Shoot ‘Em Up, Take ‘Em Down

I took my weapon in hand, and a disembodied voice described the situation waiting for me: “You and your partner responded to a domestic call. Thinking the situation resolved, you left the premises, only to be called back to the scene by neighbors.”

The scenario unspooling before me seemed innocent enough — a tree-lined street, white houses with wide front porches. I could hear birds singing as my partner and I exited our police cruiser and made our way up the driveway. Everything seemed quiet, but I knew better — we’d been called back for a reason.

Heart pounding, I gripped my Glock a little tighter. I was locked and loaded, but kept the weapon in low ready, my finger off the trigger, until I developed a better idea of what — and who— we were dealing with.

Suddenly, the screen door slammed open, and a bleeding and disheveled man lurched out, collapsing on the grass. His eyes were wild. “She stabbed me!” he yelled. “You’ve got to do something!”

No time to contemplate. My partner and I took the stairs two at a time, bursting into the living room, only to be confronted with that most dangerous of creatures — a switchblade-wielding Desperate Housewife with blood on her hands and murder on her mind.

If this sounds like the beginning of a piece of crime fiction, you’re right. But this slice of drama isn’t the first scene of a novel — it’s a scenario designed for the Firearms Training Simulator, also known as FATS. The Glock in my hand isn’t real either — it’s loaded with air instead of bullets — but at that moment, face to face in a darkened room with a possible killer, it sure felt real. As did the adrenalin surging through my system, kicking me into flight-or-fight mode. For those few seconds, I was a cop. And cops don’t ever have that first option.

I participated in this particular FATS session at Lee Lofland’s Writer’s Police Academy, a weekend of intensive hands-on trainings, seminars and workshops, all designed to give writers a taste of what it really takes to be a law enforcement officer, firefighter, EMT or crime scene tech (find out more about the 2012  WPA here ).

There are classes on forensic identification and undercover work, workshops that take you into deserted condominiums on a SWAT team building search and into the gym for self-defense techniques. You can get up close and personal with bomb robots and sniper gear and the Jaws of Life. You can even ride in an ambulance or investigate a mock shallow grave crime scene. All in one weekend.

I always come away from the WPA with a tote bag full of research and a head full of story ideas. But even more importantly, I regain a sense of renewed gratitude and appreciation for these particular American heroes. Generous and smart, determined and brave, they show up for us on the worst days of our lives. And for that, we owe them our sincerest and heartiest thanks.

So thank you all, very much, from the bottom of my fiction-writing heart. I’m thrilled to know that good guys really do exist.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in the Georgia Lowcountry. Her current novel, Darker Than Any Shadow, is the follow-up to last year’s The Dangerous Edge of Things. Set in contemporary Atlanta, the series features gun-shop owner Tai Randolph and corporate security agent Trey Seaver. Visit to learn more.


14 Responses to Shoot ‘Em Up, Take ‘Em Down

  1. Tina, this sounds like a great course. I do have some qualms about training the police to resolve every situation with gunfire. Please tell me they went beyond that.

    • I can reassure you, Jon, that LEO training went far beyond my experience. We had only a gun and gun-related protocols. In regular FATS training, police officers have the use of TASER and pepper spray and handcuffs. The main point of the scenarios that I’ve witnessed has been for one, to show how quickly a situation can become threatening, and for two, to demonstrate how hard it is to keep track of all the information coming at you. It was less get-the-villain and more know-the consequences.

    • I took her down, Jeffrey — the slow-motion replay showed that I shot her in the head when she lunged at me. But I did not consciously react — it was all instinct. And then there was the meth-head wielding an ax. I mean, there’s only so many times you can say, “Sir, put down the ax and step away from the vehicle” before you have to plug him.

  2. Tina, I went through the Loveland Citizen’s Police Academy Training and thought it was amazing. But this sounds irresistible. I’m going to check it out. The problem with the longer courses is having to be there for several months.

    • It’s usually in late September, near Greensboro, North Carolina at an actual training center. I’ll be there again for sure — it would be great to have a friend join me!

    • I’ll keep you posted, Kathy. What’s more, Sisters in Crime members get a WHOPPING discount (this year all four days of the conference cost me only $100). It’s hands down the most valuable research opportunity for anyone who writes mysteries.

  3. Gus are a true case of culture shock, since in Britain the truncheon is carried concealed in a side seam of the trousers and most police officers go about their business unarmed. Then on arriving at Miami practically the first person I saw was an American policeman with nightstick and gun casually standing about in the luggage pick up area. Talk about startling. On the other hand, the customs man did ask me out to dinner!

    • I’m more afraid of customs agents — don’t even get me started on the TSA here, since I am apparently public enemy #1 in every airport in the US (and London apparently, since the nice fellow there also deemed my luggage in need of a complete dump-out). I grew up with guns — a family of hunters — so they are not startling to me, but I can imagine how they might be.

      How was your dinner? Did you say yes or leave the poor man dinner date-less?

    • Mary, I had the same feeling of culture shock when I was in Spain in 1977 and all the “policemen” on the street were carrying machine guns under their arms!

    • Machine guns give me pause. One officer told me they’re not as useful as semi-automatics in the field because unlike criminals, LEOs have to care about the collateral damage. And machine guns make a lot.

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