Monday, September 26, 2011

Cool Info Bites from Writer's Police Academy

ATF agent Rick McMahan and Maggie
by Maggie Toussaint

When it comes to learning about police lore, the Writer’s Police Academy is a font of useful information. Held at a Greensboro, NC police training academy and organized by Lee Lofland, this recent event was packed with hands-on knowledge writers need to know.

Hollywood cops have more technology than you can shake a stick at, and our everyday law enforcement groups would love to have a fraction of those gadgets. From TV, we expect DNA results in minutes or hours when the reality is more like months. For a rush DNA job, it takes about a week, though new procedures and tests are in development.

Barbara Graham and handcuffing instructor Stan Lawhorne

Sound intriguing? Read on for snips of other cool stuff:

Locard’s Principle – when two objects come into contact, an exchange of material occurs.

All people shed skin cells and hair every day, about 150 hairs a day.

CSIs turn the room lights out and use those itty bitty flashlights because it helps them see better. Footprints, hairs, and other bits of trace evidence really pop under these conditions.

If a bioterrorist comes to your neighborhood, don’t opt for the white dusk mask at the hardware store, get yourself a N95 respirator mask.

One key fits all handcuffs. Enterprising crooks hide keys on or in their bodies.

CJ Lyons takes down a suspect for handcuffing,
 with Cpl Dee Jackson

Bleach cleans up bloodstains, but its use is detectable. Blood can be detected even under multiple coats of paint.

Blood spatter is dependent on on velocity, directionality, and point of origin. Unless dripped straight down, the spot more resembles an infinity symbol, with some excursions.

A sniper can shoot a one-inch square at 100 yards. As they increase distance, say 200 yards from a target¸they can hit a two inch square and so on out to 1,000 yards.

At the crime scene, from left, Dr. Denene Lofland, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, and Maggie

In 97 % of homicides, the suspect is interviewed in the first 30 days. About 61% of homicides are cleared.

Witnesses lie.

Suspects give faulty confessions.

Ego is bad for investigations.

Moisture and higher temperatures accelerate decomposition. Don’t add garden lime to that shallow grave; it’s a plant nutrient.

Our gun laws derive from social and historical events. Only the US has a gun tracing system.

SEMWA's Stacie Allen, green shirt, takes super pictures

When undercover, a cop relies on personality, attitude, and persistence to get the job done.

At the Writer’s Police Academy, I experienced the FATS, the Firearms Training Simulator. They stuck a gun in my hand and showed me how to use it. Moments later, a scenario played out on the screen before me. I learned firsthand that it takes a special person to rush headlong into danger, that suspects don’t respect cops or guns. It’s easy for your brain to freeze, or for you to get tunnel vision and ignore the rest of your environment.

Guilford Co. Sheriff's Office Ltc Randy Shepherd

I’ve barely scratched the surface of my notes, but I hope I conveyed how valuable this experience was to me. At Writer’s Police Academy, writers get firsthand information, experience a micro-window into this law enforcement world, and receive answers to their policework questions.

I highly recommend it.

Maggie Toussaint
mystery and romance author
PS don't forget - my award winning  HOUSE OF LIES is still on markdown at Kindle for 99 cents.


  1. MAGGIE--that's everything I needed to know about blood, skin cells, and hair at a crime scene. It sounded like fun, actually--I could tell you all were having a great time. Was that a gun pointed backwards you were holding? Celia
    (Blogger doesn't like me today--had to sign in as Anonymous. Celia...who is never anonymous.

  2. And so now, I'm not anonymous. Grrr. Celia

  3. What a fascinating day! I would kill to attend something like this...well, speaking figuratively, of course. ;-)

    Thanks for sharing, Maggie!

  4. Hmm... I'd heard this event was interesting.

    Seriously, thanks for posting, Maggie. Thanks, too, for joining us this year. We hope everyone had a great time while having a peek inside our lives.

  5. Hi Celia,

    Blogger isn't playing nicely with me today either.

    You're right about the gun looking odd. I didn't have the slide right. In the pic, the ATF agent's hand is blurry. He's about to correct the mistake, but the second picture shows me scowling, so I chose the bad gun pic over the bad Maggie pic.

