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Good action scenes—car chases, gunfights, and exploding cars and buildings—are great at keeping readers busy turning pages. But, how does your hero survive the barrage of bullets, flames, and KABOOMS?

Are you giving the star of your book a realistic way out of the tough jams you’ve tossed her way? Is what you’ve written a true tactical maneuver or, did you write yourself into a tired old cliche’ corner? You know what I mean—the karate chop to the wrist that forces the bad guy to drop his weapon. How about this doozy … shooting the gun out of the villain’s hand. Yeah, those things. The things that are not only far-fetched, they’re downright silly.

As writers of fiction it is your job and sworn duty to deliver believable make-believe, and having your character(s) shoot the gun out of someone’s hand is far from achieving that goal. So, you ask, how do real-life heroes avoid meeting untimely ends when confronted with deadly situations? Well …

  • When confronting a long-gun-wielding suspect (shotguns and rifles are long guns) it’s best to have the hero approach from the side. Doing so forces the crook to turn his entire body toward the approaching hero in order to continue the threat/potential shootout. Otherwise, the thug has no option other than to flee or surrender. The tactic also allows time for the hero to react to the threat.
  • If possible, place your hero in a good light. Make use of bright lights, such as a setting sun or bright early morning sunlight. The light should be at the hero’s back, shining into the eyes of the bad guy, making it difficult for them to see clearly. The hero, though, will have no trouble seeing the crook. However, don’t allow your protagonist to stand in a position where she/he is backlit, making their silhouette a perfect target.
  • It’s okay to have your hero experience a bit of fear because fear heightens our sense of awareness, which in turn increases the likelihood that we’ll do whatever is necessary to survive. However, fear can have a negative effect if allowed to overtake the situation. In short, a little fear is good, but too much fear combined with gunfire is the recipe for a badge-wearing babbling idiot.
  • If possible, your heroes should focus on breathing during deadly encounters. Yes, breathing properly during a tense situation can help bring things into perspective. It can also help lower the heart rate, and it can prevent fear from morphing into blind rage (sudden bursts of anger could lead to avoidable disaster—not thinking clearly and perhaps rush into a no-win situation.

Taking a moment to focus on combat breathing—breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold your breath for another count of four, and then exhale to a third four-count. Count to four and then start all over again. The heart rate should be noticeably lower after a few repetitions. Of course, I don’t recommend taking the time to perform these deep-breathing exercises during a gunfight with bullets zinging by your ears. It’s been my personal experience that “timeouts” are not allowed during gun battles.

Okay, there you have it. So no more silly karate-chop scenes or shooting guns from bad guy’s hands, right? Good. Then you’re all set.

Don’t Write Your Hero Into the Dreaded Cliche’ Corner!

I can’t recall ever seeing an extremely scared, deep-breathing Jack Reacher standing with bright sunlight to his back while walking sideways like crab toward a guy holding an AK-47.

I suppose an occasional fist to the throat, or a boot to the head is permissible, but only if you’re the hero in a Lee Child book. The trouble is, there’s only one Jack Reacher, and there’s definitely only one Lee Child. Well, now there’s Andrew Child, so …

Here are answers to a few of the most often asked questions about police work.

  • How do I become an FBI homicide investigator so I can help solve the murder cases my town? Easy answer. You can’t. The FBI doesn’t work local homicide cases, therefore, the agency does not employ “homicide” investigators. That’s the job of city, county, and state police.

  • How long does it take to become a detective? There is no set timeline/standard, so the answer is … as long as it takes. It’s all about who’s the best person for the job. One person may be ready with as little as two years experience, while another may not be ready for a plainclothes assignment, well, they may never be ready. The job of detective isn’t for everyone, by the way. Some officers prefer to work in patrol, or traffic, in the schools, or in the division that inspects taxi cabs and buses to be sure they’re in compliance with local law and standards.

  • Why didn’t you read that guy his rights before you handcuffed him? Aren’t you required to do so by law? Don’t you have to let him go now that someone knows you broke the law by not reading him his rights?

Miranda, first of all, is only required when (a) someone is in custody, and (b) prior to questioning. Therefore, if I, as a police officer, don’t plan to ask any questions, and that’s often the case, I don’t have to spout off the “You have the right to remain silent” speech. So no, not advising someone of Miranda is not a get out of jail free card.

miranda law

  • Why do cops wear sunglasses? Umm … because they’re constantly exposed to bright sunshine and the glasses help reduce glare and eyestrain.

  • I got a ticket for not wearing my seat belt, yet the USPS letter carrier in my neighborhood doesn’t wear his. How do they get away with breaking the law? Most areas have laws that specifically address delivery drivers and similar professions—letter carriers, delivery services, police officers, firefighters, etc., whose jobs require them to be in and out of their vehicles throughout the business day. And, those laws typically excuse the driver(s) from mandatory seat belt laws while performing their jobs. However, many of these businesses and agencies require their drivers to wear safety belts when operating a vehicle.

  • Why are there so many sheriffs in my county? There is only one sheriff per county or city (yes, some cities have a sheriff’s office in addition to a county sheriff’s office). The rest of the folks you see wearing the uniform and star are deputies. A sheriff, the boss of the entire department, is elected by the people. He/she then appoints deputies to assist with the duties of the office—running the jail, courtroom security, serving papers, patrol and criminal investigations, etc.

  •  No, it’s not racial profiling to stop a shifty-eyed white subject with a black nose who’s wearing a red collar with a gold medallion in a location near a bank that was just robbed by a a white subject with a black nose who’s wearing a red collar with a gold medallion.

“Be on the lookout for a shifty-eyed white subject with a black nose. He’s wearing a red collar with gold medallion.”

  • No, you do not have the right to see the radar unit, my gun, or what I’m writing in my notebook.

  • No, turning on your hazard lights does not give you the right to park in the fire lane in front of the grocery store.

  • Yes, I am concerned about your ability to fight well. Please understand, though, that this is what I do for a living and they didn’t teach me to lose. Besides, I have a lot of loyal coworkers who’re on the way here, right now, to see to it that the good guy (me) wins.

They sometimes decide to fight wearing nothing but …

  • You keep saying you know your rights … but you really don’t. Can you hear the nonsense you’re telling me?

You have the right to remain silent. Use it!

  • Yes, no matter how much you hate me, my badge, and my uniform, I’ll still come running when/if you call.

“Help, po-leeeece!”

Realism in fiction is important, when it’s needed. The ability to weave fact into fiction is aa must. But one must first know what’s fact and what’s fiction before attempting to use reality as part of fiction. Otherwise, the author is offering readers fiction as reality.

And that’s a fact. Or is it fiction? Okay, now I’m confused.

Anyway …

Have you done the unthinkable? Are there words in your latest tale that could send your book straight to someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile? How can you avoid such disaster, you ask? Fortunately, following these four simple rules could save the day.

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S., if at all.

