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We’ve all read books where the characters within are basically clones of those we’ve seen in other books, with the only difference being a name change. This is often frustrating for readers who want to believe the world you’ve created. They know that in the real world people have minds of their own. They do things and think about things that affect their lives. They make mistakes. There’s conflict in their lives. And things occasionally go as planned or wished.

Every single person on this planet has some characteristic that’s different from other people; therefore, it’s imperative that writers develop and show those differences among the fictional folks in their made-up tales.

To get these details right involves careful planning, especially when writing about people and professions that are unfamiliar to us. In advance of writing the first word, it’s a good idea to create a file, a place to store important details about your future fictional person (or setting). I know, this is writing 101 but I am heading somewhere with this, I promise.

Creating Cop Characters

Law enforcement officers and their traits are a bit different than the average person. Therefore, creating a special file could be a lifesaver, if realism is the goal, and it should be if you want your readers to become emotionally invested in the characters you create. After all, caring for a character could certainly keep those pages turning.

Keep Your Eyes on the Cop

Cop are a bit set apart from the rest of the population because their daily lives are far different from the day-to-day activities of most people. Why so? Because their daily routines include seeing and dealing with the extreme bad sides of people, and they do so on a regular basis, day-in and day-out, unlike most of us who rarely encounter people who beat on us and sometimes want to kill us.

Dealing with the worst that life has to offer—extreme violence and the lowest of the lowest human behaviors—causes cops to act  and react differently to many scenarios than would the average Jane and Joe. For example, and you’ve all heard this before, when gunfire sounds, most people start running as fast as they can in the opposite direction. But not police officers. Instead, their instinct is to move as fast as they can toward the source of the danger.

Watch for the Little Things They Do

Since cops see so much bad stuff and know the dangers associated with it, and how quickly something could go south, they’re always on the alert, even when in the safest of situations.

Even while seated in church, for instance, a cop glances about, scanning the congregation, looking for the nearest exit in case a gunman pops up and begins shooting. The on- or off-duty officer wants to know where to have people leave the sanctuary while he battles the shooter. This is going through the officer’s mind at the time he selected a seat near an outside wall to allow views of all entrances and exits, and to provide the tactical advantage of not offering a chance for a rear track/ambush.

The same is true when dining in restaurants, going to movie theaters, and even while grocery shopping. Eyes are forever darting from one person to another. Is that bulge beneath the baggy t-shirt on the guy’s side a concealed firearm? The woman carrying a crying baby. She’s wearing a ton of makeup around her right eye. Is she hiding a bruise? She’s obviously with the man wearing the Black Sabbath t-shirt, the guy pushing the cart containing several cases of cheap beer. Did he get drunk and punch the woman?

Sitting with their backs to the wall? That’s to watch the doors, the crowd, and to prevent a surprise attack from behind.

There’s a specific meaning and purpose as to why cops stand as they do, and it’s a trait that should appear in your stories. Such …

The Interview Stance

Officers are taught early on that when speaking with someone, especially in the instances where they’re faced with the unknown, that they should stand with their gun side away from the person—body bladed 45 degrees to the suspect, feet shoulder width apart (also at a 45 degree angle to the suspect). In the ideal situation, their body is facing slightly toward the suspects non-dominate side (this typically becomes apparent by hand gestures, smoking cigarettes, etc.).

The leg on the non gun-hand side should be slightly forward. The other slightly to the rear. Body weight is distributed equally on the balls of the feet. The front leg is then in position to strike or deflect attack.

Standing toward the non dominate side also enable the officer to gain quick control for applying a joint lock or pain compliance tactic, if needed. Controlling the non-dominate side allows the officer to add distance between him/her and the suspect’s strong side.

Their hands should be above the gun belt, appearing in a non-threatening, non-fighting position.

A cop’s gun hand should be poised, ready to draw either a firearm or TASER, whichever the situation dictates, while the other hand is ready to deflect incoming blows or to carry out other defensive actions, such as reaching for pepper spray, etc.

They should stand in this “ready position” in the event a situation turns violent.

All this while appearing at ease (yeah, right!).

