by Kassandra Lamb
Two weeks ago, I attended the most amazing conference of my life, The Writer’s Police Academy. And that’s saying something since I’ve been to a lot of conferences through the years.
Real cops, firefighters, EMS personnel, lawyers and private investigators taught us how to Write it Right in our mysteries and thrillers. Sister mp author, Vinnie Hansen, also attended and she told us about her favorite takeaways last week.
Today, I’d like to share some of the many surprises I discovered during this eye-opening conference.
FIRE 101: Did you know that smoke burns? I didn’t.
It is full of particles of unburned fuel, which then will ignite when the fire gets hot enough. But even the vapors in it are solid fuel converted to gas, and they also burn. Burning smoke on the ceiling is called “rollover.”
Which burns faster, older buildings or newer, tighter buildings?
The answer is newer buildings. Older buildings (the instructor called them ”legacy” buildings), while draftier, were built of more solid materials. And older furniture was made of wood, cotton and wool.
Today, some construction materials and many components of furniture are plastic, i.e., petroleum products, i.e., OIL. They ignite sooner, burn faster and give off more toxic fumes.
A fire in a modern house will be “fully developed” in about 10 minutes. In a legacy house, it may take 20-25 minutes.
SHOOT, DON’T SHOOT: This involved video scenarios where participants (with fake guns) got to play cops (us) and bad guys (in the videos).
A police officer has to determine whether to use potential lethal force (they are shooting to “stop the threat,” not to kill, but their gun is a lethal weapon) based on 3 criteria:
● Does the suspect have a weapon?
● Do they have the means to deliver harm with that weapon?
● Do they intend to use that weapon?
The officer often has to make that assessment in less than a second.
Example 1: The person pulls a knife but they are fifty feet away. The officer has time to try to defuse the situation: “Police! Don’t move! Drop your weapon! Sir, put the knife down.”
But if the person is 20 feet away and running toward the officer (or someone else) with a knife in their hand, they are an immediate threat and the officer needs to shoot.
Example 2: The person has a gun, pointed down. “Police! Put your weapon on the ground!” But if they start to raise the gun, the officer doesn’t need to wait until it’s aimed at him/her. By then, it will be too late.
I came away from that workshop with a whole new respect for how stressful and dangerous police work is.
It is now lunch time of the first day and I already feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth!
After lunch, I started with retired police detective/now writer Robin Burcell’s workshop…
THE WAY WE WALK, THE WAY WE TALK: “Perp” is East Coast; on the West Coast, they’re called “suspects.” And the FBI uses “subject,” or “unsub” if they don’t know the suspect’s identity.
Unlike on TV and in movies, female detectives do not wear skirts and high heels! (Except maybe in court.) And cops don’t point their guns toward the ceiling (not unless there’s a bad guy up there) nor do they rack a bullet into the chamber just before engaging.
They carry their guns “locked and loaded” (already racked and safety off) at all times, and when they pull them out, the finger is beside the trigger until time to fire. And they point them straight ahead, in the direction they will most likely need to shoot.
10 COMMON MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE ABOUT THE LAW: Leslie Budewitz, lawyer and author, shared many interesting tidbits about how the law really works, including the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence, but my fave takeaway was that Miranda rights are not automatically read to someone when they are arrested.
Two things have to be in place for Miranda to be necessary — the person must be in custody AND interrogation must be happening. So if a “perp” (I’m East Coast 🙂 ) is arrested (in custody) and is on the way to the station, and s/he makes a spontaneous, incriminating statement (NOT during interrogation), it can be used even if no Miranda warning has been given yet. Likewise, if someone is questioned and they haven’t been arrested yet, no Miranda is needed to use whatever they say.
End of Day 1, we thought…
We went back to the hotel, exhausted but happy, but that evening we were treated to more demos in the parking lot after dinner. And several volunteers got to wear real (and very heavy) police belts and learned how to wield a baton, and when to use it vs. your pistol.
PTSD: I almost didn’t go to this one because I am an expert myself on PTSD, but this workshop was about what it looks like in police officers.
It was awesome!! The presenter was a former police officer, who developed PTSD, and is now a therapist working with officers with this disorder.
And he has a service dog for his PTSD! (The man made the mistake of giving me his card; I am so going to pick his brain via email.)