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies. Andy was the sheriff (the boss) and Barney was his deputy.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre quest to take down Mr. Freeze. Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass Avenue and Stupid Street.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour, well, grab a bottle of white-out and immediately begin lathering up that string of goofy words because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can remove his name plate from the desk and replace it with one of her own along with photos of her family and her pet guinea pig. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her “guvment” vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now, I’m rolling my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality without stopping in their tracks to wonder if they should, even if only for a short time.

Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But, for goodness sake, give them something to work with—without an info dump, provide readers a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

But if you’re going for realism, then please do some real homework. I say this because I recently began reading a book and I’d barely made it halfway through the first chapter when I tossed it into my WRIAMY pile (Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years). This was a ARC a publisher sent me to review, by the way.

It was obvious the author was going for realism, and it was also painfully obvious the writer’s method of research was a couple of quick visits to crappy internet sites, and a 15-minute conversation with a friend whose sister works with a man whose brother, a cab driver in Dookyboo, North Carolina, picked up a guy ten years ago at the airport, a partially deaf man with two thumbs on his right hand, who had a friend in Whirlywind, Kansas who lived next door to a retired security guard who, during a Saturday lunch rush, sat two tables over from two cops who might’ve mentioned a crime scene … maybe.

Please, if you want good, solid information, always speak with an expert who has first-hand knowledge about the subject. Not a person who, having read a book about fingerprinting or bloodstain patterns, suddenly believes they’re pro. Sure, they may be able to relate what they’ve read on a page, however, those mere words are not the things writers need to breathe life into a story. Reading about bloodstains is not the same as standing inside a murder scene, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions felt by the person who’s there in person. The latter is the true expert who can help a writer take their work to the next level, and beyond.

So, is there a WRIAMY pile in your house? Worse … have you written something that could land one of your tales in someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile of unreadable books? If so, perhaps it’s time to change your research methods.

A great means to assist in adding realism to your work is to, of course, attend the Writers’ Police Academy! Registration for the 2020 WPA’s special event, MurderCon, our 12th anniversary blowout, opens on February 23, 2020. You will not want to miss this thrilling experience. It is THE event of the year!

*The all new MurderCon website is scheduled to go live by the end of next week (February 15, 2020). Please check back to view the all new topics and schedule.

I don’t know when it started, but it did and it is puzzling. After all, when did, “I got out of my car” become “I exited my vehicle.” And how is it that, “Are those donuts for Ralph and me?” is sometimes spoken as, “Are those donuts for myself and Ralph?” 

Cop Speak is a unique language that we’ve all heard from time to time, especially on television and film. We also hear officers speak in that unusual manner during courtroom testimony, particularly when the officer who’s doing the testifying is in the early stages of their career.

Typically, the cop-speak eventually fades as time passes and as officers mellow with age and experience. It also tends to disappear as officers move on to other duties, such as those performed by detectives, CSIs, etc. However, until cops somehow manage to bite their tongues and begin speaking in a a language understood by all, well, juries, judges, attorneys, and TV news-watchers will continue to mutter the universally-understood phrase, “WTF did he say?”

Again, I don’t have a clue how or when cops started speaking like robots from outer space, but they do, and here’s a small sample of it along with accompanying translations.

  1. “I exited my vehicle.” Translation – I got out of my car.
  2. “I gave chase and pursued… ” Translation – I ran after …
  3. “Be advised.” Translation – Listen to what I have to say.
  4. “I contacted the driver of the car.” Translation – I walked up to the car and spoke with the driver.
  5. “I detected the odor of …” Translation – I smelled pot and/or liquor, beer, dynamite, funky feet, flatulence (feel free to insert your favorite scent) in his car.
  6. “I surveilled said subject.” Translation – I watched that guy.
  7. “Myself and Officer Ralph Alsotalksfunny ascertained his location.” Translation – Ralph and I found the bad guy’s hideout.

Before moving on, let’s imagine for a moment that the officer who spoke the above phrases is in court testifying before a judge and jury, where he says …

“I surveilled said subject for one hour. I observed said subject stop his vehicle beside an unknown male subject at the corner of Syringe Street and BagoDope Boulevard. Said subject exchanged what appeared to be U.S. paper currency for a clear plastic bag containing a green leafy substance, at which time I activated my emergency equipment and effected a traffic stop.

I exited my vehicle and contacted the driver, Mr. I Didntdonuffin, a white male. I immediately detected the odor of an intoxicating substance. Based on my academy training in narcotics recognition I believed the source of the odor to be marijuana.

I asked Mr. Didntdonuffin to exit his vehicle. Upon exiting his vehicle, a two-door red convertible with Florida plates, number Ida, Ida, X-ray, Paul, David, 666, he fled the scene on foot. I gave chase and pursued said subject to the parking lot of Peggy Jean’s Cut and Curl and Pig’s Feet Emporium where I caught and restrained him using pain compliance techniques and two baton strikes to said subject’s right thigh area. I immediately notified dispatch and my supervisor of the situation. My radio traffic at the time went like this – ‘Be advised that I have said subject in custody at this time. Send rescue and a shift supervisor. Myself and said subject need medical attention. Ten-four?'”

Translation…

“I saw Mr. I. Didntdonuffin stop his car at the corner of Syringe Street and BagoDope Boulevard. A man walked up to his window and handed him a plastic bag containing what appeared to be marijuana. In return, Mr. Didntdonuffinthen handed the man some cash. I immediately switched on my blue lights and initiated a traffic stop.

When I walked up to Mr. Didntdonuffin’s car I smelled the odor of marijuana. I asked him to step out of the car so I could conduct an investigation. When he got out he ran away, but I was able to catch him when he tripped and fell in the parking lot of Peggy Jean’s Cut and Curl and Pig’s Feet Emporium. He began punching and kicking me so I used my baton to help gain control and then I applied handcuffs to his wrists. We’d both received a few cuts and bruises during the scuffle so I called for an ambulance crew and for my supervisor.”

Again, I don’t know how the odd cop speak started, or why, but it really should stop. Officers don’t talk like this when they’re engaged in normal conversation, so why switch to the weird stuff when in court or in front of a camera?

Anyway, here are a few additional words and phrases often used by cops.

  • Open Mic – Not to be confused with talent night at the local watering hole. A sometimes horrifyingly embarrassing experience that occurs when the button on an officer’s walk-talkie (“portable”) is accidentally keyed and sticks in the “talk” position, such as when the officer unsuspectingly leans against a seat belt buckle. LOTS of incriminating things are heard during these moments … “Yeah, I heard about the chief and the new dispatcher. Better than that I saw his car parked at the Sleazebucket Inn last night, and hers was parked across the street.”

Cell phone rings. “Hey, you’ve got an open mic.”

A pause.

“Oh, s**t!”

Captain Jim’s Open Mic … it’s a hot one!

Click here to read about Captain Jim, sex in a patrol car, and an open mic.

