Saturday, October 1, 2011

Writers' Police Academy

This is a photo of self-heal growing last spring in my herb garden--the big leaves near the bottom of the photo.  It makes a useful tea for colds and allergies.  I put it here to remind us that, in the natural world and in our human society, we have that which heals as well as that which destroys.


WRITERS’ POLICE ACADEMY.Last summer I impulsively signed up for the Writers’ Police Academy, directed by Lee Lofland, the author of Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers. With a foreword by Stuart Kaminsky. Writer’s Digest Books. $19.99. ISBN: 978-1-58297-455-2. I belong to Sisters in Crime (SinC) and they were offering a scholarship. High Point (near Jamestown) is about sixty miles away, a possible commute for me. So I signed up: $145, including the banquet.

Most mysteries involve the police, and mine do. My series heroine, Penny Weaver, a mid-fifties American poet, falls for a Welsh policeman in book one. In the second book, she meets a local Sheriff’s Department detective when her landlord is murdered.

I’ve tried to learn about police procedures both in a North Carolina county and in Wales. I bought Lee’s book, and I corresponded by email with a Welsh detective a few years ago. But this promised to be the most helpful yet, and I enjoyed telling my friends and adult children, "I’m going to a police academy in September." Then I would say, "It’s for writers."

As the weekend drew near, I became more anxious. I reminded myself that, when I was about 40 and Chair of the small press organization COSMEP, I’d driven into downtown Philadelphia in the middle of the night, two sleeping children in the backseat, trying to find the friendly small press person who was putting us up for the night. I was anxious then, but this was worse. Age?

The police academy was held in Jamestown, at Guilford Technical Community College, where I’d never been. I got out maps. I googled directions. I wrote to Lee. A very kind librarian, Nancy Metzner, wrote back to call her cell phone if I got close and couldn’t find the Public Safety building. Lee and Nancy both emailed campus maps. I’d be coming back after dark and leaving in the dark both Friday and Saturday. We were to have rain all weekend, and the crime scene was "rain or shine," so I took my new rain jacket with hood, made sure the animals and chickens had what they needed, put extra clothes and some tunafish sandwiches in the truck for lunch and supper, and set off Friday morning at six.

I got lost for awhile near the college, but eventually I found the building, got registered, and chatted with other folks who’d commuted.

My first choice of the Friday morning workshops was the Crime Scene Investigation with Bill Lanning. Heavy rain began as we left the gazebo shelter to trudge uphill to the shallow grave site. My rain jacket was not waterproof. The manikin named Sonya’s body was mostly exposed. There were pieces of paper scattered around, receipts, a cigar butt thrown on top of her. She was covered by a tent, but we weren't.

Bill told us that digging a deep grave was too hard and time-consuming for most killers, so shallow graves were common. Also, even if the earth were smoothed off afterwards, the soft earth tends to sink and form a concave pattern. Some killers cut up bodies to save having to dig a grave. If wrapped in plastic (to hide odors) it doesn’t decompose as fast. If there are skeletal remains, often scattered by carrion-eating birds and animals, it’s very hard to identify the deceased. Flies can lay eggs in minutes. Ants also eat bodies.

Fortunately I did have a change of clothes in my pickup, but many folks, coming by bus from the hotel, were wet and cold the rest of the day. We got a dose of the difficulties police face.

Bio-terrorism. Dr. Denene Lofland (Lee Lofland’s wife).

Denene has been working for years in labs that supply information to the government, especially on drugs to counter the likely diseases that could be used to kill people, destroy food sources, water supplies, and to create fear. Compared to conventional and nuclear weapons, such weaponized germs are cheap to manufacture and distribute. Besides anthrax, which can be in water, food, or air, where it’s the most lethal, there is smallpox. Children haven’t been vaccinated against this for some time because it’s theoretically wiped out except for some labs in U.S. and Russia.

Other potential weapons are: salmonella, the plague (Black Death), staph, viruses, fungi, parasites, Q Fever. Not all kill everyone, but they can make you very sick for weeks, and most available vaccines against those threats go to the military. Many of these germs, e.g., the plague and anthrax, exist naturally in the wild. One quart of Botulism germs, which are created when canned vegetables spoil, could wipe out the whole population of the earth.

