Writing is often a lonely and isolated pursuit. Along with the long hours of slogging through our word craft, we have to deal with the business side—the queries, the research, the tax forms. Many of us are doing all of this in the witching hours of the night after our day job is done and kids and significant others are fed and tucked away in bed or in the wee hours of the morning where even the sunrise has turned over and hit the snooze button. So, why do we keep doing this?
I’ve often asked myself this as I’ve moved through my life asking why I couldn’t just put down the pen and focus on other obligations. My answer always comes back to, “I can’t. The stories demand to be told.” They will drive me crazy until I release them into the world. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the characters will gnaw at my insides until I let them out. And, I know I’m not alone in this.
Recently I’ve been reading The Four Rooms by Rumer Godden and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Both of these eloquent and funny women talk about the challenges of being writers and how it’s just a part of who they are. Their words made me laugh and then cry when I realized that “being a writer” was a life-time dream and curse. It has no known cure except for sitting down, getting busy and letting the words out. With that in mind, I once again try to organize my time and focus my words so that I can ease the discomfort while not completely neglecting my work and my family. Thank goodness the cats come to visit me as I type. That way I can multi-task. Now I just need to make enough to have a cabana boy to fan me and a cook to feed me.
What makes this fight more enjoyable? Friends. Especially those who understand and are embroiled in their own struggle as well. Writing friends who can help answer questions, either about how to REALLY make that annoying disappear or if the apostrophe goes before or after the s. That’s what I love about being part of the Public Safety Writers Association. We are all in this long-suffering world together and what a merry bunch of sufferers we are! We use the listserv to ask questions and celebrate each other’s successes. We enter the writing contest to be recognized and get cool stickers to put on our Award-Winning works.
Best of all, we get to come together once a year for three days in Las Vegas to commiserate in person. The annual writing conference allows us to meet new friends and hang out with old friends. The value of the panels and speakers is unparalleled in the writing conference world. It’s both craft and content as attendees hear from the people who were and are boots on the ground police, fire and EMS, as well as, writers who have been there, done that. After conference hours, feel free to go out with your fellow sufferers and enjoy a coffee, an ice cream or a whisky. Lean on each other. Refresh each other with your stories. Get inspired to slog through another year of this crazy ride called the writer’s life. You might be alone, but you are never alone. Come be alone with us July 13-16, 2017.
Until then, happy writing.
–Michelle Perin, President
WHO IS GUS PLEBSLY?
Register Now for the PSWA Conference
Spring has sprung, and the twelfth annual PSWA Conference is coming up on July 13th-17th at the fabulous Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. But wait a minute… Who is Gus Plebesly? That’s just one of the questions that will be answered at the get acquainted party on Thursday evening. I’ll be glad to let you know, if you can’t figure it out.
But on to the news about the conference. As I mentioned last time, we’ve lined up some fabulous speakers. Marcia Rosen, who writes as M. Glenda Rosen in her Dying To Be Beautiful mystery series, gives her presentation on book marketing and strategies for today’s ever-changing publishing world. She has her own marketing business so check out her website: www.creativebookconcepts.com.
Jory Rosen has followed his mother into the business, and will also be presenting “The Key to Pitching Your Book in Hollywood.” He’ll be talking about his Los Angeles public relations firm, J. Rosen Communications, Get the key points on what it takes to promote your book in the city of angels. Go ahead and whet your appetite by visiting his website: www.jrosencommunications.com.
Mar Preston’s presentation, “Writing and Editing Your Mystery” will give you the lowdown on completing the writing process, from beginning, middle, and end as well as providing a comprehensive overview and explanation of the underlying structure of the mystery novel. Mar’s the author of two police procedural series and also a four-volume “How-To” book on writing.
Ron Corbin will be talking about CPTED, aka Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. This unique presentation shows how crime prevention can it be controlled through behavior modification. This one will literally amaze you when you find out the details. And Ron, who’s part Cherokee Indian, will explain the connection between CPTED and Native Americans.
Our informative and interesting panels will cover a variety of public safety and writing issues. Austin Camacho, publisher of the prestigious Intrigue Press, will be on hand to listen to your elevator pitches, and word is he’s “looking for manuscripts.” So be prepared, but keep those pitches brief. I’ve got a book coming out with Intrigue and I’ve found them to be a class outfit. The PSWA Conference is a great place to research your ideas and to rub elbows with public safety personnel who’ve been there and can give you a one of a kind perspective on what it’s like. Our publisher’s panel will give you more updates on the latest in that field.
