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Command Presence

Command Presence is all about being at the top of the game. Taking a few minutes to be sure your shoes, badge, and brass are all polished definitely goes a long way toward projecting a positive image. So does wearing a clean and neatly pressed uniform. And let’s don’t forget regular trips to the folks who cut hair for a living. All these things make an officer look sharp. Think about it … who would you have more confidence in, the officer with the dirty, wrinkled clothing and shaggy hair, or the officer who looks fresh and sharp, and projects a solid air of authority?

The two professionals in the above image, Cold Case and Bloodstain Pattern expert Dave Pauly and The Mayberry Deputy (David Browning) are two shining examples of people who display a natural confidence. The Deputy also reminds us that Barney Fife even went as far as polishing his one bullet.

Crooks size-up officers the same way officers examine the mannerisms of the bad guys. Criminals carefully study officers, looking for the weak ones, because they are the officers who’ll most likely be on the receiving end of escape attempts, lies, assaults, and/or other criminal tricks and tactics.

Officer tips for a better command presence

Captain Randy Shepherd is a textbook example of Command Presence

  • Be professional at all times. And that includes updated training. A cop who knows his job inside out projects more confidence. The same is true with physical training. Stay in shape and know and trust your defensive tactics. Remember, cocky and obnoxious are not good traits.
  • Good posture is important. Someone standing straight and tall has an advantage over the officer who slouches. Poor posture sometimes comes across as a weakness, especially when confronting an aggressive suspect. So heads up, shoulders back, and eyes intent and focused.

Colleen Belongea – NWTC Public Safety Academy and Writers’ Police Academy instructor, Green Bay PD (ret.), and current co-owner of Assured Private Investigations, a PI firm based in Appleton, Wi. Colleen’s partner,Jill Goffin, is also a NWTC Public Safety Academy and Writers’ Police Academy instructor. Their 2020 joint session at WPA’s special event, MurderCon,, is “Under the Trench Coat” is a journey into the real world of private investigators.

  • Always make and maintain eye contact when speaking to someone.
  • Maintain control of your speaking voice, even during emergency situations. A large man whose voice tone, when involved in a frightening situation, raises to an octave similar to Mickey Mouse’s squeaky voice does not come across as someone who’s in charge of the situation. I call this the Mickey Mouse Syndrome.
  • Honesty and consistency are vital traits. Bad guys will quickly learn that what you say is what you mean, each and every time. Treat everyone fairly and consistently. If you talk the talk , then you absolutely must walk the walk.
  • First impressions only come around once, so make it your best. If a suspect’s first impression of you is that you’re weak, well, expect to have a very rough day.
  • Walk with confidence and with purpose. You know where you’re going and why you’re going there.

Catherine Netter, GTCC and Writers’ Police Academy instructor – Women in Law Enforcement and Jail Operations and Searches

  • Size up everyone. Always be aware of who and what you’re dealing with
  • Stay one step ahead of the person standing before you. Remember, that person may want to kill you, so be prepared to do what it takes to survive. And I mean to do this each and every time you come into contact with someone. You never know which person is the one who plans to do you harm. Sometimes it’s the meek and mild who are quick to pull the trigger.

Most importantly, believe in yourself. Have confidence in what you do and who you are. All the shoe-shining and training in the world will not help you if the image you project is one of weakness.

So have the hero in your story wear the badge proudly, stand tall, and do what it takes to go home safely each and every night.

NWTC Public Safety Academy and Writers’ Police Academy firearms instructor

By the way, civilians in authoritative positions should also exhibit a command presence, and many do so instinctively. Command presence also applies to public speakers, including writers when appearing at conferences and book signings and readings. One of the best in the business at the command presence game is author Lee Child. The moment Child enters a room you know he’s confident, poised, and in full control of each word spoken. He looks sharp, acts sharp, and, well, he is sharp. And it shows.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

Another fantastic example of someone with fantastic command presence is author/former prosecutor Marcia Clark (yes, that Marcia Clark). Clark comes across as a take charge person, always in control no matter the situation.

Marcia Clark addressing the entire group at the Writers’ Police Academy

Both Lee Child and Marcia Clark are confident in what they do, and it shows, but their personalities are also warm enough to transform even the largest iceberg to a puddle, even at a homicide scene (shallow grave workshop at the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy).

Lee Child and Marcia Clark – shallow grave workshop at the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy

So, you see, having command presence does not necessarily mean a person has to be tough and gruff, but can be when the situation calls for it.

After all, even the toughest of the tough have their tender moments.

