Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cop Survival 101

Watch Your Back!
By Mark Young
Officer survival is hammered into every rookie from the first day of police training. The quickest way for an officer to be bounced from the program is to continually fail in this area.  Survival trumps everything else. The old adage ‘Better to be judged by a jury of twelve than carried by six’ goes to the heart of the matter. Survival begins the first day an officer pins on the badge and continues until that officer reaches the end of their career.

Writers might benefit from understanding this point. It is the driving force behind almost everything an officer does—whether physical survival on the street or organization survival. 

Common sense is one of the metallic threads strengthening this cord of survival. I watched a television program recently where the police investigator led the murder suspect into an interrogation room—the cop entered the room first, followed by the suspect, and then the cop’s partner. Allowing a potential killer to walk behind you? Come on.  Use some common sense. As crime fiction writers, we need to pay attention to details like this in order to make our story believable.

Now, if a writer knowingly violates these rules they can add immediate tension to a character’s life because it goes against everything they have been taught. People get tired and make mistakes. Writers can use these mistakes—once they understand the rules—to make their story zing.

Here are a few survival techniques:

Watch Your Back: Ever walk into a restaurant or diner and see an officer seated with his back to you. Chances are slim to none that you have never witnessed this. Or, if the officer is faced away from you, chances are another cop is sitting across from him—watching you. Once this is ingrained into an officer, they can never sit comfortably with their back to the public. To this day, I can never comfortable sit down in a restaurant unless I can have my back to a wall or an eye on whoever enters the establishment. I’d rather leave and find another place to eat.

Patrol Cars and Seatbelts: Many officers choose never to use a seatbelt unless they’re involved in a vehicle chase, particularly if they are parked somewhere or driving up to a call. They do not want to be caught strapped to a seat when someone walks up on them. They need to be able to jump out of the car at a moment’s notice. As far as I know, most officers are exempt from laws requiring the use seatbelts. There may be some officers who choose to use these belts, but I doubt they work in heavy crime areas.

Field Interviews: A field interview is where a police officer makes contact with citizens in the field and pulls out the old notebook to take down information. The officer will generally take a bladed stance, keeping their weapon turned away from the person during the interviewing and allowing some reactive space between them and the interviewee.

Driving Up To A Call: Never EVER drive up to the front of a house on a call. This is one rule that you will see violated on every cop show on television where patrol or unmarks roll up to the call—brakes screeching, sirens screaming, and lights bathing the night in red, white and blue. Again, it comes back to common sense. Why allow yourself to become a target? Trainers hammer this into their recruits—plan ahead, anticipate, and provide enough distance to react.

Shaking Hands:  This one might make some people think cops are not very friendly.  Again, common sense plays into this rule. Once a person grasps your hand, they have the advantage of leverage. They can tighten down and make you go wherever they want to take you. Now, I know this has been taken to the extreme. I knew one police officer who made it a rule never to shake anyone’s hand—even the little old lady with a cane. I thought it was going to the extreme, not to mention it almost started a few fights by those who became offended. Like everything in police work, one must make judgment calls based on all the facts.

Prisoners are painfully aware of the dangers of shaking hands. A friendly smile and a welcome handshake can easily turn into a grasping, shiv-stabbing fight to the death. The first time I shook hands with a convict, I thought the guy was a little light in the wrist but I learned his actions were intentional. A weak handshake does not offend, but can be pulled back at a moment’s notice at the sign of danger.

As writers, your main characters—police officers—must have these things running through their brain as they go about their duties. If you want to create tension or conflict, think about these rules of survival. Then, knowingly break them. Trouble will follow.

Here a sample scenario: An officer–in-training responds to a peeping Tom call.

