For mystery and especially fiction crime writers, the “police procedural” portion of our novels must be spot on, or they will be dismissed as amateurish or not researched properly.
I’m referring to how we write about law enforcement in our books: what police do when a crime has been committed; how forensics and crime scene analysis is handled; what police do or say in the course of their jobs, etc.
One way I’ve learned more about these and many other topics for my series called “Behind the Mic Mysteries” has been to attend a Writers Police Academy, held in Green Bay, WI for the past two years. Writers take over a police academy for a weekend, and instructors teach novelists instead of recruits. But there are costs involved, such as travel, hotel and the event itself.
Another great resource happens in most major cities around the country, and it’s free: a Citizen Police Academy. I’m currently in week four of 13 in the Chandler Citizen Police Academy, and it’s been an up close and personal look at the inner dealings of the Chandler Police Department.
So far, we’ve had an overview of the communication department; learned more about traffic laws; heard from a school resource officer regarding violence at schools; and had two detectives talk about sex crimes and domestic violence.
During the first session, we heard actual 911 calls and tried to discern what the dispatchers were hearing. Sometimes the callers were screaming, another time the caller was quiet because they were in hiding. One call, where it appeared a man with a gun was shouting, turned out to be an accidental dialing where the dispatcher heard an episode of “Law & Order” on the TV, and there was no emergency.
We toured the communications room to see the huge monitors used by dispatchers, and all the maps, listings of available officers and other electronic information they incorporate. A sign in the room is one they live by: “Assume it’s something until you prove it’s nothing.”
A 24-year veteran from the motor unit in the traffic division taught the “traffic laws” session. Officer John Allison, who is also a long-time police officer traffic instructor, answered some typical questions he receives, such as whether they have “hiding spots” to catch speeders?
“No, just strategic locations,” was his answer.
He says they do not have quotas to fill, but adds traffic is the number one complaint in the city.
He also discussed seatbelts, child restraints, and surprised the group with information needed in case of an accident. He said it is not required to give your insurance information to the other person involved in the incident, but it’s okay to give it. He also said the other party is only required to view your driver’s license and is not to take photos of it.
Having investigated many accidents with injuries and fatalities, he says they develop special skills to deal with it.
“We use dry humor, that’s how we cope.”
Kevin Quinn will celebrate 23 years at CPD and has spent the past 15 as a School Resource Officers at Hamilton High School. His presentation included some of the deadliest school violence acts, but were those many hadn’t heard about, such as the 43 killed in Michigan in 1927 when a man, upset because of rising school taxes, blew up a school with dynamite. In addition to Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine and other more recent cases, he noted the earliest recorded school violence where a number of people were killed at a school was to make a “statement” during the Potomac war in 1764.
Quinn also dispelled a number of myths about school shooters:
-“Didn’t fit the profile” of single, male, no friend, broken homes, pet killers, etc. “There is no useful profile. Many have lots of friends, good parents and don’t fit the profile.”
-“They just snapped.” “One doesn’t just snap, grab four guns and kill. Most are highly planned.”
-“Nobody knew.” “In 90% of these cases, someone knows, but they didn’t report the person.”
Police now refer to school shooters as “Mission Oriented Killers,” who commit premeditated and predatory violence.
“They’re mostly looking for specific people to target,” Quinn notes. “There is usually lengthy planning and preparation. They do their damage and they want to die.”
Training for an active shooter situation involved police working with teachers “to listen” to them during an incident, but they do not train students. “We don’t want to traumatize the kids, we just want them to listen to their teachers.”
Two detectives in the Criminal Investigations Bureau spoke about sex crimes against children, and how there are “very few” false reports by young victims.
Det. Amy Hedges says parents should be aware of how sexual predators will groom their prey through sexting, online in chat rooms, and creating a fictional online persona for use in various social media.
Det. Bill Klapmeyer, who personally meets with registered sex offenders when they move to Chandler, discussed the notification process to a block or larger area based on the low, medium or high risk of the offender. He noted that convicted sex offenders can only have their driver’s licenses renewed one year at a time.
The next sessions will include human trafficking, robbery and homicide, narcotics, K-9s, SWAT, firearms, street gangs and more. For information, visit www.ChandlerPD.com.