  • Wants – Outstanding warrants. “Any wants on that guy?”
  • Negative – No. “Negative. The agent said my work was crap and that I should burn the manuscript, toss my computer into a fiery pit, and then drink a gallon of rat poison, should I EVER think of trying to write again.”
  • Crotch Rocket – Lightweight motorcycle featuring the “leaned-over/hunched-over” seating style. These are the bikes often seen on YouTube videos where their riders are performing stunts and outrunning the police at super-high speeds while dangerously weaving in and out of traffic. “You’ve got a crotch rocket heading your way. I picked him up doing 140 when he passed me.”
  • Slick-top – A patrol car without a light bar on top. Typically, supervisor’s car. “There’s a slick-top parked in the alley beside Billy Buck’s Barber Shop and Snack Bar. I think he’s watching to see if we’re working or goofing off.”
  • Light “Em Up – This phrase is used to refer solely to activating emergency lights when initiating a traffic stop. Nowadays it also applies to TASER use. Traffic stop – “Light ’em up as soon as he turns the next corner.”  TASER – “Stop hitting me in the head with that sledgehammer or I’m going light you up.”
  • Keyholder – Someone who’s responsible for a business. “Call the keyholder and ask them to come down to switch off the alarm. They’ll also need to take a look around to see what’s missing.”
  • Mopes – Stupid bad guys. Worthless lowlifes. “There are a couple of mopes hanging out behind the dumpster in the alley between Zippy’s Lunch and Frankie’s Wholesale Weiner Outlet. I think they’re smoking crack while figuring out how they can buy more.”
  • Hinky – Something’s not quite right. “I don’t know, man. I feel really hinky about this one.”
  • Alley Apple – Objects used to throw at police—bricks, rocks, metal, etc. “Watch out, they’re tossing alley apples from the roof of Tom Peeper’s Binoculars, Trench Coat, and Periscope Plaza.”
  • Ditch Doctor – An EMT or other ambulance crew member. “Looks like those arms and that leg belong to the guy over there. The ears, well, I’m not sure. The ditch doctors’ll sort it out while we direct traffic.”

Between a rock and a hard place

I cringed when I read the opening line of the first draft of the new series. She’d named me Biff Steele, as if Rod Manly hadn’t been bad enough in the previous books. But names, however cheesy they may be, are not the worst thing that could happen to me. At least my author does her homework, unlike my best friend’s creator.

My pal, poor guy, has lived a really tough life. Not only does he have a name worse than mine—Rocky Hardplace—his psycho-behind-the-keyboard author lives her fantasies through him—killing, bombing, fighting, shooting, and sex … so much sex. Too much sex. SEX, SEX, SEX. It must be all she ever thinks of, day and night. Well, that and how to solve crimes using the dumb stuff she sees on TV shows. Doesn’t she realize that most of those characters are products of poor research and fantasy?

My writer, thank goodness, understands the huge differences between the written word and the on-screen action seen on TV and film. Live-action stuff quite often needs over the top excitement to capture and hold the attention of a viewing audience. TV watchers see events unfold in vivid color. They hear the excitement pumping throughout their living rooms via high-dollar surround sound systems.

Rocky, if he’s told his writer once he’s told her a thousand times that readers, as opposed to TV and film watchers, must have the means to extract movement and stimulation from carefully planned and plotted mental massagings of each of their senses. They do so from what’s nothing more than a writer’s carefully arranged blots of ink on a page. There are no images within a typical novel; therefore, the writer must somehow use only words made from a mere 26 letters to mold and form detailed pictures inside a reader’s mind.


A pangram is a sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet.

The five boxing wizards jump quickly.


We, Rocky, me, and all the other members of the Fictional Characters Guild, have all traveled throughout the convoluted paths inside the minds of readers. And we know that each person has a different perception of what they read, and that’s because they draw upon their own past experiences. This, sadly, is where Rocky Hardplace’s writer really goofs. She has no experience in the world of cops and robbers, so she, unfortunately for her readers, makes up what should be realistic information, and some of it is totally absurd.

Rocky’s writer, as do many others, often has her hero tromping about his fictional city while doing some pretty ridiculous stuff—shooting a revolver that spews spent brass, knocking out bad guys with nothing more than a tap to the back of the neck, shooting guns from the hands of serial killers, and smelling the odor of cordite at crime scenes. She even forces upon her readers her own wacky-ass notion that FBI agents ride into town on white horses to solve every murder and kidnapping case. Someone really should tell her the FBI does not work local murder cases. That’s not what they do. And don’t get me started on the smell of cordite. Yes, STOP with the cordite already! The stuff hasn’t been around since WWII.

Thankfully, as I said earlier, my author does her homework. She reads books such as Police Procedure and Investigation, and she’s a regular reader of this blog. She also attends the Writers’ Police Academy and its offshoot event, MurderCon

20170106_221254My writer is a fictional hero’s dream author. I rarely ever do stupid stuff in my quest to save my city from crime and corruption (Have you ever noticed how much “stupid stuff” is found in books? I’m thankful that reality isn’t nearly as bad).

My author dresses me nicely. I carry the best guns money can buy. I’m an expert in the martial arts … all of them. My girlfriend is an astronaut. My work partner is smart, but remains at one level below me (my IQ is over the moon). I drive a really cool car. I live in a wonderful beach house. I have a flea-less dog as a best friend. And I have just enough flaws and quirks to keep my fans interested. Yes, my world is perfect.

If I could only convince her to change my name. Biff Steele … yuck.

Could be worse, I suppose. She could’ve written me as … Sergeant Lance Boyle.

It’s often the tiniest of details that’ll pique a reader’s interest in your work. Those elements, by design, just might make a lasting fan out of someone who recognizes that you’ve done your homework, and that you know how to subtly weave fact into fiction.

Like a well-rehearsed performance of Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II by The Philadelphia Orchestra, where we as concert-goers don’t see all the behind the scenes practice time that goes into scores such as The Rabbit of Seville, and Rhapsody Rabbit, a seasoned cop’s daily motions come with ease, as should the scenes you create where officers make arrests and carry out other duties that come with the job.

Cops perform certain tactics and techniques on a regular basis—handcuffing, using the car radio, pat-down searches, etc. They do these things so often that they could almost perform them in their sleep.

They rehearse tactics and techniques at the academy through role-playing. They practice what they’re taught, in their minds. They run through scenarios in their thoughts. All of this to prepare them for the big show—the encounter with that person or people who violently resist arrest, or those who simply want to hurt or kill a police officer.

That sense of “comes naturally” is the feel that fictional characters should exhibit on the page.

Detail, detail, detail

Living, breathing, pulse-pounding detail hooks the reader by thumping their hearts and increasing their respirations. Details that cause them to grip the book a bit tighter when the danger level is high and then reduces the tension when it’s done. It’s a rollercoaster ride that hinges on a writer’s ability to conduct a harmonious symphony of words, from the first moment through the last.