Rita edged slower as if seeking protection, her hand resting on my arm during the interview.  It began as a feathery touch.  Then—as I peppered her with more questions—she slide her hand gently up my arm until she grasped my elbow, her watery sky-blue eyes telegraphing her struggle to understand my questions.
            “Officer, I shhaw a man in the shadows just outside my window. Watching.” She shuddered, gripping my arm. A lighted match would have ignited her 100-proof breath.
            I tried to pry her talon-like fingers loose, before trying to write down her statement. “I have a unit checking the area, ma’m. Can you give me a description of the guy?”
            She pressed forward, pushing herself against me, her voice dropping almost to a whisper. “I woke up and he was there, just watching me with those evil eyes. I screamed and … he disappeared like a ghost.”
            At that moment, I heard footsteps down the hall. The bedroom door stood ajar.
            She pressed her face close, stale booze seeping from every pore. I tried to distance myself from this woman as those heavy boots thudded closer.
            Suddenly, she lunged forward and I lost my balance. We fell on the bed, the woman sprawled on top.  I tried to squirm away just as a figure loomed in the doorway. It was Pete— my Field Training Officer, a man who held my future in his rough and calloused hands.
            Pete glared at me. “What the Sam blazes … I leave you for two seconds and you let this woman climb all over you, rookie.”
            I pushed her to the side and sprang from the bed. Pete’s face pulsated catsup red, his eyes squinting in disbelief. “Sir, I was just—”
            “—I can see, you knucklehead. You should be ashamed. She’s old enough to be your mother.”
            I tugged on my uniform. “You don’t think …” I let the words hang in the air, my uncertain future leaving me speechless.
            Pete gave me a glare hot enough to fry eggs.
            I felt my stomach tighten, the taco salad starting to work its way back up my esophagus. I just knew my career was cooked the first week on the job. I tried not to hurl.
            And then I saw something strange. It started as a twitch on Pete’s face, like a horse’s hide when it’s troubled by flies, his mouth widening into a menacing smile. Next. I heard Pete roar, belly-shaking laughter that began to force tears down the man’s leather-hardened face.
            I saw Pete reach for his wallet and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. He flicked the bill onto the bed, the woman snatching it up a moment later and sticking it down her blouse. “Thanks, Babe. You played the part like a pro.”
            She  smiled, slowly rising from the bed like Cleopatra. She reached over and patted me on the butt. “Everyone calls me Rita” She leans my way. “You got a lot to learn, boy. Listen to what Sam teaches you and you just might stay alive.”No more slurs.
            Pete stepped back as she stood, then edged closer, whispering into her ear.  “We still on for Saturday night?”
            Rita  reached up, patted Sam’s face almost tenderly, then slapped him across the face quicker than Wyatt Earp could pull his gun. “That’s for your little comment about my age, you old fart.” She laughed, looking my way. “Not a bad bit of acting  if I do say so myself, junior. I haven't had a drop today, but I had you fooled.”
            As she left the room, I began to smile until Sam turned and glared. That look told me everything—my days on the force might be numbered. Sam would make sure my training days would make Marine Corps boot camp seem like a picnic.
            I heard the radio squawk. Dispatch sending us to another call. A real one this time. It was going to be a long night.

So, how many survival mistakes did you catch in this scenario? Here are three:

Never EVER leave your partner alone with the opposite sex—particularly in the bedroom.  The rookie should have called his FTO back into the bedroom. Strike One.

Secondly, he let Rita in too close. He failed to control the situation. She could just have easily grabbed his weapon, produced one of her own, or alleged sexual misconduct. Strike Two.

Lastly, he allowed Rita the upper hand  by getting too close until they fell on the bed. He allowed her to get him in compromising position or worse. Strike Three.

Writers: How much trouble can you create for your main police character?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

GUEST blogger: Lt. Dan Marcou

Editor’s NoteThis is the first of many articles by police officers written for Hook’em and Book’em. Many of these officers have become authors in their own right, creating fictional and real-life stories based upon their own experiences in law enforcement. There is a common link between these officers and this editor, though I have not had an opportunity to read many of their works.  We all carried a gun, wore the badge, and tried to make our communities a safer place to live. Mystery readers and writers: As you read these articles, I hope it will help you come away with a better understanding about law enforcement and the personal side of this career that is rarely glimpsed by the public.

Lt. Dan Marcou is a nationally-recognized police trainer, a highly-decorated officer with 33 years of service. Lt Marcou retired from the La Crosse, Wisconsin  Police Department (LCPD) in 2006, after serving as a Tactical Operator, Team Leader and Officer in Charge of LCPD’s Emergency Response Team among many other duties. He is a Master Trainer for the State of Wisconsin, in the area of defensive statics, firearms, SWAT, ethics, and supervisor excellence. He is the author of several novels and training textbooks.
Former SWAT Leader: "I am not a Police Writer, I am a Police/Writer"
By Lt. Dan Marcou
I spent 33 years as a police officer never looking for trouble, but always looking for troublemakers and discovered you often can’t find one without the other. The career offers the opportunity to experience more memorable events than one can possibly remember.

