Writers Police Academy

By Sherry — is your summer flying by?

I was at Writers’ Police Academy last weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina. It is such a great conference. Last year when I wrote about the event I said that I was so enthusiastic that my husband might attend. He did and our daughter came with us too. They loved it!

My husband and daughter are drying their fingerprint cards.

Thursday night there was a panel of medical examiners who spoke. They were fascinating and informative. I always wonder how people can do that job and they said it was because they speak for the dead. It’s their job to tell their story about what happened to them. Also, one of the women speaking said she hate’s it when someone writes in a novel that medical examiners are failed neurosurgeons. She choose to be a medical examiner not because she couldn’t do anything else.

This slide is about ninhydrin a chemical used to bring out prints on porous surfaces.

Friday my first class was on retrieving prints from paper. It’s amazing how fingerprints can linger and be brought back. Then we got to go on a tour of Sirchie. It’s the first time they’ve ever allowed civilians (they teach lots of classes to law enforcement groups) to be on their campus and tour their factory. They make many different types of products for law enforcement – from brushes for finding latent prints to helmets to evidence markers.

One of the most fascinating classes was on interrogations. Throw out everything you think you know about them. Most police departments don’t have rooms with two way mirrors. The instructor doesn’t like to sit on opposite sides of the table because he likes to watch body language and the lower body shows stress easily. The best way to gather information is often by asking for a meeting at a coffee shop or stopping at someone’s place of work or home. And while yes, the police can lie to you, they can’t intimidate you. Our instructor said a good interrogator knows that he/she has to become what the person they are interviewing needs them to be so they will talk.

What’s the difference between an interview and an interrogation? In an interview people want to give you information, but in an interrogation they don’t.

I was worried an hour and a half class on footwear evidence would be boring, but boy was I wrong! I was sad when it was over. The instructor’s combination of information and humor made the entire class want more.

I attended fabulous classes about being an undercover cop, a latent prints class (different from prints on paper), murder and mayhem, and firearms. Because a bus was late we got an impromptu class from a former FBI agent who was in on the arrest and search of the Unibomber’s home.  They found a live bomb under Ted Kaczynski’s bed while they were searching. And none of us in that class will ever look at carrots the same way again.

Learning new things, being around law enforcement officers, and other writers is always exhilarating.

Readers: What is exhilarating for you?



17 Thoughts

  1. What an amazing experience, Sherry. I’m so happy you enjoyed it and learned so much! For me, talking about books with other people is always a lot of fun. Just the other day, I was chatting with a woman about Louise Penny’s Still Life. That was a blast!

  2. It’s inspiring being around real life sleuths, isn’t is?! So fun that your family joined you! I went to WPA a few years ago and had way too much fun handcuffing a very nice lady, lol!

  3. I love how you made this a family thing! Writers’ Police Academy is one conference I hope to get to one day.

  4. Sounds like a fabulous time. I’d find it fascinating, too, with all the books I read. I’ll just have to watch through a two way mirror. 🙂

  5. Hi Sherry,

    I am SO intensely jealous. It sounds like an incredible weekend. Over the last two months, I’ve spent about 20 hours picking the brain of a retired homicide detective, and even that was fascinating (not to mention eye-opening). In fact, I kept way beyond topics I needed for the story I’m finishing.

    So much of what we see on TV is completely wrong. For example, police officers are never allowed to go through the victim’s pockets; only the medical examiner is permitted to do this. And since it can be 10 hours or longer before the medical examiner is on the scene, it can keep the victim from being identified for a substantial length of time. I also learned how the presence of body cameras has changed the way police with each other. It was all incredibly fascinating, and I’m sure you learned so much more, getting information from a variety of different viewpoints, rather than a single individual.

    What a great experience for you. As I said, I’m intensely jealous, and I’ve now put it on my bucket list of things I really want to do!

    Terrific article!!!

  6. What a wonderful experience. And such a great opportunity for the Academy to spread the word about how things work in real life. I can feel your enthusiasm brimming off the screen.

    Really, learning about almost anything is exhilarating, especially when it is learned first hand. In April, I had two back-to-back exhilarating days in AZ. I got a behind the scenes tour of the State Capitol AND one of San Xavier Mission in Tucson. I felt like royalty. 😁

  7. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience. I think most of your fans would love to have the opportunity to go through the classes but as least we get a taste from your time there.

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