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LAPD field trip, part II

A KOD member shooting a TASER

Ever wonder if a police officer’s been on the wrong end of a TASER? Do they even understand what kind of pain they’re inflicting? Well, as a matter of fact, yes. At least in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), where every recruit gets a real shock during training.

Tuesday’s post was all about my morning with the LAPD while I was out in Anaheim for the RWA National Conference. But that only covered what we did before lunch. More fun awaited us in the afternoon at the Edward M. Davis Training Facility in Granada Hills.

My group started with a TASER demonstration. I won’t go into the specifics on the TASER since I already covered it in my post on the Fairfax County PD, but getting to see a TASER in action was new. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of that weapon!

Prepping for the FOS

The real fun came with a demonstration of the Force Option Simulator (FOS). The FOS is like an oversized video game where you react to what’s happening on the screen. My partner and I were issued simulated weapons–heavy like a real handgun–and stood before a large video screen where a scene played out with a bank robber running from the building with a duffel bag. When he pulled a gun, I shot three times, missing the first time, hitting him in the lower leg the second, and getting him in the chest on my third shot.

I was proud of my aim, but unfortunately, his getaway driver—whom I hadn’t even noticed—shot me. Oops. Situational awareness, anyone? Sadly, my partner didn't manage to get her gun out of the holster. The pictures of us in action didn’t come out, but I have a shot with my red “gun” for posterity.

Street weapons (L), LAPD weapons (R)

Next up was the live shooting demo. We got an overview of some of the scary weapons officers face on the street, and a rundown of some of the firearms they have in their arsenal. A couple of officers from the LAPD shooting team demonstrated the power of a Springfield Armory 1911, .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol), and a Benelli M4 Super 90 semiautomatic shotgun (see video).

Showing the minimal spread of buckshot on a target

Apparently, a lot of people think a shotgun sprays pellets all over the place and will take out several people with one shot. According to the target (see photo, the groin “injury” is not related…) that’s not the case. While the shot does spread out, it still stays pretty tightly grouped. Devastating to the target, but not so much to anything around it.

Probably the most exhilarating part of the day was on the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC) driving track. This is where trainees learn how far they can push their vehicles, and current officers practice their skills. It’s also where I turned a bit green after half a dozen high speed turns on the winding, hilly track at 50-60 mph with the lights flashing and the sirens screaming. (There’s a reason I don’t like to sit in the back seat.)

Talk about pulling Gs! Nauseating, but in that fun, can’t-stop-laughing-and-screaming, roller coaster ride sort of way. Every time we took a tight curve I swore the car would flip. The tires chirped and my gut rolled, but we held tight to the road.

Getting ready for my wild ride on the EVOC track

I had fun on the FCPD track in the spring, but this ride was beyond awesome.

My stomach got a chance to relax with our last presentation of the day, a visit with the Volunteer Surveillance Team (VST). The VST is a group of civilians living in the area they serve who get special training to watch for and report criminal activity.

What a cool concept. When crime goes up in an area—say burglaries or graffiti tagging—the LAPD can send in the VSTs. These men and women use their own vehicles to surveil assigned areas and call in crimes in progress. Unlike cops, they go unnoticed by the criminals, giving the police a chance to catch the bad guys in action or just after they commit a crime. Often the culprit wonders how the police knew he was there because the VSTs never get involved in the actual apprehension.

They brought up the common scenario of thieves knocking on the door to a house and then breaking in when no one answers. My question: What should I do if I’m home but don’t want to answer the door? The answer: Make noise so they know someone’s home.

It might feel rude to let an innocent salesperson know you’re deliberately ignoring his or her summons, but it beats being burgled or robbed! Besides, you didn’t ask them to knock on your door to sell you vinyl siding, tree trimming, or a faster Internet connection.

My new favorite mug

That locks up my day at the LAPD. I hope you enjoyed the recap. If you ever get a chance to visit your local police department or be part of your citizens police academy, I highly recommend it. Writer or not, it’s worth your time.

Photo credit: All photos are my own work except the one of me in the helmet, which is used by permission from Kristina Allew.

LAPD field trip, part I

When I was a kid I loved field trips. That hasn’t changed, which is why I arrived at the RWA conference a couple of days early for the Kiss of Death chapter’s annual tour.

Every year we see something different. In 2010 it was parachute riggers and NOAA storm chasers at MacDill AFB. Last year we visited the Coast Guard in New Jersey. This year we got a glimpse into the workings of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

It was sort of a mini Citizens Police Academy like the one I attended here in my county, but squeezed into one fun-filled day with 50 other writers of romantic mystery and suspense.

