Thursday, March 29, 2007
What I'm writing: Chapter 30
After fingerprints, we had a tour of the Crime Scene Lab. First -- the techs wear uniform polo shirts, black BDU pants and boots. No Armani, no heels, no low-cut shirts. There are 2 squads, 6 people each, plus 2 supervisors and 2 assistant supervisors. They work 4 10 hour days but are basically on call 24/7 and expected to be at any scene in the county in under an hour. The perk here is that they get to have official vehicles (no Hummers -- just mini-vans which are being phased out because they're too small) to take home.
We saw the imaging lab -- everything has to be documented photographically, so they're plenty busy. Then a tour of the lab where they look at things like blood spatter, the various chemicals they use to raise prints, make impressions of tool marks, determine the angles of shootings and other fun stuff. However, unlike the television show, almost everything has to go to the FDLE labs for analysis. There are no magic machines where you put in a drop of blood and get a "match" on someone's DNA in minutes. If it's not a high-profile violent crime, and they don't have a suspect's DNA for comparison, it can take 3 years for results. Best case scenario is more like several months.
The next lab showed how they collect evidence such as tire tracks or shoe prints. This is also the room where they super glue objects to raise prints, since this will "set" the print and reduce chances of it being unusable as evidence. Prints are identified 'in house' but again, most everything else goes out to the FDLE labs.
Oh -- and you know how the CSI folks are always doing Gunshot Residue tests? Nope. Although the test exists, it's barely reliable, and can't tell you if someone shot the gun. It's also expensive, the results take 3 months to come back, and the courts won't touch the results if it's been more than a few hours since the gun was fired and you have to be able to verify the suspect hasn't had a chance to change clothes or wash hands. However, the deputies CAN tell suspects that they're going to do the test, and if the suspects have been watching CSI, they might just confess because they think it's an immediate proof of their guilt.
The DO use those yellow evidence markers, though!
I'm sure I'll think of more little bits and pieces -- when I do, I'll post them.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
First up -- Fingerprint Analysis. The Orange County Sheriff's Office has two latent print analysts. Our speaker has been doing this for well over twenty years, and he knows his prints. We learned about the way prints are collected, the controls to make sure the chain of evidence isn't broken (it's all about what will stand up in court), as well as the history of fingerprinting. There are only three categories of fingerprints (loops, whorls and arches) with sub categories bringing the total up to 8. Before computers, the print cards were filed according to category, and a good analyst could match a print in twenty minutes.
Myth: If a cop finds a fingerprint at a scene, it's run through a magic database and the owner is identified.
Reality: There is no magic database. Yes, there are databases where prints are filed, but these tend to be local, and the prints in them belong to people who have criminal records. If you've been fingerprinted for work, that doesn't put your prints into that file. And unless the crime is a major one, the odds are slim that the cops are going to look beyond their own local files. As Tony, our speaker, pointed out -- most of the crime in Orange County is committed by people who live in Orange County.
And about those computers. Forget what you see on TV. There's no fancy screen display that flashes "MATCH" and pulls up a picture of the suspect. What the computer gives is a ranked list of "possible matches" and a picture of the fingerprint that goes with it. Human intervention is required to decide which of the possible matches is the true owner of the print. Tony said that in once case, the actual print was choice number 14 out of 18 the computer provided. Which boils down to the computer having made 13 "wrong" matches before it found the right one.
Next post: What goes on in the lab -- and what to CSI investigators REALLY wear on the job!
Monday, March 26, 2007
What I'm writing: Finishing chapter 29 - or is it 30? 89,000 words so far.
Since What's In A Name? is on the Cerridwen Coming Soon page, even without a cover, I've updated my website to give readers a behind the scenes tour and a peek at an excerpt. One of these days, Front Page and I will coexist peacefully, but right now, I think it's Front Page 5, Terry 2. Let me know if you can find the pages via my own "Coming Soon" link on my website. A web-tech, I'm not.
