Who says Cops can't write fiction

I saw a few comments floating around the internet yesterday about the writing skills of police officers. Those words prompted today’s blog post. Without going into detail I’ll simply provide the following.

There are hundreds of published books, both fiction and nonfiction, written by hundreds of police officers. So, contrary to to what you may have read yesterday, cops are not big dummies who can barely read and write. In fact, here are a few authors you may have heard of, and most of them are still working the streets as police officers.

Robin Burcell

Burcell is an award winning mystery author who spent over two decades working as a police officer. She served as a hostage negotiator, a detective, and as an FBI-trained forensic artist.

Jim Born

James O. Born has been a deputy U.S. Marshall, an agent with the DEA, and currently serves as a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). He’s also a very successful author who shares an editor with W.E.B. Griffith and Tom Clancy.

Mike Black

As an active-duty sergeant, Michael Black has seen some real action. He’s been a SWAT commander, a patrol supervisor, and a member of a raid team. He’s into weightlifting and the martial arts. He’s the classic tough-guy cop. And, he graduated from Columbia College, Chicago in 2000 with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction Writing. He previously earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northern Illinois University.

Joseph Waumbaugh

Cops can’t write fiction? Yeah, right. Joseph Wambaugh is a former MWA Grandmaster!

Will Beall

Still serving the LAPD, Beall finds time between arrests to pen books. He’s also written a few episodes of a mildly popular TV show called Castle…

Rick McMahan

ATF Special Agent Rick McMahan is an award winning author whose work has been featured in books such as Death Do Us Part, edited by Harlan Coben.

John J. Lamb

A former homicide investigator and hostage negotiator, John J. Lamb is a successful mystery writer who just happens to be married to a fingerprint expert.

It would take days to list all the cop-authors and I just don’t have that kind of time. But please feel free to peruse the Police Writers website to have a look at a rather long list of authors who’d probably disagree with the statement that cops can’t write fiction.


South Fulton Firefighters: A Disgrace To The Uniform?

When I raised my right hand and pledged to protect and serve citizens and their property I took that oath seriously. Every officer does. And so does every single firefighter I know. I’ve never met a police officer or firefighter who’s in the business for the money. Not one. They took the job because they want to help people.

I’ve been called to the scene of scores of fires where I’ve seen brave firefighters wade into a wall of flames just to bring out a family heirloom, or a beloved pet. They’ve risked their own lives to save the lives of others. It’s what they do and what they do is dangerous. Very.

Firefighters, like police officers, raise their right hands and promise to help others when in need. In fact, here’s a copy of the firefighter’s pledge.

A Firefighter’s Pledge

I promise concern for others.
A willingness to help all those in need.

I promise courage – courage to face and conquer my fears.
Courage to share and endure the ordeal of those who need me.

I promise strength – strength of heart to bear whatever
burdens might be placed upon me.
Strength of body to deliver to safety all those placed within my care.

I promise the wisdom to lead, the compassion to comfort,
and the love to serve unselfishly whenever I am called.

-Author Unknown

I’ve said all this as a lead-in of sorts to a story that really rattles me to the core. And it bothers me to speak badly about public servants but, in my opinion, firefighters of South Fulton, Tennessee didn’t serve the public. In fact, they stood by and watched a couple’s home burn to the ground and didn’t lift a finger to stop it. Inside that home were a lifetime of memories along with the family pets. They all perished.

Obion County, Tennessee – Gene Cranick was burning trash in two metal drums, a common practice in rural areas of the country. The containers were quite some distance from his mobile home, yet the fire ignited nearby grass and quickly spread toward Cranick’s home. He called 911 seeking the fire department’s help.

The 911 dispatcher advised Cranick that firefighters would not be responding because he’d failed to pay a $75 “fire service fee.” The distraught homeowner told the dispatcher he’d pay whatever it took to get the firefighters to respond because his house was now on fire. The response he received was an unbelievable, “It’s too late to pay and they will NOT be responding.”

Cranick, along with friends, attempted to extinguish the blaze with garden hoses, but the fire was too much for the small amount of water. Meanwhile, the fire had spread to a neighbor’s field and fence, so they called the fire department. However, their response was quite different and in a matter of minutes a fire crew was on the scene spraying gallons of water using high-pressure hoses attached to publicly-funded fire trucks.

