Weekend Nights in Policing and Football Talk


Since it is the weekend, here is an example of the drunk driver that is easy for police to apprehend--persons that keep officers busy on Friday and Saturday nights:




For those with no interest in football, you can stop reading now.

Ok, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a shocking personnel move this week when they released 14-year veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks. They also let go three other older starters from last year’s team including LB Cato June, RB Warrick Dunn, and WR Ike Hilliard.

I wanted to hear some different perspectives before passing judgment on these decisions, and several NFL analysts concluded that the Brooks and June moves were made as the team transitions to a new defensive scheme and no longer have a need for undersized fast linebackers.

I think the release of Brooks will be watched closely. If he retires, then I think the Bucs will be off the hook. In contrast, if he plays for another team this year and has success, I believe the criticism of current ownership will almost insurmountable, and coupled with ownerships questionable decisions of late and reputation as being cheap, they will likely sell the team.

I think the June release was ok-—he seemingly made careless mistakes (e.g. penalties, missed tackles) and did not play well last year. I would rather the team handled the release of Brooks differently—-rather than just another note on cuts on the transition page. He will be elected to the pro football hall of fame in a few years, and was one of the core group of players that helped turned the organization from a bunch of losers into a respectable franchise.

Dunn is a great human being, but at the end of his career, and is just a 3rd down option now.

I was surprised by the Hilliard release. He was productive in his playing time, had a good rapport with the QB, and made tough inside catches. At least with the LBs, it can be argued that those currently on the roster were too small for the new defense. Hilliard is not too small, and there is no one on the roster that looks promising as a replacement. The Bucs may regret releasing him.

What does all this mean? Here are three thoughts:

--The team is in rebuilding mode and will win 4-6 games next year.

--They had better be seen as aggressively pursuing free agents with the release of name players.

--Since the team has the most cap space of any team it best be perceived as aggressively recruiting players. Unfortunately, the Bucs will need to spend just to save face with fans.

In closing, my prediction that the Bucs will first draft a defensive player now is looking pretty good. With the events of this week, a linebacker is most appealing--since 2/3 of their starting LB core is now on the unemployment line.

Police Use Super Secret Weapon at NYU


This week articles and videos of the disobedience at New York University were in the news. Cornell Law Professor Michael Dorf had this to say about the unrest:

I can't improve on the hilarious coverage of the NYU cafeteria takeover on Gawker, so I'll begin with a simple recap: A group of students calling themselves Take Back NYU barricaded themselves inside the Kimmel Center and issued demands; the university threatened to suspend the students; and thus the takeover just about ended.

The demands were a very odd hodge-podge, including:

1) Amnesty for protesters (okay, CYA, but really, should that be your FIRST demand?);

3) and 4) Full public disclosure of NYU's finances;

9) Annual scholarships for 13 Palestinians (why 13??);

10) "That the university donate all excess supplies and materials in an effort to rebuild the University of Gaza" (or as Gawker put it, "overhead projectors for Gaza");

and

13) NYU library access for the general public….
It seemed that students were disappointed that campus and local officers did not squelch the disobedience immediately and provide them with much needed publicity. I am sure those planners had hoped for lots of videos of students being struck with batons, pepper sprayed, and threatened by police dogs.

Instead, officers simply contained the situation to one campus area, and waited. Oh yes, and they used another super secret weapon—-be nice to the protestors.

It seems that the disorderly students were befuddled with this tactic and decided eventually to call the whole deal off and go home. Actually, the videos posted of the events are real yawners. Congrats to the police agencies involved-—they came out of the incident smelling like roses.

I’ll wait for reporters on campus to generate a story similar to this one by Kenny Byerly:

A large group of organized protestors who had blocked access to a major campus building yesterday found themselves all but ignored by friendly UC police officers. The protest continued well into the night, until protestors got kind of bored, decided their point had pretty much been made, and went home to get something to eat.

"We did our best to make them leave," stated UC police captain Bill Cooper. "We reasoned very logically with them, and tried to be persuasive. We told them how disruptive they were being, but they all seemed to want to stay. What could we do?"

Many protestors, however, decried the UC police's lack of strongarm force. "How are we supposed to make an impression without front-page Daily Cal photos of grimacing students being subjected to arm-bending and ear-pulling?" demanded Jamina Higgins, a junior who was neither arrested nor given a citation.

Added Higgins, "You call yourself 'The Man'? This is pathetic, guys. At least get out the pepper spray."

UC police had offered to fetch sodas for the grueling twelve-hour protests, but their gifts were, for the most part, rebuffed.
Ok, so Bylerly’s article was a parody on the police response a couple of years ago at the University of California when campus administrators were in conflict with environmental student groups about the location of a new institutional facility—-but it still makes entertaining reading.

Part II: Off the Beaten Path


What is that shiny something on the ground? Our oldest son has asked us that question probably a dozen times in his quest to find the perfect rock for his collection. One place that we visited where we had to take a much closer look before responding to the boy’s question is Murfreesboro, Arkansas-—home of the Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Over 75, 000 diamonds have been unearthed at the unusual geologic formation (an eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe) since 1907. The largest find at the site was made in 1924 when a 40 karat diamond was discovered.

This park is a one of kind place where visitors are allowed to keep any of the rocks that they find. Last year, park officials reported over 612 white, yellow and brown diamonds being found at the site. The state’s website has a recent press release on a Michigan man who found a 4.6 karat white diamond on his trip to the site this past September.

Due to the rural location of the park, my own research, and after speaking with persons who live in that area, we planned to make the park one of several stops on our trip. Before going, we knew that it would be hot, there is little shade in the mining area itself, and that most folks do lots of digging with no idea what they are looking for. Fortunately, our crew enjoys digging and getting dirty, and I had prepared them for the probable outcome—-of not finding the big diamond.

As a result, we had several other activities to keep us entertained on a three day adventure.

--Ron Coleman s Quartz Mine was a big hit with the family rock hunting crew. We spent several hours digging at the site and collecting white and crystal quartz pieces on our first afternoon in the area, and stopped again on our way to the airport to for one last visit.

Staffers at the site were courteous and eager to help find hunks of quartz. My son brought back so much quartz that I had to the pay the airlines an extra fee for the abnormally heavy suitcase (no wonder my shoulder was hurting carrying that bag from the rental car place). Finding quartz helped ease the disappointment in not finding diamonds.

--We stayed at the DeGray Lake Resort which was fantastic and had lots of kid-friendly stuff to do. The water level was down when we visited, but grandpa and his grandson still caught a dozen or so small fish on the shore near the lodge. The lodge has guided night hikes, a restaurant (where the boy got his first taste of frog legs), a swimming pool, and nice rooms that were appreciated by all.

If you enjoy geocaching, several treasures were hidden near the lodge as well. If we had the chance to return to the area and bring the rest of the curtain climbers, I would want to stay at DeGray again.

--We took the Duck vehicle tour (the vehicle that travels on water and land) in Hot Springs and the guide was hilarious. He did recover nicely after we were all stopped in Hot Springs traffic and while waiting saw a young woman crossing the busy street nearly be run over by an SUV. We looked around some of the tourist areas in Hot Springs and climbed the mountain view tower.

On a final note about the Crater of Diamonds trip, we brought back a couple of small bags of dirt and rocks. I am still holding out hope that somewhere in our collection, a valuable diamond is waiting to be discovered. If you are ever in Central Arkansas, a detour for diamond hunting is certainly a worthy adventure.

Why Did I Find Some Cat Litter in My Hotel Room?


Here is an excerpt from a story in Monday’s news that caught my attention:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Illegal methamphetamine "cooks" are traipsing undetected through an unknown number of motels and hotels with covert drug-making labs — leaving a toxic mess behind for unsuspecting customers and housekeeping crews.

They are places where drug-makers can go unnoticed, mixing the chemicals needed for the highly addictive stimulant in a matter of hours before slipping out the next morning. The dangerous contaminants can lurk on countertops, carpets and bathtubs, and the sickening smells produced can be masked by tobacco smoke and other scents.

Motels can be an attractive alternative for drug makers seeking to avoid a police bust in their own homes.

"They can seize the trailer or seize your house but they can't seize a motel room," said Dr. Sullivan Smith, director of emergency services at Cookeville Regional Medical Center in north-central Tennessee.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration records obtained by The Associated Press show that states reported finding drug-making in 1,789 motel and hotel rooms in the past five years — and that's just what authorities found.

Some cleanup professionals hired to make the travelers' havens livable again say most of their work is done on properties where a meth lab was discovered long afterward.

The number of clandestine labs that are never found is difficult to pin down. There was a slight uptick in hotel and motel lab busts reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008 from the previous year, with 149 in 2006, 87 in 2007 and 127 in 2008.

