Friday, September 12, 2014

More from Writers' Police Academy - Friday

I'm embarrassed to admit that I decided to drop out of the highly anticipated Felony Murder Investigation. After the first two sessions I realized that it was going to be more information and interview driven than evidence and forensics driven, which is what I had thought it would be going in. The good news is that this freed me up to take several other classes. Here's a recap from last Friday:

Romance Behind the Badge (Instructor: Secret Service Special Agent (ret.) Mike Roche)
Agent Roche took a lot of good-natured ribbing about this course, earning the title "The Love Doctor". Some of the points he touched on about relationships in law enforcement:
  • Women make up about 12% of the law enforcement. It is difficult for them to have relationships outside of the first responder community (cops, fire, medical) due to civilian reaction to their career. When they join law enforcement, they're being dropped into a male dominated world, leading to what Roche referred to as "bees to honey". 
  • Male officers are more likely than female officers to marry outside of law enforcement.
  • Badge Bunnies: Women attracted to the uniform and what it infers: A man who is tough, fit and not a serial killer.
  • Control issues can torpedo a relationship. In law enforcement, you become used to taking control of situations and it can hard to turn it off when you go home.
  • Divorce in law enforcement is higher than in the civilian world.
  • Roche had numerous stories about relationships that ended careers. This usually resulted from the officers in charge having sex while on the clock. "If you have sex on duty, you're toast". 

Domestic Murder (Instructor: Corporal Tracy Fulk, Greensboro Police Department)
Corporal Fulk discussed domestic murder and violence cases and the Greensboro PD's domestic violence program, victim advocacy and non-police based support groups. 
  • The department uses a "lethality survey" for domestic violence victims made up of 16 questions. The more "yes" answers, the more likely a relationship will end in homicide. As few as 3-4 "yes" answers could indicate a problem.
  • 14% of officers killed in the line of duty lose their lives on domestic violence calls. 97% of them are killed with guns (7% of the time with their own firearm). Officers face a one in three chance of being injured on a domestic violence call.
  • Domestic violence is about power and control. Most victims know their partner's triggers.
  • We asked if restraining orders actually do any good. Per Fulk, they can sometimes serve as a wakeup call, causing the person served to check their behavior.

Researching Exotic Crimes (Instructor: Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
Dr. Ramsland is a forensic psychologist and the author of over 50 books and 1,000 articles. She recently finished a book on the serial killer Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Killer, with whom she is also conducting on on-going chess game. 

This class is not for the faint of heart. Some of the topics covered were paraphilia, bizarre suicides (including an attempt with a chainsaw - the person survived but did manage to cut off both her arms in the process) and cannibalism. At one point Dr. Ramsland showed a slide that looked like pieces of chicken on a baking sheet. It wasn't chicken. 

Just to make the experience a bit creepier, a bunch of our smart phones went off during class, giving off a weird tone that turned out to be a flash flood warning (the area had been having storms). WPA attendees are usually hyper interested in any and all crazy stuff the instructors can throw at us, but I think this class may have been a little much for some of them.

From Fact to Fiction: How To Turn Chilling Research Into a Thrilling Novel (Instructor: Lisa Gardner)
Best-selling author Lisa Gardner was the Guest of Honor at last year's WPA, and she was so impressed with the event that she returned this year on her own dime. A fun and engaging speaker, she shared her experiences seeking out ideas and information that made their way into her novels. Some of her advice:
  • Cold calls are okay - she got into the Body Farm this way.
  • Potential sources: Hands-on events like WPA, classes, articles, the internet, law enforcement, lawyers, ride-alongs. 
  • When contacting an expert, be professional, polite, and emphasize that your interest is solely for fiction.
  • In your book, when acknowledging the contributions of sources and experts, include the statement that, "All mistakes are mine".
  • When reading or watching crime fiction, note inaccuracies that bother you as a member of the audience. Don't repeat these mistakes in your own work.
Lisa Gardner

Next up: Saturday recap.

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