The Citizen Academy

One of my guilty pleasure TV shows is Lucifer on Netflix. If you aren’t familiar with it, the devil gets tired of meting out punishment and comes to Earth in human form. He participates in human vices, sex, drugs, alcohol, and more. He becomes a special consultant to LAPD and, of course, is partnered with an attractive female detective. Pure fiction, right? Well, there is more than just the plot. Everything about police work is done incorrectly:

  • Another detective, who frequently works with the attractive female detective, is her ex-husband.
  • The forensics tech frequently declares cause and time of death.
  • In one episode, the detectives arrive at the crime scene and ask the forensics tech, “Any suspects?”
  • Random people off the street walk through the crime scene.

It’s the job of the crime writer to get the facts straight. That means doing your research. There are many ways to do this. One that I completed this spring was the Citizen Academy in West Valley City, UT. Many cities across the country do this training at no charge.

In West Valley, the course is once a week for ten weeks. Each week, a different department would talk about their jobs and we could ask questions. Here’s the schedule we had:

Week 1 – Welcome from Chief Jacobs, overview of the purpose and organization of WVCPD, city prosecutors.

Week 2- Pursuits and Traffic. We learned about accident reconstruction and investigation and saw pictures and video of pursuits and some nasty traffic accidents (no dead bodies were shown), including information about one accident that resulted in the decapitation of one driver.

They also setup a driving course in an empty parking lot and we got to drive patrol cars. I ran over lots of orange cones. It was so much fun.

Week 3 – Patrol Division and K9 unit. The department has both Belgian Malinois (similar to a German Shepherd) and Bloodhounds. I have to say, the Bloodhounds are so friendly.

Week 4 – SWAT and Firearms. We met at a Police Academy firing range and got to shoot Glocks and sub-machine guns. Great fun! WVCPD has one of the best SWAT sniper shooters in the country.

Week 5 – Detectives and Community Oriented Policing. As a writer of murder mysteries, this was really interesting to me. We had lots of questions about the Susan Powell case. It’s now closed, but they still want to find her body so the the family can have closure. Note that I met Josh Powell a couple of times before Susan’s disappearance and felt there was something “off” about him, but couldn’t place what it was.

Week 6 – Forensics and Evidence. We learned about how forensics works. Then we went to the forensics lab for hand-on learning how to lift finger prints off of items. WVC has the only shoe print expert in Utah.

Week 7 – Use of force and scenarios. We paired up with another class member and ran through scenarios on arrest with cops posing as the bad guy.

Week 8 – Fire Department and First Aid training, including CPR. We got to ride up 100 feet in the air in the bucket of one of the trucks.

Week 9 – Dispatch and Gang Unit. We met at the dispatch center to learn how calls are handled then met with a member of the gang unit to learn about gangs in the area and how they’re dealt with.

Week 10 – Graduation.

It was an amazing ten weeks.

If you write about crime of just have an interest in how your local police department works, check if they have a Citizen Academy. Mine was free and totally worth the time.

Also, as a writer, there is the Writer’s Police Academy, that is held every year, most years in Green Bay, WI. This year it’s called MurderCon and will be in Raleigh, NC. Maybe I’ll see you there

In the mean time, I’ll be watching more Lucifer.

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