Friday, August 19, 2016

Things I learned at Writers' Police Academy (Day 1)

Why thank you, Northeast
Wisconsin Technical College!

We got a great demonstration this morning of how emergency personnel respond to a car crash. Not only did the usual suspects show up (fire, paramedics and ambulance) but we got a helicopter too!



I took about 100 pictures of the whole thing and they can all be found here. I'll be adding more from the rest of the weekend soon.


Expert Witness and Grand Jury Basics (Instructor: Robert Willis)
This class was taught from the point of view of law enforcement charged for actions taken in the line of duty.
  • Cops acquitted at one level (ex: state) can be tried again at another level (ex: federal) for the same incident. The LAPD officers involved in the Rodney King case were acquitted at the state level, but then the Feds decided to send a message and go after them. When this happens, the Feds get around double jeopardy by charging them with a different crime for the same incident. For example, if the original charge was murder or excessive force, the federal charge will be violation of civil rights. As usual, the federal government finds a way to make themselves exempt from the laws that apply to everyone else.
  • If convicted at the federal level, the death penalty can be executed even if the state the incident took place in doesn't have the death penalty.
  • An expert witness is there to provide information that will benefit the jury in making their decision that the average person can't provide.
  • The expert witness's job is to educate the jury but not give an opinion. It is the jury's job to form an opinion based on testimony. In the past, the Frye Standard was used as to when an expert witnesses could give opinions, but that was replaced by the Daubert Standard, which makes the judge the gatekeeper as to whether a theory or technique can be introduced. There are four considerations (not all of which need to be met): 1) Whether the theory/technique has or can be tested; 2) Whether the theory/technique as been subject to peer review and publication; 3) Is there a known or potential error rate for this particular technique; 4) Whether the theory/technique is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.
  • If an officer is tried for an incident in which departmental policy was violated, this doesn't automatically guarantee a guilty verdict. Every situation is unique and that is taken into consideration.

Why They Were Bad: Nuances for Characters, Psychopaths and Other Disorders (Instructor: Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
Dr. Ramsland is a forensic psychologist and prolific author. Her latest book (to be released August 30) is Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer. She described the book as a "guided autobiography" and proceeds from the book will benefit the families of Rader's victims. 

Some disorders:
  • A psychopath knows what reality is and knows what they're doing and will plan out their actions. They have delusions of grandeur.
  • Psychotics suffer from a mental disorder that distorts their sense of reality and they suffer from delusions.
  • Narcissistic disorder: Exaggerated opinion of their own importance. Others must be punished when they don't get what they want (looking outward to solve their issues, rather than looking inward). When they lash out, it's to make a statement. Dr. Ramsland used the case of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and wounded fourteen others near the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014 before taking his own life. He felt rejected by society in general and girls in particular. He posted YouTube videos ranting about girls not wanting to date him despite the fact that he considered himself quite the catch. Girls apparently didn't agree.
  • Paranoid Schizophrenia: Symptoms include disturbed thinking, fear, agitation, personal neglect, withdrawal, pre-emptive agression, distorted thoughts, babbling incoherently ("word salad").
  • Personality disorders: Symptoms may include distorted thinking, problematic emotional responses, over or under-regulated impulse control, interpersonal difficulties.
  • Children as young as three can be diagnosed as fledgling psychopaths.
  • There was a group that did a study of movie and television psychopaths. They wanted to determine who of them were actually psychopaths and who was the "best". Among the candidates were Hannibal Lechter, Dexter Morgan and Colonel Hans Landa. The winner was Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men). 
  • Some myths about psychopaths: They're not your ex who wants to stay friends. You can't ID them from their Tweets, handwriting or the look in their eyes. And they're not all serial killers.
She also spoke about dealing with Rader over a period of several years to draw out the information for her book. One of the things he told her to do was watch Bates Motel. She binged it and got hooked. Said the show did a great job of developing Norman's deterioration and development. Rader also showed her plans he had designed for a torture house inspired by H.H. Holmes

Dr. Ramsland also highly recommended Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars by Juan Martinez (the man who did it). At one point in her trial Arias wanted to act as her own attorney. She didn't, but Dr. Ramsland seemed to think it would have been entertaining as hell if she had.