I came away from that workshop with a great story idea for Book 10 in my Kate Huntington series!
FORCE ON FORCE ROOM CLEARING:
This one wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, but it was still quite awesome. It involved more scenarios, and we got to shoot guns loaded with tiny paint pellets. Again, a whole new respect for how hard it is to judge how much force to use and when to use it.
But the biggest takeaway from this workshop was the presenter Randy Clifton’s comments about the recent controversial police shootings. He said he didn’t blame the officers (unless there seemed to be blatant racism involved). He blames the departments for insufficient training with real-life scenarios that replicate the stress levels of on-the-street confrontations.
He made the excellent point that when the adrenaline is flowing, the rational brain shuts down, and one reverts to old learned patterns (this is psychologically sound). If those old learned patterns aren’t superceded by deeply ingrained new patterns during training, the officer is likely to make the wrong decision.
He demonstrated this via a scenario in which police have raided a house where a known felon is staying. The police have cleared the rest of the house, while yelling repeatedly that they are the police. The guy comes out of his bedroom with his hands in the air, but a gun in one hand. The young police recruit Randy used in this scenario yelled, “Sir, put the gun down. Sir, drop your weapon.”
Randy stopped the scenario and asked us how many of us would shoot. Only 2 out of 12 responded yes (I was a no). Then he demonstrated how quickly someone can lower a gun from that “hands up” position and shoot the officer, while said officer is so politely telling him to drop the gun.
His point: our old patterns tell us that hands up means the guy is surrendering, but why then does he have a gun in his hand? He knows the cops are all over his house. If he was truly surrendering, he would have left the gun in the bedroom.
After this little lecture, all 12 of us voted unanimously to shoot.
Two last takeaways from the last two workshops:
DEFENSE TACTICS: Did you know that if you splay your fingers out at the end of your arm, it is almost impossible for someone to force you to bend your arm? Try it!
PRIVATE INVESTIGATION: OR HOW TO BE A DICK FOR FUN AND PROFIT: Do you know who the most accurate TV/movie private investigator is? (I’ll answer below in the comments section after some of you have made your best guess.)
Now, you may be thinking that I’ve “gone over to the side of the cops” regarding unnecessary police shootings.
No way! First, I don’t think it’s them against us. Another takeaway from this conference was how generous many police officers are. Every presenter gave out his/her email address and encouraged us to inundate them with questions. I believe the vast majority of officers are truly trying to “protect and serve.”
But many of them need better training, and PTSD needs to be identified and treated much more quickly in officers, because this disorder undetected can lead to more confrontations with the public, and bad decision-making due to lack of sleep (because of nightmares) and higher stress levels.
I still am pursuing investigating and improving these things in my own community, but I am so glad I went to this conference before my scheduled meetings with my sheriff and police chief. I now have a much better understanding of what their departments are up against!
Also, if you are planning to do the same in your own community, I found out that the place to start is with your local police department’s Public Information Officer.
Back to WPA. I’ve decided I will have to go again next year, since I never got to the Ballistics or Blood Spatter classes. 😀
So who do you think is the most accurate TV/movie P.I.? Have you gone to any professional conferences that were as good as this one?
By the way, one of the stories I was able to make more accurate, thanks to this conference, is now available for preorder. (I’ll bet you can figure out what I used when you read the story.)
$1.99 thru its release date of 9/5/16
ARSENIC and YOUNG LACY, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, Book #2
Sweet, adorable Lacy has stolen Marcia Banks’ heart, but money is tight. Like it or not, the service dog trainer needs to complete the human phase of the training and deliver the dog to her new owner in order to get paid. But the ex-Army nurse client turns out to be a challenging trainee. On top of her existing neuroses–which go beyond the psychological damage from a sexual assault during her second tour in Afghanistan–the veteran is now being stalked.
When Marcia receives a bizarre warning to stay away from her client and Lacy is also caught in the stalker’s malicious orbit, Sheriff Will Haines steps in to investigate. Marcia finds this both endearing and annoying, especially when he expects her to stay on the sidelines. The training fee would make her solvent again, but how can she put her dogs at risk?
Maybe Marcia should be more worried about herself, since the stalker has decided to pay her off in a very different way.
And Book #1, TO KILL A LABRADOR, is ON SALE for just $0.99 thru 9/3/16!!
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.
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