Wow! I just returned from a long weekend at The Writer’s Police Academy and my head is buzzing with so much knowledge, I can’t wait to put it to good use! Hands down, this was the best conference I’ve ever attended. If you write mystery and haven’t attended this program, you don’t know what you’re missing. The long weekend is chock full of workshops by impressive, qualified teachers presenting information on things such as high-risk traffic stops, firearms, explosions, canines, undercover officers, secret service—street prostitution, narcotics, etc. Being a name dropper here, presenters like Dr. Dan Krane, a DNA specialist who performed the DNA on high profile cases such as OJ Simpson, Monica Lewinsky’s dress, Jon Benet Ramsey, just to name a few. Author, Kathy Reichs, who’s a forensic anthropologist and the television producer of Bones, Katherine Ramsland, forensic psychology and criminal justice, and the best LEOs to provide us with hands-on training.
I’ll be writing this in installments because there’s just so much to tell, and first up is:
My first activity on Thursday evening was a jail tour. Yep, you heard me right. Our instructions before we entered the jail, was not to stare at them, not to be offended by what we might hear or what they might do. Hoookay. For obvious reasons, we were not allowed to take pictures.
We were transported to the jail in the same white vans they use for the prisoners and actually drove into the building through the garage entrance used to transport the prisoners into the jail. It reminded me of OJ Simpson’s entry, but then, I have an imagination the size of New York.
As you’d expect, the cells were lined up one after another. The last prison I’d been to for a tour was Alcatraz in San Francisco, so I was expecting to see bars, but these were actual rooms behind wooden doors with look out windows, and they were all full. We were told the prisoners on this floor were in a holding pattern until they could appear in court. Black rubber mats covered the picture windows in the room so we couldn’t gawk at them, but they could gawk out at us–and they did—a bit unnerving to say the least. One prisoner was shouting ‘smack’, as they say, because he was unhappy about being there. We later learned he’d just been arrested for the second time in a week on burglary charges and he was seventeen.
We saw prisoners walk through the halls carrying their box of personal belongings and were told they’d just come from court. Seeing the women was the hardest for me, especially this one who had the most angelic face, it was hard to imagine she’s done anything wrong. We weren’t told what the offense was, but putting myself in her place didn’t give me a pleasant feeling.
The next floor was a visit to medical, and then up to the fifth floor where we were with the actual prisoners who sat in an open room watching television or entering a larger room for bible study. We were told the prisoners on this floor were in a program for good behavior where they had more privileges than the others and knew better than to do anything offensive because they’d be pulled out. Watching them being buzzed in and out of their locked rooms was a weird feeling. One guy in particular had a teardrop at the corner of his eye. At the time, I did not know what that tat meant–not until the next day . . .
Day two and it’s up early to meet the bus at 7:30 AM for a ride to the Academy. My first workshop was Building Searches. The condo you see behind him is owned by the Guilford Sheriff’s department and was purchased with drug money collected from various busts! Is that not a neat idea? Here’s a picture of our instructor, Capt. Randy Shepherd, who’s a nationally recognized expert police sniper showing us the equipment. The vest you see on the ground weighs in at 24 lbs.
This was so much fun. We were broken into groups of five and went through four condos looking for the crooks. In the final go-round, recruits were selected to hide in the units and we were to find them. It was a killed, or be killed operation. I was a LEO (Law Enforcement Officer), and got shot because my bad guy was faster on the draw than I was. Officer down, Officer down!
My next workshop was about Gangs and their violence. Our instructor was Sgt. Ernest Cuthbertson, who works in Commerical Property Crimes in the Greensboro Police department. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in class but this workshop was very interesting. Sgt. Cuthbertson showed us a series of tattoos the police look for when they’re investigating a crime. We learned that Gangs are on the upswing and the worst gang violence takes place in major cities. When our instructor got to the face tattoos, I realized I’d seen a gang member the night before during the jail tour. A teardrop by a members’ eye means he’s killed someone. Ack! The hierarchy in the Gangs is much like that of the Mafia, and if you think about it, these gang members are just as bad. The biggest, baddest guy is dating 2-3 girls at a time, and there are more assaults/murders between gang members cutting in on each other’s territory, eg, girlfriends being one of the offenses. Our instructor told us the worst gang right now is the female gangs. I can’t even imagine that. But then I live in a sheltered world. Hearing the names of these gangs reminded me of Major Crimes and Det. Sanchez’s frequent mention of the Crips. Cuthbertson said, gang members use code words with each other to confuse their parents and the police who are watching them on the social media outlets. One such code used by a girl who a gang member wanted to date was: “I like hardwood floors and sunny days.” And what that means is, she likes them shaved and no condoms.
