Debby Giusti here!
Today, I’m giving a shout out to Lee Lofland, a former police detective turned writer, who started the Writers’ Police Academy. In 2007, Lee spoke at a Sisters in Crime forensics conference, and after seeing the enthusiasm and interest of those who attended, he started working on a way to bring writers and law enforcement personnel together. Lee said his goal was to provide “lectures on law enforcement and forensic topics with hands-on training to give writers a chance to try on gear, train with firearms, and perhaps take part in simulated emergency response exercises.”
For the last six years, Lee has done exactly that. His Writers' Police Academy, or WPA, is currently held on the campus of the Guilford Technical Community College, in Jamestown, North Carolina. The school has its own Police Academy as well as programs in Basic Law Enforcement Training, Criminal Justice, Emergency Medical Science and Fire Protection Technology. Experts in all branches of criminal justice from around the country travel to North Carolina each September to offer their expertise, along with local law enforcement agencies that provide additional personnel and equipment.
|Lee welcomes us Thursday night.|
This year’s event ran from Thursday evening, September 4, to Sunday, September 7. Registration opened at noon, on January 26, and the course filled up within 12 hours. Talk about in demand! Lee said he hopes to take the WPA on the road in the future. To learn more about the academy, visit the WPA web site: http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com/
Check out Lee's blog, The Graveyard Shift, and his Writer's Digest "Howdunit," Book of Police Procedure & Investigation.
|Eli Jackson (L) demonstrates disarming techniques |
with her sister (R).
Thankful to be part of this year’s class, I left my house at 9 AM on September 4 and picked up a friend and fellow Georgia Romance Writer Connie Gillam en route. We arrived at the Marriott Hotel in Greenboro at 5:30 that evening, in time to take our bags to our room, grab some food and then find a seat for the orientation and welcome by Lee and the faculty.
|Debby (R) and Lisa Carter (L) pose for a picture|
in front of the crime scene quilt!
Following the opening program, Eli Jackson, a Third Degree Mixed Martial Arts expert, demonstrated various ways to disarm an assailant. We broke into small groups to practice her techniques and laughed at our clumsy attempts to mimic the takedowns that had looked so simple and effortless. When asked about personal safety, Eli said surprise is the best defense and always fight back when attacked. In an effort to help writers get it right when doing fight scenes, Eli is hosting the first annual Authors Combat Academy, April 17-19, 2015, in Nashville, TN. Information is available at www.AuthorsCombatAcademy.com.
|Firemen working at the mock crash site.|
Friday morning, we boarded buses at 7:30 AM that took us to the Police Academy. A mock accident demonstration had been set up in the parking lot, and we gathered around as the first patrol car arrived on the scene. The police officer assessed the injuries, applied tourniquets to stop bleeding and escorted those less severely injured away from the crash site. Firemen were the next to arrive. They used air bags and Jaws of Life to lift a car and extract a victim. Two ambulances brought EMTs who quickly treated those with life-threatening injuries. Following a SMART Triage technique, color-coded tags were attached to each victim’s arm. Red tags indicated immediate need for medical care. Yellow tags meant less severe injuries, such as fractures. Green tags were for the least injured, and gray was for anyone who had perished from their injuries. Instructors were on hand to answer questions as the emergency response teams carried out their jobs. Once the accident scene was cleared, we headed inside.
|Bill Queen, undercover ATF agent|
With so many workshops, it was hard to choose which ones to attend, and many writers return each year, knowing there’s always something new and interesting to learn. I attended “Deep Undercover,” presented by Bill Queen, a retired special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. He talked about the two-plus years he spent infiltrating the Mongols, a violent motorcycle gang in California. Their motto was “Respect few. Fear none,” which included law enforcement. “Billy St. John,” as he was known to the gang, had to walk a fine line between fitting in with the gang and ensuring he didn’t step over his own personal line in the sand as a sworn officer of the law. His story was at times heart wrenching, and he was extremely frank about the sacrifices he made going undercover, to include having little contact with his wife and children. After he left the gang, his story was told on “20-20 Downtown,” and he’s written two books that detail his life with the Mongols: Under and Alone, and Armed & Dangerous.
|The jacket Bill wore when he was undercover with the Mongols.|
My roommate and I are both medical technologists so we wanted to hear Dr. Denene Lofland, Lee’s wife, discuss “Microbial Forensics: Using Microorganisms as Weapons.” Denene has a PhD in Pathology and presented case studies of rare diseases seen in the US, including Lassa Fever and the Marburg virus. She discussed bioterrorism, the anthrax scare after 9/11 and the current Ebola outbreak. In her opinion, the initial spread of the Ebola virus was due, in part, to the African custom of washing, dressing, caressing and kissing the bodies of the dead. In some regions, drinking the blood of the deceased is still a part of their death ritual.
|Lisa Gardner provides tips for writing thrillers.|
Greensboro Police officer Emily Mitchum explained prostitution stings. Unlike Julia Roberts in the movie “Pretty Woman,” most hookers aren’t flashy dressers or attractive women. They’re druggies or down-in-their-luck women who need cash. The Internet has cut down on the street prostitution with many hook-ups made over the Net, but the problem still exists, especially in certain neighborhoods. According to Emily, a female officer doing a sting needs to act out a part, be adaptable and prepare mentally. She also has to use the street language. Once an agreement is reached—money does not have to change hands--between the undercover cop and the john, an arrest can be made.
|He's not real! |
We had to find evidence located near the dummy's body.
