Thursday, March 12, 2009

FBI Citizens Academy - Looking Inside the Case Files

Last night's FBI Citizens Academy meeting was another great opportunity to hear from the agents who work hard at solving and preventing horrific crimes. Last night, we heard about the work of Behavioral Psychologists - a term they much prefer to "profilers", and went through the process of trying to deduce what type of person murdered three people from the clues found in photographs of the crime scene. We also heard about the work done to find the bodies of the children murdered by Daniel Wayne Porter.

It really is fascinating stuff, on multiple levels. On a moral level, we heard a perspective on the death penalty from one who has sat in rooms and talked with the most vile criminals our society has produced. Does that experience bring a sharper perspective on the need for society to put people to death, or does the experience lead one to lose the self-doubt that should accompany moral decisions. Personally, I remain passionately opposed to the death penalty, while acknowledging that I could kill under certain circumstances. I can see how people develop personal yearnings for revenge or retribution on behalf of coldly slaughtered innocents, though morality frequently calls for us to rise above understandable yearnings.

While it was not highlighted as an issue, we also heard an anecdote about how the zeal to solve a compelling case led two great, dedicated FBI agents to violate FBI procedures to look at a crime scene. Together. While the incident was entirely understandable and did not involve anything that violated anybody's civil rights or jeopardized a case file, it certainly makes the point that a gap exists between official procedures and actual practice, and the gap is big enough that two exemplary agents can fit through it together. A rogue could fit through even smaller gaps.

The hour spent on what I will not call "profiling" was also fascinating. After hearing how a skilled agent dissects a crime scene and draws information from clues the entire class overlooks, and uses that information to narrow or expand the scope of likely suspects, I can only be impressed. It's a blend of hunch, experience, knowledge and science. In the case we examined, it could all have been a useless distraction if the murderer had been a black teenager with no criminal record, or an elderly Asian neighbor who committed the rape and triple homicide because the voices in his head told him to. But, playing the percentages and zeroing in on the clues and behavioral psychology, the FBI was able to focus its resources on white males, 30-34, with a criminal record involving assault who would have had occasion to meet the victim, and ultimately found their man. It's a little like CSI, but it doesn't get wrapped up in a tidy bundle after an hour, and I found myself staring at photos of three very real corpses - a man a little older than me with multiple stab wounds, an 11 year old boy run through with a knife, lying over a board game he had been playing, and a naked young woman, beaten, stabbed and raped.

If I met the man responsible for the death of those people, stabbing the boy so hard the knife plunged entirely through his body, through the carpet, through the sub-floor and hard enough into the concrete slab that it broke the tip off the knife, and then raping, beating and stabbing the frantic girl while her wrists were duct-taped - might I change my position on the death penalty? Does more complete information always lead to better moral decisions?

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Anonymous GMC70 said...

I'm envious, Dan. Enjoy (if that's the right term). There is a great deal to be learned, and please continue to pass on what you see and hear, to the extent you can.

Especially enjoy the range; a LEO friend of mine just called me, gloating that he had been firing 20s-era Thompsons. Full auto. Wonderful pieces of history.

3/12/2009 8:48 AM  
Blogger I Travel for JOOLS said...

I think that if one is really confronted with such horror, especially with someone they know, the whole "morality" principle goes down the drain. Imagine a family member having to ID his loved one who had been killed like that. I would want the killer dead.

3/12/2009 1:37 PM  
Blogger Owen said...

hmmm...don't know if they're teaching things differently but I once read a passionate plea against the death penalty by a serial-killer profiler whose argument wasn't we shouldn't kill them for morale grounds but that killers are much more useful alive since we can study them. Like this scientist from a New Yorker article in November was doing

3/12/2009 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While many killers are "loners", quite a few are connected to criminals on the outside. If these others weren't so frequently, connected to law enforcement, the public would learn some very interesting things about this antisocial aspect of society.

3/17/2009 11:55 AM  

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