Archive for the ‘Writers’ Police Academy’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Rick McMahan: Writers’ Police Academy Top 10

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As anyone who has attended a Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) can attest to there’s so much to do and take in that is a sensory overload.  The days start early and end late at night, much later if you linger at the bar, and by the time Lee announces the end on Sunday morning, most everyone is mentally overloaded and physically exhausted.  But it’s a blast.  Every year when it’s over, I have had a great time and have a wealth of new memories. So as time grows closer for WPA, I find myself reflecting on previous years’ events and wondering how the upcoming Writers’ Police Academy will compare.

Since I have been lucky enough to be part of every WPA to date, I thought I’d come up with my own Top10  Memories of Lee Lofland’s Writers’ Police Academy (in no ranking order).

10.  Lee’s Vision.

I first met Lee way before WPA was around…you could say the idea was a mere twinkle in his eye. Lee and I had crossed paths at conferences before, but the first time he mentioned his idea for what became Writers’ Police Academy was when we both were speaking at Forensics University sponsored by Sisters in Crime in St. Louis.  We got to the hotel early and bumped into each other at the check-in desk. Lee invited me to lunch and we talked well after our meal was done. We had talked about all kinds of things, and then Lee asked me, “You know what I think would make a great conference? Something that’s not been done, and I’d like to do?”

I told him no.

“I want to organize a writers’ conference just about law enforcement and first responders for writers.  I want this conference to be more than presentations.  I want the attendees to get a real hands-on learning experience like at a real police academy.”

I told Lee I thought it was a great idea. What I didn’t tell him were my doubts that it would work because–a) I didn’t think any police academy administrator would agree to let civilian outsiders into their facility and b) it sounded like a heck of a lot of moving parts and a lot of work to make it all come together. So when he asked if I’d be interested, I told him I would, but I really didn’t think it would happen. Yet as I’m typing this, he’s about to launch the fifth WPA.  Lee’s vision surely has surpassed what I had thought when he first told me about his idea for a “unique conference.”  Lee calls WPA a Disneyland for writers, and listening to the attendees talk, I think that’s an accurate description.

One of the most popular events at WPA (if you can get a slot) is the for attendees to participate in the FATS/MEGGETTS interactive shooting simulator. My next couple of WPA Top 10 come from my own experiences in the FATS room.

9. Shooting with Jeff Deaver.

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At the first WPA, Lee asked if I would shoot FATS with Jeff Deaver (I’m old school, so all firearms video training systems are still FATS to me). The Jeff Deaver? I asked. Yup, Lee said. Sure thing—who wouldn’t want the chance to do gun scenarios with the devious mind and quick trigger finger of Jeffrey Deaver?  I had fun, and so did Jeff if his smile was any indication. Of course he was rocking-and-rolling full auto with the M4 in each scenario. We all had fun.

 8. Christmas Story!

The second year, the FATS room was short an instructor, and they asked if I’d sit in and help as a safety officer for the day.  Most of the time, all I was doing was making sure the students understood how to grip the pistol and to keep their fingers away from any moving parts. And those of you who have shot FATS/MEGGETS know the pistols actually cycle like a real gun. I kept making sure the shooters kept their support thumb away from the back of the gun so that they wouldn’t get a nasty “bite” when the pistol’s slide cycles.

I didn’t know I had to worry about other body parts!

Things went smooth most of the day until after lunch we had three ladies running through some scenarios.  They had already run through one scenario and I thought things were going smooth, so as Jerry Cooper started the next one, I did my safety check and stepped back to watch scenario and the shooters. Things went from normal to “the fertilizer hitting the vertical oscillating device” super quick in the scenario with a badguy shooting shortly after they screen started rolling. Things seemed to roll along with several of the students even shouting police as they shot back.  On the screen, the badguy was pumping out rounds, bystanders were screaming and the students rounds were hitting. Total controlled mayhem.

Then I heard a voice just to my left shout—“I shot my eye out!”

I have to admit my first thought was that great movie a Christmas Story, and I was sure Ralphie and his Red Ryder were in the room.