We started our day at the Elysian Park facility, which is no longer used to train cadets, but is used for inservice training. Several units set up stations around a running track, happy to talk about their jobs and answer questions. My first visit was the mounted unit. That’s right, the LAPD has horses! Part of the Metropolitan Division, the mounted officers provide crowd control for protests and large events, crime suppression, enforcement at public parks and beaches, and search and rescue support in the mountainous areas of L.A. The big wooden sword the officer in the photo is holding helps him keep people away from the horse (and himself) without causing unnecessary injury.

Sage was a friendly bloodhound

My next stop was the K9 Platoon. Patrol dogs specialize in criminal apprehension. These are your German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. They are let off the lead to pursue a criminal in a controlled area, and are trained to bite and hold the suspect. They don’t look for a particular person, but rather for any human in the area, though we were told that they’ve learned to go for the one who smells like fear.

So, if you failed to hear the police when they broke down your front door, and you’re sitting in your back yard smoking crack with headphones on when your buddy runs outside to hide behind the shed, the dog will likely skip right by you and go for your partner in crime.

The UDU has to tag and photograph evidence just like CSIs on dry land.

The LAPD uses bloodhounds for tracking and trailing. Tracking refers to following the path of the person, but not necessarily using their scent. Trailing is the process of following the specific scent of one person based on tissue and skin cells given off by that person, whether on the ground or in the air.

Once given an uncontaminated scent-item belonging to the missing person—such as a piece of dirty laundry worn by them—the dog follows that trail to the exclusion of all other smells, tracking only when needed to pick up the scent again. Bloodhounds are kept on a lead, and their handler must have experience to know when the dog has lost the scent or found a weaker trail of it.

According to the officer who spoke to us, it’s actually easier to follow a trail that has settled for about two hours than a fresh trail. That’s because the settled scent is stronger and less dispersed.

The oasis behind the LAPRAAC

Next up for me was the Underwater Dive Unit (UDU). Never having given any thought to such a team, I was fascinated by the concept of police divers and their mission. Working on call, much like SWAT, the divers are responsible for performing random underwater patrols of Los Angeles’ busy harbors, looking for smuggled items and people hidden on the hull of a ship—sometimes in welded-on boxes or in the air-tight well behind the propeller—in addition to explosive devices on ships or out on other structures in the harbor, such as pipelines.

The UDU also performs underwater crime scene investigation, and evidence and body recovery. In addition to the ocean, they work in L.A.’s many lakes and reservoirs. Some of the waterways are contaminated, requiring divers to use a hazmat dry suit and mask instead of standard SCUBA gear.

Mural representing the history of the LAPD

After the UDU, I got a glimpse of LAPD’s first and only female SWAT member and the big armored truck before rejoining the group for a quick history lecture and tour of the grounds behind the dining hall, which is part of the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club (LAPRAAC).

The outdoor area was designed by the same person who created the Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, and is a beautiful oasis where weddings are apparently common.

We followed that with a detour through the gym to see a mural representing the history of the LAPD, before eating lunch and hitting the gift shop for reminders of a great day. On Thursday I’ll tell you about our afternoon at the Davis Facility in San Fernando Valley.

Hanging with the Coasties

USCGC Bainbridge Island

My fabulous trip to NYC for the RWA National Conference started off with a visit to US Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook in New Jersey as part of pre-conference events sponsored by the Kiss of Death chapter. Here's a little of what I learned.

The US Coast Guard started in 1790 and currently has about 39,000 personnel. Their primary tasks are to guard the nation’s borders against attack, illegal immigrants, drug runners, and terrorists, and to provide search and rescue.

The USCG falls under the Department of Homeland Security, but is considered one of the five services, and can be tasked by the Department of Defense. In fact, USCG members are serving in the Middle East, helping to guard the waters of the Gulf since they specialize in small boat patrol.

The rank follows the Navy rank, complete with specialized ranks, for example a Petty Officer Third Class (E-4) might be called a Gunner's Mate Third Class (GM3), or a Boatswain's Mate Third Class (BM3), or any of a number of titles based on his or her rating (career field).

Sig Sauer P229

Upon arrival at Sandy Hook, our group was split into three. Mine started at the armory and practice range where we were introduced to the Sig Sauer P229-RDAK personal defense weapon (handgun), and the Colt M16-A2 rifle. The P229 is generally carried by all members of a boarding party. We didn’t get to fire or hold the weapons, but we were introduced to proper handling procedures.

After a quick lunch in the galley, we took a ride on a Motor Life Boat (MLB), a 47-foot, heavy-duty rescue boat that can withstand hurricane force winds and heavy seas. It generally goes out for hours at a time, but not for extended duty.