The tally was 461 in 2005 and 965 in 2004, before there were restrictions on purchasing over-the-counter decongestants often used as ingredients. The DEA count is based on states that reported labs.

The toxins can linger for days if meth lab hygienists wearing hazmat suits don't clean living areas.

The cleanups cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. Even short-term exposure to vapors and residue where the drug is smoked or cooked can cause eye and skin irritation, vomiting, rashes, asthma problems and other respiratory issues…
The 1,789 motel/hotel rooms contaminated with hazardous chemicals is unreal considering that it only represents those reported to law enforcement-—probably a third or less of the rooms actually exposed. Since only a few states actually report this data to the federal government, multiplying that total by another three may be a more accurate representation of hotel/motel contamination.

Doing the math(3 times 1,789; times 3), a better estimate of guest room contaminations by meth labs in the last five years is 16,101. A healthy reminder for me that extra caffeine may be a healthier alternative the next time that I am on a long drive, become tired, and think about stopping for the night at a budget hotel.

For those occasions when we do need to stop for the night, the North Metro Task Force’s (Colorado) website offers text suggestions with photographic examples regarding what to look for in hotel rooms that have been used by meth cookers (e.g. yellow-green carpet stains, discolored countertops in the bathroom, remnants of cat litter which is used to absorb gases, etc.).

I consider these types of reports very depressing-—not only as a reminder for the users’ lives being ruined by meth, but also for the law-abiding citizens simply looking for a hotel room after a long day’s travel and encountering a dangerous crime scene instead.

Stop Thief and Maturity


One of the perks in having children, has been to rediscover my own childhood. Playing backyard football in the mud. Scouring the forested park areas and hiking trails for critters. Setting-up insane backyard obstacle courses. Riding bicycles through 8-inch deep water puddles. Sliding down really fast slides—-backwards and upside down. These are all in a day’s fun (weather permitting of course).

Fortunately, my kids are young enough to where I am simply a good playmate and not yet embarrassing to them; as I know that day will arrive soon enough. But for now, we have lots of fun and the neighbors only point and laugh at me a little. I guess the most flattering part is that after pointing and laughing for awhile, these same neighbors have a change at heart and suddenly want to send their little ones over to join in with our outdoor goofiness.

It has been wonderful getting the oldest son interested in the stuff that I liked as a kid. He has the old style NFL plug-in vibrating board game, where the miniature players move in circles around the replica football field. Unfortunately, we had to hide that game in the closet for now as the youngest kid would break the entire set in less than five minutes.

We recreate great battles of the Civil War with his cheap toy soldiers as well as with his more expensive hand-painted models. We play chess, Stratego, and have all sorts of friendly competitions.

I think the best retro board game that we purchased was Stop Thief. Manufactured in the late 1970s, this board game was as high-tech as it got back then. The game involves players assuming the role of detectives and trying to apprehend imaginary criminals with the help of a battery-operated over-sized calculator looking device that provides audible clues as to the deviant’s whereabouts. It also helps you make the case-closing arrest.

The board features four different floorplans (with crime locations, doors, windows, and floor areas) where the thief can move. In addition, he can escape from your grasp and run—-a frustrating experience.

The thief can maneuver outside of the buildings and even hop on a subway to throw-off pursuing detectives. The game is an excellent exercise for the kids in using logic, and takes less than 30 minutes to play (average games for us require 3 to 4 rounds at about 5-8 minutes per round).

Stop Thief has been a big hit with our family since we found it on E-bay. Since I played the game in my childhood, I knew that some of the game pieces were non-essential. As a result, we got a bargain price on an incomplete game set (missing one of the detective licenses)—and the lost part has absolutely no effect on the game play.

At least when the kids become teens and my fun-filled days at the park are no more, I can still take solace in the notion that those board games will be still around—-pushed behind a pile in the attic.

Without the indoor and outdoor toys to distract me, perhaps then I’ll have more time to regain some of my credibility with those mature adult neighbors. Maybe, I’ll act as I a parent should--find enjoyment in sitting for long periods, complaining about life, and ignoring other young ones having fun. That is what we are expected to do, right?

Then again, I don’t think it will ever make me as happy as I am now celebrating a Stop Thief win or peeling a mud-caked shirt off after a few hours of real-kid play.

Part VIII: Ray Gricar Missing Person


Note: There is still time to submit responses to any or all of my follow-up questions regarding the Ray Gricar missing person case. If you are interested, please email your responses to me (email address is on the left of the home page).

This is the eighth post of a multiple part series on the Ray Gricar disappearance. Gricar was a district attorney in Central Pennsylvania, and disappeared in 2005. On the day he went missing, he told his girlfriend that he was taking a vacation day from work, and driving about an hour away from his employment to do some shopping. His car was found abandoned the next day, and his laptop computer was later recovered submerged under a bridge near his parked vehicle.

I’ll continue my thoughts from Part VII--discussing a third scenario that Gricar disappeared voluntarily.

Scenario #3: Voluntary Disappearance (Continued)
As discussed in my previous post, it appears that more than 9 witnesses claim to have seen the missing person in and around the Centre and Union counties area—a lot of people to have been either mistaken, confused, or being deceitful. Also mentioned previously, was that the witness list includes credible testimony from another attorney (states she saw him near his employment in Bellefonte) and a police officer from another jurisdiction (reportedly sighting him a few hours away in Wilkes-Barre, PA).

In contrast, those familiar with investigations are hesitant to rely heavily on eyewitness accounts. Cornell law professor Michael Dorf had this to say in comparing circumstantial evidence and eyewitness identifications:

The conventional wisdom, particularly among non-lawyers, is that circumstantial evidence is generally less reliable than eyewitness testimony. People sometimes say that a case is "only circumstantial" to mean that the evidence is weak. A strong case, according to this view, includes the testimony of an eyewitness.

In fact, contrary to popular opinion, circumstantial evidence is often extremely reliable. Blood of the victim that makes a DNA match with blood found on the defendant's clothing, credit card records that place the defendant at the scene of the crime, and ballistics analysis that shows a bullet removed from the victim to have been fired from the defendant's gun are all forms of circumstantial evidence. Yet, in the absence of a credible allegation of police tampering, such evidence is usually highly reliable and informative.

At the same time, numerous psychological studies have shown that human beings are not very good at identifying people they saw only once for a relatively short period of time. The studies reveal error rates of as high as fifty percent — a frightening statistic given that many convictions may be based largely or solely on such testimony.

These studies show further that the ability to identify a stranger is diminished by stress (and what crime situation is not intensely stressful?), that cross-racial identifications are especially unreliable, and that contrary to what one might think, those witnesses who claim to be "certain" of their identifications are no better at it than everyone else, just more confident…
Interestingly, Mr. Gricar’s car, the well-kept red mini-Cooper, is an unusual car and would likely be memorable for potential witnesses (as opposed to more common vehicles like red Chevy pick-ups or white Honda Accords). Of the nine witness reports, I am not aware of any that place Gricar in the red vehicle.* The attorney reported sighting had Mr. Gricar in a gold or silver car, witnesses in Lewisburg thought they saw him standing next to the car, while the other reports simply described the man without linking him to a vehicle.

I think this is important as it brings up the possibility that the red mini-cooper was driven from Centre County to Lewisburg, played only a small role in the disappearance, for the most part, was parked until police discovered it. If this is accepted and continuing with the voluntary disappearance scenario, then an accomplice providing access to a less visible automobile that allowed Mr. Gricar to leave the area willingly, becomes a viable argument.

To bolster a voluntary disappearance scenario, knowing the answers to several questions would make it more attractive to characterize Mr. Gricar as a missing person. First, was Mr. Gricar fluent in other languages that would allow him to start fresh somewhere far from Central PA? Did he have a valid passport?

Second, did he regularly attend any professional conferences in other parts of the country? If so, he could have easily slipped away unnoticed by anyone and made arrangements for a disappearance well in advance of the day he went missing. Third, where did he like to travel (professional and personal)? His links to Ohio are well documented, but are their other locations that he overly enjoyed?

Finally, I get the impression that Mr. Gricar was meticulous in his activities (professional and personal), and orderly people keep lists. Did he keep lists of things to do? If so, were they handwritten or electronically created? My guess would be that he made handwritten lists and that he would document everything.

One additional comment-—Mr. Gricar’s notoriety is primarily linked to Central Pennsylvania. If he were to move to Dubuque, IA or Okemah, OK and start a new life, it is reasonable to assume that no one would recognize him as a missing person.

Also, numerous adults are reported missing every year in the United States. With his laptop being a part of the incident, I can’t rule out that it was not being used to communicate with someone else--near his hometown or living in another state. As a result, Mr. Gricar using the disappearance to begin a new chapter in his life is certainly plausible.