  6. Hi Anne,

    You should put this event on your calendar. I got so much out of it!!!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Hi Lee,

    You were so busy running around and making sure everything was wonderful, that I didn't snap but one sideways picture of you. Figured you didn't want the world to see you sideways. ((grin))

    The WPA was a great event and I'm thankful for all of your hard work in organizing and facilitating everything.

  8. That's basically the way my head felt all weekend...sideways. But I'm slowly returning to normal.

    Glad to be back in Ga., though. I need the rest!

  9. I'm really impressed! I'd never heard of this before. It's just the kind of information all mystery writers need.

  10. Great post, Maggie. What a wealth of info. I can't wait until you write that thriller, because I'll be one of the first ones to read it. :-)

  11. Wow, what an event! Looks amazing, Maggie, lucky you.
    I have so much admiration for the people who do this sort of work, especially the minute, painstaking stuff. Brilliant.

    Jane x

  12. Hi Jacqueline,

    I heard rumblings about Writers Police Academy for years. Good rumblings. And it was just my cup of tea, but I kept my conference money for reader conferences until this year I just said, I'm going. And it was very worthwhile.

    Since I've already done police ride alongs and by virtue of my reporter job, seen the inside of a jail, EMS ambulance, and a fire station, I thought it would basically reinforce my knowledge set. Not so. I learned so much that I know it will take my police authenticity up a notch in my mysteries and romantic suspense books.

    Thanks for the visit!

  13. Hi Polly,

    I'm delighted you stopped in. After your long trip, I know your mind is not quite in sync yet, so the effort is duly appreciated.

    One of the things I'm so excited about today is letting everyone know about how the workshops at Writers Police Academy can directly impact your work.

    And relieve your TV viewing. I can't tell you how many times I've told the CSI techs on TV to turn the lights on. Silly me. They'd have missed valuable information.

    On the other hand, a little knowledge is dangerous. That must be why folks go back to WPA at least one more time. I only had time for half the programs and I wish I could have seen it all.

  14. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for coming over. I know how busy this time is for you now that EDINBURG FOG was released by Muse Publications. Wishing you excellent sales and still grinning about that 5 star review you got.

  15. Maggie, I can see you had a lot of fun and learned a lot. Thank you for sharing. I can imagine we lose hair every day. I do everytime I put a brush in my hair. As a chemist I'm sure it takes time to run a sample analysis with the right quality control. If I ever attend this conference, I'll take my DH. I bet i'll love more than me.

  16. Mona,

    My husband attended this conference, and he was fascinated by the presentations. I think he asked more questions than I did.

    This conference is a nice size, about 150 participants. That's a good blend of people - not so many that you feel lost in the crowd and not too few that you stick out like a sore thumb. Also, the site location is fixed, so it doesn't move around from city or state like some other conferences do.

    Thanks for popping over!

  17. Hi Maggie, thanks for sharing your insight on the conference. It was great to meet you and your husband and talk with you both. H's such a trooper. :) Truly enjoyed getting to know you, and I hope we'll have the opportunity to chat again.

  18. Intriguing post, Maggie! And so interesting that it's an academy specifically for writers! I am currently attending an 8 week general citizens' police academy and I agree...wonderful research and so very interesting! Glad you had such an amazing experience. :)

  19. Hi Jerri,

    It was nice to meet you as well. Hope to cross paths again at other writer functions. Thanks for dropping in.

  20. Hi Misty,

    I'm sure you get great attention to detail in your citizen's police academy. What I loved about Writer's Police Academy is that we could (& did!) interrupt the speakers to ask lots of questions related to their topic of expertise.

    Dr. Denene Lofland who lectured on bioterrorism had a great image of someone with bubonic plague. Wouldn't you know I'd been working on a story with plague? The photos and her insights will be invaluable in my rewrite of the plague scenes.

    Thanks for stopping in!

  21. Hi Maggie,

    I agree 100% with you. The conference was a blast (even with the rain) and I learned tons of stuff which will help my current WIP.

    Just like your husband, my significant other also attended and asked more questions than I did. At one point, I told him I was going to move because he was getting a bit embarrassing. lol

    I only wish I had attended sooner and not waited two years.

  22. There are a few differences between the WPA and a citizen's police academy. A citizen's academy will and can only provide basic information. We, on the other hand, go into behind the scenes information that's not normally available to private citizen's.