Why did the fire department respond to the grass fire? Because the owner of the dry weeds had paid the $75 fee in advance. So, after the Fulton FD extinguished the brush fire they stood leaning against their trucks and against the property fence and watched the Cranick home burn until it was reduced to a pile of cinders. A pile of cinders that also contained the remains of the Cranick’s beloved pets.

You know, this story disgusts me. It makes me ill…sick to my stomach. Sure, taxes and fees must be paid. It’s the law. But there are remedies available to collect those fees, even after the fact. For goodness sake, put out the fire and then sue. Get a $75 lien against the property.  Bill the homeowner for time and material plus interest. Take Visa or MasterCard. Install one of those credit card swipers directly in the body of a fire truck. Something. Anything! But don’t stand by and let a lifetime go up in flames over a few measly dollars.

Thankfully, this is an isolated incident. Firefighters everywhere are true heroes.

As for the firefighters of South Fulton who stood by and watched this family home burn…shame on you. Sure, you’ve probably saved lots of property in your day, maybe even a few lives, and you deserve thanks for those acts, but this is a dark cloud that’ll hang over your heads for a while. Policies or no policies. You were there, on the scene, and did nothing to help your fellow man. Perhaps you need to read this…again.

Fire Fighter’s Prayer

When I am called to duty, God wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life, whatever be its age.

Help me to embrace a little child before it’s too late,
or save an older person from the horror of that fate.

Enable me to be alert to hear the weakest shout,
and quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.

I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
to guard my neighbor and protect his property.

And if according to your will I have to lose my life,
bless with your protecting hand my loving family from strife.

So what’s next, a fee for police service? “Sorry, ma’am, but you didn’t pay your $75 rape insurance…”

I’m just saying…

*This article is strictly my opinion and parts of it were paraphrased from comments found in news stories…lots of news stories).

*     *     *

Writers’ Police Academy Photo of the Day

Grandson's take on cops and robbers

I was arrested at least sixty times last week. I got the works—Tasered, struck with a PR-24, peppersprayed, cuffed, stuffed, and booked. And I loved every minute of it. You see, our eight-year-old grandson came to stay with us for a week during his summer vacation and he had a million questions about my former career in law enforcement. Then came the role playing…lots of role playing. Day after day of it.

The questions started when he came into my office and saw several commendations, awards, photos, and certificates hanging on the walls around my desk. He wanted to know what a medal of valor was and what I’d done to earn awards for lifesaving. He seemed genuinely impressed that his grandfather was once an expert marksman and had even taught firearms training at the police academy.

His little fingers traced the edges of an old desk plate bearing my name, the rank of investigator, and the seal of the DEA. His big brown eyes lit up when he saw my defensive tactics master instructor certificate (he wanted to know if I had ever been a real-life Ninja). And he giggled when he saw a few old photos of me in uniform, with a full head of hair, and without the doughnut-around-the-waist syndrome. His attention lingered on the martial arts aspect of police training. He was fascinated with the fact that most police defensive tactics techniques are based on the martial arts.

We pulled out boxes of old police stuff that I’d forgotten I had. Things like old police hats and jackets, newspaper articles, and pictures. After an hour or so of digging through tons of memorabilia and listening to the accompanying stories, my grandson was ready to play cops and robbers. But he wanted to do it police academy style. He wanted to experience the real thing, from the radio call to handcuffing the crook.

What he said next was a real eye-opener for me. He said he wanted to learn how to hit people on the head with a baton (he called it a bat), beat them up, and then shoot and kill bad guys. Like real cops do in the real world.

I promptly told him that police officers don’t do things like that, but his expression quickly let me know that he doubted what I was telling him. Our conversation then went something like this:

Me: “Why do you think police officers do things like that?”

Grandson: “Because that’s what they do on TV and on video games, and it’s way cool!”

Me: “It’s not way cool to hurt people.”

Grandson: “Uh huh! It’s cool when they bash their brains out and blood goes everywhere. And they kill the bad guys with machine guns and bombs and sticks and shotguns.”

