CRIME SCENE ANALYSIS #101
“Failures are divided into two classes—those who thought
and never did, and those who did and never thought.”
~John Clark Salak, author
Here is the “Law Enforcement Oath” of Honor ascribed to by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police:
“On my honor,
I will never betray my badge,
my integrity, my character,
or the public trust.
I will always have the courage,
to hold myself and others
accountable for our actions.
I will always uphold the Constitution,
and the agency I serve,
so help me God.”
Before Police Officers take upon themselves the “Law Enforcement Oath of Honor,” it is vital that they understand what it truly means. An oath is a solemn pledge someone voluntarily makes when they sincerely intend to do what they say. The key words in the “Law Enforcement Oath of Honor” are defined thusly:
Honor means giving one’s word as a bond and guarantee.
Betray is defined as breaking faith and proving false.
The Badge is a visible symbol of the power of your office.
Integrity is firm adherence to principles, both in our private and public life.
Character means the qualities and standards of behavior that distinguish an individual.
The Public Trust is a duty imposed in faith to those we are sworn to serve.
Courage is having the “heart,” the mental, and moral strength to venture, persevere, withstand, and overcome danger, difficulty, and fear.
Accountability means that we are answerable and responsible for our actions.
Community is the municipalities, neighborhoods, and citizens we serve.
The actions of the police on the morning of April 16, 2007 played a role in the deaths of 30 people and the wounding of at least 17 others at Virginia Tech. There is no reason to belabor that those investigating the murder of Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher early in the morning that day violated several basic rules of crime scene investigation—such as using common sense, asking the right questions, and avoiding knee-jerk judgments. The facts speak for themselves. As a result of these errors in judgment and procedure, people died and people were wounded. The stunning lack of professionalism on the part of some members of the police force needs no hyperbole; the facts speak for themselves.
During my research, I found that the guidelines and standard operating procedures for investigating a crime scene—specifically murder—are broad and general. I thought there would be a manual of standard and specific procedures, but as far as I can find out there is not. This lack of specificity is probably because there is no typical crime or crime scene and therefore there is no typical approach to investigating a crime. But the lack of detailed guidelines is no excuse for what happened on the morning of April 16, 2007. A crime scene is where logic meets harsh reality, requiring a careful, well-executed and methodical examination of the evidence; something that was lacking on the part of certain members of the police that terrible April morning.
The decisions that are made and the questions that are asked in the first few minutes of arriving at a crime scene can be, and usually are, critical to preventing future violence and/or solving the crime. Interviewing witnesses to the crime or other individuals who may have pertinent information is of paramount importance. In other words, asking the right, poignant questions, even when unpleasant or difficult, is critical. Equally important is listening to the answers.
In the case of the police personnel called in on the morning of April 16, 2007, there were serious blunders in both the questions that they asked and in the analysis of the answers they received, and these had catastrophic consequences. Mistakes in judgment were made in the first hour after Hilscher’s and Clark’s bodies were found, not just once, but over and over again. No matter what label Flinchum and others put on the West Ambler Johnston murders—“targeted,” “domestic,” or “love triangle,” they cannot hide the fact that they ignored the best practices of their own profession and were tragically wrong.
If you look back to the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor ascribed to by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, you have to ask where was Flinchum’s integrity and character when a flawed timeline was knowingly allowed to stand for nearly two years and make it into the initial draft of the official report on the Tech tragedy? Where was his courage to look at all the possibilities in a crime investigation instead of choosing an easy answer that fit the needs of a fund raising schedule? Looking at the actions of some members of the police on April 16, 2007, and in the months and years that followed, you search in vain for courage, accountability, character, and integrity. The duty to serve the community and uphold the public trust, and in so doing honor the badge was, if not betrayed, wanting. (To be continued.)