So, just as conductor George Daugherty and The Philadelphia Orchestra leads the audience on a speculator journey with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Pepe Le Pew, Tweety, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, and the Road Runner, writers should compose their stories in a manner that leads the reader on an eye-popping emotional journey, a trip they want to take and won’t soon forget.

Readers want writers to stimulate their senses. They want and need to know your characters on a personal level. And you definitely want readers to step into and immerse themselves into your carefully crafted stories. It’s an escape from reality that must begin with a passion to tell a tale.

 

Ask Yourself the Important Questions

So, in order to add those tiniest of important details needed to breathe true life into your cop characters, you should ask yourself a few basic questions, such as:

How should officers position themselves when making an arrest?

Answer– Always, always, always stand with their gun sides AWAY from the suspect. This is especially important when the subject is combative/resisting.

Which areas of an arrested subject should an officer search for weapons? Is there a standard procedure?

Answer – Start with the most obvious locations first—the waistband, of course, and this is especially so when dealing with male subjects. The waistband seems to be their go-to area of choice when concealing a weapon.

Each officer should establish a routine as to how they conduct searches of a person. By doing so the chance of missing an area is greatly decreased.

For example, after searching the waist and leg areas (boot knives and holsters are good hiding spots for weapons such as small guns and edged weapons).

For example, after first handcuffing the subject and then checking those main spots—the waist and leg areas (for guns and edged weapons), I moved to the top where I began the overall secondary, intensive search, starting beneath hats and working my way down until I reached the ground, leaving no area untouched, and that includes a firm hand in the groin area. This, believe me, is not the time to be shy. I’ve found more than one handgun and or/drugs hidden inside pants and underwear.

No item should be left in pockets and no portion of the body or clothing should be left untouched!

Another point to note is that when officers hand over a suspect to another officer, the second/receiving officer should conduct another detailed search of the suspect. I know, it seems redundant, but it’s not worth risking your life by depending upon the potential sloppy search, or no search, by another human. Anyone, even the best of the best humans could make a mistake.

What are some of the danger signs officers look for when making arrests, or when simply speaking with suspects and some witnesses?

Answer – There are many, so I’ll mention only a few of the basics, such as:

A person wearing a coat during the summertime. This could indicate the subject is armed and is using the outer garnet to conceal the weapon. The same is true when a person touches an area on their waistband or moves a hand toward the area, or that a shirttail is untucked on one side. Or even when a person’s clothing “appears” a bit heavier on one side. Sometimes, the shape of a gun’s grips/an outline is noticeable  beneath the material.

Pockets that appear heavier than normal. Sagging due to a heavy object inside could indicate the presence of a weapon. Keep in mind that even heavy objects such as rocks and bottles can and are used as instruments of death. Yes, a rock can kill, and has, when used with enough force.

Many, if not most of the “killed in the line of duty” deaths occur during an officer’s initial approach to a subject. This is why it is imperative that the officer quickly, almost within the blink of an eye, size up the person and then formulate a plan. Remember, no two situations are perfectly identical nor are two people the same in every way. So quick thinking and a plan are necessary.

It’s a given that it’s rude to not look someone in the eye when speaking to them. But eyes cannot hurt us. Therefore, officers should always, always, always watch the hands of a suspect/subject. Next, watch the feet. They, too, can be used as powerful weapons.

Still, a suspect’s eye movements often telegraph their next move, such as constantly glancing toward an officer’s sidearm may indicate the person could be planning an attempt to grab the gun. Or, they could searching for an avenue of escape or that a partner is sneaking up behind the officer’s back.

The combination of potential hazards explains the need for officers to forever scan their surroundings, Ambush attacks are common, and they’re deadly.

Officers should have a backup plan in case Plan A fails. And never hesitate to retreat if a situation becomes unmanageable and/or unsafe.

When in doubt call for backup!

How important is firearm maintenance?

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Coast Guard Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Cameron Hutchens of Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) 91103, deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, cleans an M-9 pistol.

Answer – Officers should maintain their weapons in excellent, tip-top condition. They should make certain that all firearms are clean, oiled, and operate properly. And they should practice their shooting skills on a regular basis. Shooting practice should include scenario-based training, not simply going to the range and popping 60 holes in a stationary paper target once each year during the required annual qualifying session. After all, how many times have you heard of an officer being killed by a non-moving sheet of paper?

The same is true of vehicles and other emergency tools and equipment. Maintenance and practice, practice, practice driving skills, as well as other tactics, such as building entries, etc. PRACTICE!!

What are some things that officers overlook when making an arrest?

Answer – Officers sometime become complacent. It’s easy to do when doing the same thing day after day after day. Unfortunately, when an officer is careless and, say, skips searching the crotch area of an arrested subject because he was too embarrassed to put a hand “there,” well, it could be the last mistake he’ll ever make when the guy reaches into his pants to retrieve a hidden .380.

Working Overtime and Second and Even Third Jobs

This isn’t so much “overlooking something” as it is being careless, but many officers often tend to work while excessively sleepy and/or tired. Their pay level is sometimes not so desirable so they work a lot of voluntary overtime to help make ends meet. Some even work second or third jobs.

When I worked at a sheriff’s office, I worked extra jobs. When I signed off after working night shifts I immediately drove to a motel where I worked another shift there performing maintenance work—repairing leaky pipes, painting, drywall, electrical work, etc.  I’d studied and took the test to become a licensed electrician. I also took care of all lawn maintenance and gardening. I did the same at a local college. And, I taught beginning, intermediate, and advance guitar lessons at the college.

Sometimes, on our days off, three of us deputies took on roofing jobs. We’d remove shingles and old paper on one day and haul them to the landfill after we’d finished (sometimes it was after dark when we were done). We’d then install new paper and shingles on the second day. It was exhausting and hot work. Making it even more tiring was that many times we were scheduled to work night shift after the second day of roofing work, or the night before the job was to begin.

I maintained this schedule for a few years, all while as a single dad. Yet, I made time to attend my daughter’s school functions and sports activities. She was a star softball player who was, during her high school years, recruited by the U.S. army to play ball for them. I can’t remember ever missing a home game, even if it meant attending in uniform with my ear glued to my radio.

I did the same (attend school function and games, etc.) when I left the sheriff’s office to work for a city police department. As a police detective, I attended many games with a gun and badge strapped to my belt with my unmarked car parked near enough that I could easily sprint to it, if necessary. I’ve left more than one game with blue lights winking and blinking and flashing.

Working a job where your life could be threatened at any time requires a person to be on top of his/her game. Working long, stressful hours with little sleep is not an idea scenario.

Everything, Anyone, and Anything Could be Hazardous!

Overlooking the obvious is something that happens a lot. Just as I suggest to you that writing important details are, well, important, officers must take that to another level. For them, everything and everyone should be considered a danger until it’s proven that it’s not.

Hiding behind things such drywall and plywood works as concealment, but not as true cover. Bullets slice through both items as if they weren’t there. So find the best possible cover to protect against gunfire.

