Thursday, September 18, 2014

Writers' Police Academy - Saturday

Some real life obligations have kept me from blogging much, so here - rather belatedly - is the next installment of my experience at this year's Writers' Police Academy, which took place September 4-7.

Demo: Explosive Breaches (Instructor: Captain Randy Shepherd, Guilford County Sheriff's Office)
Prior to heading off to classes, we were treated to a demo of explosive breaches, which basically involves attaching explosives to doors in order to enter a building. The first explosion fizzled, prompting Captain Shepherd to quip that we had the privilege of witnessing a rare "fail breach". But the second one...the second one went BOOM!!!

Policing Back in the Day (Instructor: Lt. David Swords, ret.)
Most of the differences between modern and not so modern police work pertains to technology and equipment, although Lt. Swords did put up a rather amusing slide showing pre-1970's policewoman uniforms. The skirts and hats made them look like WACs from World War II.
  • If your story takes place prior to the mid-late 1980's, do not include DNA evidence. The first DNA conviction was in England in 1986. The first case that used DNA to get a conviction in the U.S. was a rape case in Florida in 1988.
  • One of the most changed pieces of equipment is the gun belt. The old belt carried a gun, holster, ammo pouch and handcuff case. Modern gun belts will carry a gun, holster, ammo pouch, handcuff case, pepper spray, mic, flashlight, baton, walkie and latex case.
  • Pretty much the only piece of equipment that hasn't changed over the years are handcuffs.
  • Prior to computerization, existing warrants were stored on a rolodex. An officer would call in to dispatch and ask them to "check the wheel" or "spin the wheel on (name of suspect)".
  • Before women in law enforcement started to mainstream (around mid-1970's) they would carry their firearms in a purse that was part of their uniform.

K-9 Demo (Instructor: Corporal Moser, Guildford County Sheriff's K-9 Unit)
How stupid am I? I didn't get the first name of the officer/instructor, but I've got the dog's name, no problem. It's Miki (pronounced Mikey).  I think Corporal Moser was a last minute addition, because he's not in the official program. 
  • Breeds most commonly used are Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Czech Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds (described by Moser as "crazy"), Labrador Retrievers (good for arson and explosives), Bloodhounds and Plott Hounds. Miki is a four year old Czech Shepherd.
  • The dogs stay with their handlers 24/7 and are usually adopted by the handlers when they reach retirement. The dogs also have a pension of sorts: All of their food and care is paid for by the department both during their active careers and after they retire.
  • There is no mandatory retirement age for the dogs. They are retired when their handlers feel they are no longer up to the work, or if they are injured or become ill. I found out during this class that Reno, the bomb-sniffing dog from last year's demo, retired recently due to some sort of muscle problem. It made me sad - he was so into his work.
  • Police dogs are not usually sent in the water after a suspect, because they can be held down underwater and drowned.
  • The dogs are not taught to attack, but to "bite and hold".
  • In building searches, one dog can do the work of ten officers.
Here's Miki!

Cold Case Protocols (Instructors: Dr. Katherine Ramsland & David Pauly)
  • Probably the number one way a cold case is solved: A now-ex decides to talk and reveal info they had previously withheld. Others include new info from witnesses and new witnesses.
  • Some methods used in trying to solve cold cases include exhumation and requestioning witnesses.
  • Dr. Ramsland recommended the book The Skeleton Crew: How Amateurs Are Solving America's Coldest Cases.

Cool Stuff I Learned As a Prosecutor That You Can Use in Your Books (Instructor: Alafair Burke)
Burke is a former prosecutor, a current Professor of Law and an author. Some of the topics she covered included:
  • Myths surrounding courthouse culture. A couple of examples: Myth 1: Trials. About 90% of criminal cases are resolved by plea. Pleas can include a reduced charge (murder to manslaughter) and bargaining over length of sentence. Myth 2: Police and prosecutors are one big happy family. She used Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, and Charlie Brown and Lucy as a couple of examples of the reality of the relationship between the two.
  • A large part of the presentation dealt with the Fourth Amendment and when cops do and do not need warrants (tip: not always) and ways to get around the need for a warrant, should your fictional detective or PI not be able to get one. 
  • She also discussed various types of search and seizures, especially in regard to idea of a person having a reasonable expectation of privacy. Example: If something is in plain view, finders keepers.
  • Refusal to speak to law enforcement or submit to a search cannot legally be considered an admission of guilt. And if you do consent, you can withdraw it at any time.

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