by Annette Dashofy
I used to think that research was a challenge. Almost painful. That was before I learned how much fun it can be. When I was working on my veterinary/racetrack mysteries, I hung out on the backside (barn area) of Mountaineer, hotwalking the horses, grooming them, chatting with trainers and other horsey people. Loving horses, this kind of research was nothing short of heaven.
Now, I’m working on a new novel. One in which one of the main characters is a rural police chief. I may have spent several years working in emergency services, but I’ve never been a cop. And let’s face it, CSI and Law and Order may be entertaining television, but they’re not good reference material for how the police operate.
So I have enrolled (along with fellow Working Stiff, Gina Sestak) in Pittsburgh’s Citizens’ Police Academy. Once again, research is entirely too much fun.
Each week, a different officer speaks to us on various topics. It’s kind of a Cliff’s Notes version of the real Police Academy—without the demands of whipping our bodies into the kind of physical condition required to chase and take down thugs on the street.
On week one, we met a number of the city’s police elite, all promising that we were going to have a wonderful time. We also heard a lecture on the history of police. Not just our police. ALL police, going back to 2100B.C. I admit I was more interested in more recent local history. Did you know that the first bank robbery in Pittsburgh happened in 1818 and the thieves got away with $108,000.00? A hundred and eight thousand dollars! In 1818!
Week two introduced us to the criminal justice system. We learned about misdemeanors and felonies and what the police can and can’t do in the way of arresting suspects. Did you know that a police officer cannot arrest someone who has committed a misdemeanor unless he was actually present to witness the offense? (Okay, these questions aren’t for Lee or Joyce. I know you guys already know this stuff). There are some exceptions to this rule however, such as cases of domestic violence, drunken driving, and (get this) scattering rubbish. (???) Any of our resident cops want to explain THAT one?
The discussion then wandered into the realm of how a citizen should deal with crime in their neighborhood and specifically, when a person is justified in using deadly force.
For a look at the Pennsylvania Crime Codes regarding deadly force, click here.
This was week three and the topic was use of force, specifically getting an actor to comply with the officer and how to handle him if he doesn’t. Our instructor for the evening, Dave Wright, demonstrated a few wrist locks on some of the younger academy attendees (thankfully, NOT on me) and also demonstrated how to place someone in a position of disadvantage in order to handcuff them. All of this was underscored by a video he showed early in the evening involving a “routine” traffic stop that went horribly wrong for one officer.
Here are some statistics to mull over: An average of 55 officers are MURDERED per year nationwide (53 in 2007). That’s not counting things like traffic accidents or heart attacks during foot chases. That’s MURDERS. Of those 53 in 2007, 37 of the officers never had a chance to pull their weapon. These killings generally happen at a close range (within 10 feet). The average murdered officer is 35 years old with 10 to 12 years of service behind them. And the killing usually involves a handgun. At one time, it was usually the officer’s gun, but not so much anymore. Texas and the south are the most violent areas with 30 of the 53 deaths happening there. Only six occurred in the northeast.
On the other hand, the police kill an average of 355 people per year. However, if you calculated in the amount of times an officer would be JUSTIFIED to use deadly force, the numbers SHOULD be in the thousands.
The average killer is 26 years old, in good shape, and is UNDER THE INFLUENCE.
It’s amazing how fast things can go bad. That video we saw on Monday night will haunt me for a very long time.
Next up: Firearms safety.