Me: “I think we need to have a long talk. Have a seat.”

And that’s exactly what we did. We had a long talk and I explained that a police officer’s job is to help people, not hurt them. But I also explained why it’s necessary to sometimes use force when bad guys are trying to hurt other people.

My grandson then wanted to know about police weapons and how they’re used to help people. Well, I don’t have an arsenal lying around the house so I did the next best thing, killing two birds with one stone. His second favorite thing (next to playing police) is to make things, preferably out of wood. So I took him out to the garage where we pulled out a few tools—saws, hammers, sandpaper, glue, and paint, and we went to work making some basic police equipment. I figured that by fashioning the items from scratch he’d have a better understanding of the finished products. We made a few crude items—a pistol, a can of pepperspray, a PR-24 (side-handle baton), and a Taser.

With those freshly-made tools in hand, along with a pair of real handcuffs, two radios, and my old Maglite, I went to work showing my grandson how and when each of the tools are safely used by police officers.

I explained Use of Force and each of the levels. He learned gun safety. We role played. We talked on walkie-talkies. He arrested me or let me go depending upon the situation.

He conducted traffic stops. He raided my office countless times. He saved innocent victims, and he hauled the bad guy (me) to jail.

In short, my grandson went through a mini police academy, and graduated with flying colors. He also expressed an understanding of just how wrong TV can portray police officers.

Me, I had a wonderful time playing cops and robbers. Better yet, my grandson and I became closer than we’d ever been. I’m already counting the days until next summer. I wonder how long it would take me to build a police car out of wood?

Shoot low boys, they might be riding Shetland ponies.”

– Lewis Grizzard

I started The Graveyard Shift a few years ago in response to requests from numerous authors, most of whom are mystery and crime writers. Actually, many of those requests came from members of MWA and SinC. The first day I posted an article the site received a whopping 68 visits. I won’t say how many hits and emails we receive today, but it’s in the thousands, from all over the world. The blog is translated into several languages, and it’s used as a research tool for numerous school projects. The latter is why I do not allow bad language or other material that’s not suitable for children. And, believe me, it’s tough to maintain that standard when you’re writing about cops and criminals. But we try.

The Graveyard Shift has come a long way since our first day online. We’ve undergone major changes in the appearance, and we’ve had to increase the bandwidth a few times to keep up with the amount of traffic received. On Christmas Day, a couple of years ago, the site shut down because it couldn’t keep up with the incoming hits. Thankfully, our web host was able to take care of the problem even though it was a major holiday.

We’ve been both proud and fortunate to have featured many top-of-the-line guests on the site, including bestselling authors, TV and film writers, actors, law enforcement and forensic experts, literary agents, publishers, and professionals from other fields of interest to writers, readers, and TV viewers. We’ve advertised books and other products for our guests, and even a few connections between authors, agents, and publishers have been made as result of The Graveyard Shift. The idea for the Writers’ Police Academy (something else we do for the benefit of writers) was conceived as a result of The Graveyard Shift and reader response. Proceeds from that event are for the benefit of the criminal justice foundation at the police academy where the event is held.

This site is basically a free service for writers and anyone else who happens to drop by. We don’t make a dime from it. Never have. In fact, it costs us quite a bit of money to produce, and that’s not to mention the huge amount of time that’s put into bringing current information and material to our readers.

Somebody out there must like The Graveyard Shift because the amount of traffic we receive is astounding. Knowing that we’ve been able to help, in some small way, has been wonderful. But…and there’s always a but, huh? So here goes:

Normally, when a topic that I believe would be of benefit to the writing community (I base this on the questions I receive, chatter I hear from writers, and things I’ve read in books), I’ll post a quick mention of that topic and a link to the site on a few writer group loops. Apparently that practice, and this blog, have offended a handful of people on a couple of the loops. Those folks have expressed concern that my brief ads regarding the topic of the day are a form of self-promotion and that I should not be allowed to continue posting those short messages. Honestly, self-promotion was never my intention. Since the first post of this blog my intention has merely been to help writers with their work. I do not post the link to this site as a method of BSP. Besides, I have nothing of my own to promote. No new books.  Nothing. And, the site is free to anyone who wants to take advantage of it.

