Thursday, May 22, 2008

Asian Citizen's Academy Week Three: Crime Scene Investigation

By Dawn Campbell

“Solving a crime does not happen in an hour and we don’t wear thousand dollar suits,” Sergeant Mike McDermott of the Des Moines Police Department (DMPD) told participants of the first Asian Citizens Academy. The statement dissolved any assumptions that crime scene investigations occur exactly as they do on the numerous CSI programs.

McDermott, who has been with the department 20 years this August, spoke to the academy class this past week regarding how DMPD’s crime scene investigation section operates. McDermott shared his experience which includes, approximately 10 years of working with crime scene investigation.

The identification unit is the only part of the detective’s bureau which operates 24-7, 365 days a year. It consists of a lieutenant, two sergeants, 13 identification technicians and one secretary.

This department is the best identification and investigation unit in the state. “We have a nationally recognized blood splatter expert as part of the team,” McDermott told attendees. The unit also has someone who is considered very knowledgeable and is highly regarded in the area of fingerprints.

McDermott proceeded to share some of the major accomplishments this particular division has achieved. One of those accomplishments occurred approximately 10 years ago. DMPD’s identification unit was the first crime scene investigation unit to ever raise a fingerprint off of a dead body.

After McDermott told about the structure and accomplishments of this staff, he shared a slide show with the class. “If anyone has a weak stomach, this may be a good a time to leave the room,” he warned.

McDermott began a homicide crime scene slide show. He stated with homicide investigations, crime scene investigators can be at the scene of the crime two to three days.

The class sat very still and quietly viewed the slide show which included the photos of an actual crime scene, evidence and autopsy photos used to prosecute a suspect in an especially violent homicide case which occurred about eleven years ago. McDermott shared what detectives learned during the investigation with the class. “The victim was random,” he said referring to the fact the suspect in the case did not know the victim. The victim’s body was discovered by their relative; McDermott believed the body was found by the victim’s daughter.

As the slide show progressed to the autopsy photos, the horrific act of violence was exposed and one attendee exited the room. “This person I believe has a special place in heaven because they fought back,” stated McDermott. The autopsy photos clearly showed numerous defensive stab wounds on the victim’s hands and arms. McDermott asked the class to count the wounds, but everyone remained silent. McDermott said quietly, “Too many to count.”

At the end of the slide show, a class participant asked how he does his job. McDermott answered, “What bothers me is that some times my job doesn’t bother me.”

McDermott then shared an experience and a piece of advice he was given early on in his career. The Drake Diner murders were the first crime scene McDermott ever worked. McDermott asked the class how many had been inside the diner. Most of the class raised their hands. He shared the layout of the diner to those who were not familiar. Then, McDermott shared how he walked in the diner, saw the victim’s bodies lying close to the entrance and how he looked at the walls which were very far away and were covered with blood and brain matter.

The piece of advice given to McDermott by a supervisor that night was, don’t look at bodies as people; look at the bodies as evidence.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Asian Citizens Academy – Week Two: Operations and Communications

By Dawn Campbell

“Des Moines Police Department is a big business. Polk County Sheriff’s Office is a big business. We’re selling trust. We’re selling goodwill,” Des Moines Police Department Captain Kelly Willis told attendees of the Asian Citizens Academy.

Week two was a long session for attendees on May 6th, but they learned critical information. For the first half of the session students learned how the Des Moines Police Department and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office operate. Willis from Des Moines Police Department (DMPD) and Chief Neil Schultz from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) presented to the class. The second half focused on the communications and dispatch for both organizations.

“Public safety is a common goal for Polk County Sheriff’s Office and for the police department,” Willis explained.

Attendees listened as Willis explained the 10 hour work day patrol officers began the day before. The 10 hour shift will make the department work more efficient. Prior to this change, the department had three eight hour shifts which only covered 24 hours. Willis detailed how it was difficult for patrol officers to respond to emergency trips during shift change. Willis said, “We want to be able to respond to our community’s needs quickly. That’s hard when officers are loading their gear at the station and we need them over by Merle Hay Mall for a child choking.” Willis clearly explained that there was not a time when there were no officers on the street. There were times with the eight hour shifts, there were not that many officers on the street and those officers would take trips which may endanger themselves to serve the community.

Willis also explained how the department developed how the shifts would change. “Due to crime analysis, we know that from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., we have a larger number of police assistance calls. Because of these statistics, we made sure there are additional officers are the street.”

Schultz, who heads the field headquarters for PCSO detailed the operation overview of the sheriff’s office and specifically answered questions regarding the county’s jail system.

“At this time, we spend a lot transporting prisoners to Missouri for holding. With the new jail facility, we’ll cut costs,” explained Schultz.

When asked why we use Missouri facilities to hold prisoners, Schultz stated that Missouri state law allows private industry to run jails; whereas the State of Iowa does not allow this. “At this time it is not cost effective. We spend approximately, $4.5 to $6 million transporting and holding prisoners. Private industry charges because it is a business,” Schultz said.

The class seemed surprised, but whispers about food costs and gas prices could be heard as the class broke for a break.

The second half of the class explained the communications sections of both DMPD and PCSO.

Academy attendees were shown statistics of what types and number of calls the sheriff’s office and police department receive during a year.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office

40,207 law enforcement trips

54,192 911 calls

13,073 fire/rescue trips

5,172 warrants entered

7,008 no contact orders

10,886 criminal history checks

Des Moines Police Department

368,515 telephone calls

61,312 wireline 911 calls (also known as landline calls)

89,331 wireless 911 calls

202,087 police trips

19,394 fire/rescue trip

283,027 Lencir (this includes but is not limited to criminal history checks)

One tip given to the class by John Smith, a PCSO dispatcher and Sandy Morris from the DMPD communications section is when calling from a cell phone make sure you give your location. “Depending on your phone, GPS may work or it may not. Be patient and make sure you answer the question where are you located. It can make a difference,” explained Morris.
Part two in a series by Dawn Campbell.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Police Academy for Asians

By Dawn Campbell

A retired police sergeant teaching Asian citizens about the history of the Des Moines Police Department doesn’t happen everyday at the Des Moines Regional Police Academy, but it happened April 29, 2008. This was part of the content for the first day of class for Asian citizens attending the 1st Annual Asian Citizens Police Academy.

Retired Sgt. Mike Leeper, who is in charge of the police department’s museum, shared interesting facts about the police department and how things have changed over the years. Attendees learned how officers in the early 1900’s, without the use of cell phones and communication units, communicated with dispatch via special phones located within their patrol areas. Officers were required to phone once every hour or half hour whether they were in need of assistance or not.

Leeper also shared the somber side of being a police officer with attendees. Photos of officers who have died in the line of duty were shown to students. Leeper explained how this slide show is shown to every new officer who joins the department. It gives new officers an awareness of the dangers associated with this job, he explained to the group.

Over the next eleven weeks, citizens in this class will learn more than just the history of the police department. They will meet officers, learn about the different bureaus within the department and also go through some of the training police recruits do while they are at the academy.

Senior Police and Asian Outreach Resource Officer Doua Lor assisted in the creation of this program. According to Lor, this program will assist in bridging the communication gap that occurs often between law enforcement and the Asian community. To Lor’s knowledge, this is the only program in the Midwest offered by a law enforcement agency specifically for the Asian community. will be following the citizens attending this eleven week course and sharing what the members of this class learn on a weekly basis.

Cut line for photo: Retired Sgt. Mike Leeper shares the history of the
Des Moines Police Department with citizens in the Asian Citizens Academy.