I’ve seen officers run to a man down as if the danger ceased immediately once the suspect hit the dirt. This is an extremely perilous time. Always assume the suspect is still armed and capable of shooting and killing. Approach with caution, still using cover and concealment, if possible, until you’re certain the threat has ceased to exist. Keep in mind that the downed person may still have a hidden weapon and is pretending to be incapacitated.

Officers, never let down your guard. Not ever.

Finally, here’s Bugs to wrap up the day …

 

 

Many writers have never, not once, set foot inside a police car, nor have they climbed out of bed at 11 p.m. to swap pajamas for a police uniform, Kevlar vest, gun belt, sidearm, and spit-shined shoes. And they’ve not headed out into the night to spend the next eight to twelve hours dealing with the city’s “worst of the worst,” and worse.

Most people have not left home with their family saying, “Be careful, see you when you get home,” and know they’re saying it because they worry the next time they see their loved one will be at their funeral service. “Killed in the line of duty” is what the bloggers and reporters will say.

Sure, you all know what goes on during a police officer’s shift—fights, domestic calls, shootings, stabbings, drug dealers, rapists, and killers of all shapes and sizes.

But what those of you who’ve never “been there, done that” cannot honestly and accurately detail the sounds heard when someone take a shot at you. No, not the actual gunshot. Its the other noises that help bring super-cool details to your stories.

To learn about those sounds, let’s pretend we’re the officer who’s just been the target of a bad guy’s gunfire. We’re chasing the suspect through alleys and paths that wind through dark wooded areas, all while knowing the guy has a gun and he’s definitely not afraid to use it.

Can’t see your hand in front of your face, so you stop and listen. And then it happens …

That eerie calm.

It causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand tall and straight. Goose bumps come to attention on your arms. A lone pea-sized bead of sweat worms its way down your spine, easing through the space between your pants and the bare skin of your waistline. It feels oddly cool against your fear-warmed flesh.

If this occurred in a movie there would be, of course, background music. So let’s do this right. Hit the play button, take a sip of your coffee, or tea, and then read on to learn about A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

 

10-4, I’ll take this one …

The call came in as “Shots Fired. Suspect is armed with a handgun and caller advises he is still at the residence and is threatening to kill responding officers.”

I was working the county alone so I asked the dispatcher to request backup from a nearby city and from the state police. The trooper in our county was also working alone. Our roles differed, though. He was out on the interstate writing traffic tickets while I responded to the usual plethora of calls. Either way, we were alone when we approached whatever situation was before us, be it stopping a stolen car with dark tinted windows or heading toward a house where I knew a man was waiting to kill me.

The sound of a police radio is far different when it’s heard late at night as opposed to the same radio traffic during daylight hours. Its an unexplained phenomena. It could be that dark skies and night air create different acoustics. Or that working the graveyard shift forces dispatchers to work really hard to battle “the thing” that comes out at night to squeeze their emotions into submission. They typically lose the fight which results in a manner of speech that’s without feeling, inflection, and dynamics.

Nighttime radio traffic echoes and travels far. It’s weird and out of place among the stars and creamy moonlight. Dispatchers drone on like robots … “Robbery at …” “Wife says husband hit her …” “Lost child …” “Possible drug overdose at …” “Loud music at …” “Peeping Tom at …” “Customer refuses to pay at …” Shoplifter at …” “Dead body in river …” Dead body in park …” “Shots fired …” “Shots fired …” “Man stabbed at …” Shots fired …”

Back to the man who wanted to kill me

I acknowledged the call with a “10-4, I’m en-route.” Then I hooked the radio mic back into the metal “U-shaped” clip connected to the dashboard. Next I pushed one of the many red toggle switches mounted into the center console.

With the push of the button, a faint click occurred simultaneously with the eruption of pulsating blue light. I stepped on the gas and heard the engine come to life. Since I was miles out in the country there was no need for the siren. Not yet.

I pushed the pedal toward the floor until I was cruising along at 70 mph. Believe me, that was pretty fast considering the curvy, hilly road that was before me.

There are no streetlights in the country. It’s super dark. Blue light reflects from trees, shrubbery, houses, mailboxes, passing cars, and telephone poles. It also reflects from the white lines painted on the pavement.

Meanwhile, the radio traffic continues with updates for me and with traffic from city officers and the trooper out on the interstate … “Use caution. Driver of the vehicle is wanted for a homicide in …”

My car radio played in the background. Golden Earring’s bass player thumped the intro to “Radar Love” while I attempted to straighten the curves by hitting my marks—drive low in the curves, on both sides of the road. Never at the apex. Unless a car is coming in the opposite direction or you cannot see far enough ahead to safely do so. The guitar player’s eardrum piercing leads began just as I hit a rare straight stretch of the road.

Hey, here’s an idea. Why not join me for the rest of the ride. So climb in, buckle up, and hold on. And, let’s crank up the radio to start the blood flowing. It’ll help set the stage. Off we go!

The blue strobes mounted on top of the car make a clicking sound with the start of each flash. The wig-wag headlamps do the same. The roadway is very uneven with a few cracks and potholes scattered about. They cause the patrol car to dip and sway perilously in the vehicle groans and creaks with each expansion and contraction of its suspension. The extra pair of handcuffs I and many other cops keep handy by hanging them from the spotlight handle that protrudes from the post between the windshield and driver’s door, sway back and forth and bang together causing a constant click, click, click noise.

The cacophony of speed and sights and sounds—creaks, clicks, and whirling, blinking, and flashing vivid blue lights, together with the combination with the car’s groans and moans and squeaks and rattles, the dispatcher’s monotonous voice, and the frenzy of the music—are out of sync and in total discord. Adrenaline, at this stage of the game is that a feverish pitch. It’s organized turmoil.

I switched off my lights a ways before reaching the scene—didn’t want to shooter to know  we were there—and stopped my car on the shoulder, a bit down the road from the driveway. I called the dispatcher on the phone to let her know I’d arrived. The use of the phone was in case the bad guy was listening to a scanner. I turned down the volume on my police radio. Way down. Remember, the sound travels far. I wished backup didn’t have to do the same (travel far).

I opened my car door slowly to avoid making any noise. The interior light was not operational—disconnected in police cars to prevent illuminating the officer and/or blinding them to goings-on outside the vehicle.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to remain here, for now,” I say to you. “it’s for your own safety. Lock the doors, and no matter what you hear or see do not get out of the car. I’ll be back soon.” I open my wallet to retrieve a spare car key. “Here, just in case.”

As I slid from the seat my leather gun belt creaked and squeaked and groaned, as leather does when rubbed against other leather or similar material. To me, the sound was as loud as fourth of July fireworks. My key ring (in my pants pocket) jingled slightly with each step. So I used a hand to hold them against my leg. The other hand was on my pistol.

