Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Four things I’ve learned so far @LucyBurdette



LUCY BURDETTE: You might reasonably ask “why are they wearing those unfortunate shirts?” The answer is I’m attending the Monroe County Sheriff Department’s Citizens Police Academy, and good friend Pat Kennedy was up for going with me! The book I’m currently writing in the Key West series has a different twist—much of the action will take place up the Keys in parts of Monroe County rather than Key West proper. All of Monroe County except for Key West is patrolled by the Sheriff’s department rather than the Key West Police Department. That’s a long stretch of islands running from a little section of the mainland in the Everglades to the border of Key West. (Although oddly enough there are a few properties on Key West that belong to the county and therefore are patrolled by the Sheriff’s department. These include Higgs Beach and the Key West Library.)


We’ve only been to two classes, but I’ve learned a lot already.


Number one. I do not under any circumstances want to spend time in jail. I can’t show you any photos, because we weren’t allowed to take our phones inside. But picture a pinkish cement block interior with nothing that looks like windows. Picture a room of 54 bunkbeds with plastic covered mattresses and one thin pillow. Picture spending all your days inside sleeping, negotiating which television shows to watch, waiting for meals. Enough said. There are about 420 inmates on the premises, 70 of them women. (Come to think of it, the bunk room looked very much like those in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK.)





Two. Even if I was 50 years younger, this would not be the profession for me. I’m terrified of driving too fast, and after our captain showed us a video filmed while he was riding north 30 miles to back up another deputy, at I don’t know how many miles per hour with lights flashing and sirens blaring, swerving around vehicles that were slow to get out of the way…Even one video gave me nightmares.





Three. The one charming thing about the Monroe County Jail is their animal farm. (Okay, the officers have been charming too!) They take in all kinds of abused and abandoned animals and the prisoners with good behavior take care of them. The farm (right underneath the jail) has an open house twice a month and is very popular with visitors. Now how can I work this into the current book?? 





Four. Our teachers encourage us to ask any question— no question is too dumb! Except, we have not been able to get an answer to how fast above the speed limit you can drive without being pulled over. (They do have some discretion.) And second, what’s the best way to worm out of a ticket? (Start with acknowledging that you made a mistake.) One smart woman in my class suggested that the best approach might be to dangle our citizens police academy badges from our visors.


Sheriff Rick Ramsey on the right

This week we'll be doing weapons simulations. I really hope I don't hit myself accidentally with a taser... What questions would you have for the citizen's police academy?

58 comments:

  1. Oh, this sounds like great fun, Lucy! I hope you're enjoying the experience and I'm looking forward to seeing just how you work in all into your story . . . .
    An animal farm beneath the jail? Who'd have thought . . . .
    But I can't think of any questions to ask . . . it must have something to do with being married to a retired police officer . . . .

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  2. Lucy, this sounds so interesting. I would think it is depressing to see where you will spend your time if you end up in jail. First of all, I need bathroom privacy. And, one thin pillow would be so uncomfortable. I guess that don't give you reasons to want to return. A few questions I'd ask are: 1) When are you allowed to make that one phone call after you're arrested, or are you actually allowed one? 2) Do only large prisons have cafeteria areas where prisoners eat, and if not a large communal area to eat, do prisoners eat in cells? 3) If a prisoner has money in their account, are they allowed to spend it whenever they want, or are there only certain times set up to do that? Oh, and follow-up question to this one. Are there food items to buy with that money?

    Oh, and I'm not sure the being honest method is the best way to get out of a ticket. I got pulled over on a highway once, right after I had opened my snack bar (being relaxed and casual with your snack bar at hand doesn't help either). Anyway, the officer who pulled me over in his unmarked police car (is unmarked really fair?), asked me if I knew how fast I'd been going. I answered him that I had no idea because, well, at that point I hadn't been looking at the speedometer (I was opening my snack bar). He didn't seem to appreciate that answer and wrote me a ticket.

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  3. That sounds very interesting. But I'm with you, there is no way I'd ever want to be in jail. Even if I never tried to watch TV in there, I think the lack of windows would be horrible.

    And I don't think I'd like racing through the road avoiding cars with my sirens going either. So I'm right there with you in both.

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  4. Very interesting. No questions, but like you I have no desire to be in jail or drive fast cars.

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    1. That's why we love crime fiction--we can read about these things without being in danger:)

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  5. What an experience! I can't think of any questions, either. The jail surely doesn't feel like a welcoming place to be, even getting to take care of the animals. And I'm a pokey driver, so there goes that qualification for joining the department. Lol.