My second thought was to get to the student and see what was going on. Taking the gun from the lady’s shaking hand, I asked what had happened.

“I think I shot my eye out,” she repeated.

Looking at the pistol and her face I didn’t see any blood. I did see a small scratch on her glasses. But nothing else. Once we got it all sorted out, I learned that the lady thought she could see the sights of the gun better if she put the gun up closer to her face. I mean like THIS close. Right at the edge of her nose close. You guessed it. When she fired, the slide cycled back and hit her glasses, shoving them up her nose. Thankfully no injuries. And even after the scare, our student, ever the Trooper, stepped right back up and went back to blasting badguys.

Still—“I shot my eye out.”

Donations for the silent auction and raffle. A few years ago, Lee was talking about how much work he had to do with WPA and hadn’t had time to start getting donations, so I offered to help out there. Now, it’s sort of a routine, that somewhere in the spring we’ll email and Lee will let me know—it’s time again. Then I’ll sit down and start emailing authors asking for them to donations. Some I may know and have met, but a great many I email through their website, and more often than not, we get a response. Doing the emails is a little time consuming, but you get to hear from a lot of people. And see how good the writing community truly is. The next couple of WPA Top 10 is about the silent auction and raffle.

7. Generosity.

Many people have never heard of WPA until my unsolicited email pops in their inbox. What’s heartwarming is that usually they email back saying how that the conference looks awesome and offering to help. Many of those same people send donations every year too. We’ve had authors donate signed books, t-shirts, character naming and even critiques all to support WPA’s silent auction and raffle. The people who donate are generous and have big of hearts.

6. Joseph Wambaugh.

I have to single out Mr. Wambaugh, the father of modern police procedures for a slot on my Top 10. One year, I started early on a Sunday morning with coffee at hand and a list of authors and started firing away emails for WPA. I had just finished sending out the first batch of emails, so I wasn’t very far into it, when my email dinged. My new email was from Joseph Wambaugh himself. Not an auto-reply. Not an assistant. But Joseph Wambaugh himself answered an email to his website at about 6am West Coast time. His email was short. He wished WPA success and offered to send an autographed book. Classy. A classic memory.

Of course there’re so many memories from the actual conference:

5. Fan moments.

Most people have “fan moments” at conferences, but I remember a really cool one the year Lee Child was guest of honor.

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After the banquet, people drifted to the bar. A couple of WPA students were already at the bar. Also at the bar was a guy with a beer and an e-reader, but it was obvious he wasn’t part of WPA. One of the WPA students asked him what he was reading. He said the latest book by his favorite author Lee Child. One of the people told him that Child was at Writers’ Police Academy and would probably be at the bar. You could tell the guy thought they pulling his leg. One of the WPA students went and told Lee Child, and a few minutes later, he wandered into the bar and sat down and talked to this guy for a few minutes. He signed the guy’s ereader. And the guy was tickled to death.

4. Code-names.

It seems that cops are not the only ones who have their own lingo, jargon, slang and code words. It seems that a few of WPA’s attendees (YOU guilty parties know who you are) came up with some personal nicknames for some of the WPA instructors. There were– (RANK) Hot Pants and (RANK) Honeybuns.

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The ranks of the parties have been withheld less they be identified.

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But, no pun intended, those of you have been to previous WPA, you know what those code-names mean AND who they’re about. I’m sure more code names will be forthcoming.

3. The weather.

Lee always tells you that North Carolina in September is usually hot, but can get rainy. Most of the time, we’ve had wonderful weather for the equipment and vehicle demonstrations and display….but.  The first year Bill Lanning orchestrated a shallow grave complete with body and accompanying smells, it rained. It did not just rain. It poured buckets. Nonstop. However, the ghoulish WPA students didn’t let the weather deter them from trekking out to see and smell the shallow grave. Even though they were water-logged, the shallow grave demonstration was a hit.