When I sat down to write my first novel, “The Calling the Making of a Veteran Cop,” my intent was not to be a writer, but to use the book as a quick enjoyable read for my academy recruits, who desperately wanted an answer to their question, “What is police work like?” I penned the story of Officer Dan McCarthy’s sojourn from rookie to veteran. The book’s success surprised me and I discovered a second career as a writer.

At the request of my readers, who liked the characters as well as the story, I sat down and wrote a trilogy to give the reader a sense that McCarthy completed his tour of duty and that the readers were with him all the way. I followed the first book with “S.W.A.T. Blue Knights in Black Armor,” and the final in the trilogy is “Nobody’s Heroes,” in which an undetected serial killer wanders into McCarthy’s city and chooses his next victim. The story gives a unique view of the police versus killer story-line that is just as exciting as its more traditional literary comparables.

In the second book, “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” as the story line plays out McCarthy serves on an on-call SWAT Team. The calls McCarthy’s team is sent on have a reality breathed into them, by my personal SWAT experience.

There is a misconception about SWAT being well dressed trigger happy thugs. The actuality of the SWAT experience is that when suspects find themselves confronted by a fully equipped and highly trained SWAT Team and they are contacted by the team’s negotiators, who have black belts in dialog most situations end peacefully.

When a call clearly has a high degree of risk, where there are suspects, who are known to be armed SWAT Teams are called in to handle the arrest. In one such case, our team breached the door of the target’s residence in a pre-dawn attempt to locate and arrest a dangerous suspect. In moments, the light on the end of my H&K MP5 was shining in the eyes of a sleeping suspect. I shouted for him “Arms out palms up don’t move,” but he just squinted and did not respond for what seemed to be a long time. In reality, it was merely moments.

After repeating the commands, the suspect opened his eyes and suddenly took on the look of a passenger in a car just before a head on crash. If you are expecting to read, that the suspect pulled out his gun and I fired a burst of rounds into him, don’t hold your breath. He lay there stunned again for moments, finally putting his arms out and palms up to be handcuffed.

What made the experience so memorable was not a blazing gun battle, but his explanation for the delay in his compliance. He said, “I was sleeping and in my dream a SWAT Team had kicked in my door and was arresting me. Then when I woke up there you were.”

I felt it would have been the perfect SWAT arrest except it left me to ponder, “Do we need a search warrant to enter a man’s dream?”

Our team also was the core of the department’s Civil Unrest Team and trained extensively in crowd control, because on many occasions our team was called upon to handle riots and bring peace and sanity back to streets that were occupied by violent crowds.  When a line of officers is facing a crowd of hundreds or even thousands chanting for their demise, while some of its number, are chucking rocks and bottles at them, the natural emotion of fear is replaced by confidence, when they are part of a team that has trained for this eventuality.

After crowds succeeded in orchestrating two riots a year in our city, team members engaged in a problem solving effort and formulated a unique plan to end the riots. The team’s controversial plan was approved by the Chief and put into action at the next event. When the event occurred, the entire city expected another riot. Instead, the team’s plan worked better than could have been hoped for. The event was peaceful as were all subsequent events.

Dennis Justus, a SWAT Trainer once said of SWAT Teams. “If you can imagine it, train for it.” SWAT Teams know some of what will happen and they practice team responses for those eventualities. They also can imagine what may happen and they train for those possibilities. Sun Tzu once said, “He will win, who prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.” SWAT Teams live to train and train to live.

For any reader, or writer, who wants to get a feel for what it is like to strap on body armor, a gun belt, and pin on a badge to hit the streets, without actually doing it, pick up these books and enjoy the read and enjoy the ride.
Readers and writers can visit this author's site for more information about his career, training, writing and public appearances. Lt. Marcou can be contacted directly through this web site.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Interview: Author John Lescroart

Novel: Damage 
By Mark Young
Injustice takes to the streets in author John Lescroart’s latest novel, Damage, another captivating legal thriller. A powerful San Francisco family tries to wield their money, influence and power to cripple efforts by law enforcement and courts as a killer is released pending re-trial.  And if all else fails, this wealthy family might not be above a little murder and witness intimidation.

