Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Writer’s Police Academy

For those of us writing mysteries in whichever sub-genre, learning the technical police procedures and lingo can be a daunting experience. I just spent five days as part of the volunteer staff at The Writer’s Police Academy. For the fifth year in a row, retired cop Lee Lofland rounded up a fantastic roster of writers, law enforcement, forensic specialists, psychologists, pathologists, explosive experts, firefighters, paramedics, agents from the ATF, FBI, Secret Service, and every other specialist related to crime you could think of. In addition, bestselling authors, Michael Connelly, Lisa Gardner, Alafair Burke, Robin Burcell, and John Gilstrap either gave classes or talks.

Polly with Michael Connelly

One class I took, conducted by William “Billy” Queen, recounted his two years undercover with a biker gang. I found it particularly interesting because I have two undercover officers in my soon-to-be-released book, Backlash (which is now available for pre-order). When you hear truth is stranger than fiction, this man’s story definitely falls into that category. I can’t imagine the daily stress he was under, never knowing whether one of the bad guys—and they were really bad—would find out who he really was and kill him.

Robin Burcell’s class on forensic art and witness recall interested me in particular since I spent twenty-five years as a commercial artist. I sat there wondering if I could have been any good in that profession. Robin was already a police officer before she started doing the sketches, and she was good enough that many criminals were caught solely on the basis of her drawings.

I monitored a Meggitt session which, along with a few others, were classes allotted on a first come, first serve basis. Meggitt poses live action shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, using real firearms specially tooled for simulation training. It’s tense but fun. I didn’t get a chance to try it myself. Maybe next time. Other lottery courses were aviation and aerial surveillance, building searches, a six-session investigation of felony murder with a defense/prosecutor/judge conclusion, underwater recovery, and driving simulator, which I did try.

Another class I took was Broken Bones, Ballistics, & Backdrafts: Technical Stuff that Writers Get Wrong, given by John Gilstrap. Besides being a New York Times bestselling author, Gilstrap spent years as safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. He was entertaining as well as informed.

Dr. Kathryn Ramsland’s class on exotic crimes offered a touch of the macabre when she went through some bizarre serial killers and their murderous obsessions. This wouldn’t be a class for the faint of heart. Those of us writing harder crime fiction were riveted to her talk and slide screen presentation.

Police Chief Scott Silverii’s class covered special ops, K9, water/dive, SWAT, & more. Silverii, besides having experience in almost every facet of police work, has a PhD in anthropology.

One of the panels at WPA

The presenters of all the classes I had a chance to take—remember, I was on staff—were interesting and amusing. I missed some classes I wanted to take, but so many things were going on at once, I realized why some people come back year after year. There’s no way to take all the classes you want. I missed Dr. Denene Lofland’s class and former Secret Service agent Mike Roche’s classes. Anyone interested in more information, check out this year’s website. If you’re interested in coming next year, check back for the 2015 schedule.

Novelists Inc and Sisters in Crime are major supporters. SinC supplements part of the fee if you’re a member. It’s worth every penny.


Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

17 comments :

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  3. I've always wanted to go to WPA. I met Lee at the Midwest Writers Workshop. Lee actually interviewed my husband's pathology group about a murder. Lee's blog and books are also well worth reading.www.leelofland.com

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    1. You're right about that, Diana. Lee blogs every day. His post on the name changes we had when registering people into the Academy was priceless, and not far from reality. Look it up for a laugh.

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  5. I need to start today over. Of course I meant Sisters in Crime. Delete that apostrophe. Grr.

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  6. A couple of things. This learning experience is worth every penny even if you're not a Sisters in Having trouble with this post this morning. Grr. Crime member. Thanks to the great work of Lee Lofland, Linda Lovely, Howard Lewis, Ellis Vidler, Ashantay Peters, and Robin Weaver. No group could have worked harder to make this a success.

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  7. Great wrap up of the conference. With this and the reports from Terry Odell and Laura Castoro, I'm wishing I had been able to attend. Next year for sure. It is so important to get all the procedure stuff right, and I'm sure the research I did 20 years ago is outdated in some respect. I need to learn some of the latest technology available to police officers.

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    1. Maryann, the best part is the instructors will answer any questions pertaining to your work, even after the Academy is over. They're very helpful.

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  8. Great post, Polly! WPA sold out in six hours this year, so if you are interested, be sure to make a note of the registration date. And if you miss out, get on the waiting list right away! Well worth the effort.

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    1. Good point, Ashantay. Don't get left out of this experience, writers.

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  9. I don't write mystery or suspense but those classes sound so interesting I would have enjoyed them anyway. I bet you have pages and pages of notes.

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    1. Actually, being on staff, I didn't take too many notes. I always find listening is better than note-taking because I remember the material better. I'm sure you will find stuff you can use for whatever genre you write.

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  10. Good post, Polly. It was a fantastic event. There are so many courses I'd like to have taken, but it wasn't possible. Everything I did do was great though. The instructors were all so generous with their experience and knowledge, and they were very nice about answering questions.

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    1. Agreed, Ellis. You did so much work before the event, I didn't see how you kept going during. Great job.

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  11. This post is making me question a scene in my novel currently under revision. Interviewing some local law enforcement officers seems like a prudent idea at this point. Excellent post, Polly. Maybe I can attend this conference next year--particularly since I'm migrating toward the mystery/suspense genre.

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    1. There's nothing like it, Linda. So much information from instructors who've been there and done that. Well worth the money. Joining Sisters in Crime saves you a bunch too, and it's a great organization that embraces all women writers.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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