Here are the ratings for this third scenario:

+1 Evidence that an unknown individual(s) was/were in his vehicle.
+1 His laptop was discarded.
+1 Was reportedly seen in another vehicle as well as with a woman.
+1 His car was returned undamaged to Ms. Fornicola
+1 He made sure that the dog was cared for that day
+1 Murky personal finances (e.g., lack of ownership of assets, paying for items in cash)
-1 Someone was smoking in his vehicle.
-1 The laptop being discarded so close to the recovered vehicle.
-1 Credible witness sightings.
-1 Friends and family have reported no other romantic links

I’ll continue my thoughts on this case soon, and here are the links to the previous entries Part I , Part II, Part III, Part IV, . Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.

*Note: After posting this, Gricar Blogger JJ from Phila stated there are at least three witnesses who place Mr. Gricar in his vehicle around the time he went missing. I'll provide additional information later.

Suicide by Cop


I recently saw a news item over at Officer.com on the apparently growing incidents of Suicide by Cop (SBC). SBC refers to persons who intentionally act in a dangerous manner in an attempt to be killed by police. A new article that appears in the Journal of Forensic Sciences estimated, this tragedy occurred 36% of the time in a sample of over 700 police shootings. The findings confirm the growing incidence of this method of suicide—as SBC cases are more likely to result in the death or injury of the subjects half of the time.

The 36% only includes cases that were established as SBC so it is assumed that other cases were motivated by similar feelings, yet not enough evidence was present for researchers to classify the cases as victim perpetrated suicides.

Interestingly, psychologist Dr. Kevin Keough had this to say about the forgotten victims of SBC:

This tragedy is one of the most frustrating and disturbing experiences a police officer can face. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is on the rise. Experts continue to search for the most appropriate term to describe this type of incident. The contenders include "police assisted suicide," "suicide by cop," "victim precipitated homicide," and "victim precipitated suicide."

The bottom line is that the victim(s) in these incidents is the officer(s). The person responsible for the death is the perpetrator, not the police officer(s). Unfortunately, the media like to second guess every action taken by police officers.

Not long ago, there was a "by the book" use of lethal force in a "perpetrator victimizes police officer-suicide type" (my taxonomy would classify each and every way police officers are victimized by perpetrators): The local newspaper calls a psychologist on the west coast to see what the officers could have done differently. According to the psychologist 3,000 miles away:

"They should have talked to him in a soothing tone and made him feel safe." Then psychologists wonder why police officers are wary of mental health types.

By any name, this type of incident is traumatic. It is more traumatic when multiple departments are involved and political issues become more important ("CYA") than responding to the victimized police officers. It is critical that an officer receives immediate and ongoing peer support. A critical incident debriefing should be standard operating procedure.

It is important to know that 85% of police officers experience short term--but serious--emotional fallout from these incidents. One-third of all officers will experience moderate symptoms over several months, while approximately 5% of police officers will experience protracted serious symptoms. Police officers need immediate and ongoing support and people to listen.

As Dr. Keough describes, officers are, for the most part, not considered victims in SBC. With the current economic situation, unfortunately, I only expect to see an increase in this type of tragedy.

Google Earth and Unmade Beds


Fast forward seven years from now to May of 2016, and listen to a telephone conversation between my father and me.

Busy Blogger Son: Good morning Dad. How are you doing?

Career Marine Dad: Great son. I just finished my beach walk. I still get my eight mile walk in every day—and the last mile is double quick. I did have to stop loading my backpack with rocks for an extra challenge on the hikes.

Busy Blogger Son: Yes, I was glad to hear that you came to your senses and stopped carrying those boulders. I was worried about your back.

Career Marine Dad: Came to my senses? I stopped when that communist backpack of mine broke. It was definitely not Marine quality.

Busy Blogger Son: So, Dad how is the computer running?

Career Marine Dad: Computer? Oh yes, I downloaded and began using Gurgle Earth. That is quite a do-hickey.

Busy Blogger Son: Gurgle Earth? Oh, you mean Google Earth. Yes, it is neat.

Career Marine Dad: Yeah that is what I said Gallop Earth. I pulled up your address on it to yesterday.

Busy Blogger Son: Wonderful. What did you think?

Career Marine Dad: Well, I made a list. Hold on… {long pause in which loud elevator music is playing in the background}… Ok, here it is. When are you going to wash that car boy?

Busy Blogger Son: Huh? It is a little dirty, but…

Career Marine Dad: A little dirty? I have seen M-4 Shermans on extended desert warfare that looked better than your vehicle. You need to wash that car by hand once a week—no excuses. Are your neighbors complaining about how tall the grass is in your yard yet? And when are you going to pick-up that dog mess near the side gate?

Busy Blogger Son: Your right dad-—I plan on mowing tomorrow, we have just had lots of rain and I have been busy. Won’t the lawnmower action just take care of the poop for the most part anyway--that is called multi-tasking, right?

Career Marine Dad: All right wise guy, get that lawn scooped ASAP. I was also able to get a view of your upstairs. Do you think that bed facing the street would pass inspection? Tuck those sheets tightly, right after you wake-up from the rack and then it is done.

Busy Blogger Son: Yes, sir—-we have been off schedule this week. Your youngest grandson…

Career Marine Dad: Yeah, speaking of that little one, my latest images from Gouging Earth show that he needs a haircut. You turning him into a hippie or what?

Busy Blogger Son: No, Dad he still doesn’t sit well for haircuts and…

Career Marine Dad: All right, you just make sure that those tasks are completed by 0600. I have to go clean my floor tiles with a toothbrush—-be warned, I’ll have Google Egg running later this evening to check your progress. Dismissed son…
Ok, Dad is not really this extreme, is a great father, and I should certainly follow his example more. He has fiddled with Google Earth and the last time I looked at our house using the program, the photo was obviously from several years ago.

Being armed with only dated images of locations has not prevented users from harnessing the power of Google Earth and related programs--I saw three stories in the last ten days on the topic. First, a man examining images of a creek near Refugio, Texas claims that he found the location of a sunken Spanish treasure ship.

Second, reporters state they found a US drone air base in Pakistan.

Finally, two geography professors at UCLA, using Google Earth, believe that they have located the most likely hiding place of Osama Bin Laden—-in Northwest Pakistan.

Despite the age of many images on Internet satellite programs, I wonder: how long will it be before technology allows current views of the world? Will Dad really be able to see that my yard needs mowing? Even though the military would not want such information to be readily available, I believe it is only a matter of time before I can take a look at real-time video of almost anywhere in the world.

Thinking about this possibility, perhaps I should be spending less time blogging and more time scrubbing the car before Dad has any photographic evidence on me…

The Ray Gricar Missing Person Reader Challenge, Part I


I changed my mind about the follow-up questions regarding the Ray Gricar missing person case series. Instead of emailing them to only interested persons (I’ll still email the information to people who said they wanted them), I decided to post the five questions below.

My plan is still to format the responses, get approvals from the authors, and then add them to the blog in some sort of a structured post (depending on number and length of the responses).

For respondents, I will only refer to you by your nickname. If your comments are solely based on the fact that you and Ray were abducted by aliens every weekend for a year when you went to grammar school together, then this is probably not the blog activity for you—-although those responses might provide me with some entertaining sci-fi reading.

To make this work, I would appreciate anyone wanting to participate, to please email me their responses. You are welcome to respond to all or some of the questions. My email address is on the left column of the blog.

Folks are still welcome to post an opinion to one or any of the questions, but I don’t think it will offer the same continuity as organizing the thoughts submitted by email into a separate post.

Here are five questions (we’ll see how this goes if I have more) to start with:

1) Based on the evidence, what percentage (total of 100%) would you assign to the three explanations for Mr. Gricar’s disappearance (suicide, crime victim, voluntarily missing)? (For example, Suicide 2%, Crime 49%, Voluntary Missing 49%)

2) What do you consider to be the most critical piece of evidence in the case?

3) Do you believe that Gricar’s laptop was tossed into the river when he disappeared or some time after?

4) If you believe that the laptop was thrown into the river some time well after searches by police, explain your reasoning to support why a subject would doing this.

5) If you were advising the police regarding the case, list two or three things that they should be doing to further investigate the disappearance.
I’ll provide my responses to these questions as well. Thanks for your continued interest in this case.

Correcting My Mistakes on the Gricar Case


I appreciate the feedback that I have received from readers of my Ray Gricar Missing Person series. I will be correcting several errors contained in my previous posts including these:

--On the day of Mr. Gricar’s brother apparent suicide, he did not go out for mulch as incorrectly listed by me, but to pick up his nine-year old son.

--Instead of dogs, I should have referred to the couple’s dog in singular. I was actually told that the dog belonged to his girlfriend—meaning that my “dog person” carries much less weight.

