HomeAuthor BioBookshelfComing SoonLatest NewsWriting TipsPhoto AlbumContactFAQ
Sizzling Pens BlogJuliet's Yahoo! Group

Writing Tips...

An Unforgettable Experience ©
by Juliet Burns

On January 26th of this year, I began attending classes at the Arlington Citizen’s Police Academy. I had heard several fellow authors talking about their experience attending the citizen’s Police academy in their city and decided since the heroine in my current WIP is a female police officer this would be a great way to research police procedure and “get into the head” of my heroine.

Every Monday night, from 7-10 pm, our class learned about a different aspect of police work.

The first night, Captain Dwayne Kelly instructed us in defensive tactics. He called each of us up for some hands on demonstrations, moves we could use to get out a bad situation.

The next week, County Court Judge Sharon Wilson shared real life cases and information on trials, sentencing, and the death penalty. She talked about the difference between felony cases and misdemeanors, the high volume of cases in any given day in Fort Worth, and how they’re handled as fast as humanly possible. Judge Wilson is a criminal court judge and has actually sentenced several criminals to death row. She’s a tough, no-nonsense, woman who does NOT suffer fools gladly. I got the feeling she’d seen it all. A firm believer in the death penalty, she spoke of how the system is designed to make sure death row inmates are guilty before putting them to death. Even if a death row inmate does not wish to appeal, he/she has no choice, their case is appealed automatically. When I asked about life without parole being a more humane alternative, she told us there is NO life without parole in Texas!! The reason, she said, was lifers with no chance of parole are harder to control in prison.

The next week, we saw a slide presentation and listened as a Crime Scene Investigator showed us how he could tell when a robbery/kidnapping had been faked by simply looking at the scene of the crime. He discussed real incidents that had happened in the course of his 20 year career, such as a young girl faking a kidnapping when actually she’d run away with her boyfriend.

Then Homicide Detective Tom Lenoir spoke of how he investigates murders. Not all homicides are murders. A homicide is defined as the death of a human. A homicide can be ruled “natural”, “accident”, “suicide”, or “murder”. All homicides are investigated and the body autopsied unless the person died in the hospital and/or was under a doctor’s care at the time of death. Detective Lenoir discussed several of his on-going murder investigations. One case in particular stayed with me. The way this detective was able to piece together what really happened and catch the murderer is amazing. Unfortunately, the man is only in prison serving a sentence for kidnapping until the body of the man’s daughter is found. Detective Lenoir believes the girl’s body is hidden somewhere around Joe Poole Lake. He said that area is being developed rapidly and it’s only a matter of time until the body is found. Since there’s no statute of limitations on murder, he can wait and in the meantime, the perp is in prison. (Show copy of arrest report)

Officer Lenoir is in his mid forties, balding and not too tall. He’s a quiet man who spoke of having to get out of what the police call “CACH” an acronym for Crimes Against Children after only a couple of years. That work, he said, bothered him so much he couldn’t sleep, and it was starting to affect his marriage. CACH is a division of “CAPERS” or Crimes Against Persons.

The next week was exciting yet frightening. We met at a local elementary school and were “trained” on doing a building search. We were partnered up, given a very large, heavy plastic Glock, and a 2 foot long (also heavy) flashlight and sent into dark classrooms to search for perps. If we failed to find the intruder, we were endangering our partner’s life. Real officers were brought in to be perps and hit us with wet sponges if we failed, other real officers yelled at us to instruct us: “Don’t shine that light on your partner!” Yell Clear!” Did you check above you?” What are you doing? You want to get killed?” This was to show the intense, stressful nature of the job and to make us aware that officers put their lives on the line every day.

It worked. Every week my admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to serve and protect our community increased.

The following week, we acted out real life Traffic Stops in the police department’s parking lot. I was Officer Burns, and had to “arrest” a DUI. A female officer pretended to be the driver. She acted drunk and belligerent while I made her step out of her vehicle and go around to the shoulder of the road and conduct sobriety tests on her.

Next week was Accident Investigations, where specially trained officers can determine exactly how an accident occurred from looking at the scene and the cars involved.

In the following weeks, we got to laser speeders on the highway with Radar enforcement. We watched Firemen repel off a 3-story training tower, toured the Firehouse, spoke with EMTs and toured an ambulance, and listened to Police divers who look for bodies in Lake Arlington. We toured the police dispatch Center and learned how important and stressful their job is. We learned about internal affairs with Lieutenant Tim Canas, who clearly did NOT want to be working in I.A. But every officer is pretty much told he WILL do it or else, and the job is short term; officers are rotated out every 2 years. Internal Affairs work completely separate from the criminal investigations of officers.

On our last night, Chaplain Harold Elliot spoke about delivering death massages. We learned it is sometimes difficult to find the victim’s loved ones to notify them and how to keep a list of names and phone numbers with our license. Then an ordinary officer walked in and spoke of a critical incident (a police word) this past New Years Eve. About 10:30 in the morning, this ordinary police officer was just cruising his beat, thinking about meeting his wife for lunch when dispatch informed him a car-jacker was headed into the Arlington area from Fort Worth. Right into his path. He ended up pursuing the thief and was forced in self-defense to shoot and kill the armed robber during a stand-off at a dead end parking lot in an apartment complex in North Arlington. After robbing an apartment in Fort Worth, the thief had severely beaten a man, stolen the man’s car full of guns –the man was on his way to a gun show--, and shot at officers and innocent bystanders from his car. After the incident, can you guess the first thing that happened to the police officer?

He was read his rights. And assigned a lawyer. Yes, he just committed murder. The paperwork still hasn’t all been cleared up, but he is being given a Medal of Valor.

During the last week of class, I was allowed to ride along with an officer. I chose a Friday midnight shift from 10 pm to 6 am. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. This officer took calls from the dispatcher all night without a break. It happened to be the night of the tornado watch and severe thunderstorms. Traffic and street lights lost power, residential and commercial alarms were set off all over the city, and there was a major accident on a busy highway.

Our first call was to a domestic dispute. The officer kept his cool, never raised his voice, and calmed the husband. Still, he was frustrated that 4 small children were involved and stated as he got back in the car that he knew he’d be called to that house again. I never realized how helpless cops must feel in those types of situations. The next call sent us out of our “beat” and to a billiards hall where 3 barely old enough to drink kids had refused to leave when asked. They were drunk and belligerent until the officer threatened to take them to jail. They were served with criminal trespass, which means they cannot enter that place again for a year or they’ll be arrested.

The scariest part of the night for me came when we were called to check out a residential alarm and while searching the perimeter of the house, my officer found the back door open. He immediately ordered me back to the patrol car and then called for back up. The next 40 minutes were the most intense for me. Even after backup arrived, I knew they were searching every room. I remembered how scared I had been while “pretending” to search a building. I knew an armed intruder could be hiding in there, and how dangerous it was. Every muscle in my body tensed as I waited for the officers to come out unharmed.

If your city offers a Citizen’s Police Academy, I highly recommend taking it. Whether you’re writing suspense or not, it will teach you how to make your neighborhood safer and make you more aware of the dangers our police force face. It will change your life.

Back to top