So, I’m torn between trying to help and continuing with business as usual, or changing our entire game plan.  We certainly don’t want to offend any more people than we already have. I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and ideas, since you’re the reason we do this. Do you want to know when we’ve posted a particularly important topic?

You know,

when I post those one-line ads it’s normally because I’ve read something wrong about police procedure or forensics in somebody’s book. Was it yours?

A Philadelphia police officer used a Taser to take down a 17-year-old boy who ran onto the field during a Phillies game. The boy ran around the outfield for a few seconds before being brought down by the Taser’s electrified probes.

A December 2009 ruling by the liberal-leaning Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set judicial standards for police and their use of Tasers. “The objective facts must indicate that the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public,” said Judge Kim Wardlaw in the ruling.

So, what’s your opinion? Was the officer’s Taser use justified in this case? Was there a threat to the officer or anyone else?  Were restraint options other than Taser use available to security and police? Keep in mind that it is illegal to trespass on the ball field.

By the way, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said, “The officer acted appropriately, and I support him 100 percent.”

– It seems that this incident was not much of a deterrence. The next day a second fan made his way onto the field, but was captured without the use of a Taser. Security managed to grab this one the old fashioned way, with their hands.

* 334 people died in the United States from 2001 to August 2008 after being hit by Tasers.

Officer down!

Two simple words with a huge meaning — life or death.

When searching for a topic for today’s blog I stumbled across a series of troubling headlines, many involving the shooting of police officers by a thug with a gun who thought nothing of pulling the trigger. In fact, shooting and killing a police officer in these modern times is an act regarded by some as no more serious than swatting a fly.

When did society make this turn, where a human life is no more valuable than that of an insect? Kids can longer travel to Mexico during spring break out of fear of being gunned down or beheaded by members of drug cartels. A simple walk in a park sometimes leads to a missing person case that all too often ends with the discovery of a body in a landfill or shallow grave in the woods. Suicide bombers kill anybody they can, doesn’t matter who. They just want to kill somebody.

Police officers respond to calls of domestic violence only to be shot by the very people they’re trying to help. Traffic stops result in gun fire. Bank robberies and convenience store hold-ups end in shoot outs.

Each and every day police officers are slapped, punched, spit on, kicked, stabbed, cut, and shot. All while enforcing laws, and protecting citizens and their property.

Cops didn’t band together and write up a bunch of laws so they’d have something to do.

It wasn’t a police officer who one day decided to make pot illegal, which, by the way, was the cause of two Baltimore, Md, police officers being shot this past weekend. Officers stopped a car and subsequently found marijuana. During the arrest of the car’s occupants the driver pulled a .25 caliber pistol and fired. He shot one officer in the cheek and the other in the hand. The suspect was shot and killed by the third officer at the scene.

Each Friday I post a list of officers killed in the line of duty during that week. As most of you know, I rarely ever report a death-free week. What you don’t see are the survivors — the officers who are hurt, wounded, or involved in shooting situations during the course of their shifts. To give you an idea of what goes on, here are just a few of the headlines for the past couple of weeks.

Jacksonville, Fl. – Arrest Made After Two Florida Cops Shot During Pursuit

Citrus Heights, Ca. – California Officers Shot During Struggle With Suspect

Baltimore – Maryland Officer Shot At Traffic Stop, Suspect Killed

Salt Lake City – DA Says Officer Justified In Shooting

Hemet – California Police Tense After Latest Gang Threat (police stations and cars have been booby-trapped with explosives, gas, and other deadly weapons)

Oak Hill – West Virginia Cop Survives Shooting; Manhunt For Suspect

Atlanta – Suit Says Ga. Cop Wasn’t Certified When He Shot Suspect

Elyria – Ohio Cop Killed Responding To Disturbance

Anaheim – Off-duty Cop Fatally Shoots Violent Man

Jefferson – North Carolina Officer Dies At the End Of His Shift

Philadelphia – Pa. Gun Trafficker Gets Ten Years After Cop’s Death

Liberty County – Texas Sheriff’s Deputies Shot, Suspect Dead

What has happened to people? Why are things as they are? Are bad things influencing good people? Are people copying what they see and hear?