--Gricar’s laptop was recovered in July and not September of 2005 as I had it listed. The location of the laptop was closer to 300 yards from where his car was found. The location of the hard drive was then about 175 yards from where the car was found, and in almost a direct diagonal line between the car and laptop.
My apologies for the inaccuracies, and I'll be more careful with future posts.

How Superman Exits a Swimming Pool


With the NFL combine (a six-day series of physical and mental tests administered to the nation’s top collegiate football players) starting today, I could not resist a football related post. Professional football players are fantastic athletes and this display of ability is something beyond impressive:



Despite competing in sports (primarily football and baseball) during childhood and through high school and winning the physical fitness award in my police academy class, I firmly believe that if I tried Jarron Gilbert's stunt, I would face plant on the side of the concrete pool (then and especially now)...

Continuing with the NFL talk, for the third straight year, I will attempt to predict the first ten picks in the NFL draft. As in years past, I have to pay my 8 year old a set amount for each missed selection, and last year (due to predicting a trade in the first 5 picks that did not occur), I missed 7 out of 10 choices. After a year of ridicule, I plan to reverse my previous poor showing with a much more accurate prediction. I’ll discuss my predictions in a future post.

Even though the Tampa Bay Bucs do not pick until 19, I also try to predict their selection as well. At least last season, I had them correctly taking CB A. Talib with their first choice--a pick that I liked. With the new head coach and by not resigning old guy QB J. Garcia, it will be tempting for the Bucs brain trust to select a QB first—-as Mel Kiper has suggested.

Depending on the combine performances of certain players, I think that the top three signal callers will all be gone by the 19th pick (including the QB that Kiper predicts going to the team) and Bucs management prefers to select a defensive player anyway-—probably an interior lineman.

The Buc's defense certainly needs improvement. The teams inability to stop opponents from scoring at will led to its collapse at the end of last year, and the defense's poor play was primarily responsible for them not making the playoffs...

Anyway, I just looked at the forecast and saw it will be chilly for the rest of the week, so my planned practices at jumping out of four and five-foot deep swimming pools will just have to wait a few days.

One Hat that Police Officers Should Not Wear


A video of the aftermath of a Philadelphia police shooting (follow the link to see it) surfaced last week that has caused some controversy. The Philadelphia news reported this about the taped police incident:
PHILADELPHIA - A video posted on YouTube leads to an internal investigation of two Philadelphia police officers.

The video shows the moments just after police shot a man who turned a gun on them in West Philadelphia on Jan. 20.

Investigators say 35-year-old Marcus Henderson, a career criminal with 15 prior arrests, pointed a gun at police on foot pursuit, reported Fox 29's Dave Schratwieser.

The tape shows the wounded suspect lying on the ground, handcuffed. A few feet away, the officers are engaged in a heated argument.

Witnesses tell Fox 29 News the officers were arguing because one of the officers didn't want to put the wounded suspect in his patrol car and take him to the hospital.

"Our job is to make sure that he does get to the hospital as quick as possible, but our job is safety first, also," says Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby.

The tape goes on for a minute. A female sergeant, a supervisor, is attempting to get a highway patrol officer to follow her commands regarding the wounded suspect.

On the officers arguing, all I can say is that the tension during and after the use of deadly force is extremely high. As a result, it is not uncommon for officers to yell at each other at the scene. To make matters worse, the Philadelphia Police Department has faced an inordinate amount of recent tragedies--losing 6 officers to in-line-of-duty deaths in the last ten months.

I was surprised to learn that the officer and supervisor are from the same department, and expect something like this to occur more frequently when multiple agencies are involved in an incident. Without knowing all the facts in this case, I would expect an officer who behaved in a similar fashion (with that being all the details), by disregarding the order of a supervisor, to receive a hefty suspension as agency administrators reinforce the chain of command structure in policing.

One aspect about the incident that surprised me was that the officers were reportedly going to transport the victim to the hospital instead of trying to treat the man until an ambulance arrived. Certinly there are times when transporting has to be done, and this may have been an example. In contrast, one poster on Officer.com stated that Philadelphia PD's policy implies that officers should regularly transport victims to a medical facility to ensure that treatment is provided without "delay."

I am still trying to determine if that is Philly PD's policy. If so, I would not advocate that the police regularly transport injured persons to the hospital. First, most officers are not trained as emergency medical technicians and should not be moving shooting or other victims. Persons needing medical treatment (especially shooting victims) need to be stabilized to limit internal bleeding and other problems so that when moved, their injuries do not become worse.

Second, officers with limited medical training involved in removing a victim from a scene, tossing them in the back of a patrol car, and then plopping them on a bed at the local hospital, represents activity with a high level of liability. I would think that the city would be under enormous scrutiny during civil trials regarding this practice--an additional layer of liability added to the job of a police officer which is already litigious job.

In sum, policies instructing officers to transport injured persons should describe this activity as exceptional rather than the norm. If no ambulance will be available for an hour, then officers should transport a victim. If a scene is unsafe for medical personnel, officers should drive the victim to a secured area so that EMTs can then treat and transport an injured person.

Having police officers wear the hats of ambulance personnel is asking them to perform actions that, in general, they are not trained to do. It places unnecessary liability on the department, is dangerous for the injured person, and can simply result in a recipe for disaster.

Part VII: Ray Gricar Missing Person


This is the seventh post of a multiple part series on the Ray Gricar disappearance. Gricar was a district attorney in Central Pennsylvania, and disappeared in 2005. On the day he went missing, he told his girlfriend that he was taking a vacation day from work, and driving about an hour away from his employment to do some shopping. His car was found abandoned the next day, and his laptop computer was later recovered submerged under a bridge near his parked vehicle.

I’ll continue the discussion from Part VI--discussing a third scenario that Gricar disappeared voluntarily.

Scenario #3: Voluntary Disappearance (Continued)
In the Gricar case, there are multiple factors that would lead one to believe that he disappeared voluntarily. Some of the evidence that was presented in my second scenario (Crime Victim) can also be used to convincingly argue that Gricar planned to vanish, but let me start with some of the case characteristics that uniquely support this thinking. Gricar’s voluntary disappearance can be argued using supporting information from three specific areas in his life dogs, cars, and attachments.

Let me begin by talking about Mr. Gricar’s dogs.

On the day of his disappearance, his phone conversation with his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, reportedly included Gricar stating that he would not be home in time to let his dogs out, and he asked her to take care of it. From the information that I read about the district attorney, he seemed care very much for his animals, and “dog-people” would not let their pets suffer. On that day as in future days, his dogs would be well cared for.

Next, Mr. Gricar’s car was found the neighboring county of Union after the incident. As with his pets, Gricar’s car was well maintained. Again, during the phone call with his girlfriend Gricar reportedly stated that he was going to a specific community (Lewisburg) to perform a specific activity (antique shop). Gricar’s vehicle was recovered undamaged in the precise place that he had indicated—-in a Lewisburg parking lot adjacent to an antique mall.

It was later established that Gricar had purchased the vehicle and had it titled in the girlfriend’s name. Gricar evidently had told Fornicola that he did this to protect the property from future litigation. As a result, two belongings that meant a great deal to Mr. Gricar, his dogs and his car, were well cared for after the events of his disappearance.

Finally, Mr. Gricar simply did not have the attachments that many others have connecting to a community. He was not married. His daughter is an adult living in another state. He was a short time from retirement. He evidently did not have many liquid or other assets for a person who earned $100,000+ per year. When considering a scenario that Gricar disappeared willingly, it is an easier argument to make that he disappeared voluntarily as compared to a male home-owner, married 10 years, with 3 young children, and years away from retirement.

In sum, one would expect someone like Mr. Gricar to have many more links holding him to Centre County. Also, his disappearance resulted in his dogs and car being left in good hands.

In addition, to dogs, cars, and attachments being used to argue that Mr. Gricar was not a crime victim, the number of witnesses, many seemingly credible, included in the public information is significant. An assistant district attorney is certain she saw Gricar in Bellefonte late in the afternoon of his disappearance. A police officer reported seeing him in Wilkes Barre. A bartender in Wilkes-Barre even offered to corroborate the original witness’ story.

From a list provided by Gricar case researcher JJ in Phila,
it appears that more than 9 witnesses claim to have seen the missing person in and around the Centre and Union counties area—-making it difficult to argue that all of these people were either mistaken, confused, or deceitful.

I’ll continue my thoughts on this scenario soon, and here are the links to the previous entries Part I , Part II, Part III, Part IV, . Part V, and Part VI.

A Valentine's Day Gift and Driving Skills


I was standing in line yesterday with a couple of Valentine’s Day gift items and thinking about the hundred things that I needed to do before the day was over, when I noticed that an elderly woman in front of me. She turned a couple of times to look at my purchases.