Let me also mention the Preconference Workshop. It costs an extra $35 and begins on Thursday morning at nine. During this six hour, intensive workshop, you’ll get personalized feedback on your manuscripts from published industry professionals. It’s the chance of a lifetime to get that important advice on how to improve your writing. How do I know it’s so good? Simple. I’m co-teaching it with two masterful pros, Marilyn Meredith and Mar Preston. Between the three of us, we’ve had enough books published to fill a library. All three of us have multiple degrees, including the most important one from the University of Hard Knocks. Learn from our mistakes and increase your chances. All you need are an open mind and the desire to improve your writing.
At three PM the check-in procedure officially begins and you’ll get your name tags and gag banner. The cozy Thursday night “Get Acquainted Party” then begins at five-forty-five to nine PM. Snacks, an open bar, and intimate conversation makes for a nice evening. Plus, your questions about Gus Plebesly will be answered, but here’s a hint: He could have given Bruce Jenner a run for his money.
And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget our annual Writing Contest. Those who entered can become an “award winning author.” The variety of categories are open to both published and not yet published authors. Take it from me, you can’t go wrong entering this one. And there’s a surprise in store at the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon.
So what’s holding you back if you haven’t yet registered? The hotel is great, the rates are very affordable, and the meals are first rate. Plus, we’re in the process of casting the roles for our annual mystery radio play. You won’t want to miss this one.
–Mike Black, Program Chair
PSWA CONFERENCE, A MEMBER’S POINT OF VIEW
Looking forward to the 2017 PSWA conference is like anticipating a really good family reunion: great people, good food, lots to talk about and something to take away. Great writers (sans ego dysfunction) are there to help with advice on inspiration, content, editing and marketing. The dynamic level of experience is amazing, personal stories are riveting and the camaraderie is addicting. While writing remains a laborious personal journey – and if you believe Hemingway, a lonely journey at that – the PSWA conference provides validation for long hours of pontificating prose, demanding dialog and catchy character development. If you haven’t registered yet, please do. Bring your books, questions and inspiration or do as I do – simply digest the experience and become inspired. Either way, join the family at PSWA and see why we keep coming back.
THE UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
What is writing? Entertainment? Education? A legacy? Each person has their reasons for writing, each a different goal, none more important than the other. For me, it’s become a journey; it took me to a place I wasn’t going, nor had I considered.
Writing fiction had never been an option, it’s certainly been a consideration but I don’t have the patience or creativity for it. What I have is the ability to listen and to put what I have heard onto paper, non-fiction through books and articles became my journey to healing others. In some ways, in healing myself.
It began simply enough, write a book to tell the world that law enforcement officers are not to be hated, that one death in Ferguson did not define all. My journey has physically taken me to seven different states; speaking, learning and listening. Virtually the journey has taken me to India, Australia, United Kingdom and most of the United States. What journey? The journey to honor them, the journey to the families of officers who have completed suicide.
In early June, with the help of friends, widows and people who have believed in my vision, we will be launching Blue H.E.L.P. (Heal, Educate, Lead, Prevent). Our mission is to reduce mental health stigmas through education, advocate for benefits for those suffering from PTSI, acknowledge the service and sacrifice of first responders we lost to suicide, assist officers in their search for healing, and bring awareness to first responder suicide and mental health issues. It’s quite a mouthful; in short, we plan to be a cross between the Officer Down Memorial Page and C.O.P.S. for those who have no place with those organizations.
In 2016, 112 police and 28 corrections officers completed suicide. You’ll have a difficult time finding their names on a list; their years of services recorded and memorialized. It hasn’t existed, until now. The officer that spent years seeking help for his PTSI, whose job brought about his despair and death isn’t remembered the same as an officer who died in a car accident on duty. The officer who took his own life the day after he was forced to medically retire because his life lost purpose, lost his identity and couldn’t face a life of pain isn’t remembered he same as an officer who had a heart attack and died while on duty.
We can argue religion, morality and other reasons suicide is seen as some sort of crime or deviant behavior. Mental health resources have become increasingly sparse for the general public, let alone law enforcement. Stigma, culture and fear of job loss further contribute to our inability to heal officers or acknowledge their deaths. But after two years of listening, writing and learning, my journey has ended.
When I had emotional issues, I wasn’t able to speak about it, I know too well the stigma. Writing has given others a voice, and now a home. We will let them speak, let their families remember their loved ones without shame and have the courage to bring their words alive. Why? Because words have power and regardless of where you start, the words you create will lead you to where you are supposed to be.
