Monday, May 23, 2011

Writing Journal: Cop Class

As a developing writer who is eager to improve his craft, and as one who likes to dabble in the mystery genre, I think one of the most important things is research.  I think it would be horrible to have somebody read something I've written and be wrenched out of the story by the realization that what I wrote was inaccurate, incorrect, or a jumble of completely ignorant ramblings.   

Yes, what I write is fiction, but it has to be believable fiction in order to hold the reader's interest.

That's where research comes in.  I want to try and make things as realistic and as accurate as possible, and so I need to research.  Even though I've only been writing a short while, I recognize the importance of research, and think I could probably write a whole blog post about it.

But this isn't that post.

This is instead, about one way I'm currently doing some research, a way that I'm finding fascinating, enjoyable, and one I'd heartily recommend to any writer:  Attending a Citizen's Police Academy.

In the town where I live, the local police department puts on a yearly program, open to interested citizens, geared towards learning more about police work.  I believe many communities do the same thing, and I would strongly encourage any wanna-be writer to check with your local department and attend one.

Ours is one night a week for three hours over the course of ten weeks, and we're about half-way through.  The class is attended by about 20 people, and is covering the topics of:
  • Police department organization
  • Interaction with the local justice department and prosecuting attorneys
  • Professional standards and internal affairs
  • Community relations
  • Criminal investigations
  • Forensics and evidence collection
  • 911 call center and communications
  • A tour of the facility including the booking center and jail
  • K-9 units
  • Homicide and cold-case investigation
  • Drug enforcement
  • Firearms types, care, and handling
  • Explosive ordinances and devices
  • Defensive tactics
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
  • Special Response team (like SWAT)
  • and a ride-along with a patrol unit.

This class is a fabulous opportunity to meet real officers doing real police work, from rookies to the chief, and the discussions and Q&A sessions are alone worth the price of admission (oh yeah -- and it's FREE!).

If you have any interest in writing mysteries, real-life crime dramas, or anything which involves police work, seek out your local police department and see if they offer a program like this.  If not, speak with the community relations officers about helping to start one.  It's a great opportunity to make connections and to learn about the vitally important work the police do, and a wonderful way to research so that your fiction is more realistic, compelling, and entertaining to read.


Milo James Fowler said...

Wow -- this sounds like a very intensive and invaluable experience. I know next to nothing about most of those bullet points, and I'd be curious to know more about all of them. Plan on posting some noteworthy facts here on your blog?

Chris Fries said...

Yeah, Milo. Its been a great learning experience because I mainly only knew what I'd seen in TV and movies or read in books.

For the novel I'm working on, I was introduced to a retired officer who ended up helping transform the story from a simple mystery into one involving a lot of first-hand police experiences and is helping to add excellent fictional elements about some of the family challenges an officer can face. He's been an invaluable resource, but he also recommended that I attend one of these classes if I ever got the chance.

I know a short ten-session overview will never make me an expert in police work, but so far, it's been a very worthwhile experience.

I'd suggest contacting the community relations department of your local PD -- odds are they offer something similar, or can at least point you to a department in the area that does.

But I can also share the knowledge as to what I do learn here from time to time, too. ;)

Thanks for the comment and visit!

Julia Munroe Martin said...

Believe it or not, I was signed up to take a class like this last year -- for exactly the reasons you stated. Unfortunately I had cancel at the last minute due to work-related demands. I was pretty disappointed because it sounds so cool!

Chris Fries said...

Aw, that's too bad, Julia.

But you're right -- so far it is cool. I hope you get another chance this year because I know you will enjoy it!