police work


Citizens Police Academy strikes again. This time with a lecture on counterfeit money, fake IDs and facial analysis. This is one course that has me consistently on the edge of my seat. And it is free. The police probably have such a course in your area too.

Those of us who, being honest and law-abiding, are unschooled in such things, usually assume that if we want to disguise ourselves, we would maybe change our hair color or a man might assume a beard or mustache. Forget it. They ignore hair, facial or otherwise, and they ignore eye color. Makes sense because hair and eye color are easily changed, added to or subtracted.

Instead, they look at the shape of the ears, eyes, brows, mouth, chin, jaw, head. Nope. Can’t change those unless you’re an expert make-up artist and even then, in the cold light of day, it will look fake. And they look at alignment. How do the ears align with the eyes? Higher? Lower? Where is the nose on the face and is it a long nose? Short nose?

The point is that crooks might shuffle through a pack of stolen driver’s licenses or passports, looking for one that has a photo that superficially resembles them. But a person experienced in facial identification, can easily see the differences. Ears lower than the eyes in the photo but higher in the individual, for example. Can’t disguise that. Short nose in the photo and long nose on the person. There are lots of similar cues.

When I talk about shuffling through a pack of passports or credit cards or other identification, I’m not joking. You can probably go to any restaurant, tell them you think you left your credit card there, and they’ll show you a stack of credit cards left by mistake.

Actually, crooks steal all kinds of identification for reuse. But they also make their own. We were shown sheets of blank Social Security cards, ready to be filled in with a name and number. Social Security cards are “breeder documents,” which means they can be used to obtain legitimate identification cards.

Here’s another wrinkle. Just how good is a “legitimate” identification card? What do you really have to show to get one? How easy is it to fake those documents? I just read the Social Security application requirements for identity documents and there seems to be a lot of room for fakery, it seems to me. And after a quick google search, I think you could buy whatever ID you might want on the Net.

But the only reason for fake IDs is some kind of criminal activity.

Now we get to counterfeiting. Ever since that class I’ve been checking my twenty dollar bills, looking for the vertical stripe on the left (hold the bill up to the light to see it) and checking the gold number “20” on the bottom right. That gold number will turn to a greenish hue when you tilt the bill horizontally in front of you. There are more clues to tell you if a bill is legitimate, but that should suffice for now.

Tonight’s class is on citizen services and traffic law enforcement. The last class is next week and we’ll be visiting the crime lab. After that, graduation. Woohoo!


9-19-2016 – Citizens Police Academy / Book Launching

My guest blog, “A Day in the Life of My Character,” will appear Sept. 20 at

Since I write mysteries, I want to learn the details of police work so when I’m describing an investigation, my mysteries will have the texture policeand flavor of the real thing. Toward this end, I have begun the 12-week free course held by the Police Department to familiarize local citizens with police procedures and activities. Many police departments around the country hold similar academies.

I’m not shy about asking for the correct details. In my 90s Club mysteries about 90-year-olds at Whisperwood Retirement Village, I contacted the West Virginia Sheriff’s Department to find out what exactly a sheriff’s uniform in West Virginia looked like. I also asked a firefighter friend exactly what the protocol was when paramedics were called to the scene of a beating victim. He gave me excellent detail which made the scene live.

The Police Academy is another resource. It will include a ride-along with a police officer Continue reading “9-19-2016 – Citizens Police Academy / Book Launching”

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