I walked up to the house to peek into a window before knocking on the front door. I wanted to see if I could, well, see anything. But, as I closed in on the side of the house a large mixed breed dog stepped into view, showing its teeth and upper gums. The animal, with matted-hair and a crooked tail,  growled one of those slow and easy rumbles that comes from somewhere deep inside. I held out a hand for it to sniff. It backed into the shadows.

A quick peek inside revealed a family of five. A woman with two black eyes and three crying children. Two girls, not quite teenagers, but close, probably, and a wiggling and squirming baby. A man stood near a tattered recliner and tall floor lamp. He held a pump shotgun in his right hand. At the moment, the barrel was aimed toward the floor. He yelled a few obscenities and started to pace. Then he looked straight at me, or at least it seemed like he looked at me.

My heart pounded against the inside of my chest. It bumped so hard I could hear the sound it made with each beat. It was that song’s intro all over again …

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

I’ve been driving all night
My hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
It’s my baby calling
Says “I need you here”
And it’s half past four and I’m shifting gear.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump—

Then, from somewhere deep in the shadows.

Grrrr …….. Growl …..

From inside the home.

A baby crying.

A woman pleads and sobs.

A young girl. “Please, Daddy. No more!”

Sirens wail in the distance, beyond the black tree line that connects sky with earth. Sounds travel further at night, right?

The air-conditioning unit beneath the window snaps on. Its compressor humming and fan whirring. The metal casing rattles slightly. Probably missing a screw or two.

A Cop’s Nighttime Melody Approaches the Finale

I knew what I had to do and started toward the door with my leather shoes and gun belt squeaking and keys jingling and heart thumping. As I reached for the knob I took a deep breath.

The expansion of my chest pulled at the Velcro that held my vest tightly against my torso.

Crackle. Crackle. Crackle.

Right behind me now.

Grrr …. Growl …

Crying.

Screaming. 

Whir.

Thump. Thump. Thump!

Jingle

Squeak.

The door.

Turn and push.

“Drop the gun!”

BANG!

BANG!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Crying.

And crying.

“10-4. Send the coroner.”

So, my friends, those are the sounds of working the graveyard shift … A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

Thanks so much for joining me. I hope to see you again, soon.

 

*This is a repeat post per request. Thanks!

 

Police officers must attend training academies where they learn the basics of the job. In Virginia, for example, it is required that new officers receive a minimum of 480 hours of basic academy training that includes (to name only a few subjects):

  • Professionalism
  • Legal
  • Communication
  • Patrol
  • Investigations
  • Defensive tactics and use of force
  • Weapons, including firearms, baton, chemical, etc.
  • Driver training

The list sounds simple but, believe me, the training is grueling and physically and mentally challenging and demanding. It’s also quite stressful because if a rookie happens to flunk any portion of the academy they are immediately returned to their department where it’s likely their employment will be terminated.

Of course, academies and individual departments may add to the basic curriculum, and they often do (mine was longer), but they may not eliminate any portion of the training that’s mandated by the Department of Justice and/or the state.

In addition to the basic police academy, in order to “run radar,” officers are required to successfully complete a compulsory minimum training standards and requirements course. This course is specifically for law-enforcement officers who utilize radar or an electrical or microcomputer device to measure the speed of motor vehicles.

The Basic Speed Measurement Operator Training requirements include the following:

  1. Attend a DCJS approved speed measurement operator’s course
  2. Pass the speed measurement testing
  3. Complete Field Training

Virginia State Police Basic Training

Academy training for the Virginia State Police (VSP) is much more intense and lengthy than that of local academies.

VSP academy training includes 1,536 hours of instruction covering more than 100 sessions that range  from laws of arrest, search and seizure, defensive tactics, motor vehicle code, criminal law, and much more.

A troopers basic training is completed in four phases.

  • Phase I – The first 12 days are at the Academy at which time the students receive abbreviated training.
  • Phase II – Pre-Academy Field Training—up to four months—at which time the students ride with a FTO.
  • Phase III – Return to the academy for 26 weeks of Basic Training, completing both classroom and practical courses.
  • Phase IV – Following graduation from the academy, troopers complete an additional six to eight weeks of field training with a FTO.

What Happens After Local Officers Graduate From the Academy?

Once local police and sheriff’s deputies complete the minimum of twelve weeks of academy training (remember, some are longer), the law enforcement officers are then required to successfully complete a minimum of 100 hours of approved field training. This is on the job training, working in the field under the supervision of a certified field training officer (FTO). FTOs, by the way, must attend and successfully complete a training program that qualifies them to train officers in the field.

The mandatory minimum course for FTOs shall include a minimum of 32 hours of training and must include each of the following subject matter:

a. Field training program and the field training officer.

b. Field training program delivery and evaluation.

c. Training liability.

d. Characteristics of the adult learner.

e. Methods of instruction.

f. Fundamentals of communication.

g. Written test.

During the field training portion of a rookie’s beginning days on the street, their FTOs are evaluating their performance while at the same time protecting them and the public from harm. Working as an FTO is a tough job. I know, I’ve done it. You’re forever watching to make certain the rookies do not accidentally violate the rights of citizens, and you’re constantly on high alert, watching for the unexpected. This is because you’re responsible for everything that could happen. And, you’re watching for two people instead of one.

FTOs typically allow rookies to get their hands dirty by handling calls, getting the feel of driving the patrol car on city streets or county roads, conduct arrests, etc. They serve as a crutch, to prevent missteps. They’re leaders and they’re teachers. They are the final barrier to the officers going out on their own, a day most new officers salivate for in anticipation.

That first night alone in your very own patrol car is a highly desired moment. It the official sign that you’ve made it. You are finally a police officer. In the meantime, though, there are a lot of boxes that must be checked off by the FTO.

During the field training period, each rookie must demonstrate that they know the streets in their patrol areas. They must know local and state laws and ordinances. They must know the working of the court system and how to effectively interact with local prosecutors. And, well, below is a list of topics that rookies must know better than the backs of their hands before their FTO officially signs the paperwork releasing them from the training.

  • Department Policies, Procedures, and Operations (General Law Enforcement)
  • Local Government Structure and Local Ordinances
  • Court Systems, Personnel, Functions and Locations
  • Resources and Referrals
  • Records and Documentation
  • Administrative Handling of Mental Cases
  • Local Juvenile Procedures
  • Detention Facilities and Booking Procedures
  • Facilities and Territory Familiarization
  • Miscellaneous

Academy instructors aren’t simply any Joe or Sally off the street who may know a little something about police work because they’ve every episode of COPS, twice. Instead, academy instructors in Virginia are well-trained and must meet a minimum standard set by the state/DOJ.

Yes, academy instructors are required to attend specialized certification classes for the specific subjects they teach. And, instructors who train/teach and certify other instructors must become certified to teach those high level classes. They are then certified instructor-trainers.

I was a certified instructor-trainer for Defensive Tactics and CPR, and I was a certified instructor for Firearms, Officer Survival, CPR, and Basic and Advanced Life Support.

