Palestinian
  • intra-Muslim competition (i.e. ShiaSunni conflict)
    • Roughly 85-90% of all Muslims are Sunni
  • Political groups within both competing brands of Islam (al Qaeda vs. ISIL, Hamas vs. Hizbollah vs. PLO)

The largest confrontation seen today is that between those opposing brands of Islam and their attempts to dominate the Muslim world through competing caliphates.  Currently, the Shia sects, aligned with Iran are pushing to control and confine the Sunni attempts to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

This has led to much violence between Islamic sects as opposed to conflicts between Islam and the outside world.  Of particular consequence is the recent declaration of a caliphate that challenges Iran’s ruling clergy’s very purposeful march to establish their own.  One that could someday occupy the lands from the Arabian Sea, through the entirety of Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea.

Iran-sponsored shia caliphate could cover all of Iran from the Arabian Sea to the northern part of Iraq and through all of Syria to the Mediterranean

This becomes more dangerous when one also considers the recent advances of the Houthis, another Shia sect, in Yemen.  A quick look at the map presents a picture of Saudi Arabia, home of the Sunni religion and its most precious religious sites, surrounded on three sides by Shia interests.

This development gives perspective to recent Saudi military action against the Houthis in Yemen.  Obviously, the Saudis are very concerned with the advance of Shia interests.

Mr. Tomlinson then took a look at how the U.S. became one of the favorite targets of Islamic extremism leading up the disastrous attacks of September 11, 2001.  I found this portion of the presentation most interesting, though most of the information was quite familiar to me.

As one who was present in NYC for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Tomlinson related how the 1990 Iraq invasion on Kuwait led to Osama bin Laden’s crusade against America.

This had always baffled me, how the U.S. went from friend of the insurgents fighting the Russians in Afghanistan to “infidels” despoiling the holy lands of Saudi Arabia in our allied defense of the Saudis from Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni.  When I read The Looming Towers, I learned how the U.S. became The Great Satan.  Itself a transformation of Islam’s portrayal of the Soviets as such in an attempt to consolidate Islamic forces and foment their return as a global power.

homeland-security-ctu-counter-terrorist-unit_v105_400xFrom here the discussion turned to the different approaches to terror taken by consecutive U.S. administrations.  After the ’93 WTC attack, the Clinton Administration viewed terror as a crime, where law enforcement efforts were considered the primary response.  Find the bad guys and bring them to justice.  After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration sought a military response, which was not surprising, given the immensity of the attacks and the fact that a nation-state could be closely linked to a terror presence in Afghanistan.

Other topics of discussion included:

  • 9/11 Commission finding that the biggest intelligence failure was a lack of imagination
  • anti-terrorism (active fight against terrorism) vs. Counter-terrorism (prevention and disruption)
  • authorizing environment (US Constitution, NSA Act 1946, Executive Order 12333, Patriot Act)
  • fighting international terrorism vs. domestic sources (e.g. McVeigh – Oklahoma City)
  • implications of data mining used to gather anti-terror intelligence
  • workings of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts

From a counter-intelligence angle, I found the discussion of how our domestic law enforcement agencies attempt to penetrate local cultural concentrations and organizations to be very interesting.  Much of this discussion concerned the use of profiling in identifying terrorists coming into the country, as well as those already living here, who may be predisposed to joining terror organizations or acting as lone wolf attackers.  As bad a rap that profiling receives when it comes to everyday criminal activity, it is crucial in disrupting potential attacks from within.

How suspicious did they look before the Boston Marathon bombing?

How suspicious did the Tsarnaevs look before the Boston Marathon bombing?

Profiling looks at what they look like – demographically not racially (for example, 2nd generation immigrants or restless youth), where do they come from, recent travels, predisposition to extremism, etc.  This brought to light several keen observations, such as the large concentration of 2nd generation Palestinians in Northeast Philadelphia or the size of the Syrian community (3rd largest in the U.S. though mostly Christian) in Allentown.

Being aware of such demographics allows law enforcement to identify potential problem areas – terrorism wise – and community sources of intelligence.

This led to an interesting discussion of how counter-terrorism (prevention and disruption) efforts gain access to local community groups and individuals who would be distrusting of law enforcement encroachments or who might simply be scared of potential community backlash.

Terrorist actors, if active locally, will be ensconced to a degree within the anonymity of what otherwise could be a perfectly law-biding cultural community.  The problem of course is that most law enforcement types will stick out like a sore thumb in most such cultural communities.  The secret to finding them; collecting necessary intelligence; and infiltrating or arresting them is to penetrate the community and develop reliable sources (e.g. confidential informants) that will keep an ear to ground for trouble.  Investigators most work from the outside in.

