26 October 2015

Not a Cop

Jan Grape
I'm not a cop but I write about one named Zoe Barrow who works with the Austin Police Department. Zoe first appeared in my mind while I was out at the Austin Police Academy while playing a cop. Let me explain. 

The Citizen Police Academy was established in January 1978 and over two thousand citizens have graduated in 85 classes. I was in the class in 1991. At that time it was a 12 week program held out at the Police Academy Training facility. It now is a 14 week program and is held at Austin Police Headquarters. The CPA's slogan is "Understanding Through Education." The goal is to provide enough information to the public to dispel misconceptions and to increase rapport between citizens and police officers.

The instruction is comprehensive and each week separate areas of the department is covered. Communication, patrol, canine, fraud, firearms, bomb squad, etc each gives a small view of what is taught and how that department works. It originally, for Austin, was to help people who were interested in becoming neighborhood watch captains in their neighborhoods. Since I was interested in writing mystery and at that time specifically private eye stories. My book characters also dealt with a police officer and I felt this would be very helpful to me. I applied for the program and was thrilled to be accepted.

One of the fun things I was able to be involved with was the CPA Alumni Association. I'm not involved with them anymore and don't even know if they still exists. But one thing we did as alumni was to go out to the academy when invited by the police academy and pretend to be bad guys during the cadets training program. There were specific scenarios set up and the cadets had to react to the situation.

For instance, several of us we asked to play a group of people in a nightclub situation. We weren't really drinking, we were sitting around talking with music playing on a radio. There was to be a gun on the table we sat around, it was a fake gun. Supposedly a call had been made to the police department stating there was a disturbance going on in the club.  The cadets were to come inside the club two at a time,  assess the situation and hope that one of them saw the gun and calls out "GUN" to the other. And one of them would take possession of the gun. All the cadets come into the situation and respond and then afterwards a training officer critiques them.

Another situation is a theft argument. One person says they have been robbed and another person says they didn't do it. The cadet is supposed to search the thief and discover the "jewels." Sometimes a thief has a weapon and it's up to the cadet to discover the weapon. But sometimes the weapon is missed. The training officer can really jump on a cadet if they miss the weapon. One time I had a derringer in my bra and it was missed more than once.

One was a driving scene where the driver is driving erratically, the cadet is to stop the vehicle (in reality we were stopped to keep thing moving along faster) and when the driver gives the officer a driver's license and calls it in, the dispatcher says there is a warrant out for that person. The cadet is to get the driver out of the car and handcuff her/him and put her/him in the squad car. The passenger is just to stay in the car and is okay.

The training officer asked me to really jump on one of the cadets as he wanted to see how she would react. So when she handcuffs me I begin cussing her out. And I complain loudly that the cuffs are too tight. So she loosens them one notch. She didn't react to my calling her names and cursing at her but when she put me in the squad car I was able to slip the cuffs off. After the training officer critiques and tells her to get me out of the squad car, I hand her the cuffs. The training officer jumped all over her. The cadets are not supposed to talk to each other and help each other but of course they do it anyway. All day the other drivers had no idea why their hand cuffs were put on so tight. When I do talks about writing to groups I usually tell this story and tell them that this is only time I was ever able to cuss out a cop and get away with it. It always gets a laugh.

It was during these civilians being bad guys that my character, Zoe Barrow began talking in my mind and became the main character in two novels. In DARK BLUE DEATH, the opening chapter is set at the police academy with Zoe being a training officer and that scene is almost word for word what happened the day I played that scene recorded there.

If you ever have a chance to attend a Citizen's Police Academy training program, I hope you will do so.


  1. It sounds like a really interesting and useful experience.
    You got to do some acting, too!

  2. That's a great class -
    Up here, high-security volunteers like myself have to take a week's training (8 hours a day) that's the first week of guard training: no handling of weapons, but we get an overview. Very valuable stuff.

  3. Janice, yes I got to do some acting and I have no experience. But I'm not shy and can inprovise. One of our gals could cry real tears on demand which was quite useful. Turn on the tears and these young cadets would fold..
    Eve, I can imagine your training was necessarily intense. I do know with liability issues nowadays I was able to do some things the police can't allow now. It all gave me a new respect for the police and insight that certainly helped in my writing.


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