Liz here. This month, we’re focusing a lot of our topics on research, so I wanted to share this ultimate research adventure! In September 2012, Edith and I had the pleasure of attending the Writer’s Police Academy hosted by the fabulous Lee Lofland and some of the best law enforcement professionals in the country. It was definitely a weekend to remember, and I wrote a guest post about my experience. The below article first appeared on The Graveyard Shift blog, Sept. 2012.
I spent a beautiful September weekend in North Carolina being shot at by drug dealers, shooting (and killing) fugitives and uncovering a makeshift grave.
It was one of the best weekends of my life.
But I expected nothing less from my first Writer’s Police Academy. I’d heard only great things about Lee’s event, and every one of them was true. Being immersed in the world of law enforcement, experiencing what these brave men and women experience every day, getting hands on and seeing and hearing the reality of their job was incredible and sobering and endlessly fascinating.
Crime has always drawn me (not committing it, I promise) as much as telling stories has drawn me. The first research paper I ever wrote as an 11-year-old detailed the Charles Stuart murder case in Boston. While my friends were reading Sweet Valley High books, I could be counted on to have my nose in a true crime serial killer account. Even then, I was fascinated with the “whys” of each story, a gift from my grandfather, who spent decades as a detective in Lawrence, Mass. and had the stories to prove it.
Family and friends of police officers know: a large part of police work is retelling the war stories. I was always an anomaly in my family due to my outlandish imagination and obsession with scary stories, so my grandfather’s penchant for telling these narratives — both real and embellished — was a breath of fresh air. Those stories drew me into his world, like a key to a secret club. They fed my imagination and got me asking questions and gave me yet another reason to admire him. I ate them up and imagined the days when I’d get to tell my own.
As an adult, I didn’t pursue the job. But I did the next best thing: I became a crime fiction writer. Which meant learning everything about how cops and sheriffs and FBI and DEA agents do their jobs to make it believable on the page. I read tons of books, wormed my way onto any crime story I could catch as a reporter and supplemented my interest with friends on the job. I collected stories from police captains, parole officers and corrections officers. I tried to weasel my way into ride-alongs and local police business.
And this year, I finally got to the Writer’s Police Academy.
Lee and the law enforcement professionals who gave their time and expertise to our quirky group gave us an invaluable gift. We were privy to not only their firsthand experiences, but seeing and being part of those experiences. Crashing though doors with shields and rifles and learning how to sweep an apartment potentially full of lethal enemies, feeling the adrenaline rush to discover a person actually waiting behind the door (right, Edith?) and understanding how easy it would be for something to go wrong in a split second.
Going through a firearms simulation where a mass shooter is killing innocent people and trying to gauge if and when you should shoot him. Traipsing through the woods (we were lucky the weather happened to be nice) and finding a finger in your path, and a few yards later finding the person the finger belonged to buried with leaves and twigs in a shallow hole. Imagining the insects swarming, the smells, the aftermath.
Watching a live police chase and seeing what could happen when a traffic stop turns into something much more menacing. Learning how someone could slip out of their handcuffs and give a cop a really bad night.
And the stories. As much as I loved being “shot at” by drug dealers and shooting bad people and everything else Lee had in store for us, what really grabbed me were the stories. Every officer and agent there let us into their lives. Some of the stories were funny, others were tragic, some were downright terrifying. But they were all real. I could’ve sat there for weeks and just listened, whether it was tales of a killer sighting his or her prey, the realities of gang violence, or how undercover cops avoid a drug dealer’s request to prove themselves by taking drugs. My grandfather would have been in his glory.
Everything I did, saw and heard that weekend gave new meaning to the phrase “putting your life on the line,” and that’s what these people do every day. I was already grateful for the law enforcement officers who work so hard to keep us safe. Now, I’m indebted.
Lee and all our instructors — thank you. I’ll see you next year, as long as you’ll have us.