It’s The Little Things
By Gerry Goldshine
I just ran across this in a recent Associated Press story on the tragic stabbing death of an eight year old girl in Calaveras County, California, “Sheriff’s officials say investigators collected fingerprints and what they believe is DNA from the home.” You’re now looking at the screen going, “Yeah, so?”
Well, first of all, crime scene investigators do NOT collect DNA. They collect hair, semen, blood and other type of physiological evidence from which a DNA profile may be extracted. The same applies to items such as cigarette butts, beer bottles, linen and the like. The DNA technician processes such evidence to extract a biologic sample from which a unique DNA profile is built. This profile can then be compared to a database to look for a matching suspect. DNA profiles can also be used to rule out possible suspect.
So this is about semantics, right? No, it’s about accuracy. One of the most valuable lessons I came away from the Army with was that “the little things” matter. Failure to pay attention to small details ultimately leads to larger systemic failures. As a traffic accident reconstructionist, I knew that major case, involving multiple vehicles and multiple victims, could hinge on a something as insubstantial as how the little coil of wire inside a single light bulb may have looked. Get that detail wrong and perhaps a vehicular manslaughter case collapses and a guilty person escapes justice.
The minutiae matter in establishing your veracity as a writer regardless of the genre. Give Captain Kirk a light saber instead of a phaser and regardless of how compelling your story happens to be, you’ve lost most of your readers. In the DNA situation, I start wondering what else the reporter doesn’t understand about police work, crime scenes and evidence collection. From that point it doesn’t become that much of a stretch to call into question the accuracy of the entire story.
With the wealth of information instantly available today because of the Internet, such lapses are inexcusable. As a writer, you have the same responsibility as I did as a traffic investigator to get the all the particulars correct, be they large or small.
Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.
Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in
the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty
in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement
in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, and a trainer at Petaluma Police Department.
Gerry is married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.
Gerry is a regular contributor to Just the Facts, Ma’am. Check in weekly or so to see his newest posts.
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