The Writers Police Academy 2011 was a hands-on, jam-packed, thrilling, instructive, humorous, realistic experience. You won’t find classes on ‘How to Write Interesting Characters’ or ‘How to Land an Agent’ like all the other writers conventions. Instead, we handled Glocks, felt the intensity of a fire and even dug a grave. We got to read the ‘Law Enforcement Code of Ethics’ as a group and witness a hostage negotiation unfold before our eyes.
Invaluable training that allows writers to add to our arsenal of knowledge and skills that we can then draw from as we sit in our comfy homes and write about events that we otherwise would not have experienced.
And it was an absolute blast!
It was kinda funny that some of the experts weren’t sure what was expected of them. When informed that we were there to learn how to kill people and investigate crimes, they got into the spirit and answered our questions in depth. It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing – well, I now have more than ‘a little’ knowledge.
My first class was ‘Alternate Light Source’. Our instructors answered questions, showed us equipment and then let us loose with the blacklights and goggles. Iridescent specks glowed to life. Evidence! Evidence of what – you didn’t know. That’s what the labs are for. But samples had to be collected and sent to them and here we were playing crime scene technicians!
During the Academy, Lee asked me what my favorite activity was. Hands down – FATS; a computerized training scenario for police officers. My daughter and I were partners.
The trainers showed us how to load our Glocks. I was the designated yeller (I’m a mom – it’s what we do best). The first scenario had us in the middle of a swat team bursting into a suspected drug dealer’s house. We found a guy alone in a room reaching into a dresser drawer. “SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!” “GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!” No one was more surprised than I when the suspect put his hands in the air and lay down on the floor.
We ran through five different scenarios. I issued orders, but when we had to shoot, my daughter got ‘the kill’ shots. Hmmm, I’d better be careful not to yell at her anymore…
I took very few notes but soaked in a ton of info.
I adored Joy, the police dog and her no nonsense handler. The firefighters committed arson – just for us. We got to feel the heat, hear the crackling flames and watch the black soot and smoke rise and choke out the sky.
My favorite class was FATS – Mom gave a great summary of it above. She surprised me with her shouted commands but she is Mom so, you know… (Not much will replace the coolness of shooting guns next to your mother who’s yelling at bad guys, by the way.)
The classes that struck me the most were the Jail Searches and Women in Law Enforcement, both led expertly by Sgt. Catherine Netter. She really impressed me. The behind-the-scenes look of what women deal with as prison guards was so surprising I might write a new series featuring a female guard!
Did you know that female officers tend to command respect and authority with the male prisoners easier than male guards do? Many male prisoners come from homes where the mother was in charge and this translates well into prison life. (At least for the female guards.)
Another fact I wouldn’t have guessed, women inmates are generally nurturing to one another and will create make up and accessories out of crayons and candy wrappers and help each other dress up for court appearances.
Another tidbit we walked away with was the commitment and generosity of the instructors and the volunteers. The buses didn’t drive themselves, the name tags and print outs didn’t appear by magic and when you see instructors and fellow classmates walking in from the pouring rain, dripping mud and droplets everywhere, you know you’re a part of something amazing.
The instructors are professionals in the field of criminology. From the prison guard, bio-terrorism specialist, arson investigator, police dog and her handler, sniper, crime lab techs to the crime scene photographer and the list goes on and on…
We witnessed arson, prison smells, felt the adrenaline course through our veins as we fired guns at a threatening computer image, heard the shouts of the self-defense class carry down the halls, lunched with the fire marshal AND dug a shallow grave.
Where else could we have done all this? The Writers Academy was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. And I got to share it with my Mom, a fellow mystery author.
I write cozy mysteries. My “Who Murdered…” series starts with “Who Murdered the Ghost?” The second ebook “Who Murdered the Clown?” is due out by the end of the year. My protagonist is a small town (NH) cop.
Since I don’t know any small town cops, the Writers Police Academy was a godsend. I’ve attended numerous mystery conventions throughout the years, but this one beat them all. The hands-on experiences were phenomenal. It provided that touch of realism that every writer strives for. (If there’s any New Hampshire cops out there looking for a new BFF, I’d love to pick your brain regarding small town procedures!)
Now for a little irony – My short story series (Ella Westin Mysteries) and novels (soon to be published) are set in the 1800’s. Forensics was a completely different animal back then but the similarities of attention to detail, perseverance and dedication remain the same. Married to Murder, Honeymoon Homicide and Toxic Train (third in the series and soon to be published) follow a female government agent as she gets used to married life while solving murders. The novel series start with The Masked Rider: Origins and is the story of the next two generations of Westins solving crime near Chicago in 1875.
Maybe you think I wouldn’t benefit from 21st century technology, but every experience adds to the realism of writing. Plus the fact that I’m about to publish a contemporary mystery series called The Georgia H. Mysteries. The first story in this new series, Georgia Meets Virginia, should be published this year – and there’s a flamethrower in it.