The third time she looked at me, smiled, and said, “I am sure those will be appreciated.” I chuckled and told her that my spouse actually prefers the cup of fresh coffee that I typically purchase and have waiting on the morning of 2/14—-and anything in addition to that is icing on the cake.

She paused, turned to see that she had time to talk, and said that she had received a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift last year. The woman stated,

"My husband of 49 years died in September of 2007. He was a wonderful man, but rarely gave me gifts on Valentine’s Day. He said that he showed me how much he loved me everyday and that this so-called "holiday" was merely a commercial creation.

Unfortunately, when the weather got bad and I had some health problems, I was not able to visit the cemetery every day and only stopped by his grave periodically."

She glanced at the line in front of us, saw there was still time to talk unhurried, and continued:

"On February 14 of last year, I went and sat by my husband’s grave. I had not been to the cemetery in a couple of weeks and saw that the ground near the headstone had been churned-—as the workers had been digging plots next to his.

Centered on the ground near the base of his headstone, I noticed a golf ball-sized rock protruding from the soil. I reached down, lifted the rock, and was amazed when I realized that it was in the perfect shape of a heart. My real heart pounded fast and I was so happy.

Despite his distaste for the holiday, I just knew that he had found a way to show me his love and give me one last Valentine's day treasure."

I thanked her for sharing the story, and when she was done checking-out, I said good-bye and wished her well.

I hope that Valentine’s Day holds special memories for everyone--now and 50 years from today.

------------------------------------

On a lighter note, Houston Police Department Recruiter Officer Mike McCoy has a very funny police blog. To be an effective police recruiter, you most certainly need to be personable and have a great sense of humor—-Officer McCoy seems to have both and attracts readers from around the globe.

Take a look at his Friday post--a tongue-in-cheek video primarily featuring the driving skills of persons he describes as those who have not attended their academy.

Perhaps if your significant other has these driving deficiencies, you should plan on sitting behind the steering wheel as you all go on that romantic Valentine’s Day dinner date.

Note: I needed every minute of the driver training provided to recruits in the police academy-—as my talents are best displayed in foot pursuits. I would excel in tricycle chases as well...

Snitches Get Stitches








In late 2008, the following advertisement was placed in an alternative newspaper found in the Albuquerque (NM) area:
Snitches Wanted

People needed who hang out with crooks to do part-time work.
Make some extra cash! Drug use and criminal record OK. For information contact the Albuquerque Police Department at…
Several articles and blogs were critical of this approach by Albuquerque PD in that it would generate more false information being reported to authorities. This in turn would increase the risk of baseless investigations, increases in unnecessary search warrants, and false arrests. Several writers then culminated their informational pieces with examples of botched drug raids and violence against informants (and others) to argue against the use of police informants all together.

Only one of the articles mentioned what I believe is the most relevant aspect of the Albuquerque PD advertisement: the use of the word “snitch.”

In an article in USA Today, three short sentences touch on this issue:

Thomas Kern, chairman of Crime Stoppers USA, said he was "taken aback" by the ad. He said it casts all informants as "snitches" when potential witnesses are being pressured not to cooperate with law enforcement. "I think it may be sending the wrong message," he said.

A 2007 study conducted by the National Center for Victims of Crime explored the “snitching” issue and its impact on Boston-area youth reporting information to police. The research involved interviewing hundreds of urban young people to better understand police-community relationships and external pressures (e.g. gangs) involved in speaking with authorities.

The Center’s report describes the impact that the underground message of “snitches get stitches,” pervasive in music and street culture, has in deterring crimes being reported to police—especially by youth. Here is a portion:

The most common reasons youth gave for not reporting crime were that it wasn’t their concern or they did not want to be seen as a snitch, while they most often attributed their peers’ non-reporting to fear of being beaten up or killed. Interviews made clear that being labeled a snitch carries a price, not just of potential violence, but of ostracism by neighbors and peers.

Youth also gave reasons they deemed valid for reporting crime and breaking the “no-snitching” code, most notably when an injured victim needed help or when the crime was directed against themselves or their family members. In most cases, if youth felt there was a low likelihood of retaliation (e.g., if the perpetrators had no way of knowing who had reported them), they would be willing to report crime.

As evident from the excerpt, being called a “snitch” has a serious negative connotation attached. The researchers recommend that police and other government officials use strategies to counter the snitch label—approaches that encourage collaboration, specifically viewing young students as partners in reducing crime and creating safer communities.

I do not specifically have a problem with the Albuquerque PD advertising for crime information as long as the tips are simply a small part of building a case, and that proper controls are present to discard false reports and ensure high quality investigations with limited intrusions on citizens.

I think the police department’s error was to refer to participants as snitches; thereby, reinforcing the negative notion that citizens (especially young people) who provide information to police are snitches. It also emphasizes the need for police administrators to be cognizant of current research in the field. Had officials known or chosen to follow the recommendations in the National Center’s report, they could have avoided this mistake in association.

Not only does this story affect the law enforcement relations in Albuquerque, but it casts a negative light on crime prevention efforts by police agencies nationwide and further hampers officers trying to develop constructive relationships with citizens of all ages.

Part I: Off the Beaten Path

Note: This is the initial post in a periodic series that will feature recommended unusual places for a quick stop if you happen to be passing through an area. I will try to avoid the commonplace and focus on locations that are either odd and/or neat—-depending on your level of sanity. Also, all the photos used in my post are from Offroaders.com--where there are more images of the unusual place in today's discussion.

A couple of years ago, my adventurous older son and I stopped off on a trip in a very unique town in Pennsylvania. Located north of I-81 well between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, is the very small community of Centralia. Now, this tiny hamlet was not always devoid of residents. In 1980, the town had a population of over 1,000; that is until 1984, when Congress allocated funds to purchase all the homes in Centralia.

What would motivate Congress to spend $42 million in relocation efforts for the citizens of Centralia? Oh, I forgot to mention Centralia’s nickname: "The Town that is on Fire."

For more than 30 years, a fire has burned in mines underneath Centralia. Too large and too expensive to extinguish, state experts decided it was just easier to relocate everyone—-as it is estimated that enough coal exists in the mines to keep the flames going for the next 250 years. Less than 12 residents remain in the town, and I am not sure why someone would want to stay: nothing like random holes developing in your backyard, the constant smell of smoke, or the troublesome levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

One of the most telling examples of the environmental impact in Centralia is the dull yellow flow in adjacent creeks:



Our sight-seeing reminded me of a scene from the setting of the Michael Shaara science-fiction novel The Herald (later published as the "Noah Conspiracy") and included:

-Abandoned streets with power lines where residences once stood.
-Sidewalks that go nowhere.
-Bare black patches of land with little vegetation growing.
-Visible steam coming from the ground
-Signs on the highway denoting the underground fire.



For the more hearty visitors, a section of closed highway can be walked, but it is somewhat unstable looking and the danger involved was certainly not something that I wanted to explain to my spouse after the little one began answering specific questions about our unusual stop.

Anyone driving in Central PA north of Harrisburg should definitely consider a side trip to Centralia. From some of the landscape and emptiness of the place, it may be as close to the moon as I ever get in my lifetime.

The next post on this topic will examine what I consider Arkansas' diamond in the rough.

On the Criminal Justice System: The Impact of Buffoonery


I recently heard someone state that they were working on a paper for school on the topic: "Is the US criminal justice system racist?" It made me remember that I had been assigned similar class papers and had to argue the question from both perspectives. My feeling is that there are unfair racial elements in policing, the courts, and corrections, but that I do not believe the system as a whole is racist.

I think that law scholar Donald Black makes a compelling argument that law is a form of social control and that a person’s class and four other factors, in general, determine how much exposure to the criminal justice system that one can expect. Rather than pointing a finger at racial bias, he discusses how race can relate to his five factors.

For instance, Black surmises that government contacts with persons in the higher societal ranks commonly result in therapeutic and compensatory approaches, while contacts with persons considered having lower societal statuses are more likely to receive penal treatment. He supports his ideas with research showing that police officers were more likely to warn youths from strong families discovered committing minor delinquent offenses. In contrast, delinquent young persons with little or no family support were more apt to be cited by police or taken into custody.

Whether one buys into Black’s argument or someone stating that the CJ system is racially bias, I think the most convincing argument is not mentioned very often--that the US criminal justice system is overrepresented by offenders who regularly display the behavior of buffoons. I offer an example from today's headlines:
New details have emerged about a party where Olympic champion Michael Phelps was spotted.

On Feb. 2, a British tabloid published a picture of the 14-time Olympic gold medalist using a water pipe to smoke marijuana. The picture was taken at a party in Columbia back in November when Phelps was here for a visit...

