You’ve probably never heard of the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA), but that’s about to change. The WPA has been an annual event where authors or aspiring authors converge to learn about a variety of law enforcement-related proceedings so writers of crime fiction can be accurate. It was started by a police detective who was frustrated by all the mistakes he came across in the novels he read.
When signing up for the WPA, attendees ranked their preferences for courses. It was tough to decide, as so many were interesting, but we were limited to six. The event was centered in Appleton, Wisconsin, although day classes were held in nearby Green Bay.
The first afternoon was the “Touch a Truck” event, where a large room containing public service vehicles was open to registrants. There was a firetruck, hazmat truck, swat vehicle, and ambulance we could photograph and look over to our heart’s content. Firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and other personnel stood by to answer all our questions and demonstrate how some of their high-tech gadgets work, including drones, police robots, and Tasers. I learned that the way the wires from a Taser accordion after being fired can be used to determine how far away the police officer was from the suspect at the time of discharge. Other equipment was displayed, including a door ram which happened to be used in the latest novel I had written. I learned door rams are applied differently than I had imagined, necessitating a minor change just before I sent the novel to my publisher.
That evening we all gathered for a talk by a photojournalist who had covered the trial of Darrell Brooks, a man who intentionally ran over spectators at a parade in Waukesha, WI, killing six and injuring many. We learned interesting facts about the trial and gained knowledge about how photojournalists work. Getting a great shot can take a lot of time and planning.
The next day started early. We all piled into buses and were driven to a venue in Green Bay for our classes. Before we entered the classrooms, we were entertained by a demonstration showing a SWAT team take-down of a suspect, culminating in a police dog attack (the officer playing the bad guy was wearing protective padding).
Then it was time for school. I attended A coroner's Life, Crime Scene Investigation, and Firearms. I took lots of notes which will come in handy later in my writing. Other classes offered at that time, but which I couldn’t attend, were Forced Entry: The Search for, and Capture, of Armed Suspect; TI Training: Interactive Use of Force Simulator; and K9 Emergency Aid.
We returned to our hotel in Appleton on our buses, had dinner on our own, and spent the evening with Steven Spingola, who can be seen on Cold Justice, a true crime program on the Oxygen channel. He spoke of his time on the team that investigated Jeffrey Dahmer. He had lots—and I mean lots—of photos of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims (parts of them, anyway). I doubt there is anyone reading this who doesn’t already know who Jeffrey Dahmer was and what he did. I think Mr. Spingola overdid it with the photos. How many pictures of bones, heads, and other body parts are needed to get the point across? I don’t know exactly, but in my opinion, he far exceeded it. Maybe I've seen too many photographs by forensic pathologists to have found it interesting.
The following day again started early, with a bus ride to a different Green Bay facility. I took classes titled Cold Cases (where I learned cases are never closed until they are solved, as demonstrated by the recent arrest of a man suspected of the Gilgo Beach murders over ten years ago), Homicide 101, and Vehicle Contacts. The other classes offered at that time were Death by Powders and Pills (I would really have loved to attend that one), Emergency Vehicle Operations (where participants got hands-on experience driving around training grounds), Handcuffing, and Virtual Reality Police Training Simulator.
Once finished with classes, we again boarded buses and were taken to a lecture hall to hear Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a noted forensic psychologist who now teaches at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Ramsland has appeared in numerous crime documentaries, been a consultant for several TV shows, and written numerous articles and books in her field. She spoke about the young, malleable men who were manipulated into aiding Dean Corll, the "Candy Man," who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 27 young men and boys in the 1970s.
That evening we attended a banquet where author Hank Phillippi Ryan was honored. She started off as a TV journalist and is now a bestselling psychological thriller author. She gave an engaging, fast-paced run-down of her journey from reporter to writer. Afterwards, presenters sold books and signed them. I bought several books, including one by Katherine Ramsland in which she detailed her numerous interviews with Dennis Rader, the BTK killer. When she signed my book, I asked her about Bryan Kohberger, accused of murdering the four Idaho University students. I had read that she had taught him previously while he studied criminology. She told me she was Mr. Kohberger's advisor and thinks he is a wonderful young man, intelligent and hard-working. She has interviewed numerous horrific murderers, but is convinced her previous student is innocent. Time will tell.
On the final day, we all got to sleep in before a two-hour question & answer session with many of the presenters. All good things come to an end, and, sadly, noon marked our “End of Duty.” Afterwards I rode the hotel shuttle to Appleton Airport, where it took less than a minute to get through security. Waiting for my flight at the small, midwestern airport with little security, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the people waiting with me for their flight were murderers who hadn’t been caught.