Karyne Corum is an emerging mystery writer who is in the midst of learning what it’s like to be a cop–from the inside. Whether it’s patting down drivers or halting someone at gunpoint, Karyne is going to describe the experience, sweaty palms, palpating heart, sense of power and all. This series of posts will run over the next several months, and by the time Karyne is finished, if we don’t quite know how it feels to flick off the safety, our scenes concerning police business will certainly ring just a little truer.
Citizen’s Police Academy– Where Citizens Go to Get Blue
It was something like traffic court, the first night of the township’s citizen police academy. That was my thought when I glanced around the room. I was there, along with my fellow students, for a schooling in the experience “cop”. Since this concept is still new to most people, let me break it down for you, officially and unofficially.
The official version goes something like this: a twelve week program for local township residents to learn more about what a police officer’s job entails, to help them appreciate and respect local law enforcement.
Here’s how it goes, according to me: one staged crime scene, a dollop of hands-on experience, along with felony car stops and motor vehicle accident investigation, plus a building search. All leading up to an “active shooter” demonstration, complete with weapons that fire actual projectiles, aka, plastic pellets.
The Captain running the show, one of the nicest and most engaging speakers I’ve ever had the chance to listen to, made it clear right from the start. This was about learning, yes, and also widening the scope of understanding in the community, but he had no intention of it being a dry, stay-in-your-seat lecture series. Oh no, he gleefully warned us, we would get more than our fair share of field exposure. It was going to be fun, a lot of laughs and hopefully, something we would remember for a long time to come.
Like any first day of school there were introductions. Among the twelve of us, there was a pharmacist, a secretary, the head of an Entertainment Company, several police department interns, two college students and a former security specialist from the World Trade Center. As far as I could tell most people’s reason for being here was relatively simple. Curiosity, or for some, a preview of a career path not yet chosen.
My reason for being here was research. I needed to know more about the life of a police officer since the protagonist in my first full length novel is one.
The Captain outlined what we could expect for the next twelve weeks, from a host of speakers to a staged crime scene that would make every use of our fledgling investigative skills. And no, he told us, it wasn’t CSI, not even close. (I wanted to say, Grissom always makes it look so good, but I kept that to myself.)
It got even better when he said we’d do an “active shooter” demo (active shooter means there is a suspect with a gun, or shots have been fired in a populated area) where we’d be up against “bad guys” firing plastic pellets from training weapons. They sting, he warned, but there was no other way to show us what a police officer might feel when facing a real life situation. The Captain seemed more than excited at the prospect and I shared his enthusiasm. But as I sneaked a look around the room, I seemed to be the only one. Most of the people in the room looked uneasy.
So I’m weird. What writer wouldn’t be thrilled at the idea of being able to walk in her character’s shoes, even if it’s only a simulation?
Our first speaker, a training sergeant from one of the top police academies in the state, was gruff and humorless. His long, lanky frame didn’t seem all that imposing until he opened his mouth.
“I’m here to yell, it’s what I’m good at. Believe me; if I don’t get to yell at least once a day, I get depressed.”
I could attest to the fact that I wouldn’t want him in my face for twelve seconds let alone twelve weeks. Especially when he showed us a documentary that was made about his academy and we got to see him in action. It was hard not to laugh at some of the ridiculous things the recruits did, like the one who saluted with his left hand. Ouch. Sure I can laugh, I’m watching, not participating. I’ll just write about it, thank you.
It became clear that if a recruit can’t learn to function under the relatively controlled stress of the academy, how would he or she be able to handle an out of control drunk screaming at them in a potentially life threatening situation. No one could argue that point.
We see police in movies, books, even on reality shows, but those are edited, revised, and in their own way, scripted. Here in class the attitude of all involved was one of informality, a genuine desire to share the truth, because, in fact, the academy is not for writers or media but for the public. To help the citizens of the town know exactly who guards their town.
Next week, Happy Meals and Happy Trails
Karyne Corum is the married mother of one preschooler. She lives in Central New Jersey, and has been telling stories since she was a little girl–only now they get her into a lot more trouble. Fortunately, she can write her way out of most of it. Her many jobs prior to accepting the inevitable include actor, security guard, executive assistant and massage therapist. She is currently at work on her first full length novel, which keeps her up at night almost as much as her four-year old son does.