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  6. Lucky you for being about to take this course, Roberta! I took my small city's PD's academy after I moved to town, and ever since I've had a detective on speed dial. I also asked more questions than anyone else in the class. The ride-along one Saturday night was interesting, too, and we took a field trip to the Essex County correctional facility (jail/prison). Shivers at that one.

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    1. (I meant to write, "for being able to take this course.")

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    2. We didn't get shirts, but my Amesbury PD mug is my ever-present water source at my desk.

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    3. There's no substitute for actually seeing everything, is there?

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  7. LUCY: Glad to see you are having an adventure at the Police Academy!
    A question for the officers: what is the weirdest arrest they have ever made?

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    1. Grace, I bet there would be a lot of competition for that one! Carl Hiaasen told the story of a deputy arresting a woman for shaving her lady parts WHILE DRIVING!

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    2. I'm going to be trying not to picture this for the rest of the day!

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  8. LUCY, I hope you publish the answers to everyone's questions in a follow-up column.

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  9. Love the animal farm at the local jail! I graduated from the Blue Ash, Ohio CPA and yes, have my polo shirt. Our course included the simulation training officers take every year: I stood in front of a floor to ceiling video screen showing 3-5 minute clips of different situations. I wore a full officer belt with taser and gun. After each simulation I discussed whether I should have talked down the situation, used my taser, or gun. I died twice. Sobering.

    The one situation for which I never received a clear answer: at a traffic stop for a burned out taillight, when is it permissible to search my car? I suspect the answer is "it depends."

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    1. Ohhh, so scary! I think the answer to that question is seeing/smelling something that gives Probable Cause.

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    2. That is correct Lucy! The police/sheriff must have probable cause and if the person is on parole/probation (with a 4th amendment waiver). (Hubby does criminal appeals!)

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    3. Look up probabl cause for car searches. This will give you an idea of the scope and constitutional complexity of the issue. This topic takes up an entire semester in law school.

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  10. thanks Judy:). I'm making a list and will sit down with one of the deputies when the time is right! I can tell this is going to help a lot...

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  11. What a great resource to utilize, Lucy! And a great resource for the county to have. The animal rescue--wow! I love programs like that--I've seen prison dog programs (even cats!), but never an animal rescue. The question I would ask is this: I've read about very successful programs in which teams of social workers/mental health professionals/EMTs respond to certain calls, freeing the police to handle actual crime patrols, responses, etc. Does the Monroe County sheriff's department have a similar sharing of resources/responsibilities within the county?

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    1. Good question Flora. We have a lot of cases of substance abuse, homelessness, and mental illness in the Keys. I'm pretty sure the officers respond to all the calls though...

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  12. I second the comment re: your t-shirts, you look relaxed and happy. I wonder how the conditions in the Hillsborough County Corrections system compare to Monroe County. Currently there are 2817 inmates, 393 of them are women. My question: How far behind with technology (digital monitoring etc) is Monroe County? When I read the govt. digital infrastructure is 15 years out of date, I shudder.
    What about us? Are the criminals still better prepared?

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    1. Interesting questions Coralee. In the jail pod that we toured, the officer told us they have 40 ipads that prisoners can check out. So they can read, watch movies, even look at their snail mail and send DM's. I'm sure all that is monitored...

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  13. I'm glad you're enjoying yourself and learning, Lucy. I enjoyed both academies I went to, with Pittsburgh and the PA state police.

    The farm is too cute.

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  14. What percentage of their time is spent on mundane activities like paper work?
    Have they ever had anyone break out of the jail?
    What piece of equipment or technology would they never want to be without?
    How hard is it to recruit and retain qualified officers and other personnel?
    Do they watch cop shows on TV and what do those shows get right and wrong? What about crime fiction?

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    1. What great questions from everyone!
      Lucy, I think (in California at least) you can go a comfortable 10 mph over the speed limit (unless it is not safe). I like that you've mentioned the KWPD officers in your books and that Hallie Snow is married to one.

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    2. Yes amazing questions. I wish all of you were taking the class with me!

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    3. I try to be accurate with police/sheriff details. I'm already seeing things I got wrong in my WIP after two classes!

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  15. I would ask about crime scene processing. Who goes in first to process the scene? Which deputies are qualified to do that or do they rely on state police lab personnel? I don't know how similar Florida state police are to NYS as far as forensic investigations.

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    1. More great questions, I'm keeping a list. Because of course Hayley and another character stumble into a murder investigation...

