Badges, Barks and Bullets
Researching Cops for my Romantic Suspense
My book, An Eye For Danger, led me to a lot of fun, weird, cool and often silly research. But my favorite part was researching my story's hero, Sam Fields, an undercover cop character who's been burned by his fellow officers.
When my heroine, Jules, a former war photographer with PTSD, goes jogging into Central Park, she runs right into a murder scene and meets Sam. He's tangled up with a law enforcement corruption case that's gone bad and he's on riding a thin line between right and wrong.
Researching Sam was a challenge because he often goes against procedure. So to better understand my hero and the law enforcement world he's fighting, I signed up for an eight-week program to study with the Seattle's Police Department called the "Community Police Academy", which trains citizens to understand local law enforcement offices, the complicated laws they uphold, tools of their trade, and the procedures they must follow. Let's just say I couldn't wait till the weapons training class. My husband got nervous.
Unfortunately, I was out of town the day of the weapons-firing class, but I still got to meet representatives from multiple task forces that related to Sam's world, like Narcotics and Vice and SWAT. The undercover Vice cop who came to speak to our class was actually a former actor who loves to play various street roles, down to long beards and long hair (if you've read my book, you'll note Sam looks like this when Jules meets him) and a grungy wardrobe. Fortunately for us, the undercover officer came showered and fully shaved "to hide his identity." He said no one recognized his college-boy look!
Most officers or staff members discussed their operational rules and procedures and statistics. For example, I learned that traffic stops--such as for speeding or a missing license plate or tail light being out--are one of the key ways to catch criminals. Ted Bundy, a legendary serial killer here in the Northwest, was caught this way. So was Timothy McVeigh, one of the Oklahoma City bombers.
In my book, a stop by a local county sheriff is enough to make both the hero and heroine have a heart attack. I allowed Sam to do "all the wrong things" in order to manipulate the cop into breaking protocol as well. But it's only because I've talked to professionals that I understood which rules to break.
For our classroom, the police officers who came to speak often brought tools of their trade for display, such as vials of illegal drugs, listening devices for wire tapping, and weapons. I appreciated the display for sharp-shooting rifles, since I have a sniper in my novel. Have you ever seen a .50 caliber bullet up close? There are several, depending on the rifle used, but the one I saw was as long as my middle finger and nearly as thick. I learned that it's not just the caliber size of the bullet that matters, but the amount of gunpowder to power its firing. That info might just show up in book two of my story, when the hero unravels details about the sniper.
The policemen in our class also told some mighty entertaining stories about crazy arrest situations with folks in their underwear or naked, cases of mistaken identity when SWAT crashed through a door, and the cases that haunted their sleep. Such as the hostage negotiation specialist, a woman who told us how it felt to know whether a suspect (or their victim) was coming out alive or in a body bag. She told us of a case where at one point she and her team knew the suspect, who was on drugs and alone with gun, would take his life and how she didn't sleep for weeks afterward.
During the time I entered the program, a grandmother had shot her grandchildren and then herself. The mood among the department, this officer said, was sorrowful. That's when I realized how much emotional flak law enforcement officers and staff take. They are often "out to save the world, one human at a time," so when that goes wrong, they take the failure personally.
Of course, my favorite moment was meeting the bomb-sniffing dogs. I've worked rehabbing dogs for behavior problems, especially aggression, for the last seven years with my own working dog, Bo (who died this past December) so I know the bond necessary to have a canine sidekick as well as how rewarding that relationship can be. And let me tell you, cops love their dogs! When their dog is hurt, it's hard for the officer to go to work without his/her partner and the battle depression, often silently. And God forbid they lose their dog on or off the job! The officers talked about being heartbroken when they lost past partners or canine members of the force. These brave officers have big hearts!
Suspects don't like dogs, the officers explained. They'll run from a cop or a gun or a laser tag. But a dog will stop them in their tracks. Often just the dog's barking and the officer's threat to let the dog go will drive a bad guy to come out of a hiding spot, so they call in canine unit on not just hunts but when suspects "hole up".
Max is the canine hero in my novel with whom Sam bonds. Max fights the bad guys by Sam's side, and is a key relationship tie between Jules and Sam, even when the hero and heroine are separated. Dogs make great glue between people!
What really got to me during my training was the reason behind these men and women choosing to wear a badge. My "aha moment" came during my ride -along with a North Seattle Precinct patrol officer. Since four police officers were shot down in a Lakewood, Washington, cafe in 2009 (story here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakewood,_Washington_police_officer_shooting), the SPD no longer allowed citizens to have a ride-along unless they were part of the Citizen's Academy, so the experience was a privilege in itself.
When I asked the officer why he became a cop, he answered that he watched his mother get beaten for years first by his father and later her boyfriend. Finally, she married a good man that taught this officer the value of honest work, loyalty, and kindness. Now the officer thrives on saving folks from bad guys, especially when he's called to a domestic violence incident and is able to talk a battered woman into calling a hotline for counseling or going into a shelter to protect herself or her kids. The "rescuer," he admitted plainly, was his role to play in this world.
My characters, Sam and Jules, are much the same, albeit taking turns rescuing each other. I think most readers can appreciate both characters being strong and courageous, as well as vulnerable and afraid at times. That balance gives the story more meat and believability, but also allows Jules and Sam to reveal the frailty of their humanity: that at any given moment, we all need a rescuer!
Christine M. Fairchild, aka the Editor Devil, is a former journalist with 25 years' experience as a writer/editor/teacher, from technical to marketing to exec communications to entertainment. She specializes in "tactical" editing and storytelling techniques for authors, offering writing tips and tricks at http://Editor Devil.blogspot.com and through her Editor Devil Guides. Her debut romantic suspense novel, An Eye For Danger, is now available on Amazon for Kindle.
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When former war photographer Jules Larson braves a PTSD attack to jog beyond her five-block safety zone in Central Park, she runs right into a murder scene.
Taken hostage, Jules provides escape for Sam Fields, an undercover cop desperate to avoid capture by his nemesis and former mentor, Detective Stone McCarthy. Sam can’t afford to blow his two-year investigation of Goliath, a band of crooked cops who clean up New York City streets vigilante style. Especially if Stone is one of them.