THE INVISIBLE THREAT—CYBER CRIME
It used to be easy to find bad guys and arrest them. When they committed a crime or threatened someone, we investigated and then apprehended the person responsible. The criminals were real living and breathing people we could see and put our hands on. That was then—this is now. Cyber criminals are invisible.
According to the Department of Justice, cyber-crime is one of the greatest threats facing our country. It has enormous implications for our national security, economic prosperity, and public safety. The range of threats and the challenges they present for law enforcement expand just as rapidly as technology evolves.
Cybercrime is growing exponentially along with the fear of massive data breaches within government departments. The FBI is the lead federal agency that investigates cyber-attacks, domestically and internationally. Cyber criminals target trade secrets from corporations, research from universities, and fraud and identity schemes that cost citizens millions of dollars in losses. Sadly, there are also online predators that target children.
These cyber-attacks are costly; we spend billions of dollars repairing systems hit by such incursions. They can shut down power and disrupt systems at hospitals and 911 services, causing chaos and confusion and ultimately costing lives.
In a recent meeting with cyber security advisors, President Trump indicated he intends to hold cabinet secretaries and agency heads accountable for any breaches. He surmised the present cyber security is likely not up to the required level. Therefore, look for greater oversight of IT managers in the future, along with assistance from Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and technology initiatives.
So what are the biggest cyber threats the world faces? According to Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of the Russian computer security firm Kaspersky Lab, they are as follows:
An example of this type of attack recently hit Iran. A malware attack took their computer systems down and the country’s key oil facilities went offline. Should an attack like this happen on a broader scale, entire nations could be plunged into darkness if their power grids are targeted. Our Secretary of Defense acknowledged the threat of this happening is real. In that regard, Congress recently approved plans for our military to use offensive cyberspace methods.
Why would media such as Facebook and Twitter be a threat? Well, it’s a concern because it’s easy to control the masses with “fake news.” We witnessed examples of this during the recent presidential campaign. Once someone plants a rumor on social media, it grows so quickly that the lie becomes fact—perception becomes reality. This new weapon, manipulating social networks, is akin to the dropping of propaganda leaflets over enemy territory during World War II. It was very effective.
THE INTERNET GENERATION
How will the internet generation engage with politics? Our children are growing up in a digital world. They aren’t out and about physically interacting with different types of cultures and people. The kids aren’t doing much else other than sitting in front of a computer or using their smart phone. When they become adults, unless online voting exists, don’t expect this generation to physically go anywhere to vote. The gap between children and adults will grow, with only the adults engaging with politics. This lack of participation has the potential to become a threat to the democracies of the Western world.
One of today’s most popular targets is smart phones. Kaspersky Labs estimate that criminals who target mobile phones earn from $1,000 to $5,000 per day, per person. Criminals use an SMS-Trojan virus that sends short texts to a number until the victim’s account is depleted. Multiply that tactic by targeting hundreds of thousands of phones infected with the virus, and the result adds up to a staggering amount of money. Kaspersky advises installing security systems on phones.
LACK OF PRIVACY
Kaspersky believes privacy no longer exists when one considers things such as Google street view, drones, CCTV cameras everywhere, and of course, companies on the web requiring users to provide all types of personal data. Confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.
However, the above attacks aren’t the only threats. Experts also cite a huge threat known as Ransomware. While not a new problem, it is a growing one. In the past year alone, the number of attacks on businesses has quadrupled. Ransomware attacks make it impossible for a business or government agency to access information via the infected machine(s). Hackers hold the infected machine(s) hostage and request a ransom payment in exchange for restoring access to the company’s files. Cyber security experts believe many businesses simply pay the ransom rather than report it.
What’s the solution if your company or you as an individual are hit with Ransomware? The FBI used to recommend paying it. However, cyber security experts say that’s the last resort. Many of these types of attacks are unsophisticated and can be defeated rather easily by shutting down the computer or disconnecting from the network or Wi-Fi. If this doesn’t work, restart your computer in safe mode and restore the files from a recent backup. Hopefully, among the security software you’ve installed is a Ransomware removal tool.
While many Ransomware attacks may be somewhat unsophisticated, others are not. In November of last year the European Commission was brought offline, San Francisco’s Municipal Railway was hit by a system-wide attack, and the Japanese Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces were hacked, causing them to fear their internal military network may have been compromised.