2. Surprises. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Each year, Lee and his Minions come up with tons of surprises. Now, it’s probably getting harder and harder for Lee and his mischievous makers to pull off the surprise, but they’ve done it every year. What kind of surprises? Students standing around waiting to hear a briefing when gunfire erupted in the GTCC building followed by screams. An active shooter. The cops and first responders arrived—and WPA students had front row seats. Next year was the squealing tires and sirens of the car chase followed by a tense standoff and shootout.  How about Stan taking Sandra hostage in the auditorium until a well placed shot by Codename Honeybuns ended the standoff.  Then last year was the bomb squad and a suspicious package which had to be blown up on the tarmac while the students all watched. What’s in store this year? Only Lee knows. And he plays his cards close to his vest.

1.Friends.
Most of all I look forward to seeing old friends and making new friends. It’s nice to catch up with people I’ve not seen for a year. Also each year, I always meet new great people and come away with new friends. To me the best memories of WPA are the ones of the friends and the fun we have. The time leading up to WPA is like an accelerating train for me. Usually, I have to start squeezing time in to get my presentation ready, try to help out on last minute auction/raffle items until it’s a frenzy to get in the car and drive to North Carolina. By the end of this “Disneyland for Writers” (as Lee calls it) I am exhausted but have had a great time from being around so many friends. And to think it’s just three weeks away!

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Rick McMahan is a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The year 2013 marks his twenty-first year in law enforcement. Rick’s work takes him to counties across central and southeastern Kentucky, including Bell County, the area featured in “Moonshiner’s Lament.” His mystery stories have appeared in various publications, including the Mystery Writers of America anthology Death Do Us Part. He also has a story in the International Association of Crime Writers’ forthcoming collection of crime fiction from around the world. In his free time, Rick enjoys writing, and he’s had short stories appear in anthologies such as Techno Noire, Low Down & Derby and the Mystery Writers of America’s Death Do Us Part edited by Harlan Coben.

PostHeaderIcon Mike Roche: The Restoration of First Responders Suffering from PTSD

 

The Restoration of First Responders Suffering from PTSD

Thomas Bean was a police officer enjoying his day off on December 14, 2012, when a call went out that would change his life and that of the nation forever. A shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Officer Bean responded to the call for assistance and was one of the first to arrive at the horrific scene. The images of the lifeless bodies of twenty small children haunted Bean as they would for any healthy individual.

Bean went home that evening and found comfort in the bottom of a bottle of alcohol. His battle with the demons continued, as his one night of drinking continued to many more nights. While standing in a store shortly after the attack, Bean became hyper-vigilant and paranoid that every person in the store was potentially targeting him. He realized he was in trouble. In an emotional fog, he considered cutting himself, so that he could feel pain. Bean told CNN, “I had no feeling, no sensation, no nothing.”

Officer Bean was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and unable to return to his job, as he is haunted with the reminders of that horrific day. Further exacerbating his condition is that the City of Newtown sent him a letter of termination. That has since been rescinded. The State of Connecticut does not cover mental health under workers compensation. If he were shot, he would be covered for physical injuries. Connecticut will apply for a federal grant and if approved, $6.1 million would be allocated for mental health counseling and wellness programs.

PTSD is a condition that can be managed and overcome with appropriate counseling, treatment and medication. PTSD is commonly characterized by flashbacks to the trauma-induced events, avoidance, detached personality, sleep disturbances and irritability. The stress often spills over on their home life and performance at work.

Those who are suffering from the illness are more likely to harm themselves than others. Police suicides outnumber the line of duty deaths by a two to one margin. Many more suicides are ruled an accident blamed on a firearm mishap while cleaning the gun or the single car fatality accident.

Those who suffer from PTSD can feel a sense of isolation and betrayal depending on the support provided by their respective departments. This wallowing in self-doubt, while considering the adverse impact on their future careers, could have negative consequences. Many times, officers who have been diagnosed with PTSD will have difficulty returning to the street because of liability concerns if they involved in a shooting situation. As a result, officers are often reassigned to assignments that reduce their exposure to perilous situations.