Readers should not get complacent in this novel,thinking they have the plot all figured out. Stop and take a moment to reflect—remember who created this story. John Lescroart fans know this author’s plots never turn out as imagined. Damage, scheduled for release January 4, 2011, continues this path of unexpected twists and turns.

Publishers Cliff and Theresa Curtlee, backed by their family-run newspaper, are thrilled when their son—Ro, a convicted serial rapist and killer—is released after serving 10 years of a twenty-five to life conviction.  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a reversal of Ro’s case by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, sending Ro’s case back to San Francisco for re-trial. Recently elected district attorney Wes Farrell faces the full brunt of the Curtlee’s power as he decides whether to re-try this case.

Other Lescroart characters—Lieutenant Abe Glitsky, heading up the city’s homicide detail, and prosecutor Amanda Jenkins, among others—bear their own scars from Ro’s previous trial, each harboring personal motives to send this criminal back to prison. Each character—drawn among ranks of police and prosecutors—are tempted to cross the line at times to make sure justice is achieved. In the meantime, more people start dying as everyone jockeys for position in this legal free-for-all. It is John Lescroart at his best.

MARK: John, thanks for rejoining us here on Hook’em and Book’em to discuss your latest novel. For Lescroart fans like myself, part of the enjoyment of reading your novels is the ability to renew old friendships with such characters as Abe Glitsky and Wes Farrell. What other characters emerge in this story from your past novels?

JOHN:  Damage was a lot of fun because I got to bring back some of my old pals.  First, of course, as you point out, were Glitsky and Farrell.  But then I also bring back Amanda Jenkins, the assistant DA from Guilt, who we get to see in an completely different light. 
Then I’m also finding that a homicide inspector, Darrell Bracco, keeps wanting to stick his face in these stories, and so he plays a small but meaningful role.  I also enjoy bringing Dismas Hardy into this story as a bit, rather than a lead, player.  He’s got a very good and, as it turns out, extremely important role, in this book, and I think it’s a lot of fun seeing him in this limited cameo appearance.  Finally, let’s not forget Wes Farrell’s girlfriend Sam, and last but not least, their dog Gert. 

MARK: For readers who might not have the opportunity to know these characters, tell us a little about the history of Glitsky, Farrell and other familiar characters reappearing on the pages of Damage.

JOHN:  Glitsky and Farrell go way back.  They first appeared together in A Certain Justice, very much as antagonists, who by the end of the book have learned to respect, and possibly even like, one another.  In Guilt, their relationship is tried and brought nearly to the breaking point as Farrell defends a client whom Glitsky arrested, and whom Glitsky hates.  Over the next several books, Farrell and Glitsky are in orbit around the larger character of Dismas Hardy as part of the ongoing fugue of these San Francisco novels.  The events of Damage bring them back together as dueling protagonists, each with his own agenda, each trying to do the right thing, and each having trouble staying out of the other’s way.

MARK: The City of San Francisco has always been rich with literary and real-life political intrigue. Have you based the story of Damage upon any particular events in the Bay area, or is this novel drawn from a broader perspective?

JOHN:  San Francisco’s radical politics forms a great deal of the story of Damage, so much so that the city is almost a character in itself.  In the first place, Ro Curtlee, a convicted rapist/murderer, could probably never have been let out of jail with bail in any other city, and that is the event that gets the story going.  This circumstance is based on a real case that occurred in San Francisco a few years ago, where a rapist/murderer’s conviction was overturned by the SF-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.  (In real life, the US Supreme Court overturned this decision; but in my book, Ro Curtlee gets out on bail.)  Then I’ve got a columnist for the city’s #2 newspaper, Sheila “Heinous” Marrenas, whose far-left, anti-police lunacy in print raises the political stakes for all of the forces for justice.  So I’d have to say that this is an only-in-San Francisco story, and all the better for it.   

