Author Question: Police Officer DNA

Victoria Asks:

I am writing a book and hoping you could help me with a question I have. Would a cop’s DNA come up in the system if it is collected from a rape victim ?

Jordyn Says:

This is a very intriguing question you ask and I actually had to go to my brother (thanks, Karl!) who works in law enforcement as a detective for the answer.

What follows is his take.

When cops are hired their fingerprints are taken. If their DNA was needed to differentiate their DNA from another person’s at a crime scene they would do so, but it’s not a routine thing.

Lots of cops are former military and I would say in the last twenty years if you served then your DNA would be on file somewhere. I don’t think it would be part of CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System) though because that’s only a criminal database.

If a cop was suspected, I’m not sure there would be a backdoor way to get his DNA profile from one of those sources I mentioned (military or CODIS). Officers working the case could easily swab something like his patrol car, computer keyboard, or something else owned by the department because there’s no expectation of privacy there.

In the last ten years or so a lot of jurisdictions are collecting DNA from any person arrested on a felony. The court orders it. I’m sure there have been challenges and as far as I know it has been held up.

Also, anytime there’s a new submission to CODIS, the profile is automatically checked against unsolved crimes. When police take DNA from a crime scene with no suspect, they submit the profile to CODIS and it goes on record. Later, if someone is arrested for a felony and their DNA is submitted to CODIS, now matching a name to the profile, it could clear the older case.

Men Who Kill Women

Regular followers of my blog know that my medical nerdiness can reach into other areas of science like forensics and psychology. I was actually doing a search on women who kill men when I came across this very interesting article on the opposite— men who kill women. Information in this post comes directly from the Vice article entitled Inside the Minds of Men Who Kill Women posted August 10, 2015.

Married couple and criminologists from the University of Manchester, Rebecca and Russell Dobash, spent a decade interviewing men serving life sentences in seven different British prisons. According to the article, this was the largest study done to the date of the posting. They have also published a book on the subject (photo right).

There were some consistent similarities that pertained to these men. “They found that many women are murdered by jealous, possessive, and controlling men.”

Here are some of the highlights.

1. In the majority of cases, men kill out of sexual jealousy. They are possessive. And this possessiveness can also lead these men to kill others close to their victim like her children, family, and friends.

2. Many had problematic childhoods and adulthoods that consisted of alcohol use and unemployment. The authors suggest that the use of alcohol is common to Britain and doesn’t necessarily mean illicit drug use as perhaps is the case in the US. Though they don’t specify this difference.

3. Many are sexual predators.

4. Older women, over the age of sixty-five, are considered vulnerable and therefore worthy targets. Living alone does add risk.

5. The murderers were largely not remorseful of their crimes.

6. Surveillance programs that force violent men (before they murder) to understand denial, remorse, and empathy could prove helpful. Also suggested are developing youth programs to teach people how to handle breakups.

I also highly recommend all women read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I think it should be required reading of all girls over the age of fourteen. The sooner they can learn these skills the better.

Escaping Hunted

Hunted was a new reality show that aired earlier this year on CBS. Nine pairs of people “go on the run”. If they survived twenty-eight days they won $250,000 per team. This show was really interesting as an author to watch because it highlighted what kinds of tactics law enforcement uses to capture evaders of justice. Some things I didn’t even know existed.

Here are things NOT to have your characters do if they are on the run from law enforcement.

1. Don’t contact anyone you know. The couples that lasted the longest really stayed away from their network of friends and family.

2. Internet use will be your downfall. The hunters, as they are called, comb through all your social media and even use it against you. In one instance, they saw one contestant loved a particular basketball team because he had photos of being at their games and wearing their jerseys. The team’s name ended up being a password to one of his online accounts. They also would post “wanted” posters on contestant’s Facebook page asking for help in locating “fugitives”.  Also, deleting your social media accounts doesn’t really work. “Nothing is ever erased on social media.”

3. They will access everything to try and find you. They can access real time banking information. Vehicle registration. Closed circuit TV cameras. They’ll look at your old high school yearbooks. There are systems in place on major highways that automatically capture and scan license plates and they can put an alert out for it.

4. Burner phones. Burner phones may not necessarily be the answer. Although the phone may not pop up with a name, they can see the phone number that you’re calling from on the receiving person’s phone bill. A new, unknown number calling? They’re going to guess that it’s you. Once they pin down the phone number, calls between you and people you assume are safe can actually be listened to.