Approximately 13% of police officers will suffer from PTSD. This can be caused by a single traumatic event such as Newtown, Aurora, September 11, a line of duty death, shooting or from cumulative stress suffered during the course of a career. Police officers after leaving the scene of a traumatic incident often drive away alone in their car and are left to contemplate and relive the critical incident. The death of children is the most haunting images that officers try to suppress. They will often project a facade of normalcy, but inside they are ravaged by demons destroying their soul.

I serve as a peer support counselor at a program focused on healing and restoring police officers who suffer from the effects post traumatic stress. Comments from some of the attendees were, “You saved my life!” and “This experience altered my life!”  The goal of The Franciscan Center Post Trauma Education Retreat in Tampa, Florida is to return stability and balance to the lives of first responders suffering post trauma stress and to deepen their relationships at home.

The five-day resident program located on a six-acre serene campus is perched along the Hillsborough River. The program is peer based and clinically guided by the warm embrace of trust from those that have walked in the shoes of the responders and share many of the same experiences. Confidentiality is essential to develop trust and a shared bond to mend the exhaustive darkness that consumes so many who have experienced trauma.

The program is intense and requires the commitment of long days. Education is at the core of the program to provide a foundation of skills to cope with and manage stress in the future. The educational component includes a number of classes. PTSD Resiliency explores the effects of the stress illness and that the illness is curable. Greif and bereavement is taught by two wonderful retired VA Hospice nurses. These angels have listened to many veterans’ deathbed confessions and a release of their inner turmoil that has gripped them and impacted their lives. Forgiveness explores the shackles that bind us with hate, betrayal and revenge.

Wellness addresses the basic needs of our body. Proper diet and exercise can help to alleviate the harmful effects of stress on the body. In the throes of anxiety from trauma, officers often fail to address the most basic needs for the body. They pass the salad bar for a more expedient fast food meal and postpone a beneficial workout in favor of sitting at a bar or watching TV.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) has had amazing results on the participants. The procedure is difficult to describe, but the practitioner explores a traumatic event with the participant through the recall of visual images. The process commands the right and left-brain to sync up and is often described as the process used by computers to defrag the hard drive. The EMDR process results in a restoration of recall of the trauma to a more acceptable mindset. Participants who have been besieged by sleep disturbances report their first restful night of complete sleep in years. Imagine the gift of a full night of sleep.

Group discussions and socialization provide a normalization of the experience. Often feeling alone, these brave men and women learn that others share similar experiences and mutual feelings. The group process provides a therapeutic sharing of inner turmoil in a confidential and serene environment and allows for the exploration of possible remedies to help cope and confront the stress.

The transformation I have witnessed by the participants has been astounding. On the first day, as the responders checked into their own private rooms, I observed their guarded approach and hesitation. Slowly the veneers of apprehension begin to dissipate as the week progresses. After graduation, I notice an apprehension of the guests to leave their comrades. The veil of reluctance has been replaced with a positive hope for the future. They have become close knit and the bond is unmistakable. I witnessed a renewed passion and embracing of life. The energy is invigorating for not only for the participants but for the peer support and staff, as we have witnessed a restoration of the human soul and watch these warriors return to serve the community.

The Franciscan Center Post Trauma Education Retreat is open to first responders from anywhere. Many departments with tight budgets will not cover the costs. They will replace the tires on a patrol car while ignoring the human capital. The center is dependent upon the financial support of generous donors to help fund and defray the cost of the training.

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Mike Roche has spent over three decades in law enforcement. He started his career with the Little Rock Police Department, retired from the U.S. Secret Service as a special agent after twenty-two years, and is an adjunct instructor at Saint Leo University. Mike is the author of three novels and two nonfiction works, Face 2 Face: Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an ex-Secret Service Agents Guide and his most recent on Mass Killers: How You Can Identify Workplace, School and Public Killers Before they Strike.

*We’re extremely pleased that Special Agent Roche is once again joining us as a presenter at the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy. He’ll be teaching two workshops—Romance Behind the Badge and Real Cops for Real Writers: The Psychology of Cops.

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