A real (and busy) homicide detective did an “Ask Me Anything” (“AMA”) on the popular social news site Reddit. The community asks anything and with some luck, the best questions are answered. It was super informative and gives you a real glimpse into the life of a homicide detective. I thought I’d share some of the more interesting answers. You can view the entire community interview here.
The community questions are in bold italics with his answers following.
As someone who is very interested in getting into this line of work, any advice?
Know the law. I stress this to trainees in the Academy all the time. Study up on the law and make sure you’re familiar with it. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to make sound decisions and not make mistakes.
I know of other police officers that have put innocent men and women through the ringer because they didn’t understand the law. It gives citizens a bad interpretation of what we do.
Also, understand that you will not have much of a personal life if you do opt to become a detective. It’s been a struggle on my family and I, and because I have an amazing wife and great kids it’s made it very easy. Not everyone in my department is so lucky.
OK. What about if I am already in the police force, as an officer who is just on the beat how can I move up and be a homicide detective? Do they look for any specific criteria? Do I have to prove myself before they will consider me? How do I show interest in being a homicide detective?
A lot of it comes from ambition. As I pointed out to another poster, it’s also about who you know and what kind of influence you wield within the department. It also matters if there are openings. For instance, in my city, there are only X slots for detectives (mostly because of budget constraints, not because of need). With the way the economy is they have been promoting fewer and fewer and convincing some of the older detectives to stay on longer.
Keep your mouth shut, do your job, be ambitious, and get to know the right people. I can’t speak for other departments but that’s what helps normal cops in my city.
Do you ever get used to seeing dead bodies?
It bothers some, it doesn’t bother others. I can’t really explain it, but after seeing so many per year you eventually become desensitized to it.
There are of course exceptions. Roughly five years ago we went to a crime scene where a father had put his 3 year old son in the dishwasher because he wouldn’t stop crying. Stuff like that sticks with everyone I think (me specifically because at the time my son had just turned 4).
Is “The Wire” as realistic as it seems?
Out of all the cop shows I’ve ever watched (which is not many anymore) . . . The Wire probably comes the closest to telling it how it is.
Are most of the homicides drug related?
I wouldn’t say most, but I’d say a significant amount. They probably make up a higher percentage (40%-50%) than other murders.
You have to understand that it’s not the drugs themselves but the environment in which harder drugs are found in. The ghettos and lower income neighborhoods, most of the time dealers go to where their clientele are.
It’s rare that someone gets murdered over a small pot or cocaine deal. It’s frequent for someone to get murdered over money because of drugs. What we see mostly are hardcore crack and heroin users that end up in a gutter somewhere or tossed in a trashcan because they took out credit from a dealer and then didn’t pay.
How do you keep work and personal life separate? Also, how has your job impacted you outside of work?
It’s very hard to do.
The first case I ever worked wasn’t a homicide. It was a suicide (but it’s SOP for homicide to filter all dead bodies in my district). It was a 12 year old kid that put a shotgun in her mouth and blew the top of her head off. Her father and mother, that were out for the evening and left her alone, found her when they get home. Being a new father at the time, I couldn’t have imagined coming home to see that.
I cried myself to sleep for a week. I even asked to go see a shrink because I couldn’t get the images out of my head. I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to do the job.
It was my wife that snapped me out of it, when she said that I could think of all the horrible things in this world.. or that I can go to work, do my job, and then come home to my family.
Families of police officers sacrifice a lot. It took a long time for me to be able to separate my personal life from my life on the job.
To the extent you can, can you tell us about a difficult case you’re proud of that your team solved through particularly clever ingenuity and good police work rather than any lucky breaks or the usual ways murders are solved?
I wish I could. To be honest, a lot of the clever techniques you see on police shows is just for entertainment. A majority of our crimes are solved because of interrogations and eye-witness accounts. Once we have someone that can place a certain person at the scene of a crime, we typically just go through the process of identifying them and then bringing them into the interrogation room. It depends on the perp, but more often than not they crack or slip up eventually. It’s easy to tell the truth, but very hard to keep up with lies.
There was one case about two years ago where a woman was murdered inside of her apartment. She led a pretty normal life, no strange sexual provocations or drug addictions. She was young, fairly attractive and was educated. Single, no boyfriend, and several friends. There were no witnesses, no real physical evidence, and nothing to go on. One of the other detectives suggested we start looking at other apartments surrounding hers to see if any of the other tenants in her complex had run ins with the law or problems with drugs.
A girl who lived in the apartment right next to her had been in out of trouble for a majority of her life. We had talked to her initially and she said she hadn’t seen anything. When we confronted her about it again she admitted that she had owed money to a drug dealer and that her boyfriend was supposed to cover her debt but had skipped town instead.
We ended up busting the drug dealer on an unrelated charge and interrogated him about the murder. He admitted that he had paid a member of his gang to commit the murder and they only found out later that he had killed the wrong woman.
What is the worst scene you ever witnessed?
Walked into a triple-homicide my second year as a detective.
Two girls were stabbed and killed, one of them eight months pregnant. The father of the unborn baby had taken a knife and stabbed his pregnant wife in the stomach about 20 times. When her sister came home and saw what he had done he stabbed her over 60 times.
There was blood everywhere, and it stands today to be the most gruesome crime scene I ever seen.
How did you become a homicide detective? My bf is thinking of becoming a cop, and he likes the idea of detective as well, so I’d like to give this to him to read.
Virtually my entire family is involved in law enforcement. My father was a prosecutor, my brother is a cop, my grandfather was a cop . . . I just kind of fell into it. I did, however, go to college for criminal justice which helped propel my career a bit.
It’s putting in a lot of overtime work and getting to know the right people with the right influence. I’d love to tell you that the smartest / most clever / most perceptive detective candidates get the shield, but that’s not often the case.
Click here for the full thread where there is much more!