Explosive Breaching

Writer’s Police Academy 2014

It happened. Again… at the Writer’s Police Academy.

The Writer’s Police Academy offers “hands-on” opportunities for participants. Apparently, I’ve signed up for the ‘cuff on sight’ track.

Lee Lofland worked hard protecting citizens from the bad guys as a police detective. He is an award of valor recipient. And he keeps on working for citizens and for his fellow law enforcement officers. He created THE BEST WRITERS’ CONFERENCE IN THE WORLD, the Writers’ Police Academy because he wants writers to ‘get it right’. In fact if the Writer’s Police Academy had a motto, Getting it Right, would be it.

The Writer’s Police Academy offers participants the opportunity to learn from the best of the best. The instructors are experts, special agents, sheriff deputies, police chiefs, highway patrol, EMTs, SWAT, snipers, firefighters, undercover agents, Secret Service, ATF, and TSA agents, lawyers, judges and detectives – top people in their respective fields. They taught classes in forensic psychology, forensic DNA testing, ballistics, firearms, cold case investigations, crime scene investigation, processing and evidence collection, fingerprint analysis, blood analysis, crime scene evidence collection, serial killers, profiling, arson investigations, fingerprinting, shoe impressions, killing by microorganisms, undercover assignments and so-much-more. We heard from best selling authors on their writing journey, how to research, how to weave in facts, experiences and case studies into stories. Police officers told us they love what they do; they feel the responsibility and the duty of doing a job well.  All of them asked one thing of the writers, take what we teach you to get it right.

Our first night, we had a demonstration on disarming the bad guys. The instructors, Lee Lofland and Eli Jackson demonstrated techniques for disarming attackers wielding knives and guns.

Lee Lofland & Eli Jackson

Eli was so fast that my camera was unable to focus or capture the image. Lightening fast. We then were able to practice with fake guns and knives. While not as fast, we were thrilled to practice the disarming maneuvers seen in the movies.

Eli Disarming a Gun Toting Bad Guy

Lee demonstrated on one of the participants.

Lee Taking Down the Bad Guy

Then Lee discussed and demonstrated the 21 foot rule. Eli charged holding a knife at a volunteer. Me. The 21 foot rule is the minimum distance for a police officer to react to an advancing attacker and remove his service pistol from his holster to fire. Anything less than 21 feet, it is humanly impossible to assess the threat and react quickly enough to draw a weapon from a holster. I know, I tried.

Back to the demonstration, as I stood waiting, Lee shouted go. Eli charged at me and I valiantly attempted to remove my ‘gun’ from the holster in my duty belt. I failed to draw my weapon. Three times. When I did the weapons training simulation (another offering at the Writer’s Police Academy), I was presented with various scenarios but my gun was drawn and at the ready. Many of the scenarios left me with a split second decision whether the person or persons on the screen presented a threat to me. But in the 21 Foot Rule scenario, my weapon was not drawn.  Even knowing that Eli would run at me with a knife; something that an officer DOES not know in a real world situation, I still could not draw my weapon in time. Three times, I failed to draw my weapon. Three times, I could have died. That is a sobering thought.

Hotel Lobby Before the Morning Crush


Up at the crack of dawn the next day, we got dressed, ate breakfast,     scanned our programs then hurried out front. We caught buses at    7:30 sharp, and headed out to the Guilford Technical Community College.


Our first morning we assembled under the hot North Carolina sun to view a mock-up of a crash. Several people had been ‘injured’ when a car drove into a yard sale. Once we were assembled the ‘call’ went out to 911. Police arrived, calling in a request for paramedics. The officer then preformed a quick survey and assisted those wounded as he could. Paramedics arrived and took over the scene, one taking point dividing the area into various treatment areas for triage. The firefighters arrived, reviewed the situation and pulled out the jaws of life to release a victim trapped under the car. While paramedics and fire fighters worked, the first officer, along with a second one who had arrived checked the driver was was unhurt. They performed a field sobriety test, determined the driver was intoxicated, and arrested. In mere minutes the area was cleared of the wounded who were transported by ambulance to hospitals. We were impressed with the efficient and quick work of fire fighters, paramedics and police.

