Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Cop: A Profile of Vernon J. Geberth

Baptism by Fire

Geberth was often frustrated over the lack of training for New York City detectives.  After he was assigned to a precinct detective squad, he was called to his first murder scene.  "The best that I could come up with at the time," he recalls, "was that the person was dead.  It was a drug-related shooting in an alleyway in West Harlem, and basically there was no forensics at all."  The procedure for solving such crimes at the time was to pay or pressure informants to give up some leads.  Geberth was frustrated.

"That's why, when I came to the Seventh Homicide Zone, I said, 'There's got to be a better way. There has got to be more to this than getting confessions and rounding up the local suspects.'"  Seeking a more sophisticated approach, he did his own research and even attended the FBI's Academy and took an in-depth course on forensics.  Yet when he returned to New York to apply some of these procedures, he faced hostility.

The FBI Academy entrance sign in Quantico, Virginia
The FBI Academy entrance sign in Quantico, Virginia

"When I would tell the crime-scene people what I wanted done, they must have learned a new word. 'Can't do it,' they'd say.   'Why not?' I'd ask.  'It's carcinogenic.' So I'd tell them, 'It's only carcinogenic if you drink it. Now do what I said.' So that's how it started."

  Despite attempts to maintain the undisciplined status quo, the homicide investigators eventually adopted better methods.  In a place like New York, a reliable procedure was badly needed, especially when the specialized teams were re-organized.  Geberth once again encountered an attitude that, to him, was unacceptable in this line of work.

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