Cyber intrusion problems are quickly becoming unmanageable, mainly because the mindset of most companies and government agencies is one of being reactive rather than proactive. In most boardrooms and government conference rooms, cyber security is treated simply as an IT issue, rather than a critical business or national defense problem. Going forward, cyber-attacks will continue and become more frequent and complex, and ultimately may be treated as an act of war if there is proof the hacking was state-sponsored.
The scope of the problem is enormous, given that it’s estimated that by 2020 there will be 20 billion devices connected to the internet. Presently, internet security is insufficient. Organizations and device vendors should be planning to develop secure software, and the increased level of protection needs regulation to compel internet users to provide protection.
Future changes may also include the elimination of password protected sites and replaced by advanced biometric software, i.e. fingerprint readers, iris scans, etc. Even more secure may be the implementation of adaptive and behavior-based authentication.
Finally, according to TechRepublic.com, there is a global cyber security professional shortage. Jobs in the cyber security field have increased by 74% over the past five years. Cisco, a worldwide IT company, reports there are one million unfilled cyber security jobs globally. This shortage will only increase, according to Symantec Cyber Security Services, and by 2019 the number could grow to 1.5 million unfilled jobs. The United States was among the top five nations with the largest shortages of cyber security professionals.
A little know problem in the cyber security field is lack of interest from job seekers. Not enough people are willing to do this type of work. However, the lack of people looking for work in this field also means cyber security professionals enjoy strong job prospects and high salaries. The opportunities are there, but the interest is not. According to one economist from Indeed Job postings, “One potential solution for employers could be increased investment, either in current employees or future hires, in education and training to equip workers to fill these rolls.”
The FBI has created the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA) to address cybercrime proactively. The program brings together law enforcement, private industry, and academia to build and share resources, strategic information, and threat intelligence to identify and stop emerging cyber threats and mitigate existing ones. Being proactive is the key to working on a solution to fight cyber-crime. Just as important is the sharing of resources and educating new cyber security professionals to fight what may be the biggest threat to our nation.
–John M. Wills
MISSING! SEARCHING TECHNIQUES FOR THE HIDDEN, MISSING, OR LOST PERSONS—FOR OLD SCHOOL WRITING
Writers should understand correct procedures when writing about public safety. One of my pet peeves is the ‘miraculous’ find of the person in question utilizing improper methods. Whether the search is conducted by Search & Rescue (SAR) teams or local law enforcement personnel, there are basic techniques used.
Today, modern policing makes use of technology when looking for a missing or evasive subject. Helicopters, night-vision glasses, GPS-equipped apps on personnel phones, and satellite-tracking for stolen vehicles are all tools useful to law enforcement but nothing beats the old-fashioned boots on the ground. Before technology came into play, how did we (LE) locate folks?
Calls for missing or runaways generally started with a call to Dispatch. Depending on the circumstances, the call information is obtained and an officer assigned. Department policies dictate how quickly these incidents area handled. For example, when I worked for Berkeley (CA) Police, a child 12 years old or younger missing was the highest priority. Multiple units were dispatched, one to make initial contact with the reporting party, and at least two or three others to start looking. We always started with the residence (or store, etc.) where the child last was confirmed as seen. For older children (depending on circumstances – runaway history?) or adults at risk, we sent one officer to begin and others once we knew more information.
Actual abductions are rare but they do occur. In the 90’s, a baby was kidnapped from a hospital in Berkeley by a person masquerading as a nurse. This was before the hugs & kisses electronic monitoring system common to most nurseries was developed. Another infamous incident occurred when a teenager disappeared from his home for no apparent reason. He was a straight-A student with no previous history. The FBI became involved in the case. Thousands of man-hours later he was located, with another person. It turns out he left home because he had been afraid to ‘come out’ as gay to his Christian family.
For missing persons, it is important to get details. The dispatchers are taught to ask a head-to-toe description (this includes clothing). The format we use is race (White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian), male or female, age, complexion (fair, dark, etc.) hair (include hair style), eyes, height, and weight. Clothing is: hat, shirt, jacket, pants (or skirt/dress), and shoes. You might not always have exact measurements so a range is okay; say medium height, average build. In fact – this is better in the case of suspects on the loose. Add in accessories such as backpacks, purses, etc. include unique characteristics, scars, marks, tattoos, medical conditions, and favorite haunts. Children might head to a park or close relative. An adult with Alzheimer’s might go to a former workplace.
