Writers Police Academy, Pt 1

Begin­ning of autumn, not that you could tell by how warm it was.  Cen­tral North Car­oli­na.  Eight o’clock in the morn­ing.  Run­ning on not much cof­fee.  Simone and I at the Writ­ers Police Acad­e­my: Day 1.

Kath says warm; Simone says, “The rea­son I would nev­er live in North Car­oli­na ever again.” It was only about 85 degrees. It felt like 95. The rain felt like we were stand­ing under the place where God and the angels hang around wring­ing out their sweaty bas­ket­ball clothes at the end of a good pick-up game.

This was a dream come true for me.  I love being a writer, and I love dig­ging into the research I get to do as part of writ­ing.  I’ve been like a sug­ar addict in a can­dy store for the last six months with all the police pro­ce­dure and inves­ti­ga­tion research­ing we’ve done for our WIP.  Just ask any­one, they’ll say I’ve been gid­dy with it.  Gid­dy!


The Writ­ers Police Acad­e­my, orga­nized by the fab­u­lous Lee Lofland (buy his book!!), is a com­bi­na­tion of hands-on learn­ing and sem­i­nars taught by active duty offi­cers and some of the lead­ing experts in the fields of inves­ti­ga­tion and foren­sics.  It’s an amaz­ing three-day oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn what’s real and what’s prime time tele­vi­sion.

Les­son #1:  The first thing we were told?  Real police and CSI techs do not wear high heels or even mod­er­ate heels.  Or tight skirts.  Sor­ry, Detec­tive Beck­ett.

Let’s get it right.

It is not nor­mal­ly this dark at 8AM in Sep­tem­ber.


We watched the clouds deep­en and dark­en as we gath­ered in the EMT train­ing bay at Guil­ford Tech­ni­cal Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege and Pub­lic Safe­ty Train­ing Acad­e­my.  The wind shift­ed, and our instruc­tor for Fire Equip­ment, Bob Halpin, said, “Let’s keep mov­ing, the rain’s com­ing in.”  I shrugged.  I’m from Seat­tle.  What’s a lit­tle rain between friends, right?

We toured the fire­house set up.  Got a good look at fire engines and the fire­fight­ers’ gear …



Then the heav­ens opened.

This was no end-of-sum­mer show­er.  It was a del­uge!  The only oth­er time I’ve been in rain this heavy and per­sis­tent was when Simone and I were in Flori­da.  What is it with these south­ern rain­storms?

Being a stal­wart and relent­less researcher, not to men­tion a cocky Seat­tleite who shugs off rain as a mat­ter of course, I chose to take the Shal­low Grave Crime Scene work­shop first while Simone went to her appoint­ment with the Firearms Train­ing Sim­u­la­tor (or F.A.T.S).

Okay, the Firearms Train­ing Sim­u­la­tor is amaz­ing. And yes, I won­dered when I’d get to shoot the lit­tle girl car­ry­ing the chem­istry book like in Men in Black (“What is she doing in this neigh­bor­hood?”).  But the sim­u­la­tor was more sophis­ti­cat­ed than the pop­up tar­gets and laser-tag I had been expect­ing. We were issued real, mod­i­fied Glocks, and walked through live action video. A con­troller (and our extra­or­di­nary sup­port per­son for the train­ing) would decide in real time if our words or actions affect­ed the sim­u­la­tion and could change the video reac­tion on the fly–a bit like the ani­ma­tion from an old video arcade game. Our guns inter­act­ed with the screen, and the com­put­er assessed whether we hit or missed, and, if we hit, whether or not the hit would affect, inca­pac­i­tate, or kill the tar­get. Some­times no shoot­ing was called for. Some­times you could save every­one except the sus­pect. Some­times only shoot­ing VERY ACCURATELY could give you a bet­ter than hor­ri­ble out­come.

The ana­lyz­ing part of my brain loved observ­ing how the sim­u­la­tions used shout­ing and amped up ges­tures to stim­u­late adren­a­line and get us exam­i­nees more involved in what would oth­er­wise be a “video game.” Sev­er­al of the peo­ple I observed were real­ly tense. 

Les­son #2a: The trig­ger on the weapons we were giv­en can only be pulled if your fin­ger ful­ly engages it.

Les­son #2b: Aim­ing metic­u­lous­ly and try­ing to fire from the side of said trig­ger gives your part­ner time to shoot sev­er­al oth­er things in the envi­ron­ment. Inno­cent, video squir­rels suf­fered that day.

Les­son #3: If giv­en a choice, wait for the bomb squad. If not giv­en a choice, bemoan­ing your fate to the instruc­tor only makes him gig­gle.

While Simone was off shoot­ing bad guys, those of us want­i­ng to check out dead bod­ies hud­dled in the pago­da out­side the train­ing facil­i­ty in our var­i­ous states of water-repel­lent pre­pared­ness while we wait­ed for the storm to pass.  It didn’t.

Did I men­tion we were stal­wart?


Cross­ing the Line


We tromped through the grass and sticky red clay mud to get to the body of Son­ja, a young female man­nequin who had been dumped in a shal­low grave.

No man­nequins were harmed in the deploy­ing of this shal­low grave.

If I ever want­ed to know what it was like work­ing a crime scene in pour­ing rain, in mud­dy, crap­py con­di­tions, now I know.  The REI water­proof jack­et failed.  The hat failed.   Also, iPhones take even crum­mi­er pic­tures when the lens is wet.  The good thing?  The rain kept down the smell of decom­po­si­tion which in turn kept away the corpse-lov­ing bugs. Despite the tor­rent, we found evi­dence galore.

Les­son #4:  Rain screws with crime scenes, yes, but that doesn’t mean all evi­dence is washed away.

This is total­ly going into our next book.

Note to self:  Next year, bring a change of clothes.  And boots.  Lee did warn us.  He real­ly did.

After that, I met a (com­plete­ly dry) Simone at a Blood Stain Pat­tern­ing sem­i­nar taught by Dave Pauly, Direc­tor of Applied Foren­sic Sci­ence at Methodist Uni­ver­si­ty, Fayet­teville, NC.  We learned about angles of descent, the need for pre­sump­tive test­ing, what meth­ods can be used to reveal a blood stain, and just how much a blood stain can tell an inves­ti­ga­tor.  The answer is ‘quite a lot.’  And that high school math you thought you’d nev­er use?  It comes in very handy when look­ing for the area of con­ver­gence and the angle of impact.  Who knew?

How blood lands can tell an inves­ti­ga­tor a huge amount about what occurred. Copy­right: how​stuff​works​.com


Les­son #5:  Scrub­bing away stains with bleach won’t remove the pres­ence of heme (as in hemo­glo­bin).  Nei­ther will scrub­bing off and paint­ing over a spat­tered wall.  Also, sprayed blood hides every­where.  Every­where.  

We pulled up the base­board, and sure enough …” –Dave Pauly 

Com­ing up, Part 2!  Fin­ger­print­ing, Impres­sions Evi­dence, and Foren­sic Psy­chol­o­gy.


PS  Lee Lofland is a retired police offi­cer and one hell of a blog­ger.  You can read his true stores, his reviews of the TV show Cas­tle, and find out more about the Writ­ers Police Acad­e­my at The Grave­yard Shift.

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