Now it appears the case has expanded beyond Phelps' activities.

The party took place in November at a house on Blossom Street near Five Points. It was at that house where someone snapped the photo of Phelps taking a hit on a marijuana pipe called a bong...

We've now learned that since investigators began trying to build a case, they've made eight arrests: seven for drug possession and one for distribution. These are arrests that resulted as the sheriff's department served search warrants.

We've also learned that the department has located and confiscated that bong.

Sources say the owner of the bong was trying to sell it on eBay for as much as $100,000.

The owner, who wasn't even at the party, is one of the eight now charged...
Let me get this straight--despite the sheriff stating publically that he wanted to prosecute persons from this incident, brilliant Mr. Water Bong Owner decides to advertise his MJ pipe for sale on eBay? You mean the sheriff’s department could really get a subpoena and determine Mr. Water Bong Owner’s identity from online records? Is it illegal to possess drug paraphernalia in Columbia, South Carolina?

For Mr. Water Bong Owner, the Phelps incident is irrelevant. The issue for him is now "were you in possession of the bong that you tried to sell?". It sounds like the sheriff's department solidified their case by recovering the item from his residence. I think the only thing Mr. Water Bong Owner forgot to do was install the neon sign on his front porch stating "Phelps and Friends Partied Here!"

The jails and prisons of the United States are filled with persons who were low hanging fruit for police—criminals that basically caught themselves. Police are more likely to apprehend the burglar who breaks into someone’s home, brags to all of his friends about the incident, accidentally leaves his wallet on the floor at the crime scene, and then pawns items engraved with the victim’s name as compared to burglar who methodically plans the entire caper, tells no one, and steals only items that are difficult to trace.

My thanks go to Mr. Water Bong Owner of South Carolina for providing me with the contemporary example of moronic behavior that I needed to complete this post…

Online Masters Program - My Worst Interview Ever


When I decided to pursue a second masters degree, I began by compiling a list of all colleges and universities that offered a criminal justice degree in my vicinity. Unfortunately, the list was very short as a two-hour drive multiple times per week, while juggling work and family responsibilities was not appealing.

At the same time, I explored online Master degree programs. I talked with faculty in programs offering distance learning, and I spoke with other faculty about online classes.

After some thought and research, I narrowed my list to three programs offering a masters in Criminal Justice, and a traditional program located at a mid-sized university about two hours from home.

I decided that it would be prudent to meet the traditional program’s director in-person and learn more about the pluses and minuses of pursuing a degree at her institution; thus resulting in my worst interview ever.

I had setup the meeting with the programs’ contact person via email a few weeks prior to my drive to her university.

It had worked out well because I was able to participate in a planned work event in the morning, and then would speak with the faculty person in the afternoon before returning to the office.

When I arrived at the faculty contact’s office, I introduced myself to the receptionist and stated that I had a 1 pm meeting with Dr. BlahBlah. The receptionist stared at me for what seemed an eternity, and then finally said Dr. BlahBlah is out of the office and not due back until later in the day. I replied that I was here to talk about her program, had confirmed the meeting well in advance, and it would be difficult for me to reschedule for another time/date.

The receptionist then had me sit over in a corner and wait while she tried to round-up the professor. I did some good waiting, and then saw a woman hastily enter the reception area. The receptionist pointed to me and the woman approached.

Her first words to me were: “Who did you say you were? I have no meetings scheduled for today.” A great first impression of a program—-one where they wanted from me an investment of thousands of dollars.

I repeated my story of scheduling the appointment with her weeks ago (I decided not to show her the email printout proof), and she reluctantly invited me to follow her back to her office. Obviously she was not happy about being here and offered no apologies—-just a “follow me” directive.

As we talked, here are three of the gems from our discussion that made this an insert foot in mouth jamboree:

One: Rather than ask me anything about myself or my interest in her program, she starts into a fifteen minute speech regarding how a person pursuing a graduate degree in criminal justice should not be doing so to become a CSI or a criminal profiler as described in contemporary television.

I finally interrupted as she continued to tangent and told her politely that I had researched CJ programs, realized that her graduates were not tv CSI material, and that I was interested in the degree to help further my educational interests-—primarily in studying police.


Two: I asked her how many criminal justice practitioners who were police officers were currently in her program. She looked puzzled and replied that she was sure that there were some, but had no idea the number. I also asked her how many of her students continued their education in pursuing a PhD--again she did not know.

You would think that the director of a graduate program would have an understanding of the student population that comprises her department not only to better accommodate current students, but also to decipher which marketing efforts were the most fruitful.

Unfortunately, Dr. BlahBlah could not even venture an educated guess as to the number of police officers attending or any other demographic question that I asked.

The Dr. then said this: “Police officers are too jaded by the work and do not make good students.” She explained that most officers have a limited perspective of the public and refuse to change their thinking despite empirical evidence.

Not only are these statements untrue, but as a person recruiting students to your program: do you really think that this will make someone want to attend your university?

As mentioned previously, if she would have asked for my resume prior to or during the meeting she would have at least seen that I was one of those “jaded” former police officers who, in her opinion, should not be considering graduate school.


Three: I had reviewed her CV prior to the meeting and asked her about a project with a local police department that she had listed on the document. I just wanted to see how often faculty and students work with local police departments on research projects.

She then stunned me with this defensive response: “How did you know about that? (Me: "I reviewed your CV.") Oh, that is old—-I am not sure about that and I can’t believe that is still on our website.

In retrospect, I think she thought I was trying to trap her about something questionable she had listed on her CV—-but I really just wanted to know about the university’s relationships with local police agencies. 

At the end of the interview, she conceded that she had gotten a new computer and some of her mail items and appointments may have been lost in the transition (I do not count this as an "I'm sorry").

Needless to say, after waiting for over an hour, not receiving an apology (instead being accused of showing up uninvited), being provided the wrong information, and being called jaded and unfit for graduate school (since I had been a police officer), I was very disappointed with her and her description of the program.

It worked out well though. I went running from the Dr.’s campus and have not returned. I then enrolled in one of the online programs, finished in 20 months, and very much enjoyed “attending” classes at 1 am from my living room while dressed in my pajamas.

Having been on both sides of the interview process, it is essential that someone conducting interviews prepare and educate themselves about candidates so that they can ask informed questions--even more important than the candidates being prepared.

Dr. BlahBlah failed to realize that she was not only a faculty member, but the chief recruiter for her program. As a result, she should have asked about my interests to structure the conversation, known or at least been able to describe the composition of students, their backgrounds, and why they attended. Her comments about police and her defensiveness about items on her CV were simply awful.

Unfortunately, this was the worst interview ever and I was glad to put it behind me.

Part VI: Ray Gricar Missing Person


This is the sixth post of a multiple part series on the Ray Gricar disappearance. Gricar was a district attorney in Central Pennsylvania, and disappeared in 2005. On the day he went missing, he told his girlfriend that he was taking a vacation day from work, and driving about an hour away from his employment to do some shopping. His car was found abandoned the next day, and his laptop computer was later recovered submerged under a bridge near his parked vehicle.

I’ll continue the discussion from Part V exploring the possibility that Gricar was a crime victim. I’ll close by introducing a third explanation to this missing person case: that he voluntarily disappeared.

Scenario #2: Crime Victim (Continued)
Authorities released information that a faint smell of smoke and trace amounts of cigarette ash were found in his recovered car. This evidence could certainly be used to argue that either Gricar was the victim of a crime or wanted to disappear, but let’s explore this fact in terms of criminal activity. Gricar was a non-smoker and people who knew him well were surprised by this finding. They did not feel that Gricar would have let someone smoke in his personal car. Consequently, it is understandable to assert that Gricar either did not have a say as to someone smoking in the vehicle or he was not there when it happened.

In considering the ashes and the discarded laptop from a criminal perspective, I can envision multiple subjects in Mr. Gricar’s car. These persons had not really planned the events that occurred while the missing person was in Lewisburg—-things may have just happened quickly.

With this thinking, the suspects may have been somewhat careless. Those responsible were smoking in the vehicle and tried to clean it up the best that they could while the sudden criminal events of that day were set into motion. Further, they hastily discarded the laptop into an adjacent river while returning Mr. Gricar’s car to its original parked location. If you are open to the idea of subjects eager to destroy potential evidence by tossing the laptop, then the trace amounts of ash in the passenger compartment made by subjects not thinking clearly makes sense as well.

The one concern that I have about the ashes is that the information may mean absolutely nothing. I had a great mechanic who used to toss his cigarette out just as he was getting into my car when he needed to test drive it or something. After he worked on it, the vehicle always smelled like smoke and I am sure there were trace amounts of ash in my floorboard as well. Without knowing if Mr. Gricar’s car was worked on prior to his disappearance (as well as the smoking habits of the mechanics), I am cautious about the meaning of the ashes.

