AND THE WINNERS ARE: Congratulations! Copies of the gorgeous new trade paperback edition of Julia Spencer-Fleming's "A Fountain Filled with Blood" are going to (drum roll, please!) Charmaine, Jess, and Darlene! Send your address to julia "at" juliaspencerfleming dot com.
BREAKING NEWS: Today we're giving away 3 COPIES of the trade paperback of "One Was a Soldier" to lucky commenters!
HALLIE EPHRON: I first met writer and former police detective Lee Lofland a few years ago when he and I were on a panel at Bouchercon. Soon after, he and his wife moved all too briefly to the Boston area just after he had finished up his fabulous resource for mystery writers, "Police Procedure & Investigation." I've followed his blog, Graveyard Shift, picking up insights.
He talked then about a dream he had, mounting a Writers' Police Academy that would focus on offering writers/us rubes an in-depth understanding of law enforcement and forensics. Ride alongs. Jail tours. Experts. When Lee moved to North Carolina, another brief stay, he made that dream a reality.
Registration for this year's Writers' Police Academy, September 20-23, 2012, in Jamestown, NC, is now underway.
Welcome, Lee, to Jungle Red! I do think, thanks to you, we writers are getting smarter about police procedure and forensics. But what mistakes do you still see writers making?
LEE LOFLAND: You know, I wish I could say the errors I see in books about police procedure and forensics are all mistakes, but they’re not...not all of them. Some of inaccuracies occur due to ill-informed editors who think they know it all because they’ve religiously watched CSI on TV since episode one hit the airwaves. Other mistakes occur because writers fall into the rut of “that’s the way it was done in so-and-so’s book,” therefore it must be right.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the writer who thinks he’s conducted solid research because he went out of his way to contact his friend who is a friend of the barber who cuts the hair of the guy who lives next to the woman whose sister married a guy who’s on a bowling team with a guy who was once interviewed for a job as a police officer. Not exactly the best of resources.
These five are the most common:
1. FBI agent rides into town to take over a murder investigation, or a kidnapping. Well, to begin with, the FBI, as a rule, does NOT work murder investigations, unless it is the killing of one of their own, or the murder of a federal official (senator, congressman, U.S. president, etc.). They also work murders on federal property. But they don’t investigate the murder of Mr. I.B. Dead that occurred Anytown, USA.
Local police investigate their own murder cases. Not the FBI. If local cops do decide to ask for federal assistance on a case, the FBI would act in a supporting role, leaving the local officers in charge of the operation. So, please, at least think twice before sending your FBI agent/protagonist riding into town on a white horse to save the day. It just doesn’t happen that way, unless your story involves art theft or treason.
Also, each state has its own kidnapping statutes, which means any police officer in any state can work a kidnapping case, and they do.
Here’s a link to one of my articles that spells out exactly which cases FBI agents investigate.
2. Cordite. Grrr... Cordite has not been around in decades. Therefore, your hero CANNOT walk into a crime scene and “smell the lingering odor of cordite in the air.” NO, NO, and NO!
Modern ammunition uses smokeless powder to propel the bullet. Smokeless powder has an odor that’s quite similar to the smell that hangs in the air after a 4th of July fireworks show (minus the beer and hotdogs).
3. Cop’s suspended from duty, yet he still continues the investigation on his own time. Another Grrr... I see this all the time in books. In fact, it’s a pretty predictable occurrence, and it’s wrong, not to mention boring.
When an officer is suspended, so are his police powers (usually). He does not have the authority to investigate, arrest, etc. Therefore, if he did make an arrest while on suspension, the case could be tossed out of court. And, he could be held liable for the illegal detention of the suspect. Basically, that’s kidnapping.
4. The karate chop to the back of the neck that knocks the bad guy unconscious. Puhleeze.... The only thing that would do is make the guy really angry.
FYI - Knocking someone unconscious is a bit more of a task than you’d think, and I’m a perfect example of that. A thug once used a wooden baseball bat to try to prevent me from arresting him. The jerk did manage to connect a hefty swing to the back of my head just as I was turning away from the incoming bat. Sure, it knocked me down, and it hurt, a lot, but when I managed to get to my feet, well, let’s just say I “gently” placed him under arrest.
5. A karate chop to the wrist, causing the bad guy drop his gun. Double Puhleeze... If a bad guy points a gun at a cop, well, let’s just say he should feel properly aerated immediately after pulling his weapon on the officer. No karate chops.
And, please don’t make the mistake of having your protagonist shoot the gun or knife from the hand of a bad guy. Unless your officer is a highly skilled sniper, that ain’t happening. Cops are trained to shoot center mass, which means the center of the largest part of the visible target.
Some officers are such poor shots that they’re extremely lucky to hit a man-size target. So hitting a hand would be an extremely huge stroke of luck. In fact, there’s a recent story of a police chief who was fired because he’d failed to shoot qualifying score on the firing range.
HALLIE: I'm embarrassed to say that I've made at least ONE of these mistakes. Not sayin' which.
Writers’ Police Academy has grown so much -- what are some of the exciting goings-on this year?
LEE: Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) is not a typical writers conference. We don’t do author or agent panels. Nor do we do the typical breakout sessions where local cops stand in front of the room to talk shop.WPA is all about learning the behind-the-scenes details and having a ton of fun while you’re doing it.
We are the real deal, a one of a kind event, featuring real police, fire, forensics, and EMS training at an actual police academy with classes and workshops taught by real police academy instructors and top experts from around the country. The only thing you can’t do at the WPA is to see and do it all in a single weekend.
HALLIE: What's on your roster this year?
LEE: Here's just a few of the experts we've got.
- Marcia Clark (former OJ Simpson prosecutor)
- Experts from Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories
- World-renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Murray
- Author Kathy Harris (marketing manager for the Oak Ridge Boys)
- Cold case and bloodstain pattern expert Dave Pauly
- Detective Lee Lofland
- Interview and Interrogation.
- Cold Case Investigations.
- Dive teams
- Arson investigation
- Treating gunshot victims
- Driving simulator
- Arrest techniques and Handcuffing
- Shallow grave investigations
- Explosive and bomb squad
-Jail searches - we have fully-equipped onsite jail cells
- Underwater evidence recovery (we have an onsite pool!)
- Tons of police equipment and dozens of vehicles for demos and for your up-close inspection, including helicopter, command posts, patrol vehicles, bomb
HALLIE: WOW. There is really nothing else quite like it. Anyone who's writing police procedure owes it to themselves to show up.
Lee will be checking back in today to answer questions, and on Friday he'll be back to talk about knotty issues like how an author can credible get their civilian sleuth involved in an investigation. He'll also give thumbs-up and thumbs-down to a few top TV shows.