5. Telematics. In all cars built after 2010, GPS satellites can be used to track your car.

6. Mail Cover. Did you know the post office takes photos of every letter sent through their system? Yea, me either. A warrant can be issued for a particular address to try and find you. Here’s an interesting news story specifically about mail cover.

7. Don’t do something you would normally do. If you’re a parent, don’t call your children. If you’re an outdoor expert, maybe don’t go camping. Many duos were successful if they stayed off grid, but many also grew tired of being on the run after a few weeks and would contact friends and/or family for respite. That’s when they were usually caught.

Hunted was a fascinating show of real life cat and mouse. If you’re an author, it’s definitely worth the time in research to take in the episodes.

Only two of the nine couples made it twenty-eight days. Do you think you could last that long?

Child Abuse Injuries: Part 1/2

I read a lot of fiction. Okay, suspense fiction. What I find missing is an area that seems to be in few books yet inherently has a lot of conflict. Child abuse. What fiction titles are you aware of that, as a central theme, center around child abuse?

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month so I thought I’d do a few posts about child abuse injuries and how medical providers pick up on the fact an injury may be intentional or inflicted.

As a pediatric nurse, I’ve been witness to child homicide at the hands of abuse. Yes, it is murder. It’s a necessary part of my job in dealing with these families, perhaps even the confessed abuser, as I care for the child abuse victim. And yes, there is a lot of conflict in these situations.

How do we as pediatric medical providers begin to suspect that an injury is abusive? During the initial evaluation of an injury, confession among abusers is rare (perhaps, they will confess later.) Often, there is a history given to account for the injury. Both parts: the history of the injury and the injury itself can give red flags for child abuse. Today, let’s examine the story and how it may signal an abusive injury.

The story concerning the injury:

1. Is not realistic considering the child’s developmental level. This is more common than you might think. Most people cannot rattle off when a child should meet certain developmental milestones so they’ll say the child injured themselves in a manner that is beyond their developmental age. For instance, “my daughter broke her arm by rolling off the couch”. The baby is two-weeks old. Infants typically roll over starting at 3 months. Here’s a great resource for any writer/parent for developmental milestones.

2. The story changes. Just like other criminals, abusers can have a hard time keeping their story straight. Often times, the more abusers are questioned about the plausibility of the story, it will begin to change. Medical staff interviewing a potential abuser can be like a detective getting a criminal to confess. The doctor will often approach the caregiver several times to ask questions about the injury to see if the story changes. In later interviews, the doctor may say, “This injury is suggestive of abuse.”

3. The story has too much detail. This one may seem odd but it can be a red flag for abusive injuries. If you have children, think back to their toddler/elementary school years when they seem to come home with lots of bumps, bruises, cuts and scrapes. If asked, could you come up with an explanation for each and every injury? Likely, no. Abusers will try and explain away every injury. A non-abusive parent will be truthful and likely say, “I have no idea how that happened.” and then probably feel guilty about not knowing.

What other parts of a medical history/story might give a signal for abusive injury?

Treatment for Amnesia

Marissa Asks:

How do doctors proceed if they suspect amnesia? In my novel, the patient was brought to emergency after being found on the side of the road (in the snow.) The patient shows signs of physical torture: multiple rapes, bruises, lacerations, glass embedded mainly in his hands, hypothermia, and a cold (because obviously my character needs to be ill on top of everything).

burnout-384086_1920The patient has just woken up and had a panic attack. Been settled down. You asked for his name and he seemed uncertain as he gave his first name. You asked for his last name and the patient shook his head. What next? I mean obviously the glass would have been removed from his hands and a drip put in for painkillers but what next? Who does the nurse call? Or what does she ask now? And if memory loss is confirmed, how do they find out it’s amnesia like which SPECIFIC tests do they do? Who is contacted and brought in to liase?

I just sort of need a timeline rundown because my character is going to be going through that.

Jordyn Says:

Thanks so much for sending me your question. First of all, it sounds like this patient has a period of time where he is unconscious in the ER. You make it sound like he wakes up on his own and not in response to an exam by a doctor.

