Friday, May 21, 2010

Crossing the Thin Blue Line

By Pat Remick

In the past two months, I've seen the inside of the county jail, holding cells in four police stations, the district courthouse and a police cruiser. I've become familiar with TASERS, traffic radar, illegal narcotics, SWAT teams and K-9 dogs.

I've had a taste of what it's like to be so drunk you can't walk in a straight line (sobriety goggles), along with the adrenaline rush and fear of facing someone who might want to kill you (shooting simulator).

I've learned everyone knows a victim of domestic violence, that being a judge can be extremely difficult work, and only a select few men and women survive the arduous process of becoming a police officer -- and once they do, they undergo extensive training to learn how to do their jobs even better.

But now the Citizen Police Academy is over and I'm sorry to see it end. It's been an eye-opening experience with fascinating, behind-the-scenes access to law enforcement. I hope it's making me a better crime writer.
I'm certain it's made me a better citizen and I know it's given me a better understanding of my son's new life as a policeman.

The CPA also showed me how much I didn't know about police work -- which is why I'd highly recommend this type of experience for anyone who writes about crime but has never worked in law enforcement. It's a great way to add realism to your writing.

When I look back on the past eight weeks, a couple of things strike me. One is the amount of latitude police officers have in their job. Other than cases of domestic violence, which require an automatic arrest in my state, there are many areas of law enforcement where a police officer is expected to use his or her judgment. For example, last year police officers in my community made 9,544 motor vehicle stops -- but wrote only 1,387 traffic citations. The officers say they make these stops to try to keep everyone safe, not because they like writing tickets. If you knew my driving record you'd understand why I might have been a little skeptical about this point prior to the CPA.

Police officers also belong to one of the few professions where decisions can have life or death -- and often life-altering -- repercussions. Their lives are at risk every day they show up for work. These men and women who are so well-trained to keep us and themselves safe would tell you two common police activities are considered the most dangerous: motor vehicle stops and domestic disturbance calls. That's because they have no idea how the subjects involved will react -- or what weapons they're willing to use. It was chilling to watch the police officer during my ride-along touch the rear of each car he stopped to leave his fingerprints as  proof he was there in case something went terribly wrong.

I have concluded that being a police officer requires great courage. Not only in facing down the bad guys or risking their lives to save the rest of us, but also because they encounter people at the worst moments of their lives. Police officers see things we never want to. They also spend most of their time dealing with people who are uncooperative or combative -- far from your average law-abiding citizens. That has to grind you down after a while. So much of what a police officer does on a daily basis never ends up in the public view and some of it involves things most of us would rather not know about.

I think it's important to remember when we create our police characters that those who choose law enforcement as their profession are far more complex -- and brave -- than most people realize. We at least owe them that.


Joyce Tremel said...

Thanks for this post, Pat. Anyone who's never attended a CPA really should try to find one nearby.

A little reminder--Lee Lofland is hosting a Writer's Police Academy in September for anyone who's interested. Knowing Lee, it's going to be awesome.

Karen in Ohio said...

Pat, it's so interesting to see the activities that other CPA groups take part in. What an incredible public service it is to provide these academies to the public. I know it changed the perception of every single person that took part in my group, including me, and including a long-retired prosecutor.

I would love to attend a WPA. That sounds like grand fun.

PatRemick said...

It truly is an eye-opening experience! I was afraid to shoot the TASER thought -- thought I might hit one of my classmates by mistake!

Jenna said...

Amen. Never have attended a CPA, but maybe I should look into it. I write about amateurs so I won't have to know too much about what goes on behind the scenes, though. If my characters wouldn't know it, I'm not sure I should know it, either. Makes things easier.

M Pax said...

Sounds like a fantastic experience with a payoff for you in so many ways.

Lisa said...

Fascinating post. What a rich experience that must have been!

PatRemick said...

The people in my class were very interesting, as well -- 33 of us, all ages, backgrounds and financial levels. We had the Chamber of Commerce president and people from section 8 housing; young people thinking about police work and three women who liked the one-day "virtual" senior police academy so much they signed up for the regular CPA. We met for at least 3 hours every Wednesday evening and had near perfect attendance -- that's how great it was. SO if you can, find one and go!!