Next up was Cold Case Protocols–Hits and Misses taught by Katherine Ramsland, actor/author, and Dave Pauly, a retired from the US Army Criminal Investigation Command where he served as a Special-Agent-in-Charge/Commander and Forensic Science officer. Phew! That’s a mouthful. As you can see, all of these instructors were very well qualified. Did you know there are 16,000 murders a year? That’s like 40-50 per murders a day, and at present, there are 164,000 unsolved crimes. One tidbit I found extremely interesting about testing for DNA is, not the entire garment is sent for testing. An investigator cuts off a piece from the garment and if he cuts off the wrong spot, the testing could prove non-conclusive.
One of my favorite classes of the day was Concealed and Confidential taught by Marco Conelli, a retired NYPD detective who worked undercover for three years in the Organized Crime Control Bureau. We’re talking heavy duty here, folks! Doing undercover is a lot different than we see on television. It’s extremely dangerous work and there’s nothing to protect the undercover from being killed. Conelli describes this as an acting gig. You have to be good at it or you’ll get killed. The acts you perform have to be believable. A few places drugs might be hidden and delivered to the buyer are under pizzas, wedged into a floral arrangement, etc. We saw footage of a few busts, one being John Gotti. One bust in particular took place in Queens where a drug dealer owned the apartment building. When this bust took place, three large buses pulled up, each containing enough LEOs to search each building wing. Conelli describes this as a massive bust.
The last workshop of the day was Forensic Identification by Dr. Dan Krane, who’s a world-renowned expert in his field and has worked on cases like OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony, Monica Lewinsky, JonBenet Ramsey. He gave us some astonishing facts about DNA and how the results don’t always identify the right offender. Now that’s a scary thought!
Before attending The Writer’s Police Academy, Lee Lofland, its founder, told us we were being treated like recruits and the times specified meant exactly that–The bus was leaving and there were no “I overslept” buses. I’m an early riser anyway, so I wasn’t affected by it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think anyone was. Quite honestly, this program was so exciting, and so full of information I didn’t even want to go to bed. I was hungry for the information they shared and would have worked through the night! I’m not kidding, mystery writers–THIS PROGRAM IS THAT GOOD and not to be missed!
So off we go to the academy where Capt Shepherd greeted us. After a mini-overview of the day, he told us to follow him. When we were well on our way, he suddenly noticed a purple backpack left on the ground and asked who’d left it. And of course, no one stepped forward. This is when the fun began.
First, the K-9 walked toward the bag and sniffed it. This dog has been trained to lay down if he sniffs explosives. Well, you guessed it! That’s exactly what he did! What a set up, huh?
Next, the Hazardous Device Team pulled into the parking lot with a trailer containing all the equipment necessary to disseminate an explosive.
Standing there as quiet as church mice, we witnessed a robot roll out of the back and head toward the bag. A team member inside the back of the truck operated the robot. The robot’s long arms picked up the bag and carried it to the end of the parking lot, away from the maddening crowd. I’m new at this video stuff, so it’s not as extensive as it could have been, but here it is. By the way, this robot costs $125,000—a whole lot of money, but well worth it when it saves lives. As mentioned in a previous post on the WPA, the money to buy this robot did not come out of the town’s budget, but from a drug bust. I wish every police department would put that money to good use like Greensboro did. That was definitely a smart move.
Here’s a picture of a team member who’s dressed in his attire. This suit weighs 65 lbs. Can you imagine? I’d be exhausted for the rest of the day carrying around that much weight. Despite the suit, it’s still dangerous for this team member to go near the bomb. He can be blown up in the line of fire. When the explosive ultimately went off, it blew the bag to shreds, and thank God, the LEO was safe. That’s Capt. Shepherd in the red shirt. The group named him Capt. Honeybuns. 😉
Tomorrow, I’ll be telling you about the workshops I took on Saturday. Can’t wait to share this wonderful experience with you! Thanks for stopping by.
Today, I’m going to tell you all about the workshops I took on Saturday. I’ve been to a lot of conferences since I’ve started writing, partied hearty and by the end, all I ever wanted to do was sleep . . . but not after this conference. I want to tell the world about it. My adrenaline propelled me forward and all I kept wishing for was that it would never end.
After the experience with the explosive, we all ventured into the building, psyched and ready to learn more.