Advanced Classes for Officers, and Writers

Officer training never ends. Laws change and tactics and techniques evolve. Academies and agencies across the U.S. offer numerous specialized training opportunities. A great example of such educational opportunities are the courses offered at Sirchie, the location of the 2019 Writers’ Police Academy’s special event, MurderCon.

Each year, on a continuing basis, Sirchie offers advanced classes for law enforcement officers. If some of these sound familiar to you, well, they should, because they were made available to attendees of the 2019 Writers’ Police Academy. It was an extremely rare opportunity for writers to have the opportunity to go behind the scenes and train at such a prestigious facility and to learn from some of the top instructors in the world.

Classes presented at Sirchie, for law enforcement officers, are as follows:

  • Clandestine Grave Search & Recovery

    SIRCHIE is offering a 4 day “hands-on” training class on searching for and properly investigating and recovering remains from a clandestine grave site. The legal term corpus delicti me…
  • Phase 1 – Footwear Impression – Detection, Recovery, Identification Training

    Footwear impression evidence is the most overlooked evidence at crime scenes. Criminals will often wear gloves or wipe down objects that they touch at crime scenes but rarely do they remove their s…
  • Bloodstain Pattern Documentation Class

    Throughout the United States and certainly in smaller departments, the crime scene technician faces the complexities of homicide scenes without the proper support or training. Like all forensi…
  • Mastering the IAI Latent Print Exam Class

    Minimum requirements for the class: Each student must have at least 1 year of Latent print experience to be accepted in the class.  Background: Examiners who are preparing to take the L…
  • Digital Device Forensics

    With over 9 Billion wireless subscriptions worldwide as of 2016, every criminal investigation involves information that can be captured from a digital device, including phones and tablets. Understa…
  • Latent Palm Print Comparison Class

    Minimum Requirements for the class: Each student must have attended and completed a Basic Latent Fingerprint Comparison Course to be accepted in the Advanced Latent Palm Print Comparison Cou…
  • Evidence Collection and Processing Training

    Our Evidence Collection and Processing Training Program provides law enforcement professionals and crime scene investigators with hands on training using forensic tools that will help to execute th…
  • Drone Forensics

    This 5 day course is designed to take the investigator deep into the world of Drone Forensics. The use of Drones is growing rapidly and expanding to criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations…
  • Comprehensive Advanced Latent Print Comparison Course

    How proficient are your individual comparison skills as pertaining to latent print casework? Are erroneous exclusions a problem in your skill set? If you are a manager are erroneous exclusions a problem in your latent print work unit? This class was developed to help improve latent comparison competency and knowledge whether you are already a Certified Latent Print Examiner or if you are preparing to take the exam in the near future. A broad and exhaustive level of complex latent print exercises were carefully compiled to improve the level of expertise for examiners. You will not find another class like this one anywhere.

So Much Training and So Many Required Certifications, but …

Law enforcement officers in Virginia (I’m not certain about other states) shall satisfactorily complete the Compulsory Minimum Training Standards and Requirements within 12 months of the date of hire or appointment as a law-enforcement officer.

Take a moment to re-read the line above and then let it sink in that officers may work for up to one full year before they attend a basic police academy. That’s potentially 12 months of driving a patrol car and making arrests without a single second of formal training.

Sure, most departments would never dream of allowing an untrained officer work the streets without close and direct supervision. However, I’ve seen it done and I have personal knowledge of deputy sheriffs who patrolled an entire county, alone, for nearly 365 days prior to attending any formal police training. I know this to be so because I was one of those deputy sheriffs.

Believe me, it’s an odd feeling to carry a loaded gun while driving like a bat out of hell with lights and siren squalling at full yelp during the pursuit of a heavily armed suspect, all while not having clue what you should and shouldn’t do when or if you catch the guy.

When I think about it today I realize how foolish it was for my boss to allow us to work under those conditions.

Author Melinda Lee – WPA firearms training

Thanks to the Writers’ Police Academy, many writers have received far more training than I had during my first year on the job. Actually, many writers who’ve attended the WPA have received more advanced training than many of today’s law enforcement officers.

 

 

 

 


Here’s a recap of past Writers’ Police Academy events condensed in an ad for the 2018 WPA.

 

 

Does your latest tall tale feature a beginning, middle, and end? How about characters, setting, and dialog? Have you been especially creative by inserting lots of sentences composed of various words with various meanings? Do you know the difference between a police chief and a sheriff? Are you aware that the FBI does not typically investigate local murder cases, that it is the duty of local police to solve those crimes?

If you answered yes to each of the above questions, well, you’ve taken a few of the appropriate first steps toward accurately writing about cops, crime, and crooks.

So, you conduct tons of research by visiting online websites and by participating in your local citizen’s police academy, and those are fantastic resources. But, have you considered going the extra mile by spending a bit of extra research time to develop ways to activate the senses of your readers? After all, using the senses is a huge key to the success of showing, not telling. And the use of the senses creates an important emotional connection between the story and the reader.

How does a writer create scenes that ignite a reader’s senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight? Well, for starters, they should call on past life experiences.

For example, Patricia Cornwall didn’t invent rain, leaves, or playing fields, but she obviously drew on her memories to create the passage below. It’s a simple scene, but it’s a scene I can easily picture in my mind as I read. I hear the rain and I feel the cool dampness of the asphalt, grass, and tile roof. The writing also conjures up images of raindrops slaloming down windowpanes, and rushing water sweeping the streets clean of debris. The splashing and buzzing sound of car tires pushing across water-covered roadways.

 “It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6. The relentless downpour, which began at dawn, beat the lilies to naked stalks, and blacktop and sidewalks were littered with leaves. There were small rivers in the streets, and newborn ponds on playing fields and lawns. I went to sleep to the sound of water drumming on the slate roof…” ~ Patricia Cornwell, Post Mortem.

Sandra Brown takes us on brief journey through a pasture on a hot day. We know it’s hot because of the insect activity. We also know the heat of the day increases the intensity of the odor of horse manure. And, Brown effectively makes us all want to help Jack watch where he steps.

“Jack crossed the yard and went through a gate, then walked past a large barn and a corral where several horses were eating hay from a trough and whisking flies with their tails. Beyond the corral he opened the gate into a pasture, where he kept on the lookout for cow chips as he moved through the grass.” ~ Sandra Brown, Unspeakable.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself walking into a bar, or restaurant. What do you see? Can you transform those images into a few simple words? How do you choose which words to use? Which words will effectively paint the picture and take the reader with you on your visit to the bar?

Here’s a decent rule of thumb – Write the scene and then remove all of those unnecessary flowery words, especially those that end in “ly.”

Too many “ly” words are often difficult for readers to take in. Besides, they can slow the story and do nothing to further it.

Lee Child is a master when it comes to describing a scene with few words. Here’s a fun exercise. Count the number of times Child uses an “ly” word in the text below. Then consider whether or not you would have used unnecessary “ly” words had you written this scene? Think maybe it’s time to step away from them?