Victims after car crashes into yard sale.

Firefighters removing a victim onto a back board.









Then on to our classes. Firearms with ATF Special Agent, Rick McMahan interested me for the first session, then I was slated for the driving simulator (I did not crash the fire truck!!),

Driving Simulator

next Deep Undercover with ATF Special Agent Bill Queen discussing being undercover with outlaw biker gangs. For the afternoon, Retired NYPD Marco Conelli fascinated us with stories and details about his undercover work, then New York Times bestselling author John Gilstrap’s class about the Technical Stuff that Writers Get Wrong.

John Gilstrap demonstrating how not to shoot.

At the end of the day, Lisa Gardner regaled us with personal anecdotes about her research, especially how she got to the Body Farm. Onto the buses, we headed back to the hotel, everyone discussing the lectures. Participants traded notes, information and key points with their seat mates.

Lisa Gardner Presenting at WPA

Later that evening we were treated to a reception sponsored by Sisters in Crime National where we mingled with other participants and instructors. Then we were off to a lighting demonstration in a secluded grassy area behind the hotel. We found a crime scene complete with a ‘dead’ body. Three different lighting techniques were demonstrated each successive one revealing more items surrounding the body. The last lighting source looked like a UFO at the top of the pole, but when turned on, illuminated the crime scene almost as well as daylight.

Crime Scene Outdoor Lighting

Crime Scene









Next day, crack of dawn, up, showered, dressed, breakfasted and waiting for the buses at 7:30 am. Lee trained us well.

We arrive at GTCC. This time we’re sent to an area and told to stay back. Captain Randy Shepherd conducted a breaching demonstration. He walks us through the difference between breaching a front door versus an interior door. He states that there are two different types of building searches – the slow methodical one that his teaches us in the building search class, and the dynamic type done with an explosive breach, that he is about to demonstrate. Then, he and his fellow officer approached the ‘house’, they attached a long black strip down the length of the ‘front’ door, this contained the C-4 with an attached wire to the blasting cap. Captain Shepherd yelled ‘control’, then counted down, three…two…one, blast!! Pop!! Boom!! A burst of flame and the door fell to the ground, the officers entered and cleared the ‘house’. We asked questions, and took pictures, some of us posing with the two officers.

Explosive Breaching

Capt. Shepherd with the blown door

Then off to classes. Several classes caught my attention, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Varieties of Multiple Murder, and her class with Dave Pauly on Equivocal Death Investigations, plus handcuffing and arrest techniques with Stan Lawhorne where a few tried picking the lock while handcuffed behind their backs, and Master Corporal Dee Jackson’s, personal safety and self protection class, where we got to take down some dummies and learn about being vigilant first and foremost.

Stan Lawhorne & Dee Jackson










At the end of the day, Alafair Burke gave a wonderful presentation about the criminal legal process with hints on how to use the information for fiction writing. Then off to the buses and back to the hotel to get ready for the banquet.

The Saturday night banquet this year featured one of my favourite authors, Michael Connelly!! Mr. Connelly, along with being a nice guy, great author, shared his writing process and advice for writers. Afterwards he graciously signed books and posed for photographs with us.

Michael Connelly in Conversation

The other feature of the banquet is the silent auction and the raffle baskets. All proceeds benefit Criminal Justice Foundation at Guilford Technical Community College.

Sadly I did not win the New York-themed basket donated by Marco Conelli. I really wanted to win it. Marco found out how much I wanted his basket and being the nice guy that he is, presented me with his own hat!! I just love that guy!!

Marco's Hat

Sunday is the debriefing panel with many of the instructors.  Particpants get to ask follow-up questions.

Sunday Panel

While, there are many more things to do than is humanly possible (I recommend bringing your clone to be in two places at once), there is only one thing you cannot do at the Writer’s Police Academy. Shoot video. Lee told us that several times.