My first workshop was Secrets of a Secret Service Agent taught by retired SS Agent, Mike Roche. Now, this class blew me away. But then, all of them have. Before Mike started his presentation, he told us to feel free to ask as many questions as we wanted during his presentation. And boy, did we! The entire class was so anxious to know the in’s and out’s of the job these elite men do every day that Agent Roche never got a chance to actually show his presentation. But he didn’t care. He wanted to answer all our burning questions.
If you’re interested in applying to this program, you must have a college degree, and 3-5 years of real life experience. And just because you get your foot in the door doesn’t mean you’re staying. During the qualifications period, the recruit is put through a battery of testing, ie, background checks, drug, polygraphs, physical exams, interviews, and then the results are sent to Washington to the Homeland Security division for a decision before they can enter the program. Then, it’s twenty-nine weeks of rigorous training, but it doesn’t stop there, its an ongoing process throughout their career. Agent Roche told us that it isn’t uncommon for 90% of the recruits to fail the first time around. During his career, Agent Roche has protected presidents since Ronald Reagan until he retired in 2012. And no folks, he was not one of the agents in Columbia who got caught with a prostitute.
Next up was Fire Scene Investigation taught by Assistant Fire Marshall Jerry Coble. AFM Coble talked about there being three different types of fires: Accidental, Incendiary and Providential and showed us a series of slides so we could see the various ways to prove how a fire got started, etc. They even built a structure outside in the parking lot and started a fire so he could demonstrate all the things he’d just showed us. AFM Coble told us how their investigation could actually show you from the marks on the walls, where certain pieces of furniture were positioned to help them identify what room they were in. The progression and speed at which this fire flared up was scary, as was the intense heat. Check out the progression of this fire:
As you can see, this room had a sofa, a picture on the wall and a dresser. AFM Coble poured charcoal lighter fluid over the cushions on the sofa and lit a match and tossed it. Watch what happens in a matter of seconds!
Look at that black smoke!
I’d like to bring your attention to how I shot this picture much further away from the first picture. That’s because the heat was so intense we had to move back! I’ve never actually seen a fire in progress before, so this was absolutely amazing to me!
One of the students actually timed the amount of time it took for this fire to reach this stage and it was like two minutes. Scary. And although you can’t see it in this picture, there was in fact a shadow on the wall where the dresser was up against it.
After lunch it was off to The First Five Minutes of a Code Blue. This was an reenactment of an EMS team performed by students and their instructor aiding two people who were shot. The driver shot in the head, lost control of the car and wound up on a curve. It was interesting to watch how quickly the students moved to save the second person’s life.
The next class was Street Prostitution conducted by LEO Emily Mitchum who actually walked in the classroom dressed in her street clothes. She looked the part of a high-class hooker, but told us she typically dresses much more provocatively as a decoy. If you’ve ever seen the hookers walking the streets on 42nd Street in New York, or any other big city, you know what I’m talking about. Ofc. Mitchum works for the Greensboro Police Department where they run a Reversal Program that arrests the men trying to solicit the hookers. Their belief is if you arrest and humiliate the men paying for their services, making sure its in the newspapers, it will scare off other paying customers. Can you imagine being arrested for hiring a hooker and having to tell your wife what you did?? OMG!
The last event of the day was in the auditorium with Kathy Reichs, author and producer of the show, Bones who gave us some interesting facts about bones.
Sadly, this was the last day of workshops and our bus drove us back to the hotel for the banquet where all our instructors joined us and my absolute favorite author, Lisa Gardner spoke.
Sunday was a half-day. One of the many workshops I hadn’t taken, because you just can’t take them all in one weekend, was Criminal Investigation of a Sexual Assault Case: The Crime Scene. This class met three times during the long weekend and the recruits were selected by lottery. The recruits selected were divided into three groups to investigate various parts of the crime scene and a spokesman presented the case to a real prosecutor and a real judge. Absolutely fascinating!
The last event of the day was called a Debriefing with several of the instructors where you could ask any question you wanted and they answered it.
I can’t say enough good things about The Writer’s Police Academy. So many excellent instructors who perform these duties on a daily basis, and those who’ve performed them and teach us how it’s done. Will I return next year and every year thereafter? YOU BET I WILL!
One other thing I’d like to mention is if you’re a member of Sisters in Crime’s national organization, they pay half of the registration fee so that you can attend. If you’re interested in finding out more about this valuable program, check out http://writerspoliceacademy.com
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Carolyn Hughey is a multi-published author of humorous romance and suspense novels. Having worn many vocational hats in her career, all of which she’s enjoyed; her most enjoyable of those is luring you into her world of romance and intrigue. You can learn more about Carolyn/K.T. Roberts at www.carolynhughey.com, and at her blog carolyn-hughey.blogspot.com