Until I am shown something to the contrary, I do feel that the ashes discovered in his car are a key piece of evidence-—strongly supporting that someone else was inside his vehicle do something without his approval.

As a result of my discussion of the published facts including the three key pieces of evidence that I discussed (bringing the laptop, location of the recovered laptop, and trace ashes found in the car), here are the ratings for this crime victim scenario:

+1 Evidence that an unknown individual(s) was/were in his vehicle.
+1 Recovered location of his laptop.
+1 No apparent attempts to notify his family that something was wrong
+1 His job resulted in the creation of many enemies
+1 Since he brought the laptop, it may indicate that he was meeting someone that day
-1 No clearly defined crime scene or sign of resistance in the car
-1 No witnesses to anything unusual that day

Scenario #3: Voluntary Disappearance
Missing person calls are common for police officers. Fortunately, the majority of missing person reports filed in the United States are later cleared by a determination that the adult in question voluntarily disappeared as opposed to being a crime or suicide victim.

For instance, in Davidson County, TN, authorities recently solved a similar missing person case involving a sixty-one year old music company attorney named William Grothe.

The man had disappeared, some of his belongings were found in a residential area, his vehicle was recovered abandoned and parked next to a boat ramp, and his jacket was pulled from an adjacent river. Using great skill to solve this case, experienced investigators were able to track him to a motel in Montana where he stayed briefly using an alias and paying in cash. His family and police are unsure why he faked the disappearance, and at last report, he was being evaluated at a hospital in the Western US.

In my patrol officer days, we regularly talked to citizens about missing persons. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, neighbors, and a host of others reported friends and loved ones missing. In a good portion of the cases, the reporting person was convinced (making a strong case to me as well) that something terrible had happened to the missing person—-only for the individual in question to appear later and the disappearance was attributed to family/relationship problems, work pressures, substance abuse issues, etc. Consequently, I tried to treat each case as it was a sensational crime that would be featured on the evening news-—so I made sure that a proper preliminary investigation was conducted for the detectives to work from.

In my opinion, this is in contrast to the belief of many in the public about missing person cases. Basing their understanding of these types of cases on interesting television shows, citizens commonly believe that missing persons cases can frequently be attributed to crimes or even foul play--when this explanation is simply the exception.

In the Gricar case, there are multiple factors that would lead one to believe that he disappeared voluntarily. Some of the evidence that was presented in my second scenario (Crime Victim) can also be used to convincingly argue that Gricar planned to vanish, but let me start with some of the case characteristics that uniquely support this thinking. First, Gricar’s voluntary disappearance can be argued using supporting information from three specific areas in his life dogs, cars, and attachments.

Sorry this post is getting long, so I’ll stop here. I’ll continue the discussion on the case soon, and here are the links to the previous entries Part I , Part II, Part III, Part IV, . Part V.

Note: The offer continues that anyone interested and informed on the Ray Gricar case that would like to tackle my follow-up questions (are being developed), just email me at the address on the left of the blog. I’ll speak with you further about your thoughts.

I was asked a very good question in that why not wait until I am done posting my opinions about the case before soliciting reader questions. My response is that: 1) I am currently on part 6 of the Gricar series and seem to have more to say every time that I post—so I am not sure when it will end; 2) I have been challenged a few times on my assumptions with valid concerns and before I forget them, I wanted to implore the person leaving the comment/emailer to further explain his/her position.

My interest is learning more from others so that my thoughts on the case will be an soundly based on informed opinion.

Update on MN State Patrol Pursuit in St. Paul


A contributor to the discussion at Officer.com, posted a link to the full pursuit video by the Minnesota State Patrol as discussed in Friday’s post.

In trying to learn more about the police agency's statements, I searched for a press release from the Minnesota State Patrol or the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, but unfortunately did not find one.

Don't Shoot We're Republicans


As I said yesterday, I do not want this blog to strictly focus on policing. Similarly, I have avoided, for the most part, political discussions (despite today's misleading title). The following post neither involves the police or political opinion, but instead is military/political humor and describes a “jinxed” US naval vessel from World War II.

This story was based on a Sacramento radio story in 1993:

From November 1943, until her demise in June 1945, the American destroyer 'William D Porter' was often hailed - whenever she entered port or joined other Naval ships - with the greetings: 'Don't shoot, we're Republicans!'. For a half a century, the US Navy kept a lid on the details of the incident that prompted this salutation. A Miami news reporter made the first public disclosure in 1958 after he stumbled upon the truth while covering a reunion of the destroyer's crew--that the men were involved in almost sinking the ship of one of the most famous democratic party presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Pentagon reluctantly and tersely confirmed his story, but only a smattering of newspapers took notice.

The USS William D Porter (DD-579) was one of hundreds of assembly line destroyers built during the war. They mounted several heavy and light guns but their main armament consisted of 10 fast-running and accurate torpedoes that carried 500 pound warheads. This destroyer was placed in commission on July 1943 under the command of Wilfred Walker, a man on the Navy's fast career track.

In the months before she was detailed to accompany the Iowa across the Atlantic in November 1943, the Porter and her crew learned their trade, experiencing the normal problems that always beset a new ship and a novice crew. The mishaps grew more serious when she became an escort for the pride of the fleet, the big new battleship Iowa.

The night before they left Norfolk, bound for North Africa, the Porter accidentally damaged a nearby sister ship when she backed down along the other ship's side and her anchor tore down her railings, life rafts, ship's boat and various other formerly valuable pieces of equipment. The Willie D merely had a scraped anchor, but her career of mayhem and mishaps had begun. Just twenty four hours later, the four ship convoy consisting of Iowa and her secret passengers and two other destroyers was under strict instructions to maintain complete radio silence.

As they were going through a known U-boat feeding ground, speed and silence were the best defense. Suddenly a tremendous explosion rocked the convoy. All of the ships commenced anti-submarine maneuvers. This continued until the Porter sheepishly admitted that one of her depth charges had fallen off her stern and exploded. The 'safety' had not been set as instructed. Captain Walker was watching his fast track career become side-tracked.

Shortly thereafter, a freak wave inundated the ship, stripping away everything that wasn't lashed down, and a man was washed overboard and never found. Next, the fire room lost power in one of its boilers. The Captain, by this point, was making reports almost hourly to the Iowa on the Willie D's difficulties. It would have been merciful if the force commander had detached the hard luck ship and sent her back to Norfolk. But no, she sailed on.

The morning of 14 November 1943 dawned with a moderate sea and pleasant weather. The Iowa and her escorts were just east of Bermuda, and the president and his guests wanted to see how the big ship could defend herself against an air attack. So, Iowa launched a number of weather balloons to use as anti-aircraft targets. It was exciting to see more than 100 guns shooting at the balloons, and the President was proud of his Navy.

Over on the Willie D, Captain Walker watched the fireworks display with admiration and envy. Thinking about career redemption and breaking the hard luck spell, the Captain sent his impatient crew to battle stations. They began to shoot down the balloons the Iowa had missed as they drifted into the Porter's vicinity.

Down on the torpedo mounts, the crew watched, waiting to take some practice shots of their own on the big battleship, which, even though 6000 yards away, seemed to blot out the horizon. Lawton Dawson and Tony Fazio were among those responsible for the torpedoes. Part of their job involved ensuring that the primers were installed during actual combat and removed during practice. Once a primer was installed, on a command to fire, it would explode shooting the torpedo out of its tube. Dawson, on this particular morning, unfortunately had forgotten to remove the primer from torpedo tube #3.

Up on the bridge, a new torpedo officer, unaware of the danger, ordered a simulated firing. “Fire 1, Fire 2” and finally “Fire 3.” There was no “fire 4” as the sequence was interrupted by an unmistakable 'whooooooshhhhing' sound made by a successfully launched and armed torpedo. Lt H Steward Lewis, who witnessed the entire event, later described the next few minutes as what hell would look like if it ever broke loose.

Just after he saw the torpedo hit water, on its way to the Iowa and some of the most prominent figures in world history, Lewis innocently asked the Captain, 'Did you give permission to fire a torpedo?' Captain Walker's reply will not ring down through naval history. Although words to the effect of Farragut's immortal 'Damn the torpedoes' figured centrally within.

Initially there was some reluctance to admit what had happened or even to warn the Iowa. As the awful reality sunk in, people began racing around, shouting conflicting instructions and attempting to warn the flagship of imminent danger. First, there was a flashing light warning about the torpedo which unfortunately indicated it was headed in another direction. Next, the Porter signaled that it was going reverse at full speed!

Finally, they decided to break the strictly enforced radio silence. The radio operator on the destroyer transmitted 'Lion (code for the Iowa), Lion, come right. The Iowa operator, more concerned about radio procedure, requested that the offending station identify itself first. Finally, the message was received and the Iowa began turning to avoid the speeding torpedo.

