police academy

11-28-2016 Writing—Not So Solitary

December is almost here. That means I will be talking about my latest book and signing books on the first Saturday in the Mystery Author Extravaganza at the Reston Public Library in Reston, VA. Taking part in this annual event is just one of the many benefits I receive as a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

wreathe-copyDecember also means it’s dues renewal time. Dues for the national organization is $40 and for the local chapter, $20. Paltry sums for an organization that seeks to even the playing field for female mystery writers. SinC was organized when women authors started noticing that male authors got the better contracts, were reviewed more often, and received more awards than female authors. In other words, the system was not fair. Men are welcome to join the group too as long as they support the goals of SinC.

The Mystery Author Extravaganza is also held in Maryland, this year on October 29 at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. On hand to sell books at both events was Tom Harig of Mystery Loves Company Continue reading “11-28-2016 Writing—Not So Solitary”



Citizens Police Academy strikes again. This time with a lecture on counterfeit money, fake IDs and facial analysis. This is one course that has me consistently on the edge of my seat. And it is free. The police probably have such a course in your area too.

Those of us who, being honest and law-abiding, are unschooled in such things, usually assume that if we want to disguise ourselves, we would maybe change our hair color or a man might assume a beard or mustache. Forget it. They ignore hair, facial or otherwise, and they ignore eye color. Makes sense because hair and eye color are easily changed, added to or subtracted.

Instead, they look at the shape of the ears, eyes, brows, mouth, chin, jaw, head. Nope. Can’t change those unless you’re an expert make-up artist and even then, in the cold light of day, it will look fake. And they look at alignment. How do the ears align with the eyes? Higher? Lower? Where is the nose on the face and is it a long nose? Short nose?

The point is that crooks might shuffle through a pack of stolen driver’s licenses or passports, looking for one that has a photo that superficially resembles them. But a person experienced in facial identification, can easily see the differences. Ears lower than the eyes in the photo but higher in the individual, for example. Can’t disguise that. Short nose in the photo and long nose on the person. There are lots of similar cues.

When I talk about shuffling through a pack of passports or credit cards or other identification, I’m not joking. You can probably go to any restaurant, tell them you think you left your credit card there, and they’ll show you a stack of credit cards left by mistake.

Actually, crooks steal all kinds of identification for reuse. But they also make their own. We were shown sheets of blank Social Security cards, ready to be filled in with a name and number. Social Security cards are “breeder documents,” which means they can be used to obtain legitimate identification cards.

Here’s another wrinkle. Just how good is a “legitimate” identification card? What do you really have to show to get one? How easy is it to fake those documents? I just read the Social Security application requirements for identity documents and there seems to be a lot of room for fakery, it seems to me. And after a quick google search, I think you could buy whatever ID you might want on the Net.

But the only reason for fake IDs is some kind of criminal activity.

Now we get to counterfeiting. Ever since that class I’ve been checking my twenty dollar bills, looking for the vertical stripe on the left (hold the bill up to the light to see it) and checking the gold number “20” on the bottom right. That gold number will turn to a greenish hue when you tilt the bill horizontally in front of you. There are more clues to tell you if a bill is legitimate, but that should suffice for now.

Tonight’s class is on citizen services and traffic law enforcement. The last class is next week and we’ll be visiting the crime lab. After that, graduation. Woohoo!

9/26/2016 – More from the Police Academy; Baltimore Book Fest

So far I am impressed at the professionalism of the police teaching our class at the Citizens Police Academy in Howard County, Maryland. It makes me want to revisit my mystery novels and redo the police investigations parts. We pick up so much from our own experience and television shows that we tend to make assumptions that may not be true.

Reminds me of a scene in my latest novel, In Rembrandt’s Shadow, where I blithely have a character in 1616’s Antwerp lighting a match. Stop. Matches weren’t invented until much, much later. CoverFinalMD-InRembrandtsShadow 2Someone had to point that out to me. I changed that to a tinder box. In another scene, I had a character stepping out of a house in early 17th century Paris and stepping onto a sidewalk. Most likely, he stepped out onto the road.

So I’m in the Police Academy class soaking up the details. Last week, the subject was the Columbia Mall shootings of January, 2014. Fortunately, the police had already studied the Columbia Mall and conducted training sessions there, noting exits, entrances, hallways, and basement areas. They had already developed strategies for dealing with such an event there. In fact, our local police will come to any Continue reading “9/26/2016 – More from the Police Academy; Baltimore Book Fest”

9-19-2016 – Citizens Police Academy / Book Launching

My guest blog, “A Day in the Life of My Character,” will appear Sept. 20 at

Since I write mysteries, I want to learn the details of police work so when I’m describing an investigation, my mysteries will have the texture policeand flavor of the real thing. Toward this end, I have begun the 12-week free course held by the Police Department to familiarize local citizens with police procedures and activities. Many police departments around the country hold similar academies.

I’m not shy about asking for the correct details. In my 90s Club mysteries about 90-year-olds at Whisperwood Retirement Village, I contacted the West Virginia Sheriff’s Department to find out what exactly a sheriff’s uniform in West Virginia looked like. I also asked a firefighter friend exactly what the protocol was when paramedics were called to the scene of a beating victim. He gave me excellent detail which made the scene live.

The Police Academy is another resource. It will include a ride-along with a police officer Continue reading “9-19-2016 – Citizens Police Academy / Book Launching”

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