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  16. This sounds absolutely great! And you never know what little wonderful thing you will uncover, it’s a fantastic experience! Be careful with the taser ! (And remind me to tell you someday about my experience with the lie detector. :-) )
    Waving at you from the train to Pennsylvania…

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    1. can't wait for that lie detector story Hank! Hope you're on the way home xo

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  17. They have a hedgehog? Aww.

    How long is you CPA, Roberta? Ours was seven weeks, if I remember correctly, and every week was themed and fascinating. We also took a trip downtown to the County jail, and it was sobering. The young woman who led the tour was tiny, and unarmed except with a taser. Our taser demo was in the gym at the jail, with a volunteer that was most definitely not me.

    The shooting sim was really enlightening, with calibrated handgun replicas of Glocks, and an interactive situation where you had to react or not react. The computer kept track of how many shots and where they hit, plus whether or not the bad guy hit back. Many of the men got killed, and none of the women, who also made a fraction of the number of shots. I hope you get to do this sort of exercise.

    We have a water rescue and dive team here, and they made a presentation one week. I would think there would be one in the Keys, since it's surrounded by ocean, or is that handled by the Coast Guard there? There would be different challenges there, too. Here the Ohio River is silty and visibility almost nil. There the currents would make things harder for divers. There are a remarkable number of vehicles pulled out of the river, but I have had nightmares about driving down to the Keys (I've only been halfway) on that long, super narrow strip of lonely road with nothing but water on both sides.

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    1. 7 weeks of 3-hour classes and then graduation! I know we have traffic stops, simulated crime scene, and special units including canine, bomb, dive, SWAT etc. My brain will be very full! We also have a lot of migrants landing on the keys from Cuba, Haiti etc, so that's a different challenge.

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  18. I thought about doing a CPA in Houston, but chickened out. Frankly, the situations officers face would have me running for the hills. Scary. My husband was in the Border Patrol years ago, and then was an Immigration Investigator (plain clothes). They were trained to not pull out their guns unless they planned to shoot. Guns don't scare me but shooting someone? I don't think I could do that. Once you're a police officer are you required to maintain a healthy weight?

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    1. Don't know the answer to that Pat! In this case, a ride-along is offered but not required. (I do not want to hurtle up the length of Rt 1 gripping the dashboard!)

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  19. What fun! I am a graduate of the Weatherford, Texas, Citizens Police Academy and I enjoyed every single class. Most of the questions I asked were about how the work impacted the officers on a personal level. (Character background, don't you know?). My favorite conversation was one I had with a former undercover officer who admitted to me that he got kind of addicted to the adrenaline of working a big bust, and took risks he probably should not have taken. When I asked how he unwound from those experiences, he said he went fishing. Sitting in a boat on a lake, with not much going on was the complete opposite of those high-adrenaline days undercover.

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    1. My ex was a cop, and he also unwound by going fishing.

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    2. that's fascinating! I can use that detail for sure...

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  20. I know our sheriff's department had a farm, off site, that has a plant sale a couple times a year. The farm is on the way to "The River" so it most definitely not in the county jail complex. My one question would be if the officers always knew they wanted to be in law enforcement and if not, when did you or what helped you make the decision?

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    1. good question Deana! A couple of the students are young folks who I think might be interested in this kind of career.

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  21. Way cool that the S.D. offers a citizen's police academy. You're getting a lot of great info. That the department has an animal park blew my mind. And that's a wonderful opportunity for the residents, both on the inside and the outside when folks get to visit. I'm sure a plot bunny will come to you. I haven't even seen the place, and my mind just won't let that go. LOL! :)

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  22. What an interesting post, Lucy! It's so cool that you're doing this. I have a lot of answers on tap, Rick being retired police, but I really wish I could take something like this in the UK. Hmm. I wonder if the Met even offers something similar. I have to settle for all the cop reality shows I watch when I'm in the UK.

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  23. Fascinating stuff.
    I'd like to know what are the trickiest kinds of incidents they get called out to investigate, and how do they prepare psychologically for the unexpected?

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    1. I suspect the scariest are people on drugs and/or severely mentally ill...good questions!

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  24. I have to say, I don't need "Scared Straight" - all you have to do is show me a toilet with NO privacy and I'll be a law-abiding citizen for the rest of my life! :-D

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  25. All the details that make the books feel so real. Are the animals "lifers" or do they adopt out to good homes?

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  26. Thanks for sharing. Being in a position where decisions are made in split-seconds and the public expects you to always make the right one has to be incredibly stressful. I couldn't do it. Hallie's question about being mentally prepared is a good one. Then you have to turn it off and return back to your own family life.

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