GTCC/WPA instructors Stan Lawhorne and Jerry Cooper – Writers’ Police Academy

I admit, I was not aware of the Writers’ Police Academy until Longmire author Craig Johnson posted the upcoming event on his Facebook page. My curiosity led me to check out the WPA website, and I was hooked. As an aside, it is my dream to become a successful crime/mystery author. I grew up in a law enforcement family, and my role models as a boy were deputies and state troopers. More lacking in my repertoire is actual hands-on training in police procedures and methods, so the prospect of just such an experience was exciting, to say the least.

During the registration process, I had some choices to make, including the purchase of souvenir items, meal selection for the closing banquet, and an optional entry in the “Golden Donut Short Story Contest” (more on that later). The registration sells out quickly, I might add, as well as the block of rooms reserved by the conference, so procrastinators may come up short!

Ry Brooks

The real challenge came when my wife noticed I had signed up for the 2017 WPA conference.

“You’re doing WHAT?”, she asked.

“I’m going to the Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”

“Umm hmm.”

“No, seriously. It’s a great way to learn the details of police procedure. Also, I might get to drive a police car in emergency scenarios. Every kid’s dream!”

“So, is it a course on writing?” She was confused.

“No, not exactly. It’s a learning environment for authors to help them inject more reality into their writing.”

“Shouldn’t you get established as a writer first?”

“What’s the fun in that?”

I was registered for the conference, had requested my preferences from among the most popular workshops, and had just one thing left to do. The “Golden Donut” short story contest entries are strictly limited to exactly 200 words, not 199 or 201. My first draft was exactly 200 words, counting contractions, and it was a great story (in my mind) but for one thing – I had somehow overlooked the requirement that the subject of the story had to follow a specific provided photograph. That first effort thus was deemed a practice run, so I wrote a couple more for submission that fully met the contest rules. Truth be told, I had some concern that my fledgling foray into mystery writing might prove an embarrassment. It was comforting, however, that the identities of the submissions are kept anonymous from the judges, so if my entries were bad, I would be anonymously awful.

The first day of the conference opened with a choice of workshops, the Kooky Cop Carnival or Drones!, and I chose the latter. I later heard I’d missed some comic moments involving famous authors’ hijinks in the other workshop. Never mind, the drone presentation was awesome!

Opening ceremonies included a blessing and wonderful ceremonial dances from the Oneida nation representatives.

Oneida Nation dancers

The conference hotel, along with many of the training facilities, are situated on Oneida native lands and many of the instructors are associated with the Oneida Nation police. Host Lee Lofland opened the conference with introductions and orientation, and we were treated to writer Lisa Klink (Star Trek), who related how she went from a wanna-be script writer to having her work produced on screen.

Day two began in earnest on the campus of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, with an exciting traffic stop takedown and wounded officer extraction demonstrated by the police instructors. After things calmed down, I proceeded to the Blood Spatter Analysis workshop (shades of “Dexter”!) — and discovered most of what I “knew” was wrong!

Bloodstain pattern investigation workshop #2017WPA

This was to be a recurring theme, and that is part of why the WPA began. We were able to participate in a realistic simulation that graphically demonstrated the way blood droplets can indicate height of the assailant, the type of weapon, even whether an attacker was right or left handed.

Bloodstain pattern session. Dexter-style

I noticed some, if not all, of the invited presenters were also participants in the WPA workshops. Many of them are published writers themselves with years of experience, but the lesson is, what you think you know may not be what you should know. I heard over and over, from conference attendees and seasoned authors, “Wow, I wish I’d known that before I wrote…”.

Over the course of the Academy, I had the chance to learn the history of police firearms, techniques of fingerprint analysis, and arson investigation scenarios, including a live demonstration fire set deliberately and surreptitiously. I got to fulfill the fantasy of driving Pursuit Intervention Technique maneuvers and received hands-on training in emergency driving situations and arrest takedown techniques.

PIT Maneuver – #2017WPA

In fact, I enjoyed being a passenger in the PIT target vehicle so much, I volunteered for extra rounds. If there was a ride at Disney World like that, it would have a five-hour waiting line.

One evening, we heard from master interrogator Paul Bishop. You guessed it, most of what we see and read of police interrogation is less than accurate. Following that was a sobering presentation of officer-down scenarios and the equipment used in those situations.

Our last full day culminated in the banquet and “An Evening With Craig Johnson”. I have had the privilege of hearing Mr. Johnson speak before, and it is always entertaining, humorous and thought-provoking. Frankly, I am a big fan of the Longmire Mystery novels and the opportunity to meet authors such as Craig Johnson and Tami Hoag was a big draw for me.

Craig Johnson and Tami Hoag

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. My “Cinderella story” as a first-time participant in the Writers’ Police Academy wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the results of the “Golden Donut” short story competition. No, it wasn’t a Hollywood ending — I didn’t win the top prize. I got Third Place, which was a Pulitzer, far as I’m concerned. See, even if you haven’t been to the WPA before, you can have beginner’s luck! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.