Officers typically have their hands open when speaking with people, not clenched like they’re ready for a physical confrontation. This sends a nonverbal signal of “I’m not a threat to you.” Sometimes it’s the little things that prevent conflict.

This, my friends, is the tip of the iceberg. There are many tiny details that could make your cop tales zing with realism and excitement and fun, and it’s those details that bring fans back to your books time and time again.

 

Shots fired from close range leave tell-tale marks called stippling, or tattooing. Evidence of contact with hot gunpowder can be seen just above and to the sides of the “V” opening of the shirt (the blackened area) in the photograph below.

The person who wore this shirt was the victim of a shooting at close range—less than a foot away—with a 9mm pistol. Notice there’s no hole in the back of the shirt. No hole, no exit wound. The bullet remained lodged inside the body, even from a shot at this short distance.

The next photograph (post autopsy) – *WARNING. REAL GUNSHOT WOUND – GRAPHIC *– is of the victim’s wound (received in the upper image).

The wound is round and neat and it’s approximately the diameter of an ink pen. It’s not like the ones we see on television where half the guy’s body is blown into oblivion, or beyond, by a couple of bullets from a hero’s gun.

Sometimes exit wounds are nearly, or as small as the entrance wound. The amount of damage and path of travel depends on the type ammunition used and what the bullet struck as it makes it way through the body. They do not display signs associated with entrance wounds—imprint of the muzzle, stippling, or blackening of the skin edges.

I’ve witnessed officers who easily mistook exit wounds for entrance wounds, at first glance. A close examination reveals stark differences. Exit wounds normally present pieces of avulsed flesh angled slightly away from the wound. Typically, there’s also no trace of gunshot residue around the outside of the wound.

Again, the image below is graphic!

In the picture below, the hot bullet entered the flesh leaving a gray-black ring around the wound. The tiny black dots are the stippling, or tattooing.

Close contact gunshot wound to the chest.

The impact of the bullet and gases striking the tissue also left a distinct bruising (ecchymosis) around the wound. Notice the stitching of the “Y” incision.

Contact wounds caused by the barrel of a gun touching the skin when the weapon is fired may present the imprint of the muzzle. The wounds sometimes show an abrasion ring (a dark circle around the wound) that’s caused as the hot gases from the weapon enters the flesh. The force of the gas blows the skin and tissue back against the gun’s muzzle, leaving the circular imprint.

Contact wounds occur when the muzzle is pressed against the skin when the weapon is fired

  • In areas of “loose” skin, such as the abdomen or even the chest area, wounds likely present as circular with blackened, seared skin surrounding the wound opening.
  • On the head, entry wounds often appear as round punctures, again with blackened, seared skin surrounding the wound opening.

Near-contact wounds are caused when the muzzle of the gun is held a short distance from the skin. These wounds generally present as circular with blackened and seared edges. However, the searing and blackening cover a wider space than seen with contact wounds

Stippling

  • Stippling is due to burned and unburned powder grains exiting from the firearm causing pinpoint, blackened abrasions on the skin.

Entrance and Exit Wounds in Bone

Entrance wounds in flat bones such as the skull are often round and show internal beveling in the direction of the bullet’s path. The shape and nature is quite similar to that of a cone.

Exit wounds in bone are most likely more irregular in shape than entry wounds and may show external beveling (a reverse cone), the opposite effect of the entrance wound.

 

Okay, today I decided to do something different. To give your weary eyes a brief break from writing and reading, I’ve added a small bit of audio (my voice) to the blog. Please click to play the clip before moving on. Yes, that’s me and yes I’m still trying figure out how to do this. In the meantime, I appreciate your patience. You’re going to need it …  🙂

To properly and effectively AND safely apply handcuffs is a skill that must be practiced. After all, in the field it must come instinctively since officers are often required to apply handcuffs to extremely strong people. And these are usually people who have no desire whatsoever to have those cuffs snapped onto their wrists. This, too, is the reason most officers prefer to carry chain-link handcuffs. Hinged cuffs are typically used when transporting prisoners. They’re perfect for limiting wrist and hand movement.

Handcuffing is taught during the basic police academy. We, too, teach handcuffing techniques at the Writers’ Police Academy as you can see in the photos below.