Lee Lofland Lecturing Participants on the "no video" rule

I swear that’s not why I got arrested…. I was just hanging out with my peeps. Not doing anything wrong. I swear. But then this guy comes around. I size him up; he blends, not rocking the undercover cop look. I figured he’s cool. We weren’t going anything wrong. Then he points to me. Guy wants to talk. I walk over, I’m not scared, I could take him, especially after the skills I’ve learned. So I say what do you want. Next thing I know, I’m up against the wall, guy pats me down, and then I’ve got the sliver bracelets of shame. Again…

Lee Lofland Made Me Do It

I was involved in a felony traffic stop… read all about it.

Lee is a great guy, don’t get me wrong.  He graciously didn’t put my name and phone number on the picture of me flipping off the police on that felony traffic stop or send it to my local police department.  Hey, how was I to know that the scumbag driving the SUV and his flaky girlfriend had just robbed a store.  What about the gun, you say.  Not mine, I swear I was just holding for a friend.  I’m totally innocent.

Anyway let’s get back to Lee.  He worked hard protecting citizens from the bad guys as a police detective even receiving an award of valor.  He created THE BEST WRITERS’ CONFERENCE IN THE WORLD, the Writers’ Police Academy.  Still, I blame him for ruining my television viewing pleasure.  Let me explain.

I can’t watch Castle any more.  It wasn’t Lee’s blog about all the procedural faults with the show.  No, I still watched because I love Nathan Fillion.  Brown Coats unite!!  Er, um, moving on, it wasn’t Lee’s blog, but the Writers’ Police Academy that created the problem.  Not just for Castle, but all television cop shows.  See, it goes like this, I turn on the tv, the opening scene begins and I start with, “that’s not right.  The police would never do that.”  Ten seconds later I’m yelling, “the ME (medical examiner) can’t tell cause of death at the scene or the time of death!!”  CSI is a total bust.  When one of the techs walks in with a black light after spraying the scene with Luninol, I’m not just yelling, I’m screaming, “Luminol does not need blue light!!  It’s about luminescence not fluorescence!!”   And those high heels and low cut tops; forget it, it’s all over for me.  Click, tv off, and I walk away muttering ‘that was just wrong, wrong, wrong’.  Lee’s fault.

But it doesn’t end there.  A house burned down in my neighborhood.  I read every newspaper account.  I was fascinated because the reports stated that the fire burned so hot it obliterated the area where it started.  I wondered which type of accelerant was used and how much the house was insured for and whether the owner was in financial trouble or hiding criminal activity.  Not really good things to wonder out loud when your neighbor’s house burns down.  Okay, some of this I come by honestly, I am a crime writer, but really all those thoughts were just enhanced by, you guessed it, the Writers’ Police Academy; THE BEST WRITERS’ CONFERENCE IN THE WORLD.  I blame Lee.

I watched the news about the shooting in DC this week.  Many of those officers were not being paid due to the government shut down, but performing their duties protecting others was important to them. As the police officers surrounded the car with their guns drawn, I knew what they were doing and why.  I understood the risks they were taking and the scenarios that they were prepared for.  My perspective had changed.

The Writers’ Police Academy provided that insight.  There were many live demonstrations.  I got to see dogs in action working with their handlers.  Climb into a command trailer.  We had a bomb squad demonstration.  Really cool, from the dog  detecting the ‘bomb’ in the backpack, to the robot moving the ‘bomb’ away, to the officer suiting up and taking a detonation device to the ‘bomb’.  Then the ‘fire in the hole’ called out before the ‘bomb’ was exploded. We experienced it from start to finish and the ‘boom’ made us all jump even though we all knew it was coming.  We then got to pepper the officers with questions as we furiously wrote down the answers.

I got to search a building with training from a SWAT officer.  We were ‘issued’ fake guns and rifles and sent in to search.  Then on the second time in, someone was chosen to hide.  Half of us died by not finding the suspect before he or she found us.  The officer taking us through the search procedures was also a sniper; a nationally recognized expert police sniper.  When asked if it’s possible, like in the movies, for someone to shoot a person holding a gun to a hostage’s head without harming the victim.  He responded, “I can.”  I wasn’t just impressed, he’s the one I want if a gun is ever held to my head.  Nationally recognized police sniper and I-got-to-train-with-him!!  I’m putting that on my writer’s CV.