    Also, we feature top experts from all across the field - federal agents, bioterrorism, DNA, serial killers, cyber crime, handwriting analysis, fingerprinting, bloodstain patterns, cold cases, ritualistic and occult crime, gangs, snipers, white collar crime, organized crime, undercover work, narcotics, DEA, and more and more and more. And my contact list is very long!

  23. Maggie, thanks so much for sharing! Amazing. When I was an MP at Ft. Irwin we used the FATS system to train on as well. It sounds like a really well rounded conference! I loved the pictures - a perfect compliment to the post.


  24. Hi Lee,

    Thanks for pointing out the differences in WPA and a police academy. (I keep wanting to say POH-lice after the weekend - thank you Stan for putting that pronunciation in my head.)

    There's nothing more annoying to me as a reader than to see technical information a writer got wrong. Writer's Police Academy gives writers direct access to experts in many law enforcement fields, so there's no excuse to get police matters wrong.

    All of the experts were helpful. All of them handed out business cards, even Jerry Cooper, who I suspect is still chuckling over me telling the shooter in the FATS simulation to PLEASE stop.

  25. Steph,

    Thanks for taking a look at the pictures and my highlights of the weekend. You must be good at police stuff if you've used the FATS device before. Once it was over, I was thinking, I'd like to do that again, because I was starting to get the hang of it. But it would have been tougher second time around. I know the instructors were taking it easy on me. They could probably smell my "green recruitness" as I walked in the door.

  26. I love this man's blog and the academy sounds like so much fun.

  27. You know, Maggie. The WPA instructors are always impressed with the way the writers/recruits approach the academy. Everyone dives right in with both feet, attacking the workshops with seriousness and a real hunger for the knowledge.

    I'll tell you something else...police recruits in the real world look exactly the same as you guys during the first days of their basic academies. Actually, I taught in a police academy for many years, and I've never seen anyone take this any more seriously than writers.

    I'm sort of the "go between" person who first introduced writers to these law enforcement and forensic experts. And there were a few of those experts who were a bit skeptical of teaching a bunch of writers, at first. In fact, it took a bit of convincing (begging may be the more appropriate term) to get them to open up to people who aren't in law enforcement. I basically had to stick my neck on the chopping block more than once to make this happen. But no longer. I actually heard several instructors say they'd rather teach writers any day over some of today's real recruits, because writers are more appreciative of the experience.

    Honestly, I'm very proud of each and every WPA recruit.

  28. Hi Keena, Thanks for coming by and reading about my Writers Police Academy experience. Lee Lofland does a great job of getting high quality instructors and the content will blow you away. I hope you consider attending WPA next year. Maggie

  29. Lee, I never really thought about this from your persepctive. Lucky for us, we don't have to break the ice with law enforcement professionals because you've done it for us. This is proving to be one of my more popular blog posts, and I'm very appreciative of the traffic. I hope the trend continues! Maggie

  30. Thanks for the great post, Maggie! Sounds like you had a great time and learned a lot. I hope you share more of your notes. :D

  31. Hi Penny,

    I'm still processing my thoughts and impressions from the event, but I can tell you this up front. Though you can learn a lot from notes about a topic, there is no substitute for experiencing it in person. There were so many nuances I picked up, like the veteran cop talking about his slick-sleeved days (rookie). There's no way I would have ever come across that term otherwise, and it was just a casual aside he mentioned as he told a story.

    That's part of the charm of this event, those supercharged presenters are passionate about their work - as passionate as writers are about their craft - and it shows in all they say and do.

    Thanks for visiting Mudpies.

  32. I went last year, Maggie and it was awesome. Glad it is getting better and better. I hope to go again :) Thanks for the notes :)

  33. Sounds like a great time, Maggie. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  34. Hi Toni - I'm glad your WPA experience was as fun/beneficial as mine.

    Hey Gwen, thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment.

  35. I can't think of a better way for a mystery/suspense writer to spend a weekend. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Liana, Ideas are still bubbling to the surface and its already days later. I hope more law enforcement scenario moments that keep emerging from my subconscious.

    But it might have ruined me for cops on TV. I know stuff they are doing is wrong, really wrong. Just last night, I saw evidence numbers zigzaging all over a TV crime scene in no particular order. That's not how its done!

    At least my lungs are getting a workout as I watch TV. Nothing more satisfying than catching their goofs, which is why Lee Lofland probably enjoys critiquing the Castle shows each week.


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