Interview with John Paolucci, Retired Police Officer and Forensics Expert at the NYPD
John Paolucci, owner of the website C.S.I. Experts Inc. had a childhood dream of becoming an FBI agent. As he grew he put that dream aside, and in college decided to major in journalism and criminal justice. The friends he made in school were cops who were trying to advance in their careers, and they motivated Paolucci to join the police force. Today, after an innovative and pioneering career with the New York Police Department as a forensics expert with the Forensic Investigations Division, Paolucci story illustrates the wide diversity that is police work in the 21st century.
What led you to pursue the role of police officer as your profession?
For quite a few years, from the age of around seven, I wanted to be an FBI Agent. I made up a wallet with a little card that had my picture and “FBI” written (I think in crayon) on it in big letters. The dream sort of faded and I went to college, at first pursuing a career in psychology, then writing. I had an idea to start my own column that would highlight cops’ stories so I took a journalism course and concurrently a criminal justice course so I could understand the law and some of the lingo. I was in the “General Studies” school at Iona College finishing up my degree at night and the criminal justice class was all cops who wanted to enhance their careers by completing a college degree. I would join them for a few beers after class and told them about my idea. Well, they hated the idea and said nobody wants to talk to reporters. They asked why I didn’t become a cop and my answer to myself was that I really didn’t think I was “Cop Material.” They told me how the application process works and essentially talked me into making the best move of my life! There’s no such thing as “Cop Material.” If you want it, go get it!
What are a few guidelines you would offer the police officer who is just entering the field?
- Don’t make anything personal! You can’t objectively enforce the law if you let your ego make decisions.
- Don’t get involved in the politics and gossip. Make your own decisions as to who is a good guy and who is not – avoid peer pressure!
Where would you advise a potential police recruit to start? What challenges should they expect to face?
As an “Applicant” keep your nose clean! Go cut your neighbor’s lawn and shovel his snow because he may get a call asking what kind of person you are! Challenges would involve any history you have such as tickets or scrapes with the law. If you weren’t a stupid teenager, you probably missed a lot, but good for you! Don’t get discouraged if a particular job or department is not coming through. Take any test that you can and you will still be able to continue pursuing the department of your dreams even after you have been hired somewhere else.
What is one of the most interesting cases you have been involved in and what was your role?
There have been so many, but one case in particular comes to mind. I was a Sergeant in the Crime Scene Unit and we were processing the scene of a 19-year-old girl who was brutally murdered with a knife. There was a pattern of bloodstains on the wall that had apparently been “wiped,” possibly by the perpetrator’s hand. It did not appear to have enough detail to be useful as a fingerprint, but I gave the order to cut the wall out and send it to the Laboratory. Enough detail was enhanced chemically by the lab techs or “Criminalists” that we were able to use it to make an arrest!
What advice do you have or someone just starting their career in law enforcement?
Dream big, but don’t talk too much about your dreams; it invites ridicule and can discourage you. Depending on the department you choose, there could be many opportunities to be a part of a specialized unit like Aviation, Harbor Patrol, Crime Scene Unit, and Major Case Squad. You can do anything you set your mind to so keep at it and you will get what you desire. Staying on Patrol is very noble as well so if that’s your dream, make the most of it.
How has the police industry changed with advances in technology?
All the automation that took place during my career was significant in that records could be searched instantly and are less likely to be lost. Also, digital photography makes it possible to store hundreds of crime scene photos on a disk and not a four-inch stack of prints that overwhelms your case folder and is difficult to search.
All the forensic disciplines have come a long way in my time, especially DNA. DNA continues to advance rapidly and in the not so distant future, we will be developing DNA profiles in a matter of minutes at crime scenes rather than weeks after sending them to a laboratory. Databases are growing and the sensitivity of testing is increasing. I do believe that applicants will soon have to submit a DNA sample to be hired.
What is your most important strength as a police officer?
Knowledge of the Law. Know every little statute and code; they are your best tools out there in the street. When you ask someone to do something or cease a particular behavior and they refuse, chances are there is something you can arrest them for. Don’t make empty threats. You don’t want to call a supervisor to a location and you have someone in cuffs because you know they did something wrong, but just not sure exactly which law or rule was violated! You will be well protected when you take action if you can eloquently articulate the reasons for the actions you take.
We sincerely thank John Paolucci for sharing his wisdom and insights with our readers. You can learn more about John and his crime scene training at his website C.S.I. Experts Inc..