Then it was my turn to shoot.  At the simulator.  We were allowed to chose real handguns.  I wanted the 9mm Rugar.  Hey why not?  In the simulator you experience the feel and weight of real weapons.  The magazines are fitted with electronics rather than live bullets.  The system records each ‘shot’ fired.  Where it hits on the screen.  Kill shots are identified with a red dot.  My heart was pumping as I held my gun.  My vision narrowed as I focused on the screen. We went through several scenarios.  Each forced you to assess the situation, each individual to determine whether a person was a potential threat and whether you needed to shoot and at whom. While not real, it’s disconcerting to be faced with a gun fired at you.  I accorded myself well.  I made several kill shots and all my non-lethal shots would have incapacitated the shooters.  I was deemed worthy of being some one’s partner on patrol.  I walked out of the room wired on adrenaline.  I can’t imagine what police officers experience in real situations, I didn’t have real bullets firing back at me, but I do have an inkling and an incredible amount of respect.

I also understood not only the potential dangers of approaching a vehicle after a regular traffic stop, but also the increased danger of a felony traffic stop. I’d learned all about it during the felony traffic stop at the Writers’ Police Academy.  Yes, that traffic stop.  Lee has photos.  I’m never going to be able to live this down.

The scariest moment though was the jail tour.  We had to make sure we had nothing on us but our ids.  We couldn’t bring in pens with springs – prisoners could make zip guns if they were able to get a hold of the pens.  A prisoner in a holding cell screamed at us as we walked by.  We toured the command room, medical facility, the personal effects room, and then one of the floors.

You enter the floor through a series of doors each requiring either an override key or permission from the command room to get in.  Each door has to close first before the next one is opened.  It took a while to get our entire group through.  The best behaved prisoners were located on this floor, still we were out in the central area with the prisoners around us.   The floor was open in the center with cells around the outer rim. A few watching television were a couple of chairs away from our group. Others were watching us from their cells or classroom, pressed against the glass to look at us. We huddled closely to listen to the guard tell us about the area.  The prisoners looked so young to me and no different from young men I might pass in the street back home. I wondered about their choices or lack thereof that got them here.  The guard reminded us that these prisoners were the ones deemed with the best chance to turn around their lives.  But, there were floors that we could never see like this due to the types of criminals.  I thought about the most heinous crimes possibly committed by the prisoners on those floors and was glad they were in jail and not on the street. The floor was completely closed off from the outside world.  There was no natural light or air, no windows that looked out.  If I had any thought towards criminal activity, that would have made me reform immediately.

The Writer’s Police Academy instructors are experts, special agents, professors, sheriff deputies, highway patrol, EMTs, SWAT officers, firefighters, and detectives – top people in their respective fields.  I learned about forensic psychology, forensic DNA testing, cold case investigations, crime scene investigation, fingerprint analysis, blood analysis, crime scene evidence collection, serial killers, profiling and so-much-more.  We heard from best selling authors on their writing journey and how they weave in facts, experiences and case studies into their stories. Police officers told us they love what they do; they feel the responsibility and the duty of doing a job well.

I returned home psyched and roaring to go.  Now instead of a blank page when I set down to write, I see my instructors.  The ones who took their own personal unpaid time to teach, instruct and tell war stories to a bunch of typewriter/computer wannabe jockeys.  I asked the officers how we could best represent them in our writing.  I will never forget the response, “take what we’ve given you and write it right.”

For Lee and all the officers and instructors, I vow to do my best to get it right.  Still, Lee did ruin my life, I’ll never be able to watch police shows any more because now I know how it’s really done. I’ll throw crime novels with inaccurate police procedure into the fireplace. Sigh, life as I knew it will never be the same. Still I say….


To Lee for the Writers’ Police Academy; THE BEST WRITERS’ CONFERENCE IN THE WORLD.


To all the officers, lecturers and everyone who made it the BEST WRITERS’ CONFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

Oh, you might be wondering about that felony traffic stop.  Well…they needed volunteers to portray the bad guys.  Of course I jumped at the chance to act bad.  Very bad.  I blame it on Lee.  He made me do it.

As first published at http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/