“The bar was a token affair built across the corner of the room. It made a neat sharp triangle about seven or eight feet on a side. It was not really a bar in the sense that anybody was going to sit there and drink anything. It was just a focal point. It was somewhere to keep the liquor bottles. They were crowded three-deep on glass shelves in front of sandblasted mirrors. The register and credit card machine were on the bottom shelf.” ~ Lee Child, Running Blind.

Another example of effectively and masterfully projecting an image into a reader’s mind comes from James Lee Burke. Short. Sweet. And tremendously effective.

“Ida wore a pink skirt and a white blouse with lace on the collar; her arms and the top of her chest were powdered with strawberry freckles.” ~ James Lee Burke, Crusader’s Cross.

Okay, what does all of this have to do with writing about cops, you ask? Well, in the passages above, the authors created a micro world by using a few, but extremely powerful and carefully chosen words. And it’s obvious to the reader that each of the writers called upon their own experiences to write those scenes. They’ve been there and done that, and their imaginations have conjured up memories of things they’ve seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelled.

Cops live and work in a unique world that’s generally not accessible to the average person, including writers. They experience things that most only read about or see on TV news reports. And that brings us full circle. How can a writer effectively write, and activate a reader’s senses, about something they’ve only read about or heard second and third hand from someone reading to them, word-for-word from a teleprompter?

I think Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best cop-writers of our time, offers a brilliant guideline to follow when writing cops. Wambaugh said, “The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

Paste Wambaugh’s quote near your computer. Glance it as you write. Keep it in mind while developing law enforcement characters and scenes.

Next, I encourage you to attend local citizen’s police academies and ride-alongs with officers Hang out with cops, interview them, listen to them, watch their mannerisms, etc. Trust me, it’s a world that’s entirely different than the life of someone outside the profession.

Naturally, I highly recommend attending the Writers’ Police Academy. The WPA is an event that’s carefully and meticulously (hmm … I used “ly” words) designed to offer writers the inside experience of what it’s like to be a police officer, investigator, firefighter, EMS personnel, K-9 handler, etc. We do not mix writing craft with hands-on experiences. We feel you can attend any number of excellent writers conferences to soak up that sort of information. Instead, our focus is on providing writers with the best hands-on academy training available anywhere.

We burn things so you can experience the heat and smoke of structure and car fires. We put you, the writer, in positions where you must make the life and death decisions faced by officers. You’ll feel the rush of adrenaline that comes with car chases and shootouts (you’ll participate in both). You’ll see and experience the emotions felt by officers during stressful situations.

We’ve provided the smell of gunpowder and gun oil by teaching writers how to shoot various firearms used by police. They’ve felt the texture, weight, and recoil of an AR-15 as they fired those rifles at the range. We’ve taken writers inside jails and prisons, into the sections that house the worst of the worst inmates, where they experienced the physical sensations of what it’s like to serve time.

At the Writers’ Police Academy, attendees see the flashing police lights, hear the sirens, see and hear helicopters landing. The hear the yells of entry teams (you’re a member of the team, by the way) as they storm a building to search for an armed bad guy. When you attend, you’ll feel your heart thumping against the inside of your chests when you’re placed in situatiosn where you must instantly decide whether or not to use deadly force.

This year we’ve gone far outside the typical WPA box by hosting the 2019 event at the headquarters of Sirchie, “the Global Leader in Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science Solutions. Sirchie provides quality Products, Vehicles, and Training to the global law enforcement and forensic science communities.”

That’s right, we’re taking writers to the source of crime scene investigation technology. It’s a rare opportunity for writers, one that’s not been done before. The focus of the 2019 WPA, called MurderCon, is homicide investigations, with hands-on classes and workshops taught by some of the top instructors in the world.

Hands-on events such as the Writers’ Police Academy, as well as local citizens’ academies and police ride-alongs, combined with using a real-life experience such as the WPA, or walking through a cow-chip-spattered pasture, is what breathes life into a story.

To sum up:

– Use your experiences to activate the senses of your readers. Let them enjoy tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing the words on each of your pages.

– Attend the Writers’ Police Academy. It’s the gold standard of providing writers with the absolute best hands-on training available. If attending the WPA is not possible, consider participating in a local citizen’s police academy and/or ride-alongs with on-duty police officers.

– Read books by established authors who write about police officers and investigations. See how they do it.

– Take advantage of your personal life experiences to help transform flat text into a vivid 3D picture or painting.

– Avoid the use of too many “ly” words. Editor Jodie Renner addressed this and other problem areas in an article she wrote for Doug Lyle’s blog. Jodie’s article is titled, Style Blunders in Fiction.

– Interview and/or chat with cops. Listen to what they have to say, and watch their mannerisms. Does Officer G. R. Done hitch up his pants each time he stands? Ask him if the habit is due to gravity tugging on the weight of his gun belt? Does his wince when he slides into his car seat? The slight moment of pain could be caused by a bit of skin caught between the bottom of his vest and gun belt. Yes, it happens and it hurts. But you have to watch for the little things and you have to ask. Those sorts of things are second nature to cops, so they won’t think to tell you about them.

– Finally, remember to refer to Joseph Wambaugh’s words of wisdom.

“The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”


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The Exclusionary Rule keeps police officers in check while conducting searches. It prevents prosecutors from presenting illegally obtained evidence.

The rule states that any evidence siezed during an improper search cannot be used, no matter how incriminating it may be (see Fruit of the Poisonous Tree below).

And, if this improper evidence the key piece to the entire case—the smoking gun—the prosecution may be forced to drop the case, sending a very guilty crook back on the street. The defendant may also have grounds for a civil suit against the officers involved, as well as the police department and the city.

The Exclusionary Rule is basically the Supreme Court keeping watch over search-warrant-serving cops.

There are exceptions to the exclusionary rule, such as:

When officers rely on a warrant that later turns out to be invalid. For example, officers search a house and find a large cache of illegal weapons along with a guy who’s in the process of grinding off serial numbers from an AK-47. Later, the court learns that the address on the warrant was incorrect because the detective accidentally typed River Avenue instead of River Road. Or, the landmarks used to identify the property to be searched were improperly recorded.

“I meant the blue house on River Road, the first one on the right past the old oak tree, not the first one on the left. It was an honest mistake. Oops!”

The warrant may still be ruled valid and the seizure of the guns may still be legal. Or, the warrant may be ruled invalid but the seizure of the weapons could possibly stand. This is so because the officers were acting in good faith, believing they were on the property based on a constitutionally sound warrant (This is a weak example, but you get the idea).

However, if a police officer lies to the judge or magistrate, or if the judge or magistrate showed bias toward the officers when issuing the search warrant, the warrant is invalid and the exclusionary rule is in effect. The evidence recovered by the police may not be used. In fact, it will be tossed out of court, and possibly the officer too …


Did you know??

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree – Illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against a defendant. Evidence illegally obtained is “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.”