Friday, March 23, 2007
What I'm writing: Chapter 29
Great News! I have print copies of Rose Petals, Volume 3 in my hot little hands. It's available in digital as well as print format from The Wild Rose Press -- and if you'd like an autographed copy (and live in the US or Canada), send me an email and I'll tell you how to get one.
Good News: What's in a Name? has hit the Cerridwen Press "Coming Soon" page. Not so good news: It still doesn't have a cover. Actually, there are 4 out of 8 books with the generic covers in this week's website update, so things must really be busy. The art department is great, and they listen to authors, so things take a little longer. I'll hold my breath and wait to see what they come up with for my second release. They got both the book title and my name right, so I'm happy. For a sneak peek at What's In a Name? you can check out my website
I also had a couple of surprise reviews for my short stories. Cocktail Reviews gave "Words" their highest rating of 5 Champagne Flutes. I also liked what their reviewer had to say about "Out of Sight."
I wish this had been a novel. Fantastic read for examining what you’d do in this situation, or to look back if you have made the wrong decision and put it down to one of life’s mistakes. Really did enjoy this one.
And Joyfully Reviewed had the following to say about "Romancing the Geek."
I fell in love with Romancing the Geek and enjoyed watching Stephanie’s training of Brad; his attempts and triumphs were entertaining. I look forward to more stories by Terry Odell.
Don't forget to enter my March contest at my website. If I draw your name, you can choose a download of any one of my publications.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
What I'm writing: Chapter 29
First -- I've been having a great time hooking up with old friends. Someone started an on-line reunion of our Jr Hi School class, and I've touched base with people I haven't heard from in decades. One, another aspiring writer, and I have had many exchanges about the writer's life.
On to our Civilian Police Academy class. We drove out to what seems like the end of the earth between the road system and rush hour traffic, but arrived on time at the Communication Center, which, for security purposes, no longer has any department logos or other signage on the building to identify it. We all promised to forget where it was. Not too hard for me, since I get lost in elevators.
The center houses the emergency Operations Center, where communications are open in times of emergency. People who worked there got all too familiar with it during the spate of hurricanes in Central Florida.
Upstairs, we toured the room where the 911 operators and dispatchers work. It's an amazingly stressful job. In 2006, a million and a half calls came through the system. Even though the county has a non-emergency line, more people are familiar with, or prefer to use the 911 lines, which puts an amazing burden on the operators, who have to deal with crank calls, or people calling with the brilliant question of the year: "What's the number for 911?"
We got to peek over the shoulders of the operators, with their three computer screens that showed maps, what was happening with the call, and all the information the computers pick up when the call is activated. Address information pops up, and there are all sorts of other bits and pieces--like if the caller has called numerous times before with the same complaint.
These folks have to be responsible for deciding how to prioritize a call. Since so many calls are not true 911 emergencies, yes, they're going to put you on hold if you're calling to report a noisy neighbor or a barking dog. And what seems like a true emergency to you might not be the same to the definitions used by the Sheriff's Office. If you come home and your front door is open, odds are greater that the burglar is long gone than if he's inside waiting for you. So if there's another call with shots being fired, you might have to wait. There are only so many operators (a lot fewer than I expected) on duty at any one time, and, as I said, they have to answer all the calls.
And when you call, you're going to have to answer a bunch of questions. Operators have books with all possible types of calls, and all the questions they need so they can send the right kind of help. If you've been robbed or attacked, they're going to want to know the description of whoever did it, if he's gone, which way he went, and how he's traveling. On foot, they'll send the dogs. In a car, maybe a helicopter.
The dispatchers communicate to the officers, and officer safety is a major concern. These folks need extra arms, ears, and mouths, as they have even more to deal with. Their computers give them location and status of all the officers out there.
