One thing about being a published author I don't think I'll ever get used to is how many pans you have to keep on the fire all at once. For example, right now I'm supposed to be promoting Winning Ruby Heart, my September Superromance (break for promotion--the book is awesome, you should go buy a copy to give to a friend!). I'm also working on a project that's just for me and I'm doing research for the another book.
All this is a lot, but it's fun. The research part of the work can lead you down paths you didn't even know existed. One of the books I'm working on has a homicide detective for a hero. Since everything I know about police work comes either from watching Law & Order (I can watch those episodes over and over and over), The Wire, Homicide, or reading Homicide, I knew I needed to talk with a detective.
I emailed several people in the Durham Police Department, picking people off their website (or who posted to my local police district listserv) who I thought might be helpful, until I got a response from the awesome Kimberle Walker, a public affairs specialist for the department. She both helped me get an interview with a homicide detective and pointed me in the direction of the Citizen's Police Academy (CPA).
The CPA has been amazing. It's a six-week course, two nights a week and we've been learning about how the department works. So far we've covered crime scenes, homicide, domestic violence, and fraud investigations, forensics (which I had to miss for work-related reasons), 9-1-1 (including touring the call center), recruitment, hostage negotiations, and SET (Selective Enforcement Team aka SWAT). And I've still got three weeks left!
This course has been especially interesting to take in the wake of the protests and police action in Ferguson, Missouri. Durham, like most (if not all) cities around the country, has a problem targeting minorities for traffic stops. The city of Durham (police department included) is working on addressing this racial bias (see this article about the process) and creating a city that is fair and just for every citizen. The questions Ferguson brought to the front page of papers around the country are being discussed in the class, with the police department. The openness with which the department, the city, and its citizens are talking about these issues gives me hope for the future, at least in Durham.
The class has cut into my writing time and it's so interesting that I keep having to remind myself that it is for work and I'm not goofing off. What I'm learning in the class should make my writing richer, not just the cop book I'm working on, but all my future books. The spiraling effect of research is the best part about it! As an author, I never know when research I did five years ago will pop up and take a scene from good to perfect.
Do you know if your local police department offers a citizen's police academy? Have you ever taken one? Would you take one?