Jaye Wells

Writers’ Police Academy

Hey kids! I thought instead of Craft Thursday today, I’d give you a field report on a recent trip I took to Greensboro, NC. As you probably know, I’m working on a new series, DIRTY MAGIC, which centers around a female cop named Kate Prospero. In order to give this speculative crime fiction series the ring of truth, I’ve been doing all sorts of cool things, including a local citizen’s police academy in my home town and, most recently, the Writers’ Police Academy in North Carolina.

So here’s the gist: For three days, a bunch of writers get together and learn from actual cops, Sheriff’s department personnel, ATF agents, DEA task force specialists, firemen, EMS, nurses, etc. In other words, it’s several years of experience packed into three short days, and it’s a freaking blast. Each day, we took about four or five workshops of our choice, plus a special speaker at the end of the day that everyone went to. They even had more speakers at night back at the hotel.

Below, I’ve recounted everything I did as briefly as possible to give you an idea of the scope:

Friday morning:
7:30 am We all load onto buses to go to Guilford Technical Community College, where they train EMS< Fire and police personnel.
8:00 Listent o a talk about how the jaws of life are used next to a car they’ve brought in specifically for the purposes of cutting it open.
9:00 Human Trafficking Workshop. This one was an eye-opener. I had no idea how widespread human trafficking had grown. This was probably the hardest one to sit through because the officer also touched on internet sex crimes and crimes against children. I wasmost surprised to hear that the government doesn’t have a central agency focused on stopping human trafficking. Seems they’d be smart to do so since human trafficking connects to drugs, guns, sex crimes and a dozen other major violent crimes. We definitely need more resources aimed at this problem.
10:30 Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Workshop. Sons of Anarchy is a sexed up version of these gangs. We learned how to read the patches on the gangs’s jackets, how they’re organized and the types of crimes they’re involved with–most of them.
Noon: Lunch provided by local EMS students
1:00 Interrogations and Interviews Workshops, including a visit to a mock interrogation room set up on campus. Learned a lot about the psychology and the importance of communication for cops.
2:30 Fingerprinting Workshop–we got to use real tool to find fingerprints on objects.
4:00 Dr. Elizabeth Murray spoke on Cold Cases and her job as a forensic anthropologist, including an explanation of the NamUs web site that combines a missing persons and unidentified dead database for use by the public to identify lost loved ones.
5:30 Get back on buses to hotel
6:30 Bar opens at hotel
7:00 Reception. Lee Child showed up to hang out, which caused quite a stir.
8:30 Katherine Ramsland spoke about how to think like Sherlock Holmes and to learn how to have more Aha moments in your writing.
10pm Pass out because tomorrow’s another early morning

Saturday:
7:30 Buses
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8:00 They have us line up in a parking lot under the pretense of listening to a sharp shooter discuss his job. He gets as far as unveiling his huge weapon when all the sudden a high speed chase involving a suburban and three police cars zooms through the lot. They stage a mock-stand off that ends in a shooting. It’s quite a way to start the day.
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9:00 Drug Interdiction Workshop. This was a really cool talk about how important of a tool traffic stops can be for police. It covered ways to read suspects and also where they hide contraband in their vehicles.

10:30 Handcuffing. This was a hands-on workshop where we got to cuff our friends. We also learned about cuffing techniques, types of cuffs and the most dangerous parts of the process (pretty much all of it). Here’s a pic of me handcuffed. It was really only a matter of time.
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Noon: Lunch donated to the group. We ate with a group of bicyclists who were on campus racing to earn money for a charity named after a colleague who died a few years ago from cancer. These people don’t just work together; they’re a family.

1:00 Women in Law Enforcement. A great overview of the particular challenges female officers face in the field. The speaker was a detention officer, so she had great insights into the psychology involved between male inmates and female officers.

2:30 Police Gunfighting. This was taught by an ATF agent who spoke about the physiology of cops in gun fights, as well as procedures and tactics. He also explained the importance of training to create muscle memory so cops don’t waste valuable seconds when their lives in danger. We got to hold his Sig Sauer and Glock and practice the proper shooting stance.

4:00 Marcia Clark spoke about how District Attorneys aid in investigations and build cases, and opportunities in the process writers can use for great drama. She was my favorite speaker of the weekend. Very warm and witty and great at distilling complex processes into layman’s terms.
5:30 Back on bus
6:30 BAR IS OPEN
7:00 Banquet begins. We eat and listen to talks by the sponsors and workshop presenters. Aiding in the presentations is a Deputy Barney Fife impersonator, who did an amazing job.
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8:00ish Lee Child speaks on how suspense writers are awesome. I think Lee Child is awesome.
10:00 Retire to the bar with Jeanne Stein, who is basking in the glow of getting her picture taken with Mr. Child.
Jeanne and Lee

Sunday:
Sleep in because I can. Wake up at 8:30, pack my things, store them with the hotel.
10:00 Everyone who’s still there, gathers in a ballroom for what they call the “Debriefing Panel.” Many of the presenters are presents, and mostly they take turns telling war stories. YOu’d be amazed how many “and then the suspect got naked” stories they had. They were also kind enough to address questions by specific writers about stories they were working, as well as share general tips about mistakes lots of writers make.

Noon: The place clears out. My flight isn’t until 6 that evening, so I have lots of time sit around and think about all the things I need to change in my revisions and new storyline ideas I’ve gained. I’m also kind of perversly excited that I now have the cell phone numbers and email addresses of people who can get me out of a ticket help me research my books.

If you’re a writer and your work involves any kind of police work, I highly recommend this event. This year, Sister’s in Crime paid for a large portion of the workshop fee for anyone who joined their group. I don’t know if they’ll repeat this for next year, but I hope so. I’ll definitely be going back because even though I did a ton, I had to miss a lot of the demonstrations and workshops because there were just so many.

This last shot is from the citizen’s police academy I took earlier this year, but I think it pretty much sums up how I feel about all this cool cop-y stuff I’ve been doing. Also, I hope it serves as a warning to any potential stalkers.
Dirty Harriet

2 Thoughts on “Writers’ Police Academy

  1. WOW! Coolest workshop ever! Human trafficking is the central crime in my WIP right now and I too have been finding out all sorts of really disturbing facts about it here in the U.S. and around the world. So at a workshop like this one do you take notes or record the sessions? I’d be afraid I’d forget everything, or at least forget the important details.

  2. JayeWells on September 28, 2012 at 8:07 am said:

    No recording is allowed, but I filled up half a spiral notebook with notes. YOu also have to ask permission before taking pictures, but no one said no that I heard.

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