Citizen Law Enforcement Academy: Week 1

Source: Hennepin Co. Sheriff's Office
Source: Hennepin Co. Sheriff’s Office

Last week, I’m wandering around South 4th Street in Minneapolis with my face buried in a map when a woman wearing a uniform asks me, “Are you here for visiting hours?”

Huh?

“You’re not here to visit someone in jail?”

“No.”

Turns out the building I’m looking for also houses the holding jail, but I’m heading there to attend the Hennepin County Sheriff Office’s Citizen Law Enforcement Academy instead.  The academy is a six-week course offered free of charge to anyone who is interested in learning how law enforcement and the criminal justice system work.

“You’re probably going to learn a lot tonight.  A lot,” the uniformed lady says before she points me in the right direction.

After being herded through a metal detector, our group of thirty is escorted upstairs into a classroom.  Four of my classmates are fellow Twin Cities Sister in Crime members: Theresa Weir, Kristin Lerstrom, M.E. Bakos, and Midge Bubany.  Also present are Midge’s husband/chauffeur, Tim, and a friend from my mystery writing group, Rose Stanley-Gilbert.  A female deputy tells us they’ve had several crime writers take this course including Sister in Crime’s own Julie Kramer.  It seems we’re in good company.

Tonight, we’ll be hearing from Sheriff Richard W. Stanek and several departments in Investigations including Criminal Information Sharing and Analysis (CISA), Detective Unit, and the Violent Offender Task Force (VOTF).

Citizens Academy week 1
Sheriff Stanek presents at the Spring 2015 Citizen Law Enforcement Academy. Source: Hennepin Co. Sheriff’s Office Facebook page

Some of the officers seem to get a kick out of having crime writers in the audience.

One of the detectives ends his presentation with a special request for the Sisters in Crime members: “I know you’re all looking for material.  If you use me as a character in your book, please make me taller than I am in real life.”

The highlight of the evening is a presentation by two officers assigned to the Violent Offenders Task Force (VOTF).  Comprised of deputies from the Sheriff’s Office and from some of the higher-risk cities within the county, VOTF works with data analysts in CISA to identify both crime trends and the most dangerous criminals in Hennepin County at any given time.

Since they work undercover, I’ll refrain from describing the VOTF deputies other than to say they are a writer’s dream come true.  I’d love to take the deputies’ quirky looks and personalities and just drop them —plop– straight into my story.

Things I learn from the deputies:

-VOTF is a young person’s game.  Eventually, you will age out of VOTF, probably after five years.

-They wear normal clothes and drive unmarked cars.  They are nic-certified, meaning they can field test for narcotics.

-They have some cases that are assigned to them but in general they get to create their own investigations.

-Their work usually involves busts where they find “a couple of guns and some drugs”.

-It’s hard work to cultivate informants and yes, informants are as annoying as you’d think they’d be.

The deputies spend a lot of time chasing down or babysitting their informants but, as one of the deputies says during their presentation, “What am I gonna do?  Get information about drug dealers from you?”  He bends down and looks at me.  “Do you know any drug dealers?”

It’s a rhetorical question, right?

At the end of their presentation, the VOTF deputies allow us to handle confiscated weapons including an AK-47.  We also get to try on bullet-proof vests.  I wish I could have taken a photo of the SinC members wearing those vests, but photos were forbidden due to the sensitive nature of the VOTF deputies’ work.  I hope we can get a group picture soon.

AK-47 Source: Wikipedia
AK-47 Source: Wikipedia

As the lady in uniform predicted, I learned a lot.  Can’t wait to see what week number two of the academy will bring.

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Author’s Studio – Festival of Crime Anthology

Festival of Crime AnthologyLast Saturday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Author’s Studio Workshop at the Edina Art Center which featured the editors of Festival of Crime: The Twin Cities Sisters in Crime anthology.  The anthology includes stories of murder and mayhem at festivals and fairs across Minnesota (spoiler alert: it’s a great read).  Editors and crime writers Christine Husom, Michael Allan Mallory, and Mickie Turk were interviewed by fellow Sisters in Crime member and anthology contributor, Colin Nelson in a relaxed and informative session.

Panel Discussion
From left: Michael Allan Mallory, Mickie Turk, Christine Husom, and Colin Nelson

One of the questions Colin posed to the group was why crime fiction remains so popular with readers.  Mickie quoted the writer Sue Grafton: “The mystery novel offers a world in which justice is served. Maybe not in a court of law, but people do get their just desserts.”

Michael added that people like the idea of resolution.  “Our friend moves away and we never hear from them.  It’s an unresolved issue, and we want to know what happened.”  Christine seconded the notion of resolution, stating that her first mystery novel was based on an unsolved crime.

I can relate to the need for resolution. My novel-in-progress, The Rip, is loosely based upon true events (including a break-in at my sister’s house) where things were not resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

From left: M.E. Bakos, Cheryl Ullyot, Christine Husom, an audience member, Mickie Turk, Michael Allan Mallory, and Barbara Merritt Deese
From left: M.E. Bakos, Cheryl Ullyot, Christine Husom, audience member, Mickie Turk, Michael Allan Mallory, and Barbara Merritt Deese

After the discussion, the writers gathered to sign copies of Festival of Crime.  Three other contributors to the anthology showed up for the signing: M.E. Bakos, Cheryl Ullyot, and Barbara Merritt Deese.  Also present was an older gentleman who (jokingly) asked me for my phone number.  His request took me by surprise, but it’s good to know I have options if things don’t work out with my husband.

Jessica