2017 Writers Police Academy—Defensive Tactics

 

2017 Writers Police Academy—handcuffing

 

2017 Writers Police Academy—Defensive Tactics

*Openings are available to attend the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy.

Writers sometimes fail to capture what really goes on beyond the yellow tape at crime scenes. The reasons vary for these unfortunate omissions of solid information, but one theme is common … the use TV or film as research tools. How awful, right?

The little things often go unsaid, even though those details are often quite important!

 

So what are authors missing when they use television as their sole source of cop-type information?

Well, here’s a six-pack of helpful hints for those characters whose duty is to investigate a crime scene.

1. Death Scene Documentation, Evidence Collection, and Chain of Custody of the Body

Before the medical examiner enters the scene, be sure to preserve any evidence that may be altered, contaminated, or destroyed. You certainly wouldn’t want the M.E.’s footsteps to wipe out the suspect’s shoe prints, alter blood stain evidence, or mar tire impressions. Document the M.E.’s time of arrival, who called him and when, and what time the body was removed from the scene. Also, make note of the seal number placed on the body bag, if a seal was used. If not, note that the M.E. did not seal the bag and have an officer escort the body to the morgue, if possible. This simple act keeps the chain of custody intact.

2. Water Scenes: What’s Important? – Always document the water type (pond, river, lake, creek, etc.). Record the water temperature and the depth of the water where the body was found, if possible. Make note of and photograph the surroundings. It’s possible that the victim had been swinging from the rope hanging from the limb in that large oak tree, slipped, and then fell onto that large rock jutting out of the water. Everything is a clue. Record the position of the body in the water. Was it face down, or face up? Totally underwater, or floating? That could help determine how long the body had been in the water. Follow the clues!

3. Shoes – Everyone entering a crime scene should wear shoe covers. If not, pay particular attention to their shoes. Yours included. Photograph the bottoms of everyone’s shoes so you’ll be able to recognize the tread patterns when comparing impression evidence back at the office or lab.

4. Photograph Impressed Evidence – Always take a picture of impressed evidence (tire tracks, footprints, etc.). If something were to go wrong while you’re processing evidence and you hadn’t photographed before you started … well, you’re, as they say … SOL.

5. Fingerprinting Wet Surfaces – Don’t let a little rain stop you from lifting fingerprints. There are a couple of ways to obtain a good set of prints from wet surfaces—Wet Print, a spray on mixture that develops black prints instantly, and SPR, another spray on product that requires a little mixing before applying.

6. Gloves – Use a different pair of gloves when handling each piece of evidence. This is an important step that prevents cross-contamination. You certainly don’t want to transfer someone’s DNA from room to room, especially if that makes an innocent person appear to have been somewhere he hasn’t! And, it is possible to leave your prints on a surface even while wearing thin, latex gloves. Cotton gloves eliminate this problem.

Angry DNA says, “Wearing gloves helps prevent contamination of evidence.”

Working as a police officer extremely intense. It’s tough. It’s mentally and physically challenging.

During the course of a typical shift, officers meet many people while responding to various calls and while working a variety of assignments

While protecting and serving, well, here are five things they should ALWAYS do when doing what they do.


 

Spots are still available to the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy. Yes, registration is still open and, we have lots more surprises on the way. This is an event you’ll remember for a lifetime so please hurry while slots are available! Oh, be sure to refer a friend and have them sign up as well. You’ll soon see why that could be a very important step.

 

http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com

Police officer academy training is extremely intense. It’s tough. It’s mentally and physically challenging.

During the course of basic training, officers are taught many topics, tactics, and techniques.

Academy instructors advise recruits on the hundreds upon hundreds things they must do right during their careers as law enforcement officers.

Here are five things they should NOT do.


 

Spots are still available to the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy. Yes, registration is still open and, we have lots more surprises on the way. This is an event you’ll remember for a lifetime so please hurry while slots are available! Oh, be sure to refer a friend and have them sign up as well. You’ll soon see why that could be a very important step.