For wanted persons, be sure to add if he (or she) was known to carry weapons. What is the person wanted for? Suspects can change clothing. One example I handled was a jewelry store robbery. The criminal held up the store, tied the staff up and took off on foot for a vehicle he had parked a block away. While running, he shed a layer of clothing but kept his handgun. I was asked to set up a block perimeter. After the units were assigned posts, three units started searching. In the meantime, two units saw a suspicious vehicle in the general area of the search. They initiated a stop. It turned out to be our suspect – but we didn’t know that yet – who opened fire at my units (all field units are mine until they sign off at the end of the shift). The call of “Challenging, shots fired!” was broadcast without a location. I knew who it was and sent additional help advising it was our robbery suspect (the dispatcher intuition kicked in) Then 911 ‘lit-up’ with calls of loud reports. In the end, PD one, bad guy zero.
Make sure your authority asks if any vehicle is involved. If so, use the CYMBL format (color, year, make/model, body style, and license with state). Does the vehicle have a rack on the roof or unusual bumper stickers? When was it last seen and which direction did it go? Again remembering, what is first noticed is how the caller (RP) is questioned hence CYMBL.
When a missing or wanted person was seen recently, which generally means within the last 15 minutes, a block cover may be requested. The number and types of units (patrol, K9, air) will determine how long the search takes. Pure foot searching by patrol takes the longest while a K9 search goes quicker. Add in a helicopter and the block can be covered fast but car pursuits can go on as long as the vehicle has gas and room to drive. Getting out the description for an ‘All-Points-Bulletin, or APB’ is crucial. Dispatch, or Records, can send out teletypes for missing, abducted, or stolen. How and when this is done depends on department SOP. In Nevada, AMBER Alerts are entered by the Department of Public Safety (DPS), Highway Patrol Division.
For ground searching, one can use a grid search, a block search, perimeter, or just get creative. In a grid search (think SAR work but also used in street situations), an area is broken up into grids and each person is assigned a block, or grid, to do a meticulous check back and forth (north to south, west to east). In a block search, four streets are marked and units take positions at opposite corners (or all if enough), and mid-block on the next over streets. Positions are held for the search (this is same for a K9 search). A perimeter starts with an origin and a general area is decided for an outside check. The perimeter can be an address or general location. Sometimes you have a trial to follow consisting of blood or other body fluids, other times is a trail of discarded evidence. In the past, I’ve had LE yell out “Fire!” when they found themselves in a backyard at night after chasing down a suspect on foot. One was instructed to turn in flashlight upwards and turn it on/off rapidly.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is an excellent reference. They offer free classes for law enforcement personnel in the search and recovery of missing children. POLICE Magazine ran a good article on investigating lost children in the March 2017 issue. You can also search prior articles on dispatching via APCO’s historical site (they do charge a nominal fee for print-outs), and 911 Magazine on line is another source.
Diana Sprain works as a Public Safety Dispatcher for the law enforcement division of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. She is a CA POST-certified Dispatcher, Tactical Dispatcher, Civilian Training Officer, and Supervisor with over 25 years’ experience. In addition, she is a certified Pharmacy Technician. Prior to becoming a Public Safety Dispatcher, she worked as an Emergency Medical technician in Los Angeles and Oakland. She is the author of the fictional fantasy series Greycliff Chronicles and the non-fiction What is your emergency? The History of Public Safety Dispatching in America.
Diana is a member of the Associated Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the Public Safety Writer’s Association, and the Sierra Writers Group. You can read about her novels and her posts on her blog: http://greycliffschronicles.blogspot.com/ — twitter.com/@DianaSprain — http://www.Facebook.com/dsprain — https://www.amazon.com
IS IT OVER? STORY ENDINGS
Writer Toby Wallis has written a thoughtful essay in Glimmer Train on story endings. He centers a lot of his argument on Cormac McCarthy’s chilling novel, No Country for Old Men, in which, as he says “the climax that the story appears to be building towards just doesn’t happen.” It (like the terrific movie made from it) may make audiences feel left hanging, and incomplete, at least until further reflection. One thing to consider is, whose story is it? The killer’s or the sheriff’s? Whether the ending satisfies depends in part on the answer to that question.
As Wallis says, “At first I was disappointed . . . like the rug had been whipped out from under me. Two hours later, I loved it.” Perhaps we’ve been led by fiction—and movies and especially television—to believe all loose ends must be, can be tidied up, there is an answer to all questions, the broken can be made whole or at least set on the path to mending. But that’s not how it is in real life, is it? We must all deal with ambiguity, incompletion, unravelings not to be reknitted. As troubling as an ending as McCarthy’s is, worse, may be the ending where you feel the author thought, “Holy crap! I’ve got to wind this up.” And does.