One method for counter-terrorism investigators uses outstanding “wants and warrants” for individuals that might fit the profile of potential threat.  These warrants are prioritized within the cooperating law enforcement network; and an C-I agent might request to go along on any attempt to serve said warrant.  This gives the C-I types a chance to get inside for a look around, survey the subject’s immediate environment; evaluate potential sources for information or surveillance; and develop possible leads from the interactions.

fbi-seal-plaque-mMy major concerns prior to the Anti-Terrorism brief were improvements made to intelligence sharing that was a significant breakdown in the 9/11 attacks.  Former Agent Tomlinson addressed the improvements made since that fateful day.

  • Patriot Act did away with the “stove-piping” of terrorism information between sources of foreign intelligence and all levels of law enforcement.
  • Congress now requires annual presentations on how such intel is shared among the responsible national and local agencies.
  • Stronger relationships with the financial and banking communities has improved as a way to identify financial backers of terrorism.
  • Local law enforcement is a more active player in counter-terrorism.

The anti-terrorism presentation was one of the most fascinating sessions of the CPA thus far.  Other important takeaways from the seminar were:

  • Terrorism continues to be a serious threat across the globe.
  • Despite relative inactivity in this country, largely the result of improved intelligence and counter-terrorism operations, the potential for terrorism – both foreign and domestic – occurring here cannot be ignored.
  • Always pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Citizens can be the first to notice something amiss and are the best sources for local conditions and information.
  • Never be shy about reporting suspicious activity or potential evidence of such to law enforcement.  Let the experts decide what constitutes a legitimate threat.

Overall the most important message from the evening was that the successful fight against those who want to do us harm – regardless of where that threat originates – is heightened awareness, improved communication from the individual citizen all the way through the highest national authorities, and self-less cooperation among all those involved.

Citizens Police Academy: Crime Scene Investigations (CSI)

Even deep in the heart of Texas

Even deep in the heart of Texas …

During the course of two sessions the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy covered Crime Scene Investigations (CSI).  Although I was unable to attend the first session, where Horsham detectives presented the framework of CSI work, do to more pressing matters.  As a result, those observations come to you through the eyes of a fellow classmate, Emily Ann.

The first CSI class was led by two of Horsham’s finest, Detectives David L. Bussenger and Robert J. Waltz.  The second CSI session came two weeks later, led by Montgomery County Detective Richard J. Nilsen, Jr. of the Forensic Services Unit in the Office of the District Attorney for Montgomery County, PA.

In the following description, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent …

Crime scene investigations are geared towards determining Who committed a crime by answering the questions

  • What took place?
  • When did it occur?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • Why?

The purpose of CSI is to determine what happened and who is responsible.  The ultimate goal is a proper “Guilty” verdict and punishment as set forth by the Court.

The investigative process begins with the initial police contact.

The first responding officers at any potential crime scene are responsible for rendering first aid and to summon an ambulance, if necessary.  They must also note what they see, hear, and smell … Time of day, weather conditions, people and vehicles at the scene and that might leave before investigators arrive.

Responding officers must also protect the crime scene from unnecessary traffic, disturbance, or contamination.  Responders will listen for what might be said by people on the scene and must separate any witnesses isolated from one another.  Witnesses are separated to prevent any comparison of their version of events and – if involved – to ensure they do not rehearse their stories.  All observations are then passed on to the assigned investigators.

Crime-Scene-Investigation-CareersThe investigators will call upon additional specialists as needed.  They include photographers, sketch artists, evidence recorders who maintain the “chain of custody” for all physical evidence, and experts from more specific fields of study … anthropologists, blood pattern analysts, and the medical examiner in cases of death.

Physical evidence is the bread and butter of law enforcement investigative work.  The chain of custody for that physical evidence is crucial to successful prosecutions.  Proper chain of custody allows for the identification and description of all aspects of the physical evidence months or years after its collection.  The chain of custody must be protected from any contamination and preventable degradation of biological samples.  For that reason, the chain of custody must be able to prove that all evidence was properly preserved and kept properly secured from tampering until presented in Court during the criminal trial.

Predictable physical changes in evidence, such as degrading tissue and blood samples cannot be entirely prevented.   The potential for an investigator to cause changes in evidence through improper technique must be anticipated and prevented.  Evidence recorders must be able to address anticipated changes in physical evidence (e.g. normal degeneration of blood and tissue samples) from the time the evidence is collected until it is presented in Court.

What-You-Should-Really-Know-about-Crime-Scene-InvestigationOnce investigators begin processing the immense amount of data from a crime scene, it’s important that they NEVER overlook the obvious.  After all evidence has been collected, photographed and sketched, and all witnesses have been interviewed, investigators will compare their initial findings to ensure all observations and individual perspectives are included.

Other considerations during an investigation:

  • Physical evidence does not lie.  Let it tell you what happened.
  • A hypothesis developed from the evidence and interviews is an important step.  But an investigator can never be afraid to change the theory especially if the physical evidence indicates a change is appropriate.