 

http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com

 

Seeing is believing and the hands-on training offered at the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy is second to none. It’s thrilling, heart-pounding, and a ton of fun! Add a mind-blowing new level of realism to your writing. #2018WPA

Registration opens at noon (EST) February 18, 2018. Please be ready to sign up because spots for the 10th anniversary blowout are extremely limited!

Pursuit Driving – High Speed Pursuit! You will drive the pursuit vehicle!

Wound-Packing – Police officers sustain gunshot wounds in the field and it is often up to their partners to perform life-saving first aid techniques. Now you, too, have the unique opportunity to stop an arterial bleed, seal a sucking chest wound, or to stop bleeding from a gaping wound. Never before have writers been offered this behind the scenes, hands-on experience. Bring life to your characters. Realism beyond belief (Caution – graphic images, but this is a simulation. Not a real victim!).

Emergency Driving – Experience the difficulty of multitasking while driving, observing, and communicating, and all while utilizing lights and siren.

http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com

*Above videos were filmed at the Writers’ Police Academy training facility.

Today, as your keystrokes guide your police officer/detective/protagonist through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the day, pause for just a moment to consider the lives of real-life officers. Do your characters measure up to a human officer’s abilities? Have you over-written the character? Are they mindless, superheroes? Have you given them human emotions? Is the danger level realistic? Are they believable?

Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite (NO!), uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, Sig Sauers, edged weapons, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get the ideas for blog topics? Well, I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book. I read tons of books including books penned by readers of this blog. Therefore, and unfortunately so, I have a near endless supply of fodder for articles—the mistakes writers make in their books (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).

For example, while pouring over the pages of a wonderfully written book, a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks.

Wonderfully Written Book

So I backed up to re-read the last few lines to make certain that what I’d read was actually on the page and not my mind playing tricks on my tired eyes. Nope, there it was as plain as day, one of the most impossible, unbelievable means to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail because the book is very new). Then, to make matters even worse, the scene was followed by a few more paragraphs containing incorrect information about the weapons and materials involved in the goofy slaying. Not even close to realism.

Now I have a problem. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll have the courage to pick up another book written by this particular author. Why? Because he/she didn’t bother to check facts. The writer didn’t attempt even the slightest effort to use common sense. Actually, I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.

Common Sense Works for Lee Child: Writing Believable Make-Believe

One of the best thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes a ton of over the top action, but he does so in a way that makes you believe it, even though some of it probably couldn’t happen in real life.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books. His answer was (click here to read the entire interview), “Better to ask if I do any research before I write the last word! I don’t do any general research. I depend on things I have already read or seen or internalized, maybe years before.

I ask people about specific details … like I asked you what a rural police chief might have in his trunk.  But in terms of large themes I think it’s difficult to research too close to the time of writing … research is like an iceberg—90% of it needs to be discarded, and it’s hard to do that without perspective.”

So how does Lee make all that wacky action work? He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.

A gun is a cop’s silent best friend. It’s always there for them when they need it, without fail. And it’s extremely low-maintenance—feed it a diet of fresh bullets along with a little Hoppes gun oil to wash them down, a bath for the little fella a bath every Saturday night, and don’t let them play in the rain and the dirt. That’s about it. But a pistol can be a touch on the sensitive side, so you must to cradle it gently, never letting it fall. And please remember to gently place a hand on their little butts whenever you find yourselves in a dangerous situation. It’s comforting.

That’s all your sidearm will ever ask of you. Nothing more, nothing less. And they’ll remain at your side forever.

I liked the feeling of a pistol on my side. Its weight provided a slight feeling of serenity even though the constant downward-tugging at my belt and waistline could be a bit annoying at times. And there’s that thing about the hammer insisting that it tear a hole in the lining of every jacket I owned. It’s … well, it was pretty darn aggravating, but you get used to it and move on.

Actual jacket with patch.

After all, a little patch, needle and thread, and you’re back in business. It’s the least you could do for your little one. Besides, your department gives you a clothing allowance, right?

A take-home car is another BFF. You drive them for so long that the foam seat cushion conforms to the shape of your rear-end. Unlike your relationship with the gun, though, you can get away with talking to your ride without anyone thinking you’ve finally stepped over into cop la-la-land.

