Thursday, February 16, 2012

Going Back to School to Learn our Stuff...

Hi, Sandra Orchard here to tell you about the Writer’s Police Academy, one of the many ways we romantic suspense authors hone our suspense writing skills. And come home with a cool T-shirt!

The event is held annually at an actual police training facility and offers an incredible array of hands-on, interactive and educational experiences to enhance a writer’s understanding of all aspects of law enforcement and forensics.

First there’s the equipment

On opening day, almost every imaginable law enforcement and rescue vehicle was assembled in the parking lot, and officers were on hand to answer our questions about the equipment. In addition to the sheriff and police command-post trucks pictured, there were motorcycles, cruisers, a fire engine, ambulance, bomb retrieval (that’s little R-2D-2 in the picture), dive team equipment, riot gear, and more weapons than an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

Nothing like handling the equipment, and talking to the officers who use it to add realism to your descriptions.

Second came the classes:

We could choose from a vast array of classes such as handcuffing techniques, fingerprinting, forensics, jail search, arson investigation, pepper spray demonstration—yes, one brave officer let himself be sprayed, crash investigation, tools of the trade, sprinkler demonstrations, the list goes on, and… my favorite, undercover work. Considering that I had just signed a contract for the first book in my “Undercover Cops” series with Love Inspired Suspense, I was anxious to glean all that I could from this class. Not only did Marco Conelli, former undercover cop turned writer, share many of his experiences, he gave us glimpses of what went on in his head and heart during that time, which is where the real meat of my heroes’ stories lie.

On Day Two…

We arrived at the academy not knowing what to expect. It was kept very hush, hush. We were divided into two groups and ushered into the school one group at a time and stationed in the hall. You need to understand that this is an actual college and students were in classes. Suddenly an armed gunman, wearing a conference ID tag just like the rest of us came charging down the hall.

Within minutes police swarmed the hall, took down the gunman, waited for the paramedics to assess him as others secured the building. One officer kept his weapon trained on the downed gunman until the paramedics ran a strip and confirmed he was dead. Officers then escorted the hostages out of the school to be interrogated separately.

You’ll notice in the picture that the hostages are escorted with their hands on their heads because they have no way of knowing if the gunman had an armed partner. Then we observed the paramedics treating a bullet wound in one of the victims.

Afterward, we were told that we’d observed a “Rapid Deployment Demonstration” provided by local law enforcement & GTCC students.

As a writer, being in the middle of it, hearing the shouts, gunshots, crying students, tasting the fear and panic and desperation, feeling the cloying atomosphere, I was able to absorb much that I can now write into scenes in my novels.


Fire Arms Simulation Training was an added bonus for attending the academy.

We were given Glocks and faced with a floor to ceiling screen that showed videos of shoot and don’t shoot situations like the one pictured above in which the driver jumped out of the car and grabbed the officer from behind. Obviously, I (the partner back in the cruiser) can barely see the suspect, let alone take him down.

When we took a shot, the hit would show on the screen. We were surprised more than once by the post-simulation explanation of why we should have, or shouldn’t have, taken a shot.

For example, in one depiction a man held a baby in a car seat and was wielding a knife yelling at us to stay back. We’re calmly telling him to drop the weapon, unwilling to shoot because the guy might drop the baby! He’s not listening so our shouts grow more urgent. I don’t recall if a single one of us took a shot, because of the danger to the baby. The officer conducting the training told us after the scenario that any officer unable to take that shot would be kicked out of the academy. The man was a serious threat to the life of the baby and the officers and was not responding to instructions.

The most adrenaline-pumping moment for me was when I had to face a hostage taker alone in an office (as depicted on screen). A disgruntled employee had his boss in an arm lock and was waving a gun. I was telling him to put down the weapon, that he really didn’t want to do this etc. But to no avail. All the while, I trained my own weapon at the guy’s head—the only part of his body visible past the hostage. The instant he lifted his gun, I took the shot.

The guy’s brains splattered on the wall behind (yes, it looked as gross as it sounds). The officer in charge of the simulation turned to me and said, “Great shot.”

I pretty much freaked out on him, saying that I could have hit the hostage. I was shaking, heart pounding. It was unbelievable. It gave me a whole new perspective on the split second decisions officers are called upon to make and the emotional havoc it can wreak afterward.

The emotional havoc of being an undercover officer is what I explore in my Undercover Cops series, for which I found lots of fodder at the academy.


  1. Wow Sandra it sounds exciting and scary at the same time.
    I have never even held a gun so would find that extremely difficult (here firearms are basically against the law). and to have the hostage situation on day 2 would be interesting. I could see it being really useful. thanks for sharing.

  2. You're welcome, Jenny. I'm from Canada and handguns aren't that common here. I hadn't held one before!

  3. What a great experience. Nothing like living it first hand. I remember a IM writer talking about duck taping her wrists together to see how her hero would get out of the situation and when her kids came home from school, it didn't faze them to find mom with her hands taped.

  4. Oh yes, my son did that to my daughter!! The dog helped set her free. You can see the fun pic here:

  5. Be still my heart!!!! Sandra, the academy sounds like a suspense writer's dream come true. And something I hope to attend one of these years!

    Thanks for posting such great pics and all the details about the special events. WOW!!! You took down the villain! YAY!!!!! I'm impressed.

    When's the next class?

  6. Debby, unfortunately, it's the same weekend as ACFW :(

  7. How interesting, Sandra. Thanks for telling us about your experience!

  8. Sandra, this sounds like such an amazing class! I've always wanted to take one. I'm sure it's really helped your writing!

  9. love the photo of your daughter duct taped and the dog helping free her.

  10. Thanks Jenny, we have a lot of fun in our house in the name of "research". Of course, hubby prefers the "romance" research side. LOL

  11. I would love, love, love to attend the academy.
    I grew up with guns. My dad started taking me hunting when I was about four. I went from a Daisy to a 22 before I hit ten. I've not been to target practice in awhile. I need to go :)

  12. Sandra, you rock!! One day I hope to do that!! I'd probably faint!!

  13. This sounds fascinating! Thanks for sharing, Sandra.

  14. That sounds amazing!!!! I would love it. Hubs and I watch a lot of police type shows (our favorites are NCIS, NCIS:LA and White Collar).

    Leann--I had to laugh at the kids of the writer who are not fazed by what their mom does!


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