The stress level has got to be unbelievable. They work 10 hour shifts, 4 days on, 3 off. Turnover is high; at least 1-2 operators drop out every month, so they're constantly recruiting and training. There are 4 weeks in the classroom, then 480 hours on the floor watching someone handle calls before they're allowed to begin working. Dispatchers get an additional 640 hours of training. And the pay sucks. There's also little time for closure on a call--the officers on the call see what's happening and usually can follow things through, but the operators might be dealing with a person whose life is being threatened, and once the officer is assigned, they have to move on to the next incoming call.
Not sure I could handle anything remotely like that. For those of you reading this, find the Non-Emergency number for your local law enforcement and use it. Yes, it might take a little longer to get to a human, and yes, your problem seems important, but don't waste the time of a 911 operator who is trying to take care of the life-threatening stuff.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Drive by Posting -- Just got a review from Romance Readers at Heart:
Romance Readers at Heart awarded Finding Sarah its highest review category, a Top Pick Rose!
FINDING SARAH is the kind of book that will keep you up half the night, because it’s just that good!
FINDING SARAH is the smoothest of reads, and as I said, nearly impossible to put down. Sarah is a most sympathetic character and you will root for all her problems to be solved!
Remember the contest on my website -- choose your own prize.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Rose Petals, Volume 3, has just been released by The Wild Rose Press. I'm the third of 3 short stories with Second Chance Rose. It's my first print book, although it's also available in digital format. It should be interesting, as my story is sensual, and there's a brief but 'on the page' sex scene, but the other two stories fall under Wild Rose Press's Scarlet Rose imprint, which is much hotter. As a matter of fact, Garden of Sin, the story right before mine in the book is defintitely graphic erotica. Something for all tastes.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Part two of our class was Gangs. Lots of surprises here, but then, when you live in a community that makes its money from tourism, I suppose one can see how it's not going to be making headlines. Also -- calling attention to them is exactly what they want, so law enforcement isn't going to give them that satisfaction.
However, the reality is, there are gangs in central Florida, and the Sheriff's Office does what it can with a meager 7 agent team. I'm sure they're all frustrated that despite their efforts, it's almost impossible to get the courts to file, so these folks are simply released. Also, there are strict federal guidelines about being able to call someone a gang member, associate, or pending. Since gangs don't have jurisdictional boundaries, but law enforcement does, the gang agents here are deputized FBI agents as well, so they have more mobility.
We also got a crash course in gang tattoos and graffiti.
Next time, we have a road trip to the Communication Center. I'm looking forward to it. I'm also looking forward to getting away for a couple of days. I plan to hunker down in my hotel room while my husband is at meetings, etc., and see if I can figure out how to fix chapter 26. I'm ok up to that point, but my research is revealing things that mean I have to make some changes. Too bad I'm so anal about accuracy!
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
What I'm Writing: Chapter 27
Our first segment last night was about the Dive Team. With over 1100 bodies of water in the county, there's a tremendous amount of territory to cover. The Sheriff's Office has 28 members of the dive team, but they're on call and are all part of other departments. Because of the hazards of pollutants --everything from chemical runoff that has built up in the silt to algae blooms, amoebas, and nasty stuff from decomposing bodies, the team now dives in dry suits with a positive pressure air supply in a full face mask. Not your typical vision of recreational SCUBA divers.
The most interesting thing was that they dive 'blind'. Sgt. Pearson referred to it as "Braille Diving." The silt on the bottom of the local lakes is such that anything that goes to the bottom is buried, and trying to look for anything is impossible, because as soon as you touch it, mushroom clouds of silt (and its pollutants) rise, making visibility zero.
They are a 'search and recover' team; by the time they are called, it's too late to rescue. This makes that aspect of their job depressing. Descriptions of the various search patterns used brought home how thoroughly they search--teams diving shoulder-to-shoulder, feeling through whatever is at the bottom of the lake--logs, weeds, 8 inches of silt, in order to locate whatever they're looking for. He told us of being sent to retrieve a gun someone had thrown off a backyard dock. The dive team found it, turned it in to forensics, and that was that. Until they got a call saying it was the wrong gun. So, they went back. Three guns later, they found the one they had been sent for.
