Saturday, August 20, 2016

Things I learned at Writers' Police Academy (Day 2)

Saturday started off with a bang - we were getting a lecture about terrorism when we were terrorized ourselves with an active attacker. Several "victims" staggered in, where they were helped by NWTC staff as well as some attendees who I believe were recruited during a first aid class Friday. Then the cops showed up.

There we were, minding our own business...

Man down!

The bodies are starting to pile up.

The calvary arrives!

I didn't get a lot of pics of the cops in action,
because we were ordered to keep our hands on
our heads - with our fingers interlocked - while 

they got things under control. For real.

These guys are actually recruits here at NWTC.
And they are serious badasses.

One of the things we learned in this class is how fast a person can bleed out: as little as 3-5 minutes, so tourniquets can be a lifesaver if pressure isn't enough to control serious bleeding.

The recruits came in on their day off for us. They didn't screw around, either. These guys are tough. If you hadn't known it was a demo, you would never have guessed.

More pics are here in my Writers' Police Academy 2016 album on Flickr.

Mashed Potatoes of Death: Are You Going To Eat That? (Instructor: Dr. Denene Lofland)

You know, it's actually pretty terrifying how easily you can poison someone just by feeding them. I'm not saying you'll get away with it, just that it can be done.
  • One of the biggest offenders is mushrooms. People who forage for their own mushrooms are taking big risks, as poison mushrooms can closely resemble non-poisonous ones. They may even taste the same, so the person never knows they got the wrong kind until it's too late. We got a couple of examples of that in the class. Death Cap Mushrooms = slow, agonizing death.
  • There are good molds and bad molds. Molds in certain types of cheese are good. Mold on bread, not so much. There is no antidote for this type of poisoning, so once mold has been ingested, the person is going to get sick and the illness will have to run its course.
  • There is no general screening for "poisons". A doctor would have to have an idea of what they're looking for and specify the particular poisons they're screening for.
  • A lot if not all of the poisonings we reviewed in class are hepatotoxic, meaning they are toxic to the liver. One of the things your liver helps with is blood clotting, so if it gets knocked out, internal bleeding becomes an issue. A big fat serious issue.
  • We learned how ricin is made. It's terrifyingly easy. Ricin can come in the form of powder, mist or pellets. It's also tasteless, just to make it even more dangerous. There is no antidote and the victim will be dead in a couple of days. And a very, very small amount goes a long way.
  • Not all bacteria can be killed by cooking or freezing food. One of the more bizarre things I've ever learned at Writers' Police Academy was this: A 20 year old college student decided to microwave a container of spaghetti that had been sitting out on the counter for five days. He became ill later that evening and was dead before noon the next day. Nuking it didn't kill the bacteria that had taken up residence in the food.
You can visit the Center for Disease Control's website for information regarding food recalls (or as Dr. Lofland called it, "What's poisoning us this week."). They will even give you the lot numbers of the products. Good resource, because by the time you hear about recalls on the news, people are already sick.

Fingerprinting (Instructor: John Flannery)
I didn't get as much actual dusting and lifting as I did at this previous WPA class, but I did finally learn about the actual patterns, something I'd always found confusing. Some fun factoids about prints:
  • Identical twins do not share the same fingerprints. That's one thing about them that isn't identical
  • No identical prints have ever been found.
  • One of the things the CSI shows got right was AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), which is available in all fifty states.
  • Each of your fingers has a different print.
  • Salt, amino acids and oil are what cause prints to be left behind.
  • Some things you can't tell from observing prints: gender of the person who left it, or how long it's been there.
  • Water does not wash off prints. Police can get prints off a weapon that has been thrown in a river.
  • Ridge detail can also be found in toe, heel and palm prints. They are also unique, but there is no AFIS-type database for them.
We dusted in a room that I think was being used for the Death Scene Investigation Classes. The guy on the floor is Deadhead Joe. He's very dead. We just worked around him.

