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
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
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
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