My friend, Emily Ann, described for me the highlight of that first CSI night … the crime scene adaptation presented by Detectives Bussenger and Waltz.  Emily Ann described a burglary crime scene laid out for the CPA participants with an array of physical evidence, challenging questions put to the participants, and the interesting way the detectives explained how they process such a crime scene.

Emily Ann found it interesting and quite instructive to see a crime scene laid out as an investigator might find it; and learning how they would go about weaving a theory from the physical evidence documented.

This was the angle that Detective Nilsen was really able to hammer home during his presentation on the second night of CSI.  He was able to provide both context and bit of visual discomfort as he provided very real and very graphic crime scene photos.  (All photos were carefully taken and framed so as to not reveal any details on the specific case or any information about the victims who were portrayed.)

But first Detective Nilsen had to blow away all my preconceived notions of detective work as I have gleaned from years and years of watching CSI: Miami/Las Vegas/NYC, eight different versions of Law & Order, and a healthy dose of Criminal Minds!  Apparently, most everything I have come to believe in watching detective TV is a farce, perpetrated by television’s need to fit a weeks or months-long story into 44 minutes (sans commercials).

KIRSTEN VANGSNESS

Penelope Garcia, Master Cyber-Detective Criminal Minds

There is no Garcia pounding furiously on a computer keyboard and able to provide everything from hat size and favorite color to the specific location and contents of last meal eaten for every crime victim, perpetrator, and key witness privy to the macabre details of any violent crime. There is no magical finger-printing system that churns through potential print matches as a detective watches, then spits out the matching perp in the time it takes to fix your mocha latte.  There is no crime lab that would let a regular detective jump right in, complete with a blue Tyvek hazmat suit to twiddle around with the DNA sequencing systems and scanning electro-microscopes (unless properly certified).

Great … Now I have another 6 hours a week I’ll have to find something productive to do …

Detective Nilsen’s presentation highlighted how such crime scene evidence as blood spatters, ballistics dynamics, corpse conditions (lividity, stage of mortiswound dynamics, etc.), transference of materials from perpetrator to victim, etc. all come together to prove the detective’s favorite adage …

Dead men DO tell tales!

Modern day detective's best friend

Modern day detective’s best friend

My personal “wow moment” was watching the animation generated by a piece of equipment called a Scan Station, a surveying type tool that provides a 360°, computer-generated survey of any potential crime scene.  The equipment is so sophisticated that once scanned a detective can visualize a crime scene from any angle (above, below, any side), even from “outside” the scene, as was proven when the class visualized a particular crime scene from outside then “flew” in through a window to view the interior of a virtual crime scene depiction.

Detective Nilsen, a former Lower Merion officer and Widener Law School graduate, also provided an in-depth look at fingerprint analysis and AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), the dynamics of projectiles (bullets), DNA and blood collection, and a case study in the arrest and conviction of Charles “Acme John” Eichinger, one of his first cases as a MontCo detective.

The most important thing I learned from these two nights of CSI …

Crime is definitely not a good long-term job choice!

Philly’s Convention Center experience improves with new union agreement

phila-auto-show-680uwThe Pennsylvania Convention Center (located in Center City Philadelphia) announced results for the 2015 Philadelphia Auto Show, both labor savings and post-show reviews indicate that union work rule changes  have greatly improved the Convention Center’s performance.

These developments highlight the changes in union relationships and work rules when two of the most cantankerous unions were excluded from convention center work after they failed to meet negotiating deadlines last year.

In 2014 both the Philadelphia chapters of the Carpenters Union and the Teamsters (Local 107) were left out of the Convention Center-union agreement after they missed that deadline to agree to “final offer” conditions set forth by the Center.  Work rule changes were intended to improve stagehand service and reverse a sagging reputation for wasteful work rules and nightmarish confrontations over which union did what work.

The ousted unions did not go quietly of course.  They constantly stage ad hoc protests, including the bizarre scene of several unions, accepted into the new convention center agreement, crossing the picket lines of those protesting unions that weren’t included.

One day at the 2015 auto show 200 members from the ousted unions bought admission tickets, then vandalized cars; disrupted displays by occupying cars and trashing their interiors; and one group stripped off their shirts among the car show visitors, displaying bodies painted with pro-union messages.

Now who wouldn’t want these guys helping make a lasting impression on your customers or industry connections?

The changes, attributed to the new management-union relationship, cited for the annual car show were dramatic:

  • Over 250,000 attended the 10-day show, it’s second highest figure ever
  • 436 fewer workers were needed, a 13% reduction from the 2014 show
  • almost 5400 fewer labor hours were required, a 17% reduction from 2014
  • Auto show’s labor bill was reduced by 20%
  • Carpet installation, traditionally performed by carpenters, was completed with 32% fewer workers, working 16% fewer hours, and was completed much earlier than in previous years.

In addition, SMG – the convention center’s new management firm – notes improved comments and reviews from convention center exhibitors and visitors since the new work rules were instituted.

So, when someone wants to tell you that Unions improve business opportunity and performance, remember that it’s hardly always the case!