Motor Life Boat

The crew gave us a demonstration of rescuing a man overboard. Generally they use a hook on a pole for the victim to grab, or to hook onto the victim’s clothing if he/she can’t hold on. Rescue swimmers are only used in areas where the MLB can’t navigate due to rocks, a tight fit, or other hazards.

Along the way, I asked several of the guys why they joined the Coast Guard. Most of them wanted to serve their country and specifically chose the Coast Guard because they loved the water and/or had grown up around it and boats.

Big surprise, right? 😉

After the boat ride, we had a briefing from the Maritime Safety & Security (MSS) team. These guys are like SWAT for the Coast Guard. For example, if a freighter were taken hostage, they could use a vertical insertion—dropping from a line on a helo—to board the boat and take down the bad guys/recover the hostages.

We got a preview of the specialized equipment they use for breaching a boat, as well as their personal ballistic gear. They generally wear 60-70 pounds of gear when fully outfitted with body armor, radio, tools, weapons, and equipment specific to their role on the team (e.g. the team paramedic carries the medical supplies).

USCGC Bainbridge Island

Our final activity was a tour of the 110-foot USCG Cutter Bainbridge Island. This boat goes out for up to two weeks at a time on drug interdiction missions and to intercept illegal immigrants. It has a tight set of racks for sleeping (stacked three high) and a small galley and dining area belowdecks.

Up top is a 50mm gun, a Zodiac boat attached to a crane so that it can be lowered over the side, and lots of navigation equipment and radios on the bridge.

We wrapped up our informative tour with a brief Q&A session before heading back to Manhattan. Our Kiss of Death tour committee rocks, but I'd be remiss if I didn't also thank the wonderful men and women of Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook for a great tour and for their service to our country!

Kiss of Death

So you know I went to the RWA National Conference last week and met fabulous writers, both published and unpublished. I arrived a couple days early to participate in activities with my online romantic suspense/mystery chapter: Kiss of Death (KOD).

Yes, it's a bunch of ladies (and a few men) trying to figure out interesting ways to kill people…uh, I mean characters. On Tuesday (7/27), we took a tour of MacDill AFB near Tampa, and started the day with an inside/outside tour of a KC-135 Stratotanker (a refueling plane), complete with two pilots and a boom operator to answer questions.

The KC-135 Stratotanker, ready for 45 romance writers to board


It was awesome. The guys had great stories, and the KC-135 has an incredibly important mission. For one example of how they support other aircraft, check out this article.

After baking in the heat and humidity, we had lunch with airmen who had volunteered to eat with us and answer questions. Laura Griffin, Lexi Connor, and I sat with a Senior Airman who worked in satellite communications. He was shy but happy to talk about his career and future goals.

We left the group with thank you bags (which I diligently stuffed the night before along with many new KOD friends) with free books and goodies from our published authors, several of whom were in the room, though most of the men and women who joined us had no idea.

After lunch we went over to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), which has a hangar on the base. These are the crazy folks that fly into hurricanes and other storms to monitor and study them. Among other things. The pilot we talked to was a former Navy flier. NOAA is actually a uniformed service (though not an armed service), so he gets to retain his rank, pay, and retirement. NOAA falls under the Department of Commerce.

Cool fact: Jim Henson created muppet mascots for three of NOAA's planes. Uncool fact: Disney will not give NOAA the license to use any other muppets for the newer planes in the fleet.

NOAA plane with original Beaker and Super Gonzo art by Jim Henson


We ended our day with the parachute riggers (the guys who pack the chutes). I thought this would be boring, but it might have been the most fun part of the whole day. We got a static-line chute packing demonstration, a simulator demo, and a talk from the free-fall riggers who were also jump masters.

And yes, the free-fall guys were under the special forces umbrella. I saw that maroon beret peeking out from a pants pocket…

Static-line jumps are for low altitude jumps, and the chute is triggered by the line to which the jumper is attached. You see these on TV and movies all the time where the guys are hooked to a cable and they jump one after another while somebody yells “Go, go, go”, and their chutes open almost immediately after they clear the plane. The person yelling is the jump master, by the way.

Static-line chute rigger


Free fall chutes are used for high altitude jumps where there's a need to go in quiet. They are shaped differently from the static-line chutes, and are made of more durable material. You may have heard of HALO (high altitude low opening) or HAHO (high altitude high opening) jumps. These are often used by special forces. The men can be dropped miles away from their target (often at night) and avoid detection by the bad guys.

Free-fall rigging

We grilled the guys on how to kill someone by messing with their parachute and determined it was near impossible without involving an entire group of people. Ah, well. Another method then.

The day wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without all of the new friends I made. It was great being surrounded not only by writers, but by a whole group of people mainly focused on romantic suspense.

The Kiss of Death has breathed new life into my writing, and I can't wait to do it all again next year!

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