And, we mustn’t forget the graveyard shift sing-a-longs that help keep you awake once the magic “fall-asleep-it’s-four-o’clock” hour rolls around. Belting out Delilah’s middle of the night tear-jerkers while cruising the backroads is almost as good at keeping you awake as a giant mug of jailhouse coffee.

On a more serious note, the bullet hole in the front fender is a constant reminder that the car “took” the one that was meant for you.

Yep, the three of you make a great team—the brains, the brawn, and the … well, there’s no “B” for the car, but it’s definitely an integral part of the trio. You go everywhere together. You’re inseparable. Day-in and day-out you do everything together.

Your two BFF partners are there for you when you’re up and they’re there when you’re down. They’re around during the tough times, through fights, saving lives, and through weddings and divorces. Through good days and sickness. The day you held the kid whose mother had just died in a car crash. And when you comforted the parents whose son took the overdose. When you sat behind the wheel and wept because you couldn’t reach far enough inside the burning car to pull the crying infant from the flames.

For twenty-five years, the three of you sacrificed everything to work in the rain, snow, and unbearable heat. You put in grueling, long hours. You worked with injured body parts and during times when family members were sick and dying. And you did it all for low pay and little recognition for your hard work.

And then the day finally comes … the day when the three of you are no more. You drive to work and park, not in your old space, the one you’ve parked in for years, but alongside a row of fleet cars … strangers. You walk inside for the last time and hand in the keys. Then it’s time to slip off the holster. The instant weight-loss feels horrible. Sliding the badge across the desk is worse. But you know the three of you have too many miles behind you to keep going. It’s time to say goodbye.

After all, there’s always a burger to flip. A mall to guard and shoplifters to nab. Flowers to plant and birdhouses to build.

I think I’ll grab a rod and reel and see if anything’s biting. Wanna join me?

Here’s a brief list of “not-so-accurate” cop-stuff seen in books. Were those books … um … yours?

  1. Yes, bloodstains can help tell investigators what happened at specific moments in time (suspect stood “there” when he delivered the fatal blow, etc). However, it is not unusual to find that bloodstains are too few or the volume of blood is far too great for investigators to come to any reasonable conclusions. In other words, it’s not at all uncommon to locate bloodstains that are unusable as evidence.
  2. Most laboratory scientists working in crime labs specialize in one area. Therefore, a narcotics expert wouldn’t be the scientist who examines tool-mark evidence. Nor would a DNA expert be found attempting to match fingerprints.
  3. Low-quality digital images cannot be enhanced to a point that’s better than the original image. Low resolution images are produced by capturing fewer pixels. Experts are good but they cannot magnify and clarify pixels that aren’t there.
  4. DNA science/testing is not an exact science. Accidents happen (contamination, etc.).  DNA evidence is merely the icing on an investigator’s cake. He/she should concentrate on gathering other evidence since those things are often more valuable/useful for solving a case and as proof of an offender’s involvement in the crime. Think of building a sturdy brick wall. It takes several well-made bricks to construct a strong wall. The same is true with a criminal case. It takes several pieces of good, solid evidence to build a strong case, one that’s suitable to present to a judge and jury. DNA is not a slam dunk.
  5. It’s not always possible to lift prints even in places where the suspect definitely touched the item in question. Why Not? Fingerprints are 98% water, therefore prints might not survive in extremely hot and dry climates. Or, technicians could destroy prints by improperly handling or packaging developed prints or items to be printed/processed.
  6. When someone is shot he does not fly backward. Instead, the victim merely falls to the ground.
  7. Revolvers do not automatically eject spent casings.
  8. Not all deputy sheriffs are sworn/certified police officers. Some work in jails as corrections officers. Others work as courtroom security officers and some are employed as process servers, serving jury summons, etc.
  9. There is only one sheriff in each sheriff’s office … the boss. The rest are deputy sheriffs who are appointed by the sheriff to assist in carrying out the duties of the office.
  10. Detectives typically do not maintain their rank when transferring from one agency to another. Should a detective leave one department to begin employment with another he’d need to start over as a patrol officer and work his way back up the ladder. Of course there’re exceptions to the rule, but the occurrence is rare, if at all.