Handcuffing and Arrest Techniques.  Stan Lawthorne and Corp. Dee Jackson.

It’s very easy to buy handcuff keys, and criminals may hide them in pens, bullets, wear them on necklaces or even in their penises. Most cuffs used now are metal, but sometimes flex cuffs are used in arresting a lot of people at once. Don’t cuff a very dangerous suspect with hands in front, as, if he’s limber, he may be able to get out of them. Leg shackles were advised, but not hog-tying as they can die in custody if so tied and left face down. Now they lay them on their sides if they wear handcuffs and leg shackles.

Pepper spray and Tasers are used to subdue suspects if command presence and verbal instructions don’t work. Guns only if absolutely necessary. If suspects are high on cocaine or PCP, their hearts may explode from the Taser electrodes, since the drugs send the heart rate high. Such a drugged state is called "excited delirium," and the authorities have to get them medical attention as fast as possible.

Plaster Casting and Fingerprinting. Susan Powell.

If you have footprints or tire prints at a crime scene and you want to make casts, you can use dental stone, which sets fast. Then you look for the class characteristics, e.g., size, make, model, style, type of shoe or tire tread, as well as for individual characteristics: wear, cuts, microscopic debris picked up on them. Often emphasized by all the forensic instructors was: everywhere you go, you leave something and take something away with you. If the impression is in sand, Susan dampens the sand first and uses hair spray to firm it up.

In Fingerprinting I learned to dust with magnetic powder, lift fingerprints from a tile and from a glass jar with tape, and then release them onto a piece of paper or a film, examine them under a microscope for their type, sub-group, and individual characteristics. The three main types are arches, loops, and whorls. Most of mine were whorls with the bull’s eye formation. Each finger is different. Our basic fingerprints don’t change from womb to death. Not even identical twins have the same prints. You then enter as many characteristics as possible, ideally12-15, into the AFIS police computer system, and possible matches are returned, even from a partial. A Nazi War Criminal was convicted in recent years from his fingerprints on a 1944 postcard with the help of laser lights.

The Psychologist and the Sleuth. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.
Katherine gave a presentation to the whole academy. She has published forty books. She has articles regularly in the Sisters in Crime quarterly newsletter, In Sinc. She does psychological and legal investigations for parental fitness, sexual harassment, research competency, as well as consultation at crime scenes, death investigations, profiling, jury selection, and sentencing recommendations.

She does careful observation of suspects and others, reading body language, noticing micro expressions. She can list behaviors and traits, narrow down leads. What she does is not scientific. From a potential pool of suspects, she can give a high probability as to which one is the most likely. This is probability analysis or an educated hypothesis. Psychological autopsy is done after the crime is committed. She can develop a profile, using victimology, evidence of psychopathology, abnormal psychology, etc. She notices whether the murderer was organized or disorganized and can recognize the signs.

Psychological autopsies can settle criminal cases, ambiguous deaths, estate issues, malpractice, insurance claims. In solving murders, often the psychological elements are overlooked or treated superficially. She was present throughout the conference, always gracious. A real gift to have her with us.

Women in Law Enforcement. Sgt. Catherine Netter.
Catherine supervises a shift at a Guilford County jail. She also led the jail tour on Thursday night. She passed around her duty belt, without the gun, and we felt how heavy it was. Clothes are designed for men, so getting a shirt that fits comfortably and allows for boobs isn’t easy. That isn’t the only extra challenge police women face. Going to the bathroom involves more undressing than with men. She finds her male counterparts often worry she can’t back them up. But males on the street may underestimate her. 60% of police working in detention are women, who, generally, keep things quieter. The mothers of male inmates were often the family disciplinarians. If you’re attractive, your job is easier. She relies on her brain and her command presence. The word spreads if you’re good at subduing rowdy prisoners. 99% of running a prison is good communication. Ten men are compliant and respectful for every one who isn’t, and usually those have a history of domestic violence.

She ignores vulgar language. She’d rather work with males, and it’s an advantage to be black, as 90% of inmates are black. "The way you start is the way you end," she said.