Video games?




Bad parenting? Poor education? What????

Why do people kill? Why do the lives of police officers mean nothing to some people?

I ask you, would you want a job where going to work meant you might be stabbed, shot, or even killed? And people wonder why cops can’t trust anyone.

I’m just saying…

Okay, so the Feds say they won’t raid facilities that sell legal medical marijuana, but they do anyway. States pass laws allowing the sale and use of medical marijuana, but the DEA still suits up and arrests the sellers, growers, and users. Well, some users were fed up with the constant worry of being arrested, so they began manufacturing a synthetic LEGAL form of marijuana called K2. Yep, this stuff produces a nearly identical high by replicating the effects of THC, the high-producing chemical that’s found in marijuana. And there are no laws anywhere that regulate the manufacture, sale, or possession of the stuff.

K2 was developed by one of Professor John Huffman’s students in a Clemson University chemistry laboratory. The student discovered the chemical while studying the effects of pharmaceuticals on the brain. The new chemical was named JWH-018 (JWH are Professor Huffman’s initials).

Professor Huffman collaborated with researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and began a study of the effects of K2 on laboratory mice. The scientists quickly noted that K2 is more potent than marijuana. However, human users say the effects, while slightly similar to marijuana, simply are not the same, nor are they as pleasant.

There have been no studies conducted regarding the effects of K2 on the human body. No one knows what harm could occur as a result of smoking the newly discovered chemical. But many users say they don’t care, because they no longer have the fear of arrest and imprisonment that’s associated with smoking pot.

One user said a K2 “buzz” did not last nearly as long as a marijuana high. He went on to say that he’d rather spend a few extra dollars to purchase the real thing. Other users offered these comments about K2:

“Made me nauseous. I had to lie down immediately after smoking it.”

“It’s fairly comparable to a pot high, but it tasted like cloves.”

“The world just seemed to tick a bit slower.”

“It dulled my senses.”

“Gave me cottonmouth.”

“No red eye!”

“I could smoke this at work and no one would be able to tell!”

“I was very paranoid after smoking it. Two thumbs up!!”

“Oh, I’d definitely do this again.”

K2, also known as Spice. Genie, and Zohai, is available in stores for legal purchase. While K2 does not test positive for THC, it does show positive test results for synthetic cannabinoids, which doesn’t really matter because because the synthetic form is legal, for now. Needless to say, this is something that’s very attractive to former marijuana users who are now on probation or parole and must submit regular/random urine samples for drug testing.

K2 is extremely popular in Kansas where lawmakers intend to follow in the footsteps of Britain, Germany, France, Poland, South Korea and Russia—all have banned the sale and use of K2.

In Kansas, K2 sells for approximately $10 per gram (about the same +/- for marijuana, depending on where you are in the country), but the price may vary a bit depending upon the potency level. K2 is available in assorted flavors, such as Citron.

“As soon as I can figure out how to ignite my ‘package’ I’m blowing up this airplane and everyone on it. Merry Christmas, America.” That was Umar Abdulmutallab’s desire on Christmas Day, 2009. Luckily, all this terrorist managed to accomplish was burning his tightie-whities and singeing the family jewels. Passengers on the Detroit-bound plane were able to subdue and restrain the dangerous, smoldering idiot. Great job, guys.

Abdulmutallab was taken into custody immediately after the plane touched down. I’m sure the aircraft had barely stopped rolling before the feds swarmed the thing and dragged this piece of garbage off. Good for them. I hope they pulled him out by his feet, allowing his head to thump on each step as they went down.

Everyone was safe. The plane was unharmed. The terrorist was in custody. An attempt at terrorism over American soil had failed. Luckily.

But here’s where the sandpaper began to rub cross-grain. Nope, things were not going smoothly, according to some politicians. What happened?