Meanwhile, on the Iowa's bridge, word of the torpedo firing had reached FDR, who asked that his wheelchair be moved to the railing so he could see better what was coming his way. His loyal Secret Service guard immediately drew his pistol as if he was going to shoot the torpedo. As the Iowa began evasive maneuvers, all of her guns were trained on the William D Porter.

There was now some thought that the Porter was part of an assassination plot. Within moments of the warning, there was a tremendous explosion just behind the battleship. The torpedo had been detonated by the wash kicked up by the battleship's increased speed. The crisis was over and so was Captain Walker's career. His final utterance to the Iowa, in response to a question about the origin of the torpedo, was a weak, 'We did it'. Shortly thereafter, the brand new destroyer, her Captain and the entire crew were placed under arrest and sent to Bermuda for trial.

It was the first time that a complete ship's company had been arrested in the history of the US Navy. The ship was surrounded by Marines when it docked in Bermuda, and held there several days as the closed session inquiry attempted to determine what had happened. Torpedoman Dawson eventually confesses to having inadvertently left the primer in the torpedo tube, which caused the launching. Dawson had thrown the used primer over the side to conceal his mistake.
After this incident, the Captain and several officers were reassigned to shore duties, while the enlisted man Dawson was sentenced to 14 months in a military prison (President Roosevelt commuted the sentence and Dawson did not do the time). The destroyer was then sent to the Aleutian Islands—thought of as a safe place for an accident-prone ship.

The story continues:

She remained in the frozen north for almost a year, until late 1944, when she was re-assigned to the Western Pacific. Before leaving the Aleutians, she accidentally left her calling card in the form of a five inch shell fired into the front yard of the American base commandant, thus rearranging his flower garden.

In December 1944, she joined the Philippine invasion forces and acquitted herself quite well. She distinguished herself by shooting down a number of attacking Japanese aircraft. Regrettably, after the war, it was reported that she also shot down three American planes. This was a common event on ships, as many gunners, fearful of kamikazes, had nervous trigger fingers.

In April 1945, the destroyer was assigned to support the invasion of Okinawa. By this time, the greeting "Don't Shoot, We're Republicans" was commonplace and the crew of the Willie D had become used to the ribbing. But the crew of her sister ship, the USS Luce, was not so polite in its salutations after the Porter accidentally riddled her side and superstructure with gunfire.

On 10 June 1945, the Porter's hard luck finally ran out. She was sunk by a plane which had (unintentionally) attacked underwater. A Japanese bomber almost made entirely of wood and canvas slipped through the Navy's defense. Having little in the way of metal surfaces, the plane didn't register on radar.

A fully loaded kamikaze, it was headed for a ship near the Porter, but just at the last moment veered away and crashed alongside the unlucky destroyer. There was a sigh of relief as the plane sunk out of site, but then it blew up underneath the Porter, opening her hull in the worst possible location.

Three hours later, after the last man was off board, the Captain jumped to the safety of a rescue vessel and the ship that almost changed world history slipped astern into 2400 feet of water. Not a single soul was lost in the sinking. After everything else that happened, it was almost as if the ship decided to let her crew off at the end.

Even the efforts of Hollywood’s best screen writers struggle to replicate the irony and humor that real life has to offer.

Good Pursuit or Bad Judgment: An Example of Differing Perspectives on the Police


Before getting started, here are two comments on the Blog:

Note #1: Anyone interested and informed on the Ray Gricar case that would like to tackle my follow-up questions, just email me at the address on the left of the blog. I’ll speak with you further about your thoughts.

Note #2: This is not strictly a police blog and I apologize to those who have looked at this week’s material and are bored by 3 out of 5 postings being on cop stuff. I had planned on doing another topic this morning, but felt the following police story was too interesting and important to pass on.

Now for today’s post…

Late in the evening on this past New Year’s Eve, a police car driven by a sergeant with the Minnesota State Patrol struck the rear of a minivan that she was trying to stop. The incident had escalated from the officer observing an improper lane change on the Interstate and trying to stop the vehicle.

She then considered the driver as non-compliant when he would not pull his vehicle over for her, and followed the van for almost a mile before the two vehicles exited the freeway. The officer then reportedly use a PIT maneuver in an effort to end the incident.

The driver, with three children in the vehicle, claimed that he was simply looking for a safe place to pull off the road when his vehicle was struck from behind by the cruiser, and was obviously irate over the incident.

Unfortunately, I could not find this video to imbed it, but go here to take a look at the news story and some of the video from the sergeant’s dash camera.

With this incident, I found it very interesting the wide diversity in comments from viewers posting to three different websites. First, commenters on Vox Day’s website (he is a libertarian blogger and where I initially saw the story)were appalled by the officer’s behavior and made statements including:

-- Rindal should be immediately removed from the force for her poor judgment and incompetence as well as her demonstrated predilection for turning a routine traffic stop into a potentially lethal situation.

-- Who would have thought that all these years after the Rodney King incident and the LA riots, a conservative Republican like me would also come to the conclusion that cops are just thugs with uniforms and badges?

-- Nobody I know, and I mean nobody likes the police. At best they are seen as a necessary evil, but the most part they are despised. I find that the typical cop I meet is a below average IQ thug.

-- I've never met a single cop, male or female, who didn't have some kind of a Napoleon Complex about being able to carry a gun, drive your tax-paid car like it was a tank, and harass people at will.

Persons on the Minneapolis Star Tribune (represented by a more even readership of "pro-police" and "suspicious of police" readers) had this to say:

--In a police state you must comply immediately with any request, no matter how dangerous it may be to yourself or children. In a rational society, the cop would be charged with criminal vehicular assault, but here in a police state, it is a standard tactic for police to assault anyone for the slightest noncompliance.

-- I am not an officer but it clear he was not running from her and I have seen officers follow someone longer then what she did before the car pulled over and they did not try and ram the car. The officer’s actions are unwarranted and I hope the state pays to fix the van and issues an apology, plus drop the lane change charge, and pray they are not facing a law suit.

To get a third perspective on the incident, I posted the video and story to Officer.com. Here are some of the responding posts there:

-- The guy should have pulled over to the right. I saw a lotttttt of places he could have pulled over. He is just a crybaby because he didn't follow the rules and got in trouble…The officer did a good job.

-- There is more than enough room to pull over on I-94. The shoulder is probably as wide as one lane, if not more. MNDOT is pretty good about getting roads cleared and salted; especially being that it’s I-94. He should've pulled over when signaled to.

--The officer is the one who decides where it's safe to have the driver pull over, not the violator. I know I do. After all, it's me that's gonna be standing on the shoulder and it's my squad that would get hit 1st by oncoming traffic.

Are you as surprised by the differing opinions or is that to be expected? As evidenced by the discussion on two websites (one not supportive of police and another more neutral), citizens heavily sided with the driver that the sergeant’s actions were unreasonable. In contrast, many of the pro-police readers of Officer.com supported the officer’s actions.

I think incidents like this and the resulting discussions make it apparent why community policing type approaches are difficult to implement and/or continue. Opinions and perspectives of those involved in law enforcement are drastically different from civilians. Citizens can have high and sometimes unreasonable expectations, and one questionable incident can set an agency back in the arena of public opinion for years--no matter how proactive the department has been.

Also, officers knowing that split second decisions are made constantly in the job, are usually reluctant to be critical of the actions of other officers--so the comments on Officer.com were not surprising.

Here are a few personal observations on the incident:

1) The district attorney sided with the citizen driver and refused to prosecute any of the charged offenses. A civil suit against the department will be forthcoming.

2) The fact that three young children were in the vehicle was unknown to the officer at the time—making them irrelevant to arguments regarding whether the sergeant’s performace was reasonable.

It is interesting that many posters on the non-police sites were primarily inflamed over the kids being in the car. Having pursued a variety of vehicles at night, it is not easy to be sure of how many occupants are in a car—-especially a van with children in child seats.

3) It looks more like the sergeant accidentally struck the other vehicle (slid on ice or something?) as opposed to delivering a PIT maneuver. In any event, I would be interested in reading the agency’s pursuit policy to see what restrictions are placed on using PITs. I think that most agencies would deter officers from using a PIT manuever with no backup as it can be a dangerous practice.

4) In order to greatly decrease the likelihood of this happening to me while I am driving a car load of kiddos, I recommend to turn on your flashing lights, slow down, pull toward the right, and then look for a safe place to stop. Once stopped, wait in your car.

By doing this, you will significantly reduce the anxiety of the pursuing officer (who is armed by the way), and if he/she is still concerned, it will give time for the officer’s backup unit to arrive and further ease tensions.