Recently I attended Lee Lofland’s Writers’ Police Academy. This one-of-a-kind conference is offered to writers of crime fiction who want to “get it right.” Whether we’re writing romantic suspense or humorous cozies or murder mysteries or gritty police procedurals or something in-between, someone at WPA will have exactly the background and skillset necessary to answer our questions so that we can make our writing real.
Now, before I go any further, I have a confession to make: I have a problem with law enforcement.
It’s not what you might think—my problem is way worse than anger at authority figures or dislike of anybody who has power over me. Quite the contrary. When I’m in the presence of a police officer, I’m kinda like a pre-teen at a Justin Bieber concert—tongue glued to the roof of my mouth, heart racing, brain no longer capable of rational thought.
You see, my mom always said, “If you’re in trouble, find a police officer.” So the police were the people I looked up to and admired as a kid. Now that I’m older—much older—and now that I’ve been doing a bunch of research for my next book Saving Gracie, well, I may have developed an overblown sense of respect and…hero worship…for these people who risk their lives for the rest of us.
Even when it seems all we do is complain about them, even when the media portrays them as over-zealous gun-happy idiots who can’t wait to trample all over our constitutional rights, even when we treat them like an old dog who doesn’t mind getting kicked, the police still come when we call, still do their jobs, still do what they can to keep us safe.
So, here I am, arriving at a conference where I’ll be surrounded by the very people who turn me into a nitwit. I’m hoping by the end of the four days, I’ll get over myself. Desensitization therapy.
It works for horses.
I arrive in Greensboro, NC, following a not-uneventful flight from Manchester, NH. Get myself checked in, register for the conference, and off I go on a ride-along with local law enforcement. I’ll talk about that in my next post. Today, I think I’ll start off with a bang.
We ride from the hotel to the training facility in gigantic busses, every one of us about bursting with excitement. And then, here we are, trudging across the parking lot at the event site, when somebody asks, “Whose backpack is this? Did somebody drop a purple backpack? Hello? Is this your backpack?”
And all I can think is, who in their right mind would leave a backpack unattended at a place like this? …Ohhhhh, wait a minute…it’s a scenario!
Sure enough, we all get ushered to safety well away from that purple backpack, and a police officer arrives with blue lights flashing and…a German Shepherd!
The dog has been trained to sniff out several types of explosive materials. If he smells anything suspicious, he’ll lie down next to the source of the smell.
Off he and his handler go, and he sniffs that bag from one end to the other. He seems to consider for a moment, and then…he very carefully lies down.
So, in comes the truck with the robot and the guys with the big suit. Somebody inside the truck works remotely to guide that robot to the purple backpack. It can do X-rays, we’re told, and it can detonate the pack. It can also pick it up and carry it.
The robot lifts the backpack and carries it to the edge of the pavement, about as far away from us and the bomb truck as it can get.
By now one member of the bomb squad is dressed in the big fat suit. And guess what—his fingers stick out. This makes perfect sense—bomb guys need their fingers exposed in order to do what needs to be done. But if that bomb goes off, well, the fingers are forfeit.
So, the guy in the bomb suit walks across the parking lot with an explosive device in hand—a little bomb inside a bottle filled with water. He’s trailing something that looks like weed whacker line. Inside, along the length of that line, is an explosive charge.
He sets the bottle alongside the backpack and backs away. Once he’s made his way across the parking lot to the truck, someone hollers, “Fire in the hole!” three times, and then…
The explosion flashes across the parking lot to the backpack and BOOM! No more backpack.
That’s how the day begins at the Writers’ Police Academy, and it just gets better.