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The Watchful Protector: Uncovering Criminal Investigation methods in Pop Culture


Sep 10, 2012
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This is the essay I submitted for my Criminal Investigations class. It was an excuse to talk about Batman. Bare with the typos/

Theatricality and Deception, powerful weapons, boasts a leader bent on destroying what he sees as modern decadence. In another part of the world, set of footprints helps a skilled Bushmen determine the gender and condition of a crazed fugitive hiding in the woods. Most viewers consider this to good plot devices or suspenseful drama. In reality, joint-terrorist task forces and man tracking are used in the law enforcement field every day.
The purpose of this essay is will show different means of how criminal investigation is portrayed in the Pop culture. Since there are many movies decepting criminal investigation, this essay will focus on “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and “The Hunted”

"Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries." (Batman Begins. 2005.)i The words used by the charismatic leader, Ra’s Al Ghul. His ideology eerily parallels to actual terrorist organizations both at home and abroad. Ra's Al Ghul leads a secret society known as of The League of Shadows. The League's goals are to eradicate areas where the environment has been affected by human corruption and restoring balance back to the world. Their methodologies in the criminal justice field are very similar to what security analyst Professor Phil Williams refers to as a, 'Violent Non-State Actor.' ii

A non-state actor is an organization that isn't recognized or authorized by a nation-state government. Most often times they are warring for control of a region against whatever system is in place. They also work with other criminal fraternities as well. During the third act of Batman Beings, it is revealed the League of Shadows has been working with Gotham's mob bosses. The mob bosses control what comes in and out of Gotham's harbors by bribing customs and shipping officials.

This Hollywood subplot has also been occurring in the United States. In 2011, an informant for the DEA revealed that Iranian agents had been recruiting Mexican cartel members to assassinate a Saudi diplomat on American soil. This bold move shows how non-state actors mutually benefit one another.
Another goal of The League of Shadows seeks to undermine institutions that it deems corrupt and as unworthy of surviving. The Federal Bureau of Investigation claims groups like the LOS carries out asymmetrical warfare in its day to day operations.

Asymmetrical Warfare is a combat term which a weaker group attacks a superior group where it least expects it. It can include; guerilla warfare, insurgency, espionage and terrorism. Even though it appears to be a military issue used by rebel forces in warzones, research shows it has been a law enforcement problem for quite some time. For example The FBI has been dealing with covert activities all the way back to World War II, when Japan sent their in Black Dragon Society to infiltrate the United States.

The Black Dragon was an ultranationalist organization that formed in Japan’s Imperial era. It engaged in various subversive acts from the Soviet Union in the east, all the way to the United States of America in the west. In 1942, government agents broke up a spy ring in the San Francisco area of Northern California. The operatives made arrangements with local gambling dens to use as fronts for their operations.
The criminal investigators began to look for closely at murders in the area.

According to a local newspaper, “There is strong suspicion it might show that some “Japanese gambling killings” in California were due to more than mere disputes over gambling debts.” Criminal investigators would now have to examine cases to uncover if the killings were merely financial or perhaps political.
In Batman Begins, The League of Shadows uses asymmetrical warfare by sabotaging its water supply with a weapon’s grade chemical agent that is activated it by evaporating the water in a city’s water pipes. The second phase would be to use explosives to release the inmates from Arkham Asylum, an institute for the criminally insane. A real life example would be the 1970' bombing of the New York City police headquarters. A few months later another bombing was carried out on the Air Force department of the Pentagon. Both malicious acts were carried out by a radical leftist group known as, 'The Weathermen.' A more modern example would be the 1995 Sarin Gas attacks in the Tokyo subway systems, a bio attack that injured hundreds of people and terrorized thousands more.

In, “The Dark Knight Rises.” The League returns to Gotham in order to finish Ra's Al Ghul's 'masterpiece'. The radical group also infiltrates the city's very infrastructure. They place sleeper agents in key positions inside the government and municipal agencies. They recruit the disenfranchised, homeless and other citizens in lower economic-levels. As a side note It is no different than non-state actors recruiting Iraqi citizens who have little resources and offer them a better existence if they join the cause. The LOS work around the clock, drilling and working on various buildings inside Gotham. These hidden operative's blend into the background and await orders from Ra’s Al Ghul's successor Bane, for their time to strike. If this sounds like something from a comics book, Both the DoJ and Homeland Security are actively working to combat sleeper agents.
Cerasi 3
A real concern of the FBI's Counterintelligence Unit is operators with hidden agendas infiltrating American college campuses. According to one report, “There are a variety of people and organizations within and outside the United States who may seek to illegally obtain information from US institutions of higher education:... Individual entrepreneurs, competing academics, terrorist organizations. US
college campuses are an especially good place to look for people with particular ideological views.” (fbi.gov.)iii Sleepers go wherever it is most advantageous for their goals.

