Monday, August 10, 2009
Law & Order (ly) Research
Those times a writer can get away from her desk to do research that doesn't involve clicking a mouse on Internet sites . . . can be very cool. I recently had that opportunity when I visited with Kendall County Sheriff Roger Duncan and Lieutenant Louis Martinez. They very graciously took time from their morning to answer questions regarding law enforcement procedures for the third book in my Mercy Hospital series, (working title) CODE TRIAGE. Both gentleman have had impressive law enforcement backgrounds (in Dallas and San Antonio, respectively) even prior to their current roles in safeguarding Kendall County--and I was thrilled to be able to "pick their brains" regarding scenarios in my newest book.
We sat down and talked weapons--carried by officers and perpetrators (Glocks to Sig Sauer); body armor, gun belts, Mobile Data Terminals, officer involved shootings, evidence teams . . . even the emotional after effects of having to shoot/kill a criminal.
I read aloud scenes from CODE TRIAGE, to be sure that the officer-to-officer and dispatch-t0-officer dialogue rang true--and that my shooting scene (written from the point of view of the criminal victim) seemed realistic. I peppered them with questions, they graciously (and expertly) provided answers. And paid me a wonderful compliment in the process . . . they found the scenes intriguing and wanted to read the book! Ask any author how good that feels.
Lt. Martinez took me out to a patrol car and I sat in the driver's seat while he pointed out the features and explained how they worked. I told him it had been years since I'd been in a patrol car--then quickly explained (before he could run me for wants and warrants?) that I'd been married to a deputy sheriff. I'd been with him from academy days, first patrol shifts, jail years, to the assignment he had until his recent retirement: pilot in Air Operations. Therefore, I'd had some experience with things like:
1) Ironing sharp creases into duty uniforms
2) The scent and weight of leather Sam Browne duty belt
3) The feel, weight of wearing a bullet proof vest
4) The heft of a service revolver--and how awkward that can be to carry in your purse when your officer husband wants to take his shirt off at the beach.
5) Fear inducing incomplete snippets on police scanners (they sent my husband where?? What's happening?!)
6) Shooting weapons at the practice range
7) Being a practice "perp" for take downs, handcuffing . . . now that will keep you on the straight and narrow!
8) Riding behind the wire mesh in the back seat of a patrol car--and being told afterward how many people had upchucked there!
9) Gaining some insight into unique psychology of an policy officer's mind/emotions, and the changes that he/she undergoes when signing on for this very demanding career.
All of these things--my personal experience and the wonderful input from the officers pictured above--have helped me to breathe life into police officer Nick Stathos, and bring him to you.
In addition, I've been reading (eating up!) a fabulous book by former police detective Lee Lofland. Police Procedure & Investigation. A Guide for Writers. Great, gritty, realistic stuff. And very good insights for building a police officer character. Like these interesting traits that I noticed about my deputy husband, but never really attributed to his career:
1) have a tendency to walk with their arms away from their bodies because they're so used to carrying a gun--if their arms hang normally, the hammer of their sidearms would scratch the skin near their elbows.
2) sit with their backs to the wall in public places so they can easily watch both front and rear doors (my husband always did this in restaurants).
3) are naturally suspicious, examine other people's every move.
4) stand with a defensive stance--one foot slightly forward with their gun-hand side to the rear.
5) are hyper-aware of surroundings, drive defensively
AND, interestingly: Crooks look for these surefire signs of police officers. Making it necessary for undercover cops to learn to fight these natural tendencies.
So, yeah, police research. Fun. And next up--San Francisco research, since this book is set in that city and I need a brush up on local color, flavor . . . and cool foggy weather! After weeks of Texas heat . . . that's just what the doctor ordered for this author, trust me.
Again, many thanks to Sheriff Duncan and Lt. Martinez for your kindness, time, expertise--and for the gift of a beautiful Challenge Coin emblazoned with the Sheriff's Dept. badge and log and with the words: "Service Isn't Just Something We Provide . . . It's the Reason We Exist."
I absolutely believe it.