Well, it seems that (according to AP):

– FBI agents questioned Abdulmutallab on December 25, shortly after the bombing attempt. They did so without advising the thug of his rights. This was a decision they made at the time. Then, ten hours later a new team of agents arrive and DO read the guy his rights before questioning. Oh no! The first agents blew it! Now they can’t use “anything he said against him.” That’s what most people think. But are those folks correct in their assumptions? If you believe TV, then yes. But…

Did you know there’s a special exception to the Miranda rules? Yep. There sure is. A 1984 rape case involving defendant Benjamin Quarles set that standard. Quarles argued that police approached him (actually, they chased the scrote inside a supermarket where they recovered the pistol he’d used to make his female rape victim comply with his demands) and questioned him about his weapon before advising him of Miranda. Well, according to the Supreme Court decision in this case (I’ve only posted brief portions of the decision):

U.S. Supreme Court
NEW YORK v. QUARLES, 467 U.S. 649 (1984)
467 U.S. 649


No. 82-1213.

Argued January 18, 1984
Decided June 12, 1984

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Benjamin Quarles was charged in the New York trial court with criminal possession of a weapon. The trial court suppressed the gun in question, and a statement made by respondent, because the statement was obtained by police before they read respondent his “Miranda rights.” That ruling was affirmed on appeal through the New York Court of Appeals. We granted certiorari, 461 U.S. 942 (1983), and we now reverse. 1 We conclude that under the circumstances involved in this case, overriding considerations of public safety justify the officer’s failure to provide Miranda warnings before he asked questions devoted to locating the abandoned weapon.,,

…We hold that on these facts there is a “public safety” exception to the requirement that Miranda warnings be given before a suspect’s answers may be admitted into evidence, [467 U.S. 649, 656] and that the availability of that exception does not depend upon the motivation of the individual officers involved. In a kaleidoscopic situation such as the one confronting these officers, where spontaneity rather than adherence to a police manual is necessarily the order of the day, the application of the exception which we recognize today should not be made to depend on post hoc findings at a suppression hearing concerning the subjective motivation of the arresting officer. 6 Undoubtedly most police officers, if placed in Officer Kraft’s position, would act out of a host of different, instinctive, and largely unverifiable motives – their own safety, the safety of others, and perhaps as well the desire to obtain incriminating evidence from the suspect.

The officers in the Quarle case were absolutely correct when they put their safety first (as well as the well-being of everyone in the store) before worrying about advising a rapist of his right to stop flapping his gums or they’d use his words to put his sorry butt in prison for life.


So what’s the big deal. Why all the political doo doo smearing over this attempted airplane bombing case? The FBI agents acted properly. According to The Supremes, EVERYTHING the terrorist said can legally be used against him. Besides, the feds don’t need a single spoken word from the bad guy to convict him. They have dozens of eyewitnesses, the smoking gun (in this case, smoking undies), a history of terrorist activity in the guy’s past… So why would they need him to say, “Uh huh, I done it.” The answer is, they don’t.

What the politicians do want is information regarding his connections in the terrorist camps. So, as usual, our elected leaders have decided to use this incident as a political weapon. Maybe they’re right, maybe not. But I do know this, based on what we’ve been provided, the FBI agents acted properly. So leave them alone and let them do their jobs. It’s over, done, and we have to live with their decisions. Move on, let them build their case against the guy, and then put him away for life. Let him think about the burning bush for the rest of his days on earth.

I’m really tired of all the political squabbling over every single minute issue (I know this one’s not minute, but…). So I have an idea for the next election. Forget Obama, McCain, Clinton, Gore, Cheney, Bush, Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Romney…forget all of those folks. Here’s my choice:

I’m just saying…

Due to the particularly harsh storm that passed through our area last Friday, we, along with 25,000 other residents of our little county near Mayberry, were without power until last night. We were also out of water for quite a while. And, no power meant no internet service.

Fortunately, we have a generator so we didn’t suffer as badly as many people in the area. Well, other than the ten trees that came crashing down in our back yard. But, two of our neighbors fared far worse—trees landed on their homes and cars.

With the generator, we managed to watch TV, cook meals, heat hot water, etc. The only things I couldn’t make work were the heat (our gas fireplace heated the home nicely) and the internet, meaning no new Graveyard Shift posts and a total of 1226 emails in my inbox.

Thankfully, the last remaining utility—internet service—finally came on sometime during the night last night.

So, I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I’ll be back on schedule tomorrow, hopefully. There’s another winter storm heading our way, so who knows.

It could’ve been worse…I guess…