What I Learned at Writers’ Police Academy


Day 0 (Thursday, before the offical start of the conference)

I arrived at the hotel and wandered through the halls to find the pre-conference session, even before the official check-in. A large conference room, cops at different stations. One station showed how to draw a gun from a holster, including clicking a button on the side, one showed how to handcuff a dummy suspect.

An animal control officer demonstrated animals traps, complete with stuffed toy dogs. One station had bullet proof vests you could put on. Sets of police utility belts—with non-functioning plastic pistols—handed out to people to wear for the rest of the day, to get a sense of how it feels. I wasn’t at the table at the right time to get a belt to wear.

Day 1

Opening presentation at a technical school nearby: “approach contact scenario”

The demonstration simulates a traffic stop in the parking lot of the school. Shots fired when the driver jumps out the vehicle and then runs away. The officer is down, and he calls for backup as he wraps a bandana around his leg to make a tourniquet.

More cop cars arrive, horns blaring. Three cops walking in line, hands on each other’s shoulders, like a conga line. Use open car door as shield. Make suspect lift his hoodie above his head and then turn in circle. Any time the cops give an order, they add “do it NOW!” to the end. “Driver, open the door. Do it now! Step out of the vehicle. Do it now!”

Afterward, there’s a demo of the gear cops would wear on a daily basis, when in high-pressure scenarios. First up, the tac vest:

POLICE in large white letters across the tac vest for easy identification at a distance. Not a little badge on a chain like they do in the movies. Little badge on a chain will probably get you shot by another officer on the scene.

Tac vest has tons of pockets for spare magazines and other things. Quick on and off with all the gear loaded so you don’t have to load up after donning the vest.

Also, the “Bail out bag” – all day bag with water and food and extra mags. Selfie stick to see in tight spaces, so you can record video of, say, a crawlspace without having to stick your head in it and get shot. Little mirror on a stick to see around corners or under objects.

first class: terminal ballistics by Troy Janda. Troy talked all about the composition of bullets, explaining the different diameters and calibers (which are different things, I wasn’t aware. Don’t judge me too harshly.), the purpose of hollow point, and how bullets travel from guns.

second class: I was going to go a taser gun demonstration but at the last second, I decided to go to the undercover “incognito” session instead. led by NY ex-cop Marco Conelli. Fast talking, used a lot of acronyms and short hand. Hard to understand. He showed us old pictures of disguises he used to use, undercover video he shot of drug deals, including one that went bad and ended in gunfire. Chilling stuff, to see footage of people shot in real life.

By this point, I’ve started to talk to a few people (only a few, though, because it’s not as if I’ve stopped being an introvert). There are a surprising number of video game designers here, which I hadn’t expected. Also, met one woman who isn’t even a writer. She’s just a reader who wants to learn about cop stuff. That one impressed me. Why would you come to a writers’ conference if you’re not a writer?

Third class: alphabet soup, all about the government agencies with the acronym names. It’s led by Secret Service and CIA veteran Mike, and also ATF agent Rick. Mostly, the class is a Q&A and we discover there are dozens of different government agencies, and there’s a big cluster-frack about how they all overlap, and a lot of time is spent figuring out who has jurisdiction over crimes. Has a lot to do with where and how the crime was committed. And the point for so many agencies with small areas of focus is to prevent any one agency from becoming too powerful.

I asked the CIA agent what the NSA’s purpose was, and he said to collect electronic surveillance on non-US countries. Not on American citizens. That got a nice laugh from the audience.

fourth class: defense and arrest tactics with officer john. I got to be the demo person and be restrained by the cop.

the man’s always trying to keep me down


Shown below, demonstrating how a second officer would keep watch of a suspect while the primary officer interviews.

He showed how he would approach a suspect from behind and grip by the elbow. Then twist their wrist to make them off-balance, and that’s when you slap the cuffs on. We took turns handcuffing each other, which isn’t as easy as it looks. When I was handcuffed, my partner put my cuffs on a little too tight. That metal isn’t the most comfortable bracelet to wear.

One thing officer john said that stuck out to me was, “as police officers, out best weapon is our mouths.” He kept stressing the importance of communication.

Fifth class: big, lecture style class with everyone.  Paul Bishop, an author and former LA detective, talked about how to conduct a proper investigation. He dispelled the myth that cops do good cop, bad cop. It’s illegal to do good cop, bad cop, he says, because any coerced confession is worthless. It’s much more about getting the suspect to trust you, then raising their anxiety level by asking questions that show you already know the truth.

Lead them into a confession with questions like, “What do you think should happen to someone who would do something like this?”

Day 2

We all meet in the courtyard outside of the main campus for morning announcements and a presentation about officer distance.

While the main officer is presenting, she notices someone lurking in the bushes. She approaches the man in the bushes and then draws him out. He’s got a knife, and rushes at her. It’s to demonstrate how to keep a safe and effective distant from a person who may or may not be a suspect. The point is, the cops often don’t know. The weapon could be concealed.

Also, we learn when to pull a taser vs a gun: active resistance vs passive resistance. Passive resistance is when a subject is refusing to comply. it becomes active resistance when the subject become physical when resisting.

My first official session of the day is then: Death Scene Investigation. Led by a man with decades of experience as a coroner, explains all about what the medical examiner’s job is and how he would use clues at the scene to help determine the cause of death. He shows a slide deck with gruesome pics of death scenes. Dude didn’t warn us at all, bc it’s entirely normal to him. Really awful stuff with pictures of dead people covered in maggots, and worse.

who’s a good boy? You are. You are.


Next up, a bus across campus for Building Search and Room Clearing. It’s a special building with simulated entrances like doorways, hallways, stairs up and down. A hands-on session about how to enter a room when you assume there’s  danger inside. Spent time learning how to stand, how to properly hold a gun, and how to enter a doorframe with “criss cross” and “button hook.” Criss cross is two officers entering diagonally through a doorway, one right after the other. Button hook is when each officer enters and then immediately swings back in the other direction. Why do they do that? I was never quite clear on that one.

The last author through the door criss crosses, but she should have button hooked. C’mon, people, we practiced this!


In the next session after lunch, Longmire author Craig Johnson in in the audience of the lecture hall. I go over to meet him, and I haven’t read his books, but I tell him I enjoyed his books, because I don’t want to seem like an asshole. I just thought I should shake his hand because he’s the hotshot big author invited to the conference.

The session is Everything You Thought You Knew About Cops. The instructor talks all about various myths like:

  • It’s not possible to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand.
  • The FBI doesn’t come in and take over cases.
  • You don’t have to read a suspect his rights if you don’t question him. If you have enough evidence that you don’t have to question him, there’s no need to read him his rights.

Finally, the last session of the conference is PhD and author Katherine Ramsland, who spent years working with the BTK killer. She goes into great detail about how BTK’s mind worked as he went about killing all of his ten victims. Chilling, fascinating stuff.

And that’s it! It’s been an exhausting, whirlwind experience, and I’ve learned a crap ton of stuff and dispelled a lot of myths. Thanks for reading this far!

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2017-10-20T12:52:27+00:00 September 26th, 2017|Writing|