When writing the young adult Matthew Livingston Mystery Series, I get to inject some of my 20 plus years’ experience as a NYPD detective into my stories. The beneficiary of said experience is the main character of the books, 17 year old prodigy Matthew Livingston. Nevertheless, when reading crime novels, I have noticed that over 85% of victims die by violence caused by guns. So, how do our favorite protagonists get those guns off the street?
Readers as well as writers of mystery and crime stories may be intrigued by what police and investigators are up against every day in their quest to take ‘steel off the street’. There are very few things in police work that feel as good as making a solid gun collar. Removing an illegal firearm from a perpetrator eliminates the chances of it being drawn against you or a fellow cop, or even being used in a drive by shooting where more often than not an innocent by-stander becomes the victim.
A decision in the 1968 case of Terry vs. Ohio resulted in a modification of the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights. A police officer no longer needed probable cause to stop and search private individuals. In New York City, these stops are governed by Criminal Procedure Law Section 140.50. When a police officer has reasonable suspicion that an individual is committing a crime or about to commit a crime, he or she may stop an individual in a public place and question that person. If the officer’s suspicion is raised and he or she believes they are in danger of physical injury, the officer may conduct a ‘pat-down’ of the suspect’s outer clothing to ascertain if that individual is in possession of a deadly weapon or instrument.
In 2010, roughly 6,000 illegal handguns were removed from the streets of New York. Of those 6,000 handguns, 57% were detected during routine stops utilizing Criminal Procedure Law 140.50. That rate of success highlights the importance of this law, yet a large number of the public consider this stop and frisk procedure controversial. By preying on that opinion, it is easy for a defense lawyer to appeal to a jury that his client’s rights were violated and the stop that led to the discovery of the gun was unconstitutional.
With the playing field now narrowed, the officer’s greatest weapon emerges in the form of the power of articulation. Specifying precise facts about an individual’s conduct, mannerisms, and possible involvement in a detailed type of crime go a long way in securing a conviction in a gun arrest.
The temperature on the street concerning illegal handguns should be of interest to writers of crime novels. While criminals may carry handguns, they do little in the way of maintaining them. That reality has been very helpful to police officers over the years. In 1994, a drug dealer’s semi-automatic gun jammed and saved my life, which brings us to some interesting facts.
Fact #1, Perps Don’t Clean Their Guns. Consider the 9 millimeter handgun. Many mechanisms are at work inside that firearm to make it operational. Over time, a buildup of dirt and gunk can cause the weapon to jam. A perp’s neglect to oil certain moving parts is a guaranteed recipe for a malfunction. Having been part of the execution of thousands of search warrants, I’ve never recovered a gun cleaning kit in a criminal’s residence or place of business.
Fact #2, Perps Are Not Marksmen. Having seen first-hand gun violence on the streets of New York, there is one sight that
never changes. That is the Hollywood ‘Bad-Guy’ image of a criminal clutching a handgun, arm fully extended, and wrist turning the gun sideways unsupported. I kid you not! If their target is more than ten feet away and the weapon has the slightest bit of recoil, they’re not even going to hit the side of a barn. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely to find them at a shooting range taking target practice.
Fact #3, Perps Rarely Use Holsters. Let’s face it; if they’re in possession of an illegal handgun, they’re not apt to stroll into a gun store to do a little shopping. The lack of a holster provides fabulous insight into detecting weapons on the street.
Note the following examples:
While conducting numerous surveillances over the years, I couldn’t help but observe certain patterns of individuals concealing illegal handguns. Applying the no holster theory, it was more than common for an individual to fasten the gun in the waist band of their pants. When walking, they displayed unusual body language such as adjusting themselves while stepping off of a curb or bending. A hand would usually clasp the area where the
weapon lay to prevent it from sliding down a leg of their pants. This was a definite tip off!
Another example I recall took place while conducting surveillance of numerous subjects in Washington Heights, a section of Manhattan. The people who were under observation were standing in front of a bodega when the sky opened up and a heavy rain fell. In a rush to seek shelter, they ran from their location. The majority of them resembled someone suffering from a burst appendix. They were hunched forward, clutching their abdomens and waist areas as they ran for cover. Displayed again was the body language that accompanies the act of preventing an unholstered weapon from falling off a person.
For writers of mystery and crime fiction, you’re always going to need a ‘Bad-Guy’ and chances are he or she will be armed. The above examples are credible behavioral traits to consider when arming a character or detecting one. As for the ongoing war against criminals, it may prove to be a small dose of comfort when confronting an armed suspect, but it remains true. Basic maintenance of weapons and proper handling and training, along with acute observational skills prove superior on the streets.
Marco Conelli is the creator of The Matthew Livingston mystery series. The former NYPD Detective draws from his vast 20 years of experience in creating the suspense and crime-solving fiction that has ignited the Young Adult mystery genre.
2011 winner of the Silver Falchion Award, Marco is a lecturer for Crime Writing Conferences where his course “Going Undercover To Solve Your Crime” is attended by many aspiring mystery writers as well as best-selling authors. Marco Conelli and his crime-solving methods will be featured in the exhibit Sherlock Holmes-The Science of Deduction, opening October 2013 in Portland Oregon.
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Hi, Marco: An interesting and useful ( to mystery writers) blog. Thanks for sharing your expertise.
Thanks for reading Triss.
Great post Clay and Marco. It never even occurred to me that criminals don’t clean their guns. As a hunter, I know what one year without oil can do to firearm (and yet I still forget sometimes). It’s little tidbits like these that help those of us who have no police background.
So true Ron, while a year without oil seems rough to you, these guys have the build up of rust and other matter that renders a firearm inoperable. Thanks for reading.
Great stuff Marco! I’m printing it out to save.
Thanks, Marco, for an ideal blend of facts, realities and humor. Your presentation on undercover work for the Writers Police Academy these last two years layered great visuals into this kind of invaluable information. Make it a point to hear Marco speak, and you’ll have a remarkable first-person view into the undercover life!