MARK: One of the axioms of conflict for novelist: take the character, identify what that character would never consider, then force that character into that situation. For example, the incorruptible cop—who would never take a bribe—confronting a situation in which his desperately ill loved one needs money for life-saving treatment. You do a great job of creating dilemmas like this throughout your novels. How do you go about taking one of your characters and creating soul-torturing conflicts?

JOHN:  Well, a great example in this book is my character, Abe Glitsky.  Glitsky is head of the homicide department in San Francisco and a stickler for due process:  his mandate is to supervise his inspectors and ensure that arrests are made properly.  He also internalizes this straight and narrow approach in his private life.  Well then, what is he to do when Ro Curtlee comes to his house and threatens his wife and child?  How he responds to this dilemma is one of the central conflicts in this book – the situation creates an almost untenable, and unbearably tense, crisis – both personally and professionally.  Fun stuff.

MARK: All of your novels tend to be theme driven as mentioned during the interview with us last May. It appears that exploitation of immigrants seems to be the emerging theme in this current novel, Damage? What prompted you to choose this subject matter?

JOHN:  As everyone knows, the immigration question in this country is hugely controversial, and couldn’t be more timely.  Keeping one’s antenna out for topics with big and complex themes is one of the main jobs a writer has if he or she is trying to remain relevant and up-to-date, so immigration was in my mind almost as soon as the ghost of this story began to emerge.  Once it became clear to me that Ro Curtlee’s crime was rape and murder, it seemed to me that making his victims all immigrant workers leant an immediacy and verisimilitude to the story that I couldn’t get any other way.   This is a perfect example of how a theme rises to the forefront out of the plot of a story, enriching both.

MARK: Among your many talents—aside from writing—music appears to be one of your passions. On your web site is a link to Crow Art Records, a subsidiary of your corporation. What part does music play in your writing and your life? How did you arrive at the name of your recording studio?

JOHN:  Music has always been a big part of my life, so much so that sometime in my early twenties, I decided to become a full-time performer as a singer/songwriter/guitarist.  For about six years, I performed solo in the US and Europe, and then returned to the Bay City to start Johnny Capo and His Real Good Band.  But by the age of thirty–in fact, on exactly my 30th birthday– I decided that I’d given music a good try, but it didn’t look like it was going to be my life.  So I stopped performing.  Nevertheless, music is an incurable virus.  During my children’s early years, I started singing and playing at their schools, in their classes – a lot of Raffi material and some originals, too.  Then, about ten years ago, I met Rick Montgomery, a phenomenal musical talent who’d played with the Davis Grisman quintet, Stephane Grappeli, and many other greats.  Rick and I became friends and we decided to put out a few records just for the fun of it – my old and new tunes, and a couple of CDs of other talented people we knew – Joe Craven, Antonio Castillo de la Gala, Heath Walton.  The Crow Art label name came from my last name, which is so frequently butchered.     

MARK: Back to Damage, my interest perked up a notch when a couple of your bad guys visited the Tadich Grill in San Francisco. This place brings back great memories for me—and the place offers excellent San Francisco-style cuisine for those visiting the city. Is this a place you like to frequent?

JOHN:  You said it.  One of the greatest things about writing stories set in San Francisco is that I’ve got to keep up on my restaurants.  I consider it my solemn duty to my readers.  So I hang out a lot at as many places as I can: Tadich’s, Sam’s, Boulevard, Le Central, Plouf, the Ferry Building, Gaspare’s, the Little Shamrock bar, the Balboa CafĂ©, and many many others.  It’s one of the great perks of living in the city and writing about it.

MARK: I have only one problem with this great novel, John. You have one of the bad guys wearing an Oakland Raiders jacket, a team that I’ve staunching supported for many years. Now, I know it is too late to undue this damage, but in the future could you have a good guy wearing an Oakland jacket to even things out—or are you one of those die-hard 49er fans?

JOHN:  Not so much a die-hard Niner fan as a guy who’s been to a few tailgate parties before Raiders games, and let me tell you, you’re better off if you go to these things wearing Kevlar and seriously armed.  So if I’m going to have a bad guy wearing a team jacket, just in the interest of keeping things real, it’s probably going to be a Raider jacket next time as well. 
Readers can find out more about John Lescroart and his writing career at his web site or from his interview here last May when he discussed details about his writing life and his journey as a novelist.