Technology, such as SONAR, is available to some extent--but it's expensive and has its own limitations. They use cadaver dogs when looking for bodies, but they're less effective than when searching on land.
We also got our applications to do a Ride-Along now that we've finished 3 classes. I found the release form fascinating. It says (among many other paragraphs): "I understand and accept all risks, including but not limited to slip and fall, traffic accidents, stray bullets and physical attacks."
Never thought I'd see "slip and fall" in the same risk category as "stray bullets."
Saturday, March 10, 2007
What I'm writing: Revisiting Chapters 24-27
Civilian Police Academy, Class 2, Part 2
Due to the change in speakers, we had a bonus of a former volunteer who now works in the evidence "room" which is a major warehouse away from the Central Ops building itself. In a year, they'll have over 1.5 million pieces of evidence. They destroy about 30,000 firearms twice a year (but they can keep the ammunition, as well as weapons that might be used as backup weapons for officers).
Our speaker for the Uniform Patrol Division arrived and spoke of the 'front line, first response' officers. He demonstrated the computer system the deputies use in their cars, although because we were inside a building, the aircard didn't work that well, and he didn't get to complete the way they can search on a driver's licence. I had volunteered mine to see what came up, because I was curious. My license picture was taken in 1989 (yes, 1989) and since then, I just get stickers to put on the back extending the expiration date. I'd questioned a police officer acquaintance when I was researching my book, and he said that since the photos weren't computerized at that time, they wouldn't get a picture when they ran the search. Of course, that was years ago, and by now, they might have scanned everything in. I wanted to see for myself what would have popped up, but the connection to the DAVID database kept timing out. Maybe I can ask again. Actually, he said after 3 classes, we're eligible to do ride alongs. Might be fun!
More bits and pieces. Why you don't see the cops when you call them. Again, he showed up the computer with its map programs. The officer coordinating the call has instant access to where everyone his, and the first thing they do is set up a perimeter so that the bad guy can't get out. The cops are there, you just can't see them. The last ones to arrive will be the ones at the place where the call originated.
And the helicopters that circle looking for the bad guys--with the searchlights? Well, I didn't know the searchlights were pointed AWAY from where they're looking, and they're using much fancier technology to pinpoint the guy. And then, as our speaker said, 'we get to turn the dogs loose.' He says he loves running a guy to ground and setting a hundred-plus pound German shepherd on him. What he hates are people who don't know that when you hear sirens and see flashing lights, you're supposed to move RIGHT, not STOP. But most of the time, they don't like to use them because the idea is NOT to let the bad guys know you're coming.
Great evening. Can't wait until next time.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
What I'm writing: Edits for chapter 1, scene 1; Chapter 27
Our second Civilian Police Academy class deviated from the schedule. For cops, life happens, although this wasn't a bad thing--the scheduled instructor was taking a group of kids to Washington DC for a convention. So, we had Community Relations for that portion of the session. I was surprised to see how the Office (Class 1 stressed if we learn NOTHING else, it's the Sheriff's OFFICE, not Department) uses people in volunteer capacities. Some things might be expected, like filing and being general go-fors, but they have a chaplain's program, as well as citizens on patrol. I think my husband's eyes lit up at that one--he'd love cruising the neighborhood in a cop car! I'm sure he's thinking about continuing to the next level, the Senior Academy: the brochure said there was an "extended firearms course."
The most surprising statistic was that there's a suicide of a law enforcement officer somewhere in the country every 17 hours. I knew the job was high-stress, and admire those who can do what they do for the meager salary they make, but that was a shocker.
One last tidbit for today - if you upgrade or get a new cell phone, consider donating your old one to some organization in your community that gives them to seniors who can't afford a cell phone, or to victims of domestic violence. The phones only dial 911, but it can be a lifeline for people who would otherwise be unable to get in touch with emergency services.