Clinical Interview: Getting the Goods (Instructor: Dr. Katherine Ramsland)
The objective of this class was to learn components of psychological evaluations in a forensic context.

In clinical interviews you look for themes even if the interviewee is trying to hide things. The thing I got out of this class, which I think some of the other people involved may have found confusing, is that you're not there to interpret, you're there to observe. You're there to interview, not interrogate. 

When interviewing subjects Dr. Ramsland observes gestures, posture, speech, expressions, clothing, anything in how the person presents themselves to the world that might invite social judgement.

There is no one thing that indicates that a person is lying. A group of red flags may indicate lying. You also need a baseline to judge against - many people have nervous habits or expressions that are normal for them and shouldn't been interpreted as something else.


Private Investigation: Or How To Be a Dick For Fun and Profit (Instructor: David Corbett)
This was an extremely popular class - we were packed into the classroom like sardines.
  • The basic job of a PI is to find people, interview them and then write up the conversation. In real life it is not a crime-solving job.
  • Women make great investigators, because people trust women more and are more willing to talk to them.
  • You may not impersonate a lawyer, cop or a man/woman of the cloth. It's also not advisable to impersonate someone from a real company because it's too easy to be found out.
  • You also cannot harass a subject. If they ask you to leave, it's time to leave. You can persist gently, but not forcefully. Once the door is closed, you're done.
  • You can record a person only with their knowledge and consent, unless you have a reasonable fear of violence and/or extortion. Corbett always recorded for accuracy, then destroyed his tapes after he wrote up his reports.
  • Some things you can dig up about people that is helpful in investigations: Former addresses, social security numbers ("a goldmine") and divorce documents, because ex-wives have an axe to grind and love to talk about their exes. 
  • "Unpacking the witness" is a phrase that describes making the interviewee comfortable in order to get as much info as possible out of them. 
Corbett has worked several high-profile cases. His firm was employed by the insurance company that had issued life insurance policies to Jose and Kitty Menendez, after the couple's sons Erik and Lyle filed claims while being investigated for the murder of their parents, crimes for which they were eventually convicted. Because the insurance company had a reasonable belief of a fraudulent claim, they were able to sit on it while the investigation played out. He also worked the first Michael Jackson sexual abuse investigation and very calmly referred to the late pop star as a serial pedophile.


How to Use - Or Not Use - What You Learned at Writers' Police Academy (Lee Goldberg)
I've seen Goldberg at a number of events (Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, California Crime Writers, L.A. Times Festival of Books) but I believe this was his first appearance at WPA, and it seemed like he had a blast. Aided and abetted by his brother Tod (they both recently made the New York Times bestseller list at the same time), Goldberg was his usual hilarious self. Some advice he gave us:
  • His main piece of advice was not to overuse research. Every last thing we discover does not have to go into the story. We're writing fiction, not a travelogue.
  • He described researching foreign cities and countries as being like location scouting for film and television.
  • Give your reader enough cool facts, but reveal like a magician - don't show everything.
  • Talk to experts and ask a thousand questions.
  • Exposition is death. Let things reveal themselves in action and dialogue.
  • When you do research right, it's like seasoning a dish.
  • Less is more. Don't show off your research.
Goldberg also said that the best thing that ever happened to his novel writing was writing for television, because it forced him to tell stories through action and dialogue, rather than exposition. And as always, he had a great story from his TV writing days, this time about working on Hunter  and how Fred Dryer reamed him because he failed to include the "drive-up" in his scenes (Dryer: "The 'drive-up' is the scene where I drive up.")

Since I hadn't slept on my Wednesday/Thursday red-eye and barely slept Thursday night, I skipped the evening festivities (Sisters in Crime Reception and Live-Action Scenario). I actually dozed off around 6:30 for a couple of hours. I really wish I could sleep on planes.

Next up: Saturday classes and my PIT maneuver epic fail!

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