McCarthy’s approach leaves us pondering what happens next? Our curiosity about the story and its protagonists is not satisfied, it continues to tickle our imaginations, to stay with us at some level. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You also ends ambiguously. She says readers are very firm in their conviction about what happened by the end, based on the evidence they gleaned in the novel. Yet their interpretations vary widely.
Genre fiction—and here I’ll speak of the genres I know best, crime novels and thrillers—approach endings differently. Thrillers generally adhere to the convention of restoring order to the world, so a tidy post-carnage ending is expected. Many crime novels are not so black and white. They leave room for doubt. Often they are critical of the status quo (corruption in city hall, incompetent police leadership, media on the take, etc.), so why return to it? A police detective may be able to solve a murder, but darker societal forces may be behind it. “That’s Chinatown.”
Outside of genre, in literary novels, Wallis says “stories are at their very best when they ask questions . . . at their didactic worst when they presume to answer them.” At least, when they presume to answer every last one of them. When I look back over the literary fiction of last year that I enjoyed most—Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Lily King’s Euphoria, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, for example—every one of them leaves space for readers to speculate, to use their own imaginations, to engage with the author in the creative process.
Twitter: @vsk8s — Website: www.vweisfeld.com
CENSORSHIP AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH
In the early eighties, I became the lone obscenity investigator for the Metropolitan Police of Washington, D.C. My job was to visit all the pornographic outlets, also known as dirty bookstores, all the adult theaters and any bar or club that featured nude dancers and determine whether a film, peep show, magazine or dancer violated the obscenity statute in the D.C. Criminal Code for the District of Columbia.
I was also supposed to monitor any of these establishments to insure they didn’t display nudity visible from public space. As far as visual depictions, on film, were concerned I was given specific guidelines as far as what the U.S. Attorney’s office would prosecute. Any depiction of child pornography, bestiality, urination, defecation, sado-masochistic activity in which someone is actually being hurt or fisting. There would be no immediate seizures of these films. A detailed search warrant affidavit describing the film in its entirety would have to be submitted to a designated Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and if approved to a Judge of the Superior Court.
With the nude dancers, male or female, I was to observe whether the dancers had any physical contact with patrons or other performers or allowed patrons to have physical contact with them of a sexual nature. Dancers were also prohibited from masturbating or inserting objects into their bodies in a sexual way. If any of the dancers violated these prohibitions, they were subject to arrest for committing an indecent sexual performance. Although with the dancers, I could make an immediate arrest, the policy of the U.S. Attorney’s office was for me to submit an arrest affidavit for approval to make the arrest.
Now to some of my fellow officers this seemed like a dream job, being paid to watch pornography or in an undercover capacity drink beer and watch live naked women or men perform to music. The constant exposure to this type of business was shocking even to me, who had investigated prostitution and thought I had heard and seen most sexual activity. I tried to approach the job in a clinical sense. With the films or peep shows, I would first have to view it in its entirety. If the film violated the guidelines I was given or I felt the film needed further scrutiny by the AUSA, I had a note book and recorded as best I could every scene in the film. I scheduled my visits to the various bars and clubs so as to not get intoxicated and to not appear too frequent a visitor.
Although I was given specific guidelines for what the U.S. Attorney’s office claimed they would prosecute these visual depictions whether on film or in magazines still had to fall within the Miller Standard for obscenity, unless it was child pornography. Child pornography is considered contraband and is illegal to possess. The Miller standard was derived by a case before the Supreme Court in 1973 Miller vs California. Under Miller the basic test for obscenity is as follows: whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
The question frequently arose among my peers and during lectures I did at American University’s Media Center about censorship and freedom of expression.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines censorship as the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are offensive and happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal, political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the Government as well as private pressure groups. It should be noted that at a hearing before the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in 1985, General Counsel for the ACLU Barry Lynn, stated that the ACLU abhors the production of child pornography, but once the child pornography is produce the ACLU believes it should be protected expression. Barry Lynn is also quoted as saying in regards to the Commission of Pornography’s final report that it was “a dangerous call to arms against free expression.”
However, rarely do I ever see the ACLU filing a freedom of speech lawsuit for conservative speakers who have been prevented from speaking either by a protest or by hecklers who constantly interrupt.
