An Alphabet of Criminology

criminal trespassThe public is fascinated with criminals and crime. Turn on any news program for instant exposure to a litany of thefts and horrors perpetrated on a daily basis. It’s no wonder the folks who work in law enforcement struggle to cope with the recurrent devastation enacted on victims. The innocent, and otherwise, fall prey to bad people.

As a writer I’m aware that what happens in the “real world” is often worse than what is created in fiction. True crime authors struggle to balance the truth against what the general public is capable of processing – sometimes it simply can’t be done. Some acts are too terrible to comprehend, too heinous to wrap our minds around.

That’s because WE understand boundaries.criminals and crime

Even stories focused on light and fun, usually delve into dark places in order to create character depth. In this manner explanations are provided. The reader understands why the romantic hero views the world through dark glasses. Crimes and their aftermath can set people on a trajectory that leads to dramatic life-changes. Perhaps you’re in the market for some mayhem?

investigation techniquesWriters exploit past events to provide context and add veracity to our stories, but don’t just wallow in darkness. People working in the name of justice shine bright lights on the guilty. Take a good hard look at the villains but remember it is the survivors and the memories of the victims that most matter. Celebrate life.

The following list is offered in the spirit of research:

A is for Amber Alerts by State
B is for Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (Most Wanted)
C is for Customs & Immigration Enforcement
D is for Drug Enforcement Agency Fugitives
E is for Environmental Protection Agency Fugitives
F is for Federal Bureau of Investigation (Most Wanted Lists)
G is for Genetics in Forensics
H is for Homicide Data in the U.S. (FBI)
I is for Interpol International Police Organization
J is for Justice Department of the U.S.
K is for Kidnapping & Missing Persons (FBI)
L is for Legal Dictionary
M is for Murderers Database
N is for National Sex Offender Public Website
O is for Office of Justice Programs (Fact Sheets)
P is for Postal Inspection Service (Most Wanted)
Q is for Quality Standards for Investigations
R is for Research, Statistics, and Evaluation (Bureau of Justice)
S is for Secret Service Most Wanted Fugitives
T is for Technology to Fight Crime
U is for U.S. Marshals Service (Most Wanted)
V is for Victims of Crime
W is for Women and Violence (United Nations)
X is for X-Offenders
Y is for Youth Violence Statistics
Z is for Zoo Trafficking

arrowNo matter what your story focuses around, inspiration can be found in the strangest of places. People steal crazy things like elephants and beaches. Criminals often demonstrate incredibly stupid behavior, leaving behind ID, fingerprints, DNA, and even business cards. Sure, there are successful thieves. Some boast about successfully swiping a rare art treasure and get caught by their own loose lips.

solving the crime

Every time the public tries to make sense of an event so debilitating to our psyches that we revert back to the comforts of childhood, this apropos meme by Fred Rogers reappears:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

When you’re busy plumbing the depths of darkness, don’t forget to write in the helpers. They’re the ones who remind us that monsters almost never win. Not entirely.

Interested in a few case studies?

1. Crimes and Criminals: Classic Readings in Criminology
2. Trusted Criminals: White Collar Crime in Contemporary Society
3. Stupid Criminals: Funny and True Crime Stories
4. The World’s Worst Criminals: an A-Z of Evil Men and Women
5. Crime & Human Nature: Definitive Study of the Causes of Crime

So, there you go – a helpful list of references about naughty people and the folks who brought them to justice. Learning the background behind some events can change our perceptions. That woman who murdered her husband… well, it turns out that maybe that wasn’t such a surprise to the people who knew he beat her on a regular basis. That man who shot his co-workers… not so shocking to the psychiatric team who’d been assisting with his post-traumatic stress disorder. There are always AT LEAST two sides to every story. Look at the tale you want to tell and make sure you’ve shown how complex and complicated your characters are in real life.

blue question markAre crime and criminals not your thing? You might be surprised at how often the subject crops up in your favorite stories. Take a quick look. Nursery rhymes? Check. Children’s stories? Check. Young Adult novels? Check. Hmm. Is there any form of writing where the content doesn’t challenge the nature of behavior and societal constructs? I don’t think so, but I haven’t read everything. Yet. What sort of unexpected inspirations work their way into your work?

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  1. #1 by Jenny Hansen on June 3, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    Wonderfully informative post, Lesann…thanks!!

    • #2 by Leslie Berry/ @LesannBerry on June 4, 2013 - 7:37 am

      Thanks, Jenny. If you need to know the top ten most wanted in any particular law enforcement agency, this covers a bunch!

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