So an unconscious patient found with these injuries would have a CT scan of his head. Hypothermia could be determined simply by taking the patient’s temperature and warming him up with something as simple as warm blankets to more complex as heated IV fluids. Regarding the IV drip for pain— this is actually unlikely in the ER. This is referred to as a PCA pump (patient controlled analgesia) and I’ve never seen them used in any ER setting. Would we treat the patient’s pain? Yes. But, you might be surprised that we may choose not to use a narcotic (for many reasons) and instead try something like Toradol which is an IV form of an NSAID (which is in the same drug class as Ibuprofen.)

The glass embedded in his hands would be removed. The wounds irrigated and stitched closed if necessary. The lacerations would be treated the same way. Keep in mind, not all lacerations can be stitched closed if they’ve been open too long due to the risk of infection.This patient would also receive a tetanus booster if he hasn’t had one in the last five years (even if he can’t remember the last time he had a shot.) If anything looks infected, he would receive IV antibiotics.

If the patient wakes up and doesn’t know who he is (and doesn’t have any form of identification on him) then we would involve the police. Likely, they are probably already involved considering the circumstances— that he was found unconscious and beaten. Plus, you mention that the character has been raped several times so a sexual assault kit should be collected, but the patient’s consent is required, so we’d ask him if he wants this when he’s awake. Yet another reason the police would be involved.

If the doctors think the amnesia is related to a brain injury from the beating, they may just see if it improves with time.

I think it’s reasonable to admit this patient to the hospital and I speak a lot here about how it is actually rare to admit a patient with concussion, but considering the amnesia (it sounds like you want it to persist), the beating, the rapes, the wounds to his hands (as well as additional lacerations), and the hypothermia then some watchful observation is warranted. The doctors could consider a neurological and/or some type of psychological evaluation considering the circumstances of the case to see if his memory loss has a non-medical cause. Neuro might request an MRI of his brain to look for additional injuries not as easily discerned via CT scan.

In the end, if he never remembers, there’s little treatment to “correct” amnesia. This is good for the writer because you have a lot of leeway in what you want to happen to the character. Your time frame can be what you wish.

I think if he were stable in the hospital for a few days and the neurological/psychological evaluation didn’t warrant anything that required further inpatient treatment, he could be discharged home even if the amnesia persists with outpatient neurological follow-up and perhaps outpatient therapy if he consents.

Obviously the police would be very involved with this case.

Forensic Medical Question: Forensic MRI for Child Abuse

Susan Asks:

mri-782459_1920Is there such a thing as a forensic MRI? Not to be done on a dead person, but in a child abuse case? Can one tell if a child has been beaten and see healed bruises, etc?

Jordyn Says:

Thanks for your questions.

The only indication I can think of using MRI to discern abuse would be for head trauma. MRI is the most sensitive study when it comes to differentiating old and new bleeds (as in possibly discerning two episodes of shaking), but still an exact time of the bleed could probably not be given. We just would know there were two separate instances of injury that caused bleeding.

Also, it wouldn’t be called a forensic MRI on a live child. We would just call it by the study we’re doing. In this case, a brain MRI, but the reason for doing the study would be concern for child abuse and/or intracranial (inside the brain) bleeding.

You can’t really tell healed bruises because they’re healed after all. The skin would have normal appearance. We could at least take a history of where the bruises were because we know normal versus abnormal bruising patterns in children, but pictures are always more impressive so seeing current injuries will always be better if trying to build a child abuse case.

Perhaps you’re thinking about healed fractures which you could possibly see some evidence of healed fractured on x-rays depending on how significant the fracture was. However, not all healed fractures are visible on x-ray. Healing fractures can be seen on x-ray.

How is Blood Type Determined?

There’s nothing more fun as a suspense author then to have a twist in your novel. Some medical twists can be intriguing and one that is in such a category is looking simply at blood type. Knowing a child’s blood type can give you an idea if their parents are really their parents.

b7ab9-bloodbagLet’s say a child has AB blood type, but his parents are both blood type O. I can tell you right now that those parents are not that child’s parents. How? Because you inherit a letter from each of your parents. So this child can be A, B, or AB blood type, but never O.

A parent that is just A or B blood type have an O they can pass on. It might be easier to view them as AO blood type. So if both parents were blood type A— their children could actually just be blood type O from inheriting that “O” from each of their parents. What blood type could they never be?

Type B.

Here is a chart that looks at how blood types are determined. Scroll to the bottom of the page.

As a writer, have you ever used blood type to reveal that a child is not living with his biological parents when he thought he was?