Don’t you just love shooting down stereotypes? I like to write about characters who use stereotypes to outwit antagonists. My 90-year-old detective Nancy Dickenson in the 90s Club mysteries appears like any sweet, little old lady, and she uses that image. The idea for her character came from meeting a grandmotherly type woman who was actually a private detective. One of her gambits was to go door to door, leash in hand, in a neighborhood where she thought a suspect was hiding. She’d ask if they’d seen her runaway dog. Sometimes they’d invite her in for a cup of coffee and then she’d get the gossip about the neighborhood.
So I went to the latest meeting of my Sisters in Crime chapter to hear police Lt. John Weinstein talk about campus shooters and other campus policing challenges. Sisters in Crime is an association of mystery writers and fans.
Lt. Weinstein is district commander overseeing police operations on three campuses of the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). He also holds a Ph.D. in International Security Studies and served almost 30 years as a Department of Defense nuclear weapons planning specialist.
So, he’s a cop. You were expecting a “flatfoot”? Guess again. He was articulate, friendly, and threw out a wealth of information. For instance, what’s the difference between a security guard on campus and the campus police? The security force may investigate and patrol, escort students to their cars and carry out other tasks, but don’t carry firearms and may not make an arrest. The campus police may make an arrest and carry a firearm.
Perhaps you think police training consists of how to make an arrest, use a firearm, and give out traffic tickets. You’d be surprised. At NOVA, 188 nationalities are represented, each with its own cultural sensitivities. Inadvertently trespassing on some cultural taboo can lead to deadly conflicts. Diversity training is now emphasized in all police training academies.
Ever hear of verbal judo? It’s much better than a billy club. Verbal judo is a tactical communications course useful in police work as well as in business, health care, and education. According to the Verbal Judo Institute, verbal judo teaches professionals in any field to use “presence and words” to calm and redirect the behavior of hostile or difficult people to diffuse potentially dangerous situations and achieve the desired outcome while behaving professionally under all conditions.
The basic formula, said Lt. Weinstein, is to control the ego, explain what’s going on, and develop empathy.
Knowing we were mystery writers seeking to be correct, Lt. Weinstein concluded by mentioning the Public Safety Writers Association. Founded in 1997 as the Police Writers Club, the Public Safety Writers Association is open to both new and experienced, published and not yet published writers. Members include police officers, civilian police personnel, firefighters, fire support personnel, emergency personnel, security personnel and others in the public safety field. Also represented are those who write about public safety including mystery writers, magazine writers, journalists and those who are simply interested in the genre. The association also welcomes publishers, editors, agents and others who help writers realize their writing goals.
Benefits of membership include a free one-time manuscript review by a professional editor; opportunity to enter the annual writing competition; reduced rate for the annual conference; online listserv offering the chance to network with fellow writers and editors; access to experts in the field about which you write; and an online quarterly newsletter that includes news about the organization and information about writing, publishing, editing and marketing.
Credible writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, depends on accuracy. Readers are quick to point out errors and none of us wants that, so it’s good to know that there are so many professionals in so many fields willing to help keep us on track.