Homicide or Murder, Sgt. Pacifico Tells it Like it Is

Homicide or Murder? Sgt. Pacifico Investigates
— By Jude McGee, as published in Ransom Notes, May 2010 Edition
In an info-filled and dramatic presentation Sgt. Derek Pacifico of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department gave us the thumbnail version of his 20 years as a cop and homicide detective. Sgt. Pacifico also runs his own homicide investigative school, Global Training Institute, training law enforcement in the ways to investigate and, he says, how not to screw up. He clearly loves to teach and gave us his didactic best, show- ing slides of homicide victims in all their bloody glory—perhaps luckily, the sunlight in our meeting room washed out some of the horror. He care- fully instructed us in what to look for, e.g., stippling (tiny burn marks around the entry point of a bullet) to determine the distance between the shooter and the victim; lividity and blanching (the result of blood seeking the lowest level after the heart stops pumping), and state of rigor (the stiff- ening and crimping state of rigidity a body assumes—8-10 hours for full rigor, and after 36-48 hours, it goes). Then he asked us to interpret the photographic evidence. He was duly impressed by our precocity and did not call us BDBEMs, (Brain-Dead-Booger-Eating-Morons.)

The Golden Rule of Murder Investigating is DO NOTHING until these things have happened. 1) The scene has been photographed, with 3000 photos taken on average. 2) The scene has been measured. It may include a large area or just a room but the extent of the scene must be de- termined by the detectives so the crime scene techs and others can deter- mine what is evidence and its value. The yellow, numbered placards mark the interesting bits for the photographer’s second go-round. Scales, or rul- ers, are used for this phase to determine scale and angle. 3) The pertinent parts of the scene are identified, collected and preserved. If care is not taken at the scene, what would normally be considered evidence can be thrown out in court. “We are playing for all the marbles, all the time,” says the detective.
Autopsies are not just the domain of the medical examiner. Typically the detectives, the crime scene investigators, the responding cops and the doctor are all present. He claims they get used to the smell of decom- position and purge (what the body leaks out). “I could not eat chicken on the bone the first eleven months of my homicide career. When I left Homi- cide, hey, lasagna, it’s all good.” People recommend putting burned coffee grounds in your mask to help with the smell, not Vicks! Vicks opens your airways and makes it “a decomp smoothie with mint.” His personal trick is to put a cologne he likes in his mask to mitigate the odors. He won’t use Polo, his own scent, to avoid unpleasant associations.
Some useful tidbits: it takes 21 feet of tire track to accurately identify a tire. Spatter, not splatter, is blood. Drops start out as perfect spheres, then spread at an angle showing directionality. Murder cases get the most scrutiny and are almost always appealed. San Bernardino County is the largest in the contiguous U.S., and “If all the dead bodies buried in the high desert stood up at once, it would look like Manhattan.” He likes to examine the scene before questioning a suspect so he can determine some facts first to see where the suspect may be lying. The sergeant opines that having the death penalty allows prosecutors considerable leverage because most murderers prefer Life Without Possibility of Parole (LWOPP) to death and therefore plead more readily.
Oh, and homicide is the killing of a human by another human. Murder is the unlawful, unjustified such killing with intent and malice aforethought.
Among his many awards are the National Sheriff’s Association award for “Exemplary Leadership” and Sheriff’s “Award of Distinguished Service.”


5 Responses to “Homicide or Murder, Sgt. Pacifico Tells it Like it Is” (post new)


    Just heard Pacifico for myself at his 2-day Homicide Investigation school for crime writers. He was good! I learned all that Jude mentions and more. Where am I going to meet “nose-pickin’, booger-eatin’ morons”, a straight arrow like me.

    He’s planning a conference. It would be worthwhile.


    […] the California Crime Writers’ Conference in June 2011 heard him give a 4-hour presentation on Interview and Interrogation techniques and were spellbound. We wanted more and he dished it up for […]


    I didn’t see this until today having received a link to your site from someone else. This is great. Thanks for the great press. I hope you will have an opportunity to come to one of my upcoming seminars.

    There aren’t any specific dates as of today, but please be on the look out at http://www.crimewriters.globaltraininginstitute.com

    Until then, be safe,

    Derek Pacifico, President and Founder
    Global Training Institute


    Judy, I linked this piece on Derek to my current blog. Our class in Covina loved him. He’s as good as you say.


    Sorry for tardy reply. I am only getting to blog after a long period of inaction. Probably not a good idea to put up so much at once. Oh well. Thank you for linking and commenting. I heard he took some acting classes to make him a better teacher. It sure worked.

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