April 14, 2010

Citizen’s Police Academy

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:15 am

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.


  1. Wow, what a great experience. And what great writing fodder!

    Comment by Savvy — April 14, 2010 @ 8:34 am

  2. I know! I’m glad you liked it Savvy, please come back for more, it only gets better, at least in my humble opinion.

    Comment by Karyne — April 14, 2010 @ 9:48 am

  3. Serious and yet a laugh a minute–you nailed law enforcement. I worked at the Fresno Sheriff’s Dept. for 17 years and the stories! The people! I’m glad a “civilian” is getting a taste of it. More should follow your lead. Maybe after reading your blogs and breaking the barriers they will.

    Comment by Sunny Frazier — April 14, 2010 @ 10:56 am

  4. Thanks Sunny. This is truly a one of a kind experience and I’m sure its going to affect my writing for the better!

    Comment by Karyne — April 14, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  5. I sure do envy you. I have a friend, married with two kids, who decided in her mid-thirties to pursue her dream to be a cop. She actually went to the police academy and trained right alongside these 20-something men and women. Guess what? Fifteen years later, she is the deputy sheriff of a metropolitan county and boss over most of her classmates. We once had a ride along set up for me but she had to cancel because of some big police operation that went down. I’m calling her to set it up again!

    Comment by Lauren Carr — April 14, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  6. I know, I envy Karyne, too. Not to mention Sunny’s experience. But what a great experience a ride along will be, Lauren! Also–welcome to the site! And hiya, Sapphire, thanks for always coming back!

    Comment by jenny — April 14, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

  7. Thats wonderful about your friend, Lauren. Women are, unfortunately, still a minority in police work so hearing of one who not only pursued it but made it that far up is great. I can’t wait to share the stuff we’ve done recently, its been unbelievably fun and eye-opening.

    Comment by Karyne — April 14, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  8. Karyne, that’s terrific that you get to experience first hand what police officers go through. And you capture the moments in writing so well. Thanks for sharing!! :)

    Comment by Patty — April 19, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  9. Karyne, I’ve signed up for our Citizens Police Academy that begins in August and runs 14 weeks. I’m pretty stoked. With respect to the number of women in the field, I spent a day with detectives in a nearby city a couple of years ago, and that squad was about 50-50. I was kind of surprised.

    Thanks for writing this posts, Karyn! I’m excited to read about your impressions.

    Comment by Peg Brantley — April 26, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  10. Wow, Peg, I can’t wait to read about your experiences as well! How exciting. Karyne has another post up here today–about when things got dark, daring, and deadly (all for pretend, of course). Thanks for stopping by!

    Comment by jenny — April 26, 2010 @ 10:09 am

  11. Wow, your police academy sounds a lot better than mine. Mine was good, informative, but not anywhere near as hands on as the one you’re doing. Ours was almost all classroom stuff. But this September I’m going to Lee Loflands Writers Police Academy in North Carolina and it looks like it’s going to be a lot more interactive and hands on.

    But whatever shape it takes, I highly recommend any mystery writer find a nearby citizen’s police academy and attend it.

    Comment by Pat Brown — April 26, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

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