WPA Redux

 

(Caution: Some photos in this post look graphic, though they are all simulations. None of the blood and gore is real.)

I hadn’t planned on going to WPA again this year. After last year in Appleton, I decided I needed to finish my work-in-progress before I went to any more workshops or conferences. But then my local Sisters-in-Crime chapter, Capitol Crimes, held a raffle in June for a WPA registration, courtesy of its founder and organizer, Lee Lofland, who is also a member. Naturally enough, when to my surprise I won, I decided that the world was telling me I needed to go to Wisconsin this summer.

With my June registration (WPA sign-ups opened in March), I was too late for any of the prior-registration-required workshops, like the hands-on driving and shooting sessions, but there was still plenty to attract my attention. My manuscript is not a police procedural, but it does contain a murder (or two), so I still want to get the law enforcement parts right. And for the next books, I’ll need a bit of fire and EMS information, so WPA had plenty for me in the formal sessions held at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), and unlike last year, I managed to keep my lecture sessions to the mornings and hands-on sessions for the afternoons, so I entirely avoided that after-lunch sleepiness.

Among the highlights:

  • Jerry Johnson’s session on Defense and Arrest Tactics (DAAT) taught me something I didn’t know about the stance that law enforcement officers use in reaction to a physical threat, which I can use in contrast to the stances commonly used by fencers, so that alone made my trip worthwhile.
  • In his Courtroom Testimony workshop, Kevin Rathburn gave a great illustration of how good cross-examination can shred a witness’s original testimony.
  • John Flannery’s Blood Spatter workshop, where he showed us (with appropriate warnings) crime scene photos, and then took us into a homicide scene he’d set up, apparently to demonstrate to us all how much we didn’t notice when we were actively looking for what was important instead of for everything that was there to be seen.
  • Hollie Bauer, who runs the Health Simulator at NWTC, and her crew gave us the opportunity to intubate and bag mannikins, stick IVs into a mannikin arm and into chicken bone (because if you can’t get a vein, you can get meds into the system via bone marrow), and even (with needle and airtube into a nice hunk of meat and a duct-taped balloon) relieve the pressure of a pneumothorax.
  • The man I shall forever think of as TourniquetMan!, Nathan Riehl, completely revised my tourniquet-related first-aid knowledge (tourniquets are essential when the alternative is bleeding out within 3–5 minutes, and one should never loosen them once applied until patient is under proper medical care). We learned to improvise tourniquets with fabric and sticks or scissors, and to apply actual made-for-the-purpose tourniquets, and then got to try out our skills crawling in on an amputated mannikin in Nathan’s trailer full of simulated smoke and loud music. (I’m pretty sure my guy bled out, since I had my tourniquet turned the wrong way round and had a hard time tightening it. But fortunately, the mannikin was only bleeding water, so it wasn’t nearly as messy as it felt.) After everybody had their turn, Nathan cleared out the fog and let us take photos of the mannikin.

Hollie and Nathan turned out to be the ringleaders of what WPA fondly refers to as “announcements,” held each morning before the workshop sessions begin. On Friday morning, we got off our buses from the hotel to see a (Hollie-coordinated, we learned later) head-on collision scene, which eventually included multiple victim actors (including the corpse on the hood, who most of us assumed was a mannikin until his foot eventually twitched), two ambulances, a fire truck, DWI testing, and a life-flight helicopter. And once it was all over—in about 35 minutes, though it felt more like an hour and a half—everybody came back to answer questions about what they were doing and why.

For the Saturday morning announcements, we all traipsed into a lovely semicircular lecture hall (the NWTC facilities were uniformly impressive) for what looked to be a lecture with slides from Nathan on EMS procedure and turned out to be an active-knifer scenario. (He said later they’d originally thought to do an active-shooter simulation, but decided that was too risky with concealed carry being legal in Wisconsin.) His slide presentation was interrupted by shouting and then a man who’d been stabbed in the chest came through the door. Nathan started emergency care and then recruited volunteers and coordinated care for the additional victims as they came in through other doors as the attacker moved through the building. Then came the police, who held us at gunpoint with our hands interlaced on top of our heads until they could clear the room and ensure that the attacker was not among us (or the medical caregivers). Even knowing this was a training simulation, there was an amazing amount of adrenalin at work in that hall. And of course, once Nathan ended the scenario, everybody lined up to show their equipment and take questions.