The Free Dictionary website under legal definitions defines censorship as the suppression of ideas or images by the Government or others with authority. There were also examples of accepted censorship imposed by the Government or the courts.
- The court censored speech to those health clinics receiving federal funding against abortion counseling.
- Prisoner’s mail
- Prison administrators can censor prisoner’s personal correspondence if it is necessary to maintain security, order or rehabilitation efforts.
- To avoid Government censorship the Motion Picture Association of America came up with a rating system based on the viewers age i.e. PG, PG13, R, NC17 or X.
- The Children’s Television Act passed in 1990 limited the number of advertisements on the networks’ childrens’ Saturday cartoons and compelled networks to air more educational programs. That act expired in 1993. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required televisions made after 1999 to be equipped with a V-chip which allowed users to block programs. Television broadcasters voluntarily created a rating system that identified if a program contained sex or violence or both.
- The Parents Music Resource Center founded by Al Gore’s wife Tipper in 1985, lobbied the music industry to put warning labels on music recordings that had lyrics deemed inappropriate for children. Video game companies followed suit a few years later.
- Public Colleges and Universities
- Can forbid threats of violence, prohibit obscene language and conduct and punish students for using defamatory speech against each other. Although, the majority of these codes are unconstitutional.
- The Child Online Protection Act 1998, prohibited for commercial purposes any material considered to be harmful to minors using the Miller Standard. The ACLU has challenged this act, but it has yet to be decided.
Very little has evolved around the use of the internet. Political debate and communications over the internet is protected speech (Reno vs ACLU 1997).
The First Amendment reads that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Freedom of speech is one of our most precious freedoms and includes freedom of expression, but these freedoms are not absolute.
Under the website uscourt.gov, exceptions to free speech or expression are listed as: burning draft cards as an anti-war protest (US vs O’Brien 1968); students who print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of school administrators (Hazelwood School District vs Kuhlmeier 1988); to advocate illegal drug use at a school sponsored event (Morse vs Frederick 2007).
It’s interesting that the Late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote in regards to flag burning (Texas vs Johnson 1989). “Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
That raised a question in my mind, how is that different from obscenity?
Robert Richards with the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Penn State is quoted as saying, “the categories of speech that fall outside of its protection are obscenity, child pornography, defamation, incitement to violence and true threats of violence. Even in those categories, there are tests that have to be met in order for the speech to be legal. Beyond that, we are free to speak.”
In regards to these tests Richards refers to, the Supreme Court has ruled that the state or the Federal Government may place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner (TPM) of an individual’s expression. According to the Free Dictionary’s legal dictionary, TPM restrictions accommodate public convenience and promote order by regulating traffic flow, preserving property interests, conserving the environment and protecting the administration of justice. The Supreme Court has developed a four part analysis to evaluate the constitutionality of TPM restrictions. The speech or expression must be content neutral, be narrowly drawn, serve a significant Government interest and leave open alternative channels of communication.
Time restrictions: People may express themselves at certain times of day and the Government may curtail or prohibit said speech to address legitimate societal concerns, such as traffic congestion and crowd control. Most of the time protesters political or otherwise choose to go to a large city, basically because they would expect more media coverage and attention. This is protected speech, but they cannot protest whenever they want. Blocking streets or highways as a form of protest would be a prohibited form of speech. Commuter’s interest in getting to work or returning home outweighs an individual’ right to block traffic as a form of political protest (Cox vs Louisiana 1965). Demonstrating in a residential neighborhood at unreasonable hours, disturbing the peace and tranquility of uninvolved residents would be prohibited expression.
Place restrictions: The Supreme Court recognized three forums of public expression, traditional public forums; limited public forums; and non-public forums.
Traditional public forums are common areas; parks, sidewalks, streets. These are important because the common man or woman or least powerful of our society, cannot use radio or TV to express their views. Authorities cannot stop this form of speech. However, they can put reasonable restrictions like prohibiting foul language, amplification, or time usage. These restrictions must also be content neutral and viewpoint neutral, but can be purposeful toward controlling harmful consequences of speech or littering.
Limited public forums are places the Government, state or Federal, deem to be for civic discussion, council meetings, PTA meetings on school grounds, capitol grounds, courthouses, state fairs, public universities. Any disruptions that prevent the function of these state or Government sponsored activities are prohibited. That is not to say, that an individual could not voice their displeasure with an issue or statement, only that the individual or individuals could not stop or prevent the official function from continuing. I believe we are all aware that disruptions in a courtroom could result in arrest or extraction. We have also witnessed protests at public universities that were designed to prevent invited speakers from expressing their views. This would be a violation of free speech and an act of censorship.