The Role of Digital Evidence in Criminal Investigations. Lt. Josh Moulin, Task Force Commander of High Tech Crimes for Southern Oregon.
80% of the cyber crimes Josh investigates are child pornography and abuse cases. 45% of the men interested in child pornography have abused kids. This was perhaps the scariest thing I learned. The police sometimes find thousands of child pornography photos on one cell phone, computer, or other digital device.

This task force includes people from local, state, and federal (FBI, Homeland Security, ICE (Immigration and Customs)) organizations. A child abuser has an average of 13.5 victims, and most are not detected. They have a backlog of cases, but they give significant time to education, e.g., programs at middle schools.

Cell phones are often used for drug sales. They have a $20,000 machine that can crack passwords when they input biographical data. They can track emails, websites, even texting with cell phones.

It will get harder for them when people use more distance file saving, i.e., through cloud computing. He can get things from Facebook. There are people on Craig’s List setting up sex. Once they do have digital evidence, it stands up in court. They now have mental health resources to help them deal with this very difficult material.

Cold Cases. Dave Pauly, Sirchie Fingerprint Labs, and Dr. Katherine Ramsland.
In 1990 a group of forensic scientists started a cold case review group called the Vidocq Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dave and Katherine are in it. For a case to be considered, it must be at least two years old, no longer being investigated, but have solvability. They meet monthly with the original investigation presented to them, and then they brainstorm.

Cases go cold for many reasons: administratively it may not have been considered important enough, there wasn’t enough personnel, or for socioeconomic reasons. Another reason is witness error because the witness provided only incomplete or misleading information. The investigator can screw up. If the suspect seems to have an alibi, that can throw them off. In fact, 97% of suspects are mentioned to the police in the first thirty days. There may be too much data or not enough evidence. The investigators sometimes conduct a poor interview. You should begin in a friendly way, but you must keep a certain distance. Gradually make the suspect more uncomfortable by allowing long silences, etc.

Usually the murderer is in some relationship to the victim. Cases get passed off or the investigator takes a new job. "We suck at communication," Dave said. "It makes a difference if someone cares and keeps pushing."

Women’s Personal Safety and Protection. Corp. Dee Jackson.
Dee was determined that we would learn to avoid situations that might prove dangerous, get fit, and deal effectively with potential aggressors. She made us chant: "We fight dirty to survive." She gave us handouts and we practiced three moves that would tend to disable someone approaching us who made us feel "icky." We practiced on rubber dummies. (1) Run up to him and hit him hard with our palms on his ears. (2) Run up to him, grab his head and knee him in the groin. (3) Run up to him and grab clothes, hair, head, and claw him down his face.

She had us run in place for one minute. Such a dangerous encounter usually takes three minutes. She said she’d die on the spot rather than let someone take her off and her family never see her again or know what happened. "This is 2011," she emphasized. "I want to read in the paper that you put someone in the hospital."

I’m going to do more exercises and be more careful. Dee praised me when I clawed that son of a bitch!

Banquet Speaker. Christopher Reich.
Reich’s newest book, Rules of Betrayal (2010) was on the New York Times Best Selling list. He had a job with a Swiss Bank. They had a visit from a U.S. investigator, urging them to be suspicious when large amounts of cash were deposited, transferred, or withdrawn. When the investigator left, their director told the employees, if they ever talked to that man, they’d be fired instantly, for that cash experience happened frequently.

Reich had never written a novel, but he told his new wife he was quitting his job to write it. He had literary agents fighting for it, but then he had to revise it many times. It made the New York Times list, but his second book did less well, so they wanted his huge six-figure cash advance back. He had spent it. He was given three months to write a new one. This idea came from meeting General Tommy Franks and hearing about the secret work he was doing in Iraq. That book had publishers competing and came out number three on the New York Times list.

His advice to us: Have faith in yourself and get yourself planted in your chair (what Elizabeth George calls "bum glue.").

Sunday Morning Panel to Debrief and Ask Questions about our WIPsExperts Present: Lee Lofland, Dave Pauly, Josh Mullen, Richard McMahan, Catherine Netter, Dee Jackson, Sandy Russell, Marco Conelli, Mary Grace Tomecki, his fiancee, who is Fire Commissioner in a Long Island community.
 McMahan described a reverse sting, where they set up a storefront undercover to buy drugs and firearms. They had fifteen cameras and many operatives there. They learned that guns had been stolen not far away, and they were brought right to them, and then they arrested the suspects.

