Cops, Firefighters and Forensics
In the early morning light, two officers from an eight-man police team in Guilford County moved silently toward a building. Reports said a dangerous felon was holed up inside. Their job was to get him out. Each man wore camo and body armor, including a helmet and eye protection. The officer in front held a rectangular, black shield, with his gun out and aimed past it.
The door of the building was closed. A confidential informant had told them it was reinforced with multiple locks. The arms dealer inside planned to have time to get to his own weapons if the police tried to kick or ram it in. But the officers had a different plan in mind.
Silently, the two men crept up to the door. The point man reached out and very cautiously tried the handle. Nothing like looking stupid if you force a door that was actually unlocked. But this time, there was no give in the handle. He gave a small nod to the man behind him, and said over the radio to his team, “Breacher up.”
The second man attached a fat adhesive strip of explosives along the hinge side of the door, where there would be fewer locks. Then both of them backed away, unspooling the cord as they went.
When they were eight feet back and off to one side, they crouched, shield held ready. The point man spoke over his radio to the team leader and the cops waiting at the back door, “I have control. I have control.”
And then he counted down quickly, “Three, two, one.”
On “one” the breacher triggered the blast. The boom of explosives echoed off the surrounding buildings — sudden, loud, shocking, with rolling repeats behind it. The door slammed forward into the structure, ripped completely off the jam. Before anyone who wasn’t expecting it could recover from the shock, the officers drove forward into the building, guns ready. They shoved the broken door aside, clearing their way. No shots came toward them. Now they could search the dim interior for the arms dealer they were after…
And in the parking lot, ninety feet away, two hundred mystery writers broke into loud applause. The point man came back out of the building, holding the broken door. “The explosive acts on the weakest point,” he said calmly. “With this door you can see that wasn’t the hinges or the actual door, but the door jam which got split in half. I built this shack, and I guess you can see where I used a weaker material.”
He grinned and glanced at the little makeshift plywood shack with its gaping hole in the front, where the door had been. “Actually, I wasn’t sure the whole thing might not fall down with the blast, so this is good.” Beside him, his breacher pulled off his helmet and goggles and grinned.
And so began another wonderful morning at the Writers’ Police Academy this weekend, in Greensboro, North Carolina.
I love writing mysteries. I felt like I couldn’t put Tony into another murder without him becoming “Typhoid Tony.” (I already had the occasional review saying, “If I was Tony’s friend, I’d move.”) But that doesn’t mean I need to wait ten years down the road to revisit Mac and Tony in order to write a mystery. So in search of material for a new series, I signed up for the Writers’ Police Academy. And it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a conference.
Over two and a half days, attendees were treated to police ride-alongs, demos, tours, lectures and presentations on everything from that explosive door breach, to triaging a multi-victim accident scene, how K9 teams work, arson fires, ballistics, defensive driving, self-defense moves… There were far more interesting classes than anyone could get to. It’ll probably take several years to get through all of it.
We heard from ex-undercover cops on both short and long assignments, not just the tactics but the toll it takes. We got to ask about officer-involved shootings, or how women in police work deal with the job. (Apparently, the hardest part is neither co-worker bigotry, nor violent criminals, but trying to find the place and time to pee while on patrol, dealing with a belt full of heavy and awkward gear and the need for a bathroom, when the guys just unzip…)
We were allowed to ask our specific work-in-progress questions, and a couple of writers got to block out a gunfighting scene for a cop’s comment. The instructors, from forensic experts to fire-fighters, to explosives experts, to cops, were all amazing, articulate, welcoming and patient with those of us who describe, but do not do the job. Their banter with each other was almost worth the price of admission. And we had talks from Lisa Gardner about researching books, and from Michael Connelly about writing them.
It was completely worth the trip and cost. In fact, I hesitated for a moment about telling y’all about it, because it fills up and I want that space next year… Organizer Lee Lofland is hoping to perhaps expand to more than one location in the future, which I’m sure would be a welcome move. And I came back with a dozen plot bunnies leaping in my head.
So… that was my weekend. How was yours?