The Sunday morning panel (“announcement”-free, which is probably a good thing, given how much info we’d already been trying to absorb) was, as was the case last year, another highlight, and a great way to top off the weekend. All of the available workshop presenters and speakers participate, both to answer questions (though unlike last year, the first question wasn’t “I need to blow up a lakeside cabin remotely, so what kind of explosive should I use?”) and reflect generally on the experience. The fabulous Colleen Belongea (a huge hit at last year’s WPA, when she was a full-time Green Bay police officer and part-time instructor, she’s now a full-time NWTC instructor) told us how much she enjoys WPA because of the difficult questions we writers always ask. “You ask questions that make me think. It’s changed the way I teach, the questions I now ask recruits, to make them think.”

 


And for those of you who share my reluctant fascination with the carpet patterns used in public spaces, Green Bay was full of them:

WPA #1: Switching Gears

July and August were not at all the months I expected. With Summer Nationals out of the way and my USA Fencing board term almost over, I’d planned to dig back into my manuscript and stay there for as long as it took to get it into publishable shape.

It wasn’t just the zigzagger I swerved to avoid on I-680 on the way home from San Jose. (The zigzagger got away clean, while my car was totaled from clipping the bumper of a pickup truck I was unable to avoid. The occupants of the pickup and I had nice chats with the CHP and our respective insurance companies, after which they continued on their way and I waited—completely uninjured, to my continuing amazement—for the tow truck, who ended up storing my totaled CR-V for four whole weeks before my insurance company, despite my nagging, managed to start the valuation process. But hey, no injuries, no ambulances, so I can live with that.) There were also a few USFA governance issues and some family medical complications, and suddenly there I was, halfway through August and nowhere near where I wanted to be with my book.

WPA program logoBut then I had the perfect event to put me back into serious crime fiction mode: I was off to Fox Valley Technical College’s Public Safety Training Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, for my first Writers’ Police Academy.

After a long day of flying, I wasn’t sure how interesting I’d find a lecture on 3D crime scene mapping, but Joe LeFevre (the FVTC criminal justice department chair who enticed Lee Lofland to bring WPA to Appleton) enthusiastically showed off the school’s Leica C10 laser scanner. Originally designed for civil and construction engineering use, the C10 is now increasingly used in such fields as archeology and law enforcement to create 3D computer models of scenes.

The Leica C10 scanner.

The Leica C10 scanner.

Joe LeFebre explaining the Leica C10's raw data collection.

Joe LeFebre explaining the Leica C10’s raw data collection.

For crime scene use, the scanner is usually set at 3 or 4 different positions, from which it collects location and color data to create a “point cloud” for up to a 900-foot diameter. At 50,000 points per second, each position takes 3-5 minutes to scan. Once the data is collected and processed, the Leica Cyclone software can create a raw 3D walk-through from the point cloud data, which can be imported into forensic CAD software.  Even the raw walk-through can be zoomed in and out, and the point of view can rotate and move through walls to view scenes from different angles. Such 3D crime scene models can be used to test the plausibility of witness accounts of events (such as where shots originated) and for courtroom presentations.

Joe also explained some of the work he’s done with others to use photogrammetry on crime scene photos to superimpose objects from those photos onto the 3D models, which can make courtroom crime scene presentations far more useful and coherent than flat photographs.

One defining characteristic of WPA attendees became perfectly clear during Joe’s presentation: we were an extremely curious crowd who would keep asking questions for as long as anyone would keep answering them. This caused problems through the entire weekend, because the WPA staff, both FVTC faculty and outside instructors, were happy to keep answering questions for as long as anyone kept asking them. Joe was by no means the first speaker who had to be rescued from both himself and the audience so that some semblance of a workable schedule could be maintained.

Next: Lights & Sirens & a Glock