Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Got Research?

I'm in research mode this month, it seems. So in that vein, I thought I'd share some of the fun explorations I've been doing for my books.

I do a lot of the research for my romantic thrillers in the library and the internet. But there’s no substitute for personal experience. So when I got the opportunity to sign up for my city’s citizen’s police academy last year, I jumped! I and ten other citizens covered a lot in ten weeks. Here’s a brief overview.

Week One: Orientation of the Police Department and a tour. This week was great for scoping out all those little details that make stories come alive. From the way officer’s shifts are split up to the color of the walls in the holding cells to the crammed pseudo-organization of the evidence room, these are details you can’t find in a library book. Details that make a story feel real.

Week Two: Traffic Enforcement. Maybe most of us have been pulled over for a traffic ticket or warning at some time in our lives, but recreating a stop in the pages of a story is a different matter. Especially when you’re writing it from an officer’s point-of-view. And how much do you know about the way Radar works? Maybe I’m just slow, but I had no idea. I do now!

Week Three: Defense and Arrest Tactics. This was a meat-and-potatoes week for a fiction writer. We learned how officers approach and control a situation, the use of holds, strikes, kicks and weapons such as pepper spray, baton and taser. The officers even staged an arrest with me playing a dangerous bad guy. I wasted no time putting my experience to use in VOW TO PROTECT, Harlequin Intrigue, 8/06!

Week Four: Fire Department. We visited our city’s fire department this week. After touring the facility and vehicles, I put out a fire with an extinguisher, knocked down cones with the fire hose, rode the aerial ladder and dressed up in all the gear, climbed up on a small roof and chopped ventilation holes with an axe. Now my subconscious is hard at work coming up with a firefighter story!

Week Five: Emergency Vehicle Operation Course. That’s right, we drove cop cars! Backing and serpentining and evasive driving and braking. And I discovered it’s nearly impossible to use the radio while pursuing another car through an obstacle course with lights flashing and siren blaring.

Week Six: Investigations. Probably my favorite week of the whole academy (a tough call). After a presentation about a local homicide investigation, we broke up into small groups and visited three different stations. In the first station, we learned about crime scene photography and made a plaster cast of a footprint. In the second, we lifted fingerprints off a coffee mug. The final station was a mock homicide. We had to examine the evidence, make conclusions and interview a detective posing as the victim’s mother. These experiences will be showing up in my books for a long time.

Week Seven: EMS. A very informative week including Adult CPR training and AED training. I have an EMS scene planned in an upcoming book. Talk about life-and-death drama!

Week Eight: Firearms Training. Prior to this my firearms experience was limited to shooting a black powder Civil War era revolver about twelve years ago, so this was a big week for me. After I learned to lean forward and put my thumb in the right place to avoid getting nailed by the Glock’s slide, I did pretty well. We started with oval-shaped targets, then moved to a photo of a man holding a gun. When they dimmed the lights and forced us to shoot with night sights and only a flashing police light bar for illumination, things got interesting!

We spent the second part of the night working with the virtual Firearms Training System (FATS). We had to interact with different scenarios an officer might face projected on a movie screen, making split second decisions about whether or not to fire our weapons. The weapons themselves registered hits and misses on the screen, forcing us to justify our decisions and own up to poor marksmanship. It truly is amazing the number of split-second judgements a police officer has to make.

Week Nine: Police-School Liaison Officer, community policing, drug enforcement. Learning about all the roles the police fill in my local community as well as facts about illegal drugs will certainly be useful for upcoming stories.

Ride Along and dispatch observation: During the course, each member of the academy was required to observe in dispatch for an hour and ride along with a patrol officer for several hours. I had a very fun an informative night, although the rain kept the drama to a minimum. Fine with me. I like my violence pretend.

Week Ten: Graduation! Along with my certificate for graduation I won two awards. My team won best footprint casting (see week six), and I won the special “bronze notebook award” for taking the most notes. Truthfully I was kind of a shoe-in, since I was the only one taking notes, but...
The Citizen’s Police Academy was an experience that I not only will not forget, but I will use in many books. If you’re interested in doing something like this, call your local police department and find out if they offer the program. If not, maybe they’ll take the suggestion and start one up!

And if you'd like to see more pictures of my adventures, check out my website, annvosspeterson.com!

Ann Voss Peterson

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