Ernest Hemingway said it best when he claimed, “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough.. Never care for anything else thereafter.” The action-thriller film, 'The Hunted' goes into great depths exploring the concepts of tracking another human being. Tracking is more than just following a set of footprints down a dusty trail. Its requires being able to hone in awareness to the world around.
Man tracking operations are used in various law enforcement agencies. From The U.S. Marshal Fugitive Man tracking Unit to the local Sheriff's Department, there is a unit ready to follow a set of tracks. The movie starts out with a pair of hunters being killed in the Pacific Northwest. The Federal Bureau of Investigation hires a retired bushman named L.T. Bonham to assist in providing clues into the criminal’s profile. Bonham's character is based off real life outdoorsmen
Tom Brown Jr. Brown has assisted law enforcement officials in everything from fugitives on the run to marijuana fields hidden in the forest. Brown was called in by a protective security agency to help in a celebrity stalking case. The suspect had checked out a wilderness book in a local library written by Brown. The security detail believed he was using the techniques in the book to not only evade detection but to watch the victim closely. Brown was flown out to the area and immediately started asking questions about the stalker.

“When somebody moves something from your house, you notice it. When somebody moves something in the woods, I notice it.” (267. De Becker)iv

In tracking, Locard's Exchange principle works just the same. Everything you touch becomes information left behind. If a fugitive is on the run, he will leave a great deal of clues to the trained eye. For example, if a customs agent suspects an illegal has made it over the fence or pass the river, he can look for clue in the area. Some clues would be footprints leading from the riverbank to the road. Those footprints could tell him how many people in a group, the gender involved and even if someone is injured. Other clues could be disturbed bushes or empty water containers that lead up to a camouflaged campground.
In 'The Hunted' The FBI believe the killings are ritualistic in nature due to the how the bodies were hung up and dressed. They also believe it was the work of a group as well. In criminal investigation this would be the first steps of criminal profiling. Profiling is how an investigator unravels clues and habits of the perpetrator. It is combined with physical evidence and analyzed later in the investigation.

Bonham disproves both theories using deductive reasoning and examining the physical evidence at the scene of the crime. According to Special Forces tracker Bob Carss, a deduction from a single print can tell; “Any scuff marks around the edges would indicate an idiosyncratic gait. (Movement) The footwear itself will lead to other deductions based on the manufacture, style and state of repair- such as
the country of origin, and socioeconomic group. (Carrs. 174.)v

L.T. Inferred the killings were not ritualistic, because crimes like these are carried out by cannibals. However, none of the bodies at the crime scene or previous scenes showed signs of being eaten. The second theory was thrown out from the footprints following the crime scene. He could infer from the single set of the footprints that it was done by only one person. Not only was the act carried out by one person by someone highly trained as well. He realizes the suspect is experianced due to the tracking having no thread at the bottom. The footwear worn was flat and specially designed to not leave a distinguishing mark with each step.

As our heroes return from their journey changed in a new way, we too are changed as well. We realize that the detective isn’t just working in a lab all day, they can be deep in the rural woodlands of Oregon or inspecting a shell casing in an urban jungle as well. Most people’s early experience with the law enforcement world is due to television and motion pictures. Most people don’t realize the time and training it takes for their hero to find the bad guy and bring him to justice, most can’t fathom the paperwork it takes either. But if movies can show more interest, then people can become more educated, and maybe they can appreciate the efforts of the countless real life ‘protectors’ in uniform every day.

iWorks Cited

Nolan, Christopher, dir. Batman Begins. 2005. Film. 14 Oct 2012.

Williams, Phillip. "Violent Non-State Actors and National and International Security."2008 . International Relations and Security Network, n.d. Web. 13 Oct 2012.

Higher Education and National Security: The Targeting of Sensitive, Proprietary, and Classified Information on Campuses of Higher Education. 2011 FBI.gov. 9/29/2012 .


Becker, Gavin. The gift of fear: survival signals that protect us from violence. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997. Print.

Carrs, Bob. The SAS Guide to Tracking. New York: Lyons Press, 2008.

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