where the writers are
Writers' Police Academy, Part 1

The first official Writers' Police Academy, organized by Lee Lofland (if you don't know him from his blog, The Graveyard Shift, he's a retired cop who helps authors get the 'cop stuff' right' in their books). We squeezed into shuttle vans on Friday morning and arrived at the Guilford Technical Community College. One of the exciting things about this conference was that the venue was the actual campus that trains law enforcement officer, firefighters, and EMS personnel. Many of our workshops were taught by the same instructors who train cadets. I can't begin to imagine the combined years of experience we had access to.

First on the schedule after registration was an overview of every imaginable facet of public service. The campus is in High Point, and we had representatives from both Greensboro and High Point. We had police, highway patrol, deputy sheriffs as well as firefighters and paramedics. They had vehicles, from ambulance to ATV to mobile command centers, all giving us full access to the equipment they used, as well as an amazing willingness to answer every possible question a group of writers could come up with. Dive teams, S.E.R.T. (their version of SWAT), Hazardous Devices (what we used to call the bomb squad). A group of cadet firefighters showed up in turnout gear as part of their classwork—they were going to be practicing live fires that day.

And to let you know how interesting it was, I didn't mind being outside in a huge parking lot in the southern heat and humidity for several hours! And, even more impressive was the fact that all these officers also came out to stand in the heat, in uniform, on their own time.

After lunch, we had a demonstration by the EMS instructor and students. They staged a dead body (gunshot wound to the head, complete with a pool of blood), and explained their responsibilities to the patient, as well as to the crime scene investigators. They have to balance getting their jobs done while trying not to violate the integrity of what might be a crime scene.

Bits and pieces we could apply to our work: Normally, it's one patient per ambulance, although they can carry as many as three. However, they're equipped with only one of the major pieces of equipment (heart monitors, etc.) so if they have more than one person to transport, they'll usually call for another unit.

They go out in two-person crews. One drives, one rides in back with the patient. They make the call if a family member can come along—and they'll normally ride in front. Exceptions: when the patient is a young child or a special needs individual. Responses are tiered. Every call will roll the ambulance, a fire truck and the police.

If they arrive on an active crime scene, they wait until the cops have secured the scene, often staging some distance away (as directed by law enforcement). When they are given permission to enter, they will walk single file and try to disturb as little as possible. Their equipment bags weigh about 25 pounds each. They're almost always required to run a strip, measuring heart activity, even if they believe the patient to be dead. Rather than take a chance on disturbing the body, they'll leave the leads on the "patient" (which often bugs the heck out of the detectives, but they've all got their own rules to follow). They also photograph the scene, so if they have to move a coffee table to get the stretcher inside, they can document where it was when they arrived.

In the case of a live patient, when they get to the hospital, they have to hand off the case to someone at their level or above, which is usually a RN or higher. Our instructor told us that on one of his first calls, he filled out all the information he'd heard about what had happened at the crime scene on the patient care report. When the cop asked for his report, he told him where it was. The cop gave him some grief, because that meant that the information was now part of the confidential medical report and they'd have to get a subpoena to get it, which could take who knew how long. He learned to fill out the separate Incident Report to give to the police.

And, at least in their area, the most common contagion is TB. As a matter of fact, one of the students had been exposed when she was riding in the back of the ambulance with a patient who failed to mention she had active TB.

Our "instruction" day ended with a 2 hour lecture by Jonathan Hayes, a New York City Medical Examiner. Only a group of crime writers wouldn't mind listening to a talk about autopsies complete with pictures, right before dinner. A recap of that session will have to wait.

For more pictures, check out my facebook album.