Prints on the stove. Somehow I need to tie this
in with the previous class.

PIT Maneuver (Instructor: Colleen Belongea)
I was really excited for this class, which made it even sadder that I didn't pull off the maneuver. I was the second person to go, and we were advised to back off around curves, then gun it to catch up on the straightaways. In the final turn, the guy driving the other car slowed way down to let us PIT, but I didn't realize that until I'd already had my chance, then watched most of my classmates doing it. I gunned it after the final turn and blew past him. Twice. Once I figured that out, I was hoping to get another shot at it, but the next class showed up and we had to leave (the PIT track was at a separate location from the rest of the classes). Still, it was fun and strangely bonding, as we cheered each other on. And Colleen is a rock star instructor among a field of rock star instructors. We just loved her. I do feel kind of like a jerk that I don't remember the name of the guy who drove the other car, because he took a lot of abuse. He must have been dizzy as hell after being spun around all day.

The approach.

Backing off around the turns. And gosh, look at
that sky.

The touch on the straightaway. I was really good
at this part.

Colleen showing us how it's done.


10 Common Mistakes Writers Make About the Law (Instructor: Leslie Budewitz)
I only caught maybe the last 15 minutes of this class because of coming in late from the PIT track. How good was this class? In the brief time I was in it, I took three pages of notes.

Leslie is the current President of Sisters in Crime and I met her very briefly at the Thursday Guppies lunch (at which she told us the class was expanding to twelve common mistakes). She is a lawyer in Montana and writes cozies. Crazy, huh?

Some of the common mistakes:

  • In a criminal case, the defendant is never found innocent. The verdict will be either guilty or not guilty.
  • In real life felony trials, sentences are rarely handed down right after the verdict is announced. There's usually at least a few weeks between the verdict and sentencing.
  • Regardless of how they feel about a verdict, in real life lawyers and defendants don't argue with the judge. It's, "Thank you, your honor," pack up and leave.
  • The police don't actually have the authority to tell a suspect not to leave town. Doing so would be a de facto arrest.
  • The purpose of bail is to ensure that the suspect shows up in court for their trial. It can't be used to punish them. In cases of a violent crime where bail isn't offered, it's usually due to state laws/statutes rather than the judge's decision.
  • Just because a victim doesn't want to press charges (which most often comes up in domestic disputes) doesn't mean the state won't proceed with the case. I know they do this in California because it came up once when I was called for jury duty (I wasn't picked for the jury).
  • Don't assume the rule of common law marriages exists in every state. Some states recognize them, some don't.
  • The burden of proof is lower in civil cases than in criminal cases, where the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  
  • Jurisdiction isn't necessarily the pissing contest film and television would have you believe. Although egos and turf wars can be involved, most prosecutors take keeping the public safe seriously and will pursue the angle most likely to take a dangerous criminal off the streets.
  • A plea deal must always go before a judge, and the judge isn't bound to agree to the sentence made in the deal. Also, it's a plea deal. Lawyers hate the term plea bargain.

Later that evening I attended the WPA banquet, where Guest of Honor Tami Hoag spoke to us. I also won this in the raffle, and needless to say after the Mashed Potatoes of Death class got all sorts of unsavory ideas about Killer Tomatoes. In fact, I think I've got a short story out of that one.

New York Times bestselling author Tami Hoag
addresses the troops.

Gotta say, as much as I hated to say goodbye to WPA's North Carolina location (I have a crazy love for that place) Northeast Wisconsin Technical College rocked, plus having the hotel right across the street from the airport and ten minutes from the college was really convenient. Looks like Green Bay is going to be the home of WPA for the foreseeable future and I think it's a great fit.


Michele Drier said...

The guilty/not guilty gets changed to guilty/innocent in newspaper reporting. Less chance of the small word "not" being either dropped or added. Although the report from the court is guilty/not guilty.

Melinda said...

Make sense, but all the more reason we have WPA to set us straight on how things really work. Also, it's fun as hell.