Because my Franki Amato Mysteries involve a private investigator, I attended the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) this month in Jamestown, North Carolina. When I left, I had no idea what to expect. And man, was I ever in for a surprise—actually, LOTS of them.
The Jail Tour
On the evening of my arrival, I toured the Guildford County High Point Detention Center. For three hours, I got an up-close and oh-so-personal view of how the jail works. I observed the mission control operator ensuring the security of the facility, watched arrested individuals get booked, and interacted with prisoners—who weren’t behind bars! The only time I felt concerned was when they took me and about twenty other female writers to maximum security. I will never, ever forget the sound of the prisoners pounding on doors and screaming (bloody murder).
The next morning started off with a bang—well, really a crash. We got off the bus to find that we were on the scene of a staged drunk driving accident. Only, no one told us that. So, we saw a crashed car, and when we walked past it we saw bodies. And they were moving and covered in (fake) blood. Then 2 police cars, 3 ambulances, and a fire truck came. You think that’s bad? Well, when we got back to the Marriott, there was a dead body on the lawn. Thankfully, this one turned out to be a dummy for teaching us about crime scene lighting. Dodged a bullet there, didn’t we?
As you would expect at a police academy, there were classes on ballistics, crime scene investigations, undercover operations, and more. What wouldn’t you expect? Well, in the “Prostitution Sting” class, the officer was dressed as an escort. So, I thought a real, live hooker was teaching my class. Another shocker: “Researching Exotic Crimes,” which involved creepy stuff like real-life vampirism, cannibalism, and other unspeakable things. And, as promised in the course description, Dr. Katherine Ramsland (a famous forensic scientist) gave tips on how to meet these “unusual people” so that you can interview them for your books. Um, no thank you.
The Hands-on Stuff
For the tactile-learner types, the WPA offers lots of opportunities to experience what law enforcement, CSIs, and the like actually do. So, we got to investigate a murder from start to finish (including appearing in court); ride along with on-duty patrol officers, aerial surveillance officers, and EMTs; use real firearms in simulation training; test drive EMS simulators with lights and sirens activated; and clear a building like a SWAT officer while others are lying in wait to gun you down (I didn’t do the last one because I get kind of jumpy when I’m being hunted).
For me, the best part of all was the banquet because I just plain like to eat. But it was also a chance to see a live interview with one of the most successful writers in the business: Michael Connelly. If you don’t know who he is, Connelly is to crime fiction what Stephen King is to horror. He’s so huge that his protagonists have been played by Matthew McConaughey and Clint Eastwood. Of course, I’m no Connelly, but I was thrilled to learn that we have the same writing process (hey, it’s a start, right?). My one regret about the experience: my droopy damn shirt.