Tiger Wiseman, a friend to the gals here at The Stiletto Gang, has graciously agreed to join us and tell us about her time at the Civilian Police Academy. Thanks, Tiger!
My Time at the Civilian Policy Academy
by Tiger Wiseman
When I decided to write a mystery I knew I'd have to take some courses. I've trained and worked as a journalist (way back when), but knew little or nothing about body language, plotting, and all those other trade secrets mystery writers need. What I didn't expect to study was police procedure. I mean, I watch NCIS, CSI, Hawaii 50 and all those other shows, right?
Wrong. Nothing will get you in trouble faster with your readers than miswriting police procedure.
So here I am, a new graduate of the Civilian Police Academy (CPA). CPA is a 12-week course offered by my town's Police department as a way to keep in touch with the local community, foster good relationships, and enhance townspeople's understanding of police operations and challenges. Since my only "contact" with the police to date had been smiling (or growling) as I waited to be waved through a traffic jam, CPA sounded pretty good to me. So I, along with 14 others, signed up for the Department's 4th annual session.
At our first class, the Chief of Police talked about department workforce statistics, and some of the challenges the department faces in finances and recruiting. Our town has a force of 43, covering 165 miles of road and over 34,000 service and dispatch calls annually. All officers are college graduates and many hold advanced degrees in psychology, administration, etc. Several speak foreign languages and one of our three female officers previously served on the Italian police force.
A tour of the police department included the indoor shooting range, the evidence lockers, and the holding cells (tiny!), as well as the fingerprint scanner and breathalyzer. And believe me, the cells and equipment look nothing like what you see on TV.
The next eleven weeks covered everything from training and recruitment to basic laws of arrest, and from technology to SWAT teams. You’d think sitting in a classroom for two and a half hours listening to lectures would be boring. Wrong. Not only are the instructors knowledgeable, but they're also humourous and incredibly open. Their war stories are every mystery writer's dream—and I now have a notebook full of them. I especially loved the "dumb felon of the year" stories, like the bank robber who ran away and hide in an unmarked police car!
I gained a wealth of knowledge, some of it just interesting and most of it useful in my mystery writing. Firsthand knowledge can't be beat. I know what a patrol car looks, feels and smells like. Just don't check it out after they've brought in a drunk. I learned how to throw a spike strip to stop a car and fired a 40-gauge Glock pistol and a rifle—even managed to hit the target! I learned the true application of the fourth (search & seizure/investigative detention), fifth (double jeopardy/right to remain silent), and sixth (right to counsel) amendments, and the genesis of the Miranda Law. Did you know that police are only required to mirandize a person if 1) you are in custody, i.e. not free to leave, and 2) the police intend to interrogate you about the crime? And that Miranda is not required in the case of a dying declaration, even if the declaration implicates someone else, or in the case of spontaneous utterance.
From a writer's point of view, I gained invaluable insight which will hopefully keep me from penning unrealistic scenes and dialogue. I know how a photo lineup is prepared, what actually occurs when a call comes into dispatch, the difference between latent, patent, and plastic prints, and why DNA gathered at all major crimes, but only submitted in murder cases. Hint: it takes months to get back and is prohibitively expensive.
I watched videos of men, women and attack dogs being tasered and pepper sprayed, and heard personal accounts of both. All officers are peppered sprayed and tasered during Police Academy training. Note: when tased, the body stops jerking as soon as the trigger is released; there is no residual shocking.
I've smelled cordite and fingerprint powder, and suited up in full SWAT gear. My knees actually buckled under the weight.
Need some lingo? A "damp sponge" is a habitual drinker. To "book off" is to call in sick. A "rip" is a loss in pay due to a disciplinary infraction, such as unauthorized moonlighting.
And finally, yes, NCIS's Abby Sciutto is absolutely correct when she uses superglue to raise fingerprints. Superglue is cyanoacrylate which, when mixed with heat and humidity, creates a gas that will adhere to a fingerprint, resulting in a white, dusty print.
What did this course cost? Nothing. The Police department donates its time. What did I get? More than I expected or hoped for. Many towns offer this type of course, so be sure to check it out with your local department. And if it isn't available, suggest it—it's a win-win proposal.