Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending an amazing event that I can't recommend highly enough: Writer's Police Academy in Greensboro, NC. (Love their logo!)
Yes, you heard right, and it's exactly what the title says--a police academy for writers, and a way for us to interact with the cops, undercover operators, and forensics experts that we love to write about. A phrase I heard many times while there: "Get it right." And also, "Forget what you see on CSI." No videos were allowed, and we had to ask if we could take pictures. To be honest, there was so much going on that I didn't get a lot of photos. Sigh. I'll know better next time.
I arrived on Thursday and immediately ran into Lloyd Meeker. One fear I believe all the M/M authors shared was that we'd be the only one in attendance. Well, I knew I wouldn't be, for roommate Silvia Violet arrived shortly thereafter (bringing me yummy vegan chocolates from Asheville!), and later on we met up with Kaje Harper. Woot! Reunion!
We were given programs at sign-up, featuring a variety of classes at various times. So many to choose from! I want... but wait! This one sounds good, but that one sounds better, and what about this one?
Here's a complete list of classes. I've underlined the ones I attended (and will describe them below), and the only reason I didn't attend more is that up to ten were taught in a single time frame, with most classes offered twice. Decisions, decisions with this kind of lineup!
3rd Alarm Blaze
Investigation of Felony Murder
Romance Behind the Badge
Why Good Cops Go Bad
Women in Law Enforcement
Fingerprinting and the ARIS System
Memoirs of an Undercover Detective
Researching Exotic Crimes
Tracking Down the Evidence: Footwear Impressions
Broken Bones, Ballistics & Backdrafts: Technical Stuff that Writers Get Wrong
Policing "Back in the Day"
Murder Typology: Varieties of Multiple Murder
Special Ops: What are They Good For?
Suspicious Fire Deaths
Crime Scene Processing/Evidence Packaging
Equivocal Death Investigations: Manners, Causes, and Mechanisms
Forensic Art and Witness Recall
Real Cops for Real Writers: The Psychology of Cops
Self-Defense for Women
The First Five Minutes of a Code Blue
Underwater Evidence Recovery
ABCs of Death Investigation from a Nurse ME's Perspective
EMS and Crime Scene
Handcuffing and Arrest Techniques
Special Ops: K9, water/dive, SWAT, bike patrol, and more
There were also demonstrations, such as first response to a car wreck, Disarming the Bad Guys, and how a SWAT team blows a door open.
Also there were seminars in the auditorium: From Fact to Fiction with guest speaker Lisa Gardner and Prosecutors, Judges, and Investigations with guest speaker Alafair Burke
And let's not forget An Evening with celebrated author Michael Connelly!
There were also prizes galore! Baskets filled with books and other goodies to make writers drool.
Special, by-lottery events:
Aviation and Aerial Surveillance
Ride-along with on-duty patrol officers
Now, for the classes I attended:
Deep Undercover-Although we were allowed to take pictures of our speaker, we were asked not to post them online. The class started with a 20/20 clip that I actually remember seeing a few years ago, about an officer with the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms going deep undercover inside a motorcycle gang. (Sound familiar to one of my plot lines?) What an amazing class. And I felt so badly for the officer. Yes, you do get caught up in your created persona, and even make friends with those you'll have to arrest, while being away from your family and friends. My heart went out to that man. I'd hoped to get a signed copy of his book, but hadn't realized they'd be for sale in the class, and didn't have money on me that first day. I couldn't find him at the official book signing event either. Sigh.
Building Searches-I can't believe I didn't get more pictures of me and Silvia Violet "storming the castle" as it were. Our instructor really knew his topic, and we got to see firsthand how officers conduct and home search. After the session, the instructor helped me physically block off the scene in Manipulation where Lucky, Bo, and new character Cruz have to find bad guys in a factory. Woot! At the end I clearly visualized their every move!
Memoirs of an Undercover Detective-What a fabulous instructor, retired NYPD Undercover Detective Marco Conelli. Now, put aside all you've seen on TV about big, rough, undercover cops. This man is one of the softest spoken and unassuming people I've ever met. When I asked him about it, he said: "If you intimidate the suspects they won't cooperate. The drug dealer has to feel he can own you before he'll sell to you." We also learned how to make fake track marks using free weights and a lead pencil, but I digress. I told him all about Manipulation's plot, and he agreed that all the twists and turns sounded perfectly feasible, and even made a few suggestions. He, too, had books for sale, of the YA category, which I purchased for my grandson. He signed them: "To the future fireman." Aww...
Next up was Broken Bones, Ballistics & Backdrafts: Technical Stuff that Writers Get Wrong, which saved Bo in Manipulation from getting shot. Really.
Police Gunfighting - In which I learned how wrong TV and movies are. Most gunfights last three minutes or less, and cops do not pull their guns as often as we seen in film. They're taught early on that "pull the trigger and your life changes. There will be a suspension pending investigation, there will be Internal Affairs, and there will be a lawsuit." Officers don't willingly go there.
Crime Scene Processing/Evidence Packaging- OMG! This class was invaluable to the aspiring crime writer! Not only did I learn exactly how things are done, the speaker gave us her e-mail address to ask question for our books.
I e-mailed her, gave her parameters for the dead body, she asked questions, then gave lots of detail. LOTS. Yeah, that scene will be accurate.
Real Cops for Real Writers: The Psychology of Cops - I have a whole new sympathy for officers of the law. The lifestyle becomes so ingrained that the life expectancy of a career officer who retires is only five years, unless they find new purpose. This class ripped my heart out.
Handcuffing and Arrest Techniques - I only got to stay in this class of a little bit, as my Meggitt session (see below) started about halfway through. Interesting. The instructors were knowledgeable and entertaining.
We were given several scenarios, and had to decide if and when to shoot. Most of us in the demonstration hesitated and either we or our partners were shot.The hardest situation was no one wanted to shoot an eleven year old girl. She killed us all.
We discovered that in this tense situation, things happen very fast, and officers rely on muscle memory more than conscious thought in heated moments. Time actually does distort in such an adrenaline-charged situation.
Mixed in with this fabulous curriculum was dinner and hanging out with Lloyd, Silvia, and Kaje. Lunches could be bought on site, but those of us with special diets had to bring our own food. And so Little Miss I-packed-enough-food-for-an-army got to share her meal with another hungry vegan. We bonded over vegan chocolate cake from Whole Foods.
Look for lots of interesting tidbits in Manipulation, picked up during my weekend spent with professionals.
Next year they'll offer two venues: Greensboro and another TBA. If you get the chance, go. You won't regret it.
I bought another book while there, from retired police officer and even organizer Lee Lofland.
A full list of presenters can be found here.