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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Dealing with the Dead

Nothing can truly prepare you for the experience of encountering a corpse at a crime scene.

January 09, 2008  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

There is one question I would always ask all of my academy classes and recruits: Have you ever been around a dead body before? If I got the answers, "no" or "I went to the funeral home to see Uncle Harry," then we were in for a treat. Training for how to deal with the dead is one of the things that the police academy does not do well.

Dead or Bad Dead

Going to a funeral and gazing at someone laid out is one thing. It is a clean and acceptable environment. However, in the South we had a term called "bad dead." This often covered the major trauma, putrid, or aromatic moments occurring sometime after death. These are the ones you would like to forget about but don't. The police academy in its response to prepare you may show you the photos of trauma, maybe a video of an autopsy, or may even have you visit the neighborhood morgue. Try though they do, they do not have a vial of "essence of dead man" to give you the full effect. So what do you do?

I have heard of some who went to see scary horror movies in preparation. Does not work; save your money. For in the theater, you can shut your eyes and hope the movie moves on—and it does. Your initial shock was from two avenues—sight and sound. So you shut your eyes and covered your ears. Great, however there is no stopping the smell of putrid flesh, it clings to your uniform and sets in for the day with you. Movies do not come in "smell-a-vision."

Remedies of Old

Today many forensic teams have respirators or call fire or rescue teams for breathing apparatus to use. Great idea. But you as a recruit will be the first in won't have these wonderful items readily available.

One of the best tips I have seen was practiced by an old homicide detective colleague of mine. He kept in his car a jar of whatever menthol vapor salve he could purchase. You know, the type you smear on you when you have a cold. Copious amounts around the nose, a glob in a handkerchief or mask, and he was good for the investigation. Another old detective kept cheap men's cologne and covered himself and then a handkerchief as well. Sometimes his cheap aftershaves were worse than the crime scene.

The days of the old investigator who smoked a cigar on the scene to mask the odor are over. Smoking on some departments may be a violation, especially at a crime scene.

Coping skills

Once you get your first experience behind you, it's still not over. Among the many calls you go out on will be many that involve death. Each of the death calls will be slightly different; some are more memorable than others. If you lose your cookies, get over it. It happens to most and some of the best as well. You may get laughed at but you will survive this as well. Get some fresh air, rinse your mouth, clean up (if needed), and drive on. The first one is always the one to get you.

Nothing said that the academy and life would fully prepare you for this calling of yours. Some days are worse than others and some days are uneventful. Good luck and get some cheap cologne.

Train hard, train smart, and do it with purpose.


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