“Researching Exotic Crimes” was presented by Dr. Katherine Ramsland, director of the Master’s program in Criminal Justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, where she also teaches forensic psychology. Dr. Ramsland is an intriguing women who loves her work and boasts of having a personal collection of chain saw suicide cases—36 to date--that includes photographs. She is an expert on serial killers and psychopaths and has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, and Nancy Grace. Dr. Ramsland discussed bizarre crimes, such as necrophilia, cannibalism and dismemberment, with detailed information about the crimes and photos of the killers and their victims. Needless to say her class was not for the faint of heart. Information about her books, including The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, that I bought, and a discussion of unusual crimes can be found on her Psychology Today blog, "Shadow Boxing," which she notes is “A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets.”
|Connie Gillam (R) and Debby during the ambulance ride-along.|
Friday concluded with a talk by Lisa Gardner, who was attending the class for the second year in a row. In her presentation, “From Fact to Fiction: How to Turn Chilling Research into a Thrilling Novel,” Lisa discussed using secondary sources (textbooks, true crime novels), primary sources (interviews with cops, docs and lawyers) and hands-on exposure (firearms training, self-defense classes, the WPA) to write authentic stories. She suggested scheduling interviews for an hour and asking for follow up contact information. Always send a thank-you note, and include higher-ups if appropriate. Offer to acknowledge those who helped, but ask before including their names in your book. When doing an interview, inquire about the funniest case or the scariest or their favorite to get that nugget of information that can make your story even more special.
|The Driving Simulator|
Saturday was filled with more great workshops. The day started with a breaching demonstration. I took an ambulance ride-along and “drove” my own ambulance in a Driving Simulator, complete with lights and sirens. Crime scene investigator, Alison Hutchens explained “Crime Scene Processing and Evidence Packaging,” and former Secret Service agent Mike Roche showed us the man behind the badge in his talk on “Real Cops for Real People.” I also attended “Underwater Evidence Recovery,” given by the local sheriff’s department Dive Team at a nearby pool. The divers do not use lights and feel their way along the bottom of ponds and quarries to recover anything from a gun to a body. Former DA, Alafair Burke, daughter of author James Lee Burke, discussed criminal law before we headed back to the hotel. That evening we enjoyed a lovely banquet with guest speaker, Michael Connelly, who always gets it right when talking about law enforcement. His book, Crime Beat, A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers, is a must read for suspense writers.
|Diver demonstrates underwater evidence collection.|
This year’s WPA ended with a Q&A Sunday morning that provided even more insight into the brave men and women in blue. Their sense of humor and love for the job were evident, and I’m sure those who attended the academy came away with a new appreciation for law enforcement.
|Two writers. Which one is Michael Connelly?|
Knowledgeable writers pen stories that accurately portray those in uniform. Lee Lofland’s goal was to help writers understand not only law enforcement, but also the men and women behind the badge. In my opinion, he succeeded.
Will I go back next year? You bet. Maybe I’ll see you there!
|Love my WPA Writer T-shirt and tote bag.|
Share your own favorite true crime stories or intriguing law enforcement cases or just leave a comment about the guys and gals in blue to be entered in today’s drawing. I’m giving away a copy of HOLIDAY DEFENDERS, that features my story, “Mission: Christmas Rescue,” along with military suspense novellas by Susan Sleeman and Jodie Bailey.
The breakfast buffet is open. Scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage and ham, biscuits, assorted muffins, fresh fruit and grits. The coffee’s hot. Tea and colas are also available.
Happy writing! Happy reading!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, THREE MILITARY MEN OF HONOR MUST DO EVERYTHING THEY CAN TO SAVE CHRISTMAS
Mission: Christmas Rescue by Debby Giusti
On the run from a killer, Elizabeth Tate must accept U.S. Army Captain Nick Fontaine’s protection for the sake of her young niece and nephew. Now her life is in the hands of the very man who broke her heart years ago.
Special Ops Christmas by Susan Sleeman
Researcher Claire Reed’s top secret project is stolen, putting her at risk of being kidnapped to unlock it. Her undercover bodyguard—her former love, Green Beret Travis Chapman—is on his most dangerous mission yet.
Homefront Holiday Hero by Jodie Bailey
When someone tries to kill the daughter of a military official, U.S. Army major Tyler Rainey must keep Kelly Walters from harm…while guarding his own heart against very unexpected feelings.