Before I say anything further, there is no Cop School 102 or Advanced Cop School, not unless you actually intend to become a cop. Citizens Police Academy is a course offered by many departments to reach out and establish good community relations and help the public understand what the police do and the dangers they face every day. And it helps writers who specialize in crime fiction get the details, the procedures right. And make it clear, at least, when for the sake of dramatic license, things don’t go exactly as planned.
Dramatic license isn’t kept in your glove compartment with your registration and insurance card. You have to use it judiciously. There is plenty of real life drama to witness. You may get to enact a traffic stop, wearing a real bulletproof vest and a real utility belt with fake gun in your holster and ask the driver and his passenger, detectives posing as miscreants, for their papers, knowing back-up is twenty minutes away. You realize how things can go bad in a split second. (If those were real miscreants with real guns, I’d be dead now) You learn about gangs and that if you see someone flashing hand signals out on the street, you don’t want to respond with any hand motions of your own, better not even wave. You learn about the physical signs of drug overdose and what to do and who to call. You learn about what evidence is collected and analyzed by the Special Crimes Unit the Major Crimes Unit, the Crime Suppression Unit, and what each does and the role technology plays.
The class heightens awareness of the nasty world around you from a police perspective. I’ve been made all too aware of it as a civilian. But I’m not a cop. As a writer. I want to write juicy page-turning fiction but I also want to be fair. These officers who taught the class I was enrolled in are decent guys who just want to do a good job and get home to their families. I’ve written about many fictional good cops and a couple of fictional very bad ones. The main character in my book series is not in law enforcement herself, but she has offered her artistic abilities to help identify suspects and has been involved romantically with a detective in what could best be described as a rocky relationship. She takes what she has learned from that and often gets in over her head. Remember what I said about dramatic license! After having taken this class, I didn’t get a badge, I can’t make a citizen’s arrest (though okay, I’m tempted to on a daily basis) and if I see a crime in progress or someone I recognize from the Most Wanted pages, I’ll call 911 or the special tips hotline, like anybody else should do.
And then I’ll head straight to my computer.