Dave Pauly told more about the Vidocq Society. You can google "The Murder Room" to learn about it, and there may be a television program coming out about it soon.

Catherine admitted she found her work exhausting, mentally and physically. It’s aging her prematurely.

Dee told about the first man who ever hit her (it hasn’t happened again!) when she was military police in the Marine Corps. He was in the "excited delirium" state and came at them holding a door he’d wrenched off the hinges. He put the door down and punched Dee, breaking her nose. Her partner, who had climbed on the man’s back, yelled to her to help him. They even hit him with the door. He was finally subdued.

Mary Grace, who’s short and slender, told us how she deals with the four fire chiefs under her and all the men and women under them. "Go prepared. Don’t ever let anyone push you around. You have a moral obligation to do your job, hold your ground. [Dee threw in: "Never cry."], understand their needs, but never assume respect. You have to earn it."

I asked a WIP question about whether my Welsh detective could be used by a N.C. county sheriff’s department, and the answer was no, unless in some emergency, rule 15A405, which allows deputizing, or if he were an American citizen, properly trained and certified as a police officer.

Lee then asked: "Have we ruined your WIP?" I said, "Yes."

Some other women asked me afterwards what I was going to do. I said I’d think about it. Actually, I’m going to send Kenneth to my fictional county’s police academy. Lee confirmed by email this is possible. One thing he’d have to learn is to handle a gun.

There were some gun questions, and we learned that, because a gun is wet, it doesn’t mean it won’t fire, and also that the proper way to hold a gun in a situation where it’s needed, is to point it down, safety off, bullet in chamber.

Plain clothes police detectives also carry guns, handcuffs, pepper spray, and Tasers.


With another Guppy (the Great Unpublished Sub-Group of Sisters in Crime), Elaine Douts, I contributed most of the above to the Guppy Newsletter, First Draft, emailed to us October 1. I’ve had some days to write and think about my experience. I’m very glad I went. I can see new and interesting possibilities for my Kenneth character because he works as a regular deputy. A lot is more specific now, less vague. That’s sure to be a plus. I also plan to put a woman police person in my next novel, and thanks to Catherine Netter and Dee Jackson, I know a lot more about what that’s like.

On a personal level, I will be more aware of taking care of my personal safety and health. I’ll be adding some new exercises to my daily routine. I’m very glad I found the courage to drive myself to GTCC for the police weekend. Many of the harsh realities which the professionals deal with daily got through to me.

Dee emphasized: "This is 2011." She wanted us to live longer, be safer. She said, "People love you, care about you. I want you to be safe." I tell you what, if a man messes with me now, he’s looking to end up in the hospital!

Also at the academy, which is held yearly, people may be able to do the jail tour or a ride-along, with your name drawn out of a hat. There were more course options than I had time to take.  The High Point Public Library helped with local arrangements and registration. The college’s Criminal Justice Department, notably Sandra Neal, also helped out with local arrangements and made sure we found where we needed to go. Everyone was friendly and helpful. A police academy happens there on a regular basis. Our experts, and the 140 participants, many because of the Sisters In Crime scholarships, came from all over the country. Very worth doing! JH

September 22-25, 2011. Guilford Technical Community College, Jamestown, N.C.


  1. I'm glad you went despite the anxiety, Judy. And appreciate you sharing some of what you learned. And yes, you'll work out fitting Kenneth into the local crime scene!
    YEars ago I took a course called RAD: I think it stood for Rape Agressive Defense. Taught by police people, two days of learning some heavy duty ways to keep safe (for women only.) At the end, an instructor in bulked-up safety suit 'attacked' us and we had to attack HIM, using every trick and dirty trick we could come up with to 'put him out of commision.' It was very scarey, but very empowering. so, yes, live long and prosper! M

  2. I would love to do this, Judy, and admire you greatly--thanks for the detailed description.

  3. We'd love to see you there, Jenny!