Next post will the the second half of the class: Uniform Patrol Division.
The only 'down side' to these classes is finding out how many questions I should have asked before writing my book. Of course, books are obsolete before they hit the shelves, due to how long the publication process is, but the advances in technology over the last few years, since I started writing the book, are amazing.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
What I'm writing: Promo booklet, Chapter 27
Contest first. For March, since I couldn't decide what I wanted to give away, I thought I'd let you choose. Winner can have any one of my publications, which includes the otherwise unavailable standalone copy of "Second Chance Rose" which is part of the upcoming Wild Rose Press anthology, Rose Petals, volume 3. All you have to do is tell me which story you want, and a quick reason why. Details on my website.
Other things I've been doing include trying to make a promotional pamphlet with the first chapter of Finding Sarah plus blurbs for my next two books.
Learning to deal with Word was, I thought, enough to get me through. Little did I know I'd need to navigate the swirling waters of Publisher as well. Thanks to fellow author Catherine Kean, for giving me her own booklet to explore and use as a template.
The world of e-publishing is a strange one. I'm getting used to riding in the back of the bus--like the guy at the Y who was all excited that I'd written a book, but when I told him he couldn't buy it in the bookstore yet, it was like I was no longer an author. Sometimes it's frustrating, because if I'd gone the self-publishing route, I'd have print books to sell, even though it might be total garbage. I chose to start with e-publishing as a first step, but that didn't mean I could simply send my manuscript to the publisher and they'd publish it. It had to be accepted. I signed a contract. I was assigned an editor who helped make sure it was as good as it could be (or at least better than it was--I'll NEVER stop finding things I wish I could fix.) But, to a great many people, it's not a 'real' book. At least I've been reassured that the traditional print editors consider edited e-books as publishing credit.
Tonight is our second police class. I'll be back with what I learn tomorrow or Thursday.
Friday, March 02, 2007
What I'm writing: New scene for Chapter 26
Finding Sarah has another 'real' review, this time from Romance Reviews Today. I have to admit, I feel as good as I did for my first one.
FINDING SARAH combines raw suspense with an intricately woven romance between two people who clearly can use a little bit more in the emotional attachment department. Randy is afraid to let himself become involved with Sarah and tries to step far away from the thin line that runs between cop and victim. Sarah, deeply in love with her deceased husband, cannot imagine allowing herself to become emotionally involved with another man. But her heart calls out for closure and the need to heal, and she may very well find that in Randy. Terry Odell successfully melds suspense and romance and creates one fine package in FINDING SARAH. Details of Sarah’s emotional torment and Randy’s steady determination to do what’s right no matter what his body is calling out for prove just how right one is for the other.
Readers simply cannot go wrong with FINDING SARAH and will definitely want to add it to their February/March reading list. Check it out at Cerridwen Press as soon as possible!
The whole review is here
Thursday, March 01, 2007
What I'm writing: Edits for Rescued Hearts
I finished going through Rescued Hearts again last night to get it ready to send to the agent who requested it. I'm beginning to wonder what really happens when I shut down the computer for the night. I could swear I'd already killed my crutch words, but a search revealed far too many had lingered on. So, I left Dalton & Miri where they've been languishing for the last week and spent the day re-reading and re-editing Frankie & Ryan's story.
Tuesday night, we started our Civilian Police Academy class at the Orange County Sheriff's Office. It will run for 13 weeks, and I'll update the blog with what I'm learning. Our first class was an overview of the needs and structure of the office, and what the sheriffs are responsible for. According to all our introductory remarks, I'm the only one in the class who's using the information for 'work.' Definitely the only writer in the group. After one 3-hour session, I can already see some questions I should have asked but didn't when I researched the ins and outs of the office for Starting Over.
It's also a new month, and I'll have a new contest on my website. I haven't got the details posted, so please keep checking!