Monday, September 12, 2011

Homicide Investigation School for Crime Writers

by Mar Preston, crime fiction writer
I’m a real straight-arrow so I never get to meet the “nose-pickin’, booger-eatin’ morons” that Sgt Derek Pacifico talked about in his Homicide Investigation School for Crime Writers last weekend in Covina, California.

For a long time I’ve been collecting “stupid criminal stories”, but Derek topped them all. I just never meet AHs (figure it out) who shoot somebody in the face and think they don’t die.

A group of us at the California Crime Writers’ Conference in June 2011 heard him give a four-hour presentation on Interview and Interrogation Techniques and were spellbound. We wanted more and he dished it up for us.

Pacifico was funny, serious, thoughtful and thought-provoking. As a law enforcement trainer, he’s traveled the country teaching the same material to cops. He’s worked Homicide Detail as well as all the other facets of police work and is now a Sergeant with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office.

He liked us because we wanted to learn and didn’t sit there, arms crossed, giving off testosterone fumes, and the attitude of “Yeah, dude, go ahead. Teach me something I don’t know.” He was honest and forthcoming about what really lies behind the crime scene tape.

We liked him because he’s just plain likeable. From video clips we saw he’s got a line of jokey, rapport-building bullshit with criminals in the interrogation room that got him a lot of confessions. I can see why.

The case studies were particularly interesting because they provided a reconstruction of what first just looked like confusion—and probably was. We learned how tedious it is to string a scene analyzing bullet trajectories, interpreting blood spatter, collecting maggots for testing, and sifting the dirt where the homicide occurred. It's not nearly as exciting as it is on TV, where a crime scene is “done” in 30 minutes instead of 36 hours.

Pacifico is talking about setting up a conference of some length just for crime writers, bringing in experts he teaches and works with. Where? To be decided.

I can’t wait.

Mar Preston, author of crime fiction No Dice, is today’s guest blogger, filling in for Jodie Renner, who recently edited Preston’s second police suspense-mystery, Rip-Off, also set in Santa Monica, California. You can email Mar at, and find out more about her two Detective Dave Mason police mysteries, No Dice, and soon, Rip-Off, at 



  1. Sounds like a great workshop! I've enrolled in the local Citizen's Police Academy and hope to come away with details and scenarios that will add authenticity to my police procedural series. I've found that many law enforcement officers are very generous with their time and information.

  2. It is crucial to get the facts right. I have been lucky to have police officers and forensic experts willing to share their expertise with me. This proposed conference sounds like a winner. Hope it comes to fruition.

  3. Lee Lofland runs a "Writer's Police Academy" which is in its second year. It was a phenomenal help and showed us everything from EMT/EMS, firearms, hostage situations, shootouts ... and he does it because he sincerely wants writers to 'get it right.'

    Wish I could go again this year--he's adding even more.

    Terry's Place

  4. One of the benefits of attending these types of courses and workshops are the little asides you can pick up in general conversation. For example, one of the detectives (I can't remember offhand if he was with CPA or WPA) called the other detectives "knuckle-draggers."

  5. Interesting and informative post, Mar! A great idea for writers of mysteries, thrillers, police procedurals and any other kind of crime fiction.


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