Non-public forums are privately owned property or publicly owned property whose exclusive use is not for individual expression. Airports, commercial airlines, trains, buses, jails, military bases or private residential property are considered non-public forums and protests that may disrupt the official function of these entities would be prohibited.
Manner restrictions regulate the mode of individual expression. Courts try to balance the competing interests of the litigants. Symbolic actions will get a closer scrutiny than a regulation that serves a Government interest unrelated to the expression of idea. Flag burning as opposed to burning a draft card. The draft card is an official document issued by the Government to be used in a time of war or military conflict and mandated to be kept in the individual’s possession. The American flag, although symbolic of this country, can be privately owned and purchased. However, I would argue that the burning of an American flag is likely to lead to a physical confrontation and therefore a disruption of the public peace, which seems to me why this form of protest should be prohibited as a freedom of expression. Another example was the court upheld a regulation prohibiting the sleeping in certain National Parks as a form of protest against homeless. The regulation was designed to minimize wear and tear on the park and to preserve the natural environment of the park. The court felt the protesters could continue their protest at other venues.
TPM restrictions must allow for individuals to use other channels of communication or for disseminating information.
“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” Benjamin Franklin
“Censorship is to art as lynching is to Justice.” Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Benjamin Franklin
“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.” George Washington
–Joseph B. Haggerty Sr.
Author of the novels: Shame: The Story of a Pimp and An Ocean in the Desert — Contributor to the PSWA anthology: Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides — Award winning poet and lecturer on the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution and pornography
SAFE DRIVING HABITS, PART IV
I Feel The Need….The Need For Speed
This is my next article in a continuing series of safe driving tips. In the last newsletter, I talked about proper positioning of your hands on the steering wheel, and why backing into parking lot spaces is better than pulling-in forward. In this issue, I want to tell you what you accomplish…or don’t… when you go 80 mph vs. 65 mph on the interstate or freeway. I also said in the last newsletter that I would talk about some things when “getting stopped by the police.” But due to the length of this piece, I will save it until the next time.
There are different kinds of speed laws: Absolute, Presumed (aka: presumptive or primie facie), and Basic. And in some instances, you may get a ticket even when driving at or below the posted limit; it all depends on what the officer deems is unsafe for the existing conditions. But I’m not here to lecture you on the driving laws of your state. If you don’t know and want to find out more, check the laws of your state on these speed laws.
When cruising along on interstate highways, turnpikes, or freeways, it’s easy to let your foot press down on the accelerator and sneak the speedometer up a little above the posted limit. It gives you a feeling that you are making better time. Besides, it’s commonly known that cops won’t pull you over if you keep it 15 mph or less above the speed limit, right? Wrong! I’m here to tell you, that’s not a “given.”
First, a little math problem. Did you know that you can determine how long it will take you to drive a certain distance by a simple mental calculation by looking at your speedometer? Whatever the speed, simply move the decimal back one place. Maintaining that constant speed is the distance, in miles, that you will travel every six minutes. Let me use numbers and this will become clearer.
- 80 mph = 8.0 miles traveled every six minutes
- 50 mph = 5.0 miles traveled every six minutes
- 66 mph = 6.6 miles traveled every six minutes
This calculation helped when I had young kids and was traveling across country. “Daddy, I have to go potty.” What should I do? Make them try to wait until the next McDonald’s, or pull over to the side of the road for them?
I would look at the speedometer and see that I was going 70 mph. Then I would see a road sign that said it was 21 miles to the next town or rest stop. In my head, I would use this simple calculation:
- 70 mph = 7.0 miles every six minutes
- 21 miles divided by 7 = 3
- 3 times 6 = 18
“Kids, hold on. You can go potty in 18 minutes. Watch the clock.”
But I really want to make my safety point of the desire to go faster. Let’s say we are both traveling in our separate vehicles down the freeway, and that the speed limit is 65 mph. I am doing the speed limit and you pass me doing 80 mph. [In six minutes of travel, you go 8 miles down the highway and I go 6-1/2 miles]
Six minutes go by and I can still see your car only 1-1/2 miles ahead of me. So what did you really gain in those six minutes by driving 15 mph over the posted limit? Just 1-1/2 miles ahead of me. And if our journey takes 30 minutes, you will arrive at our destination when I am only 7-1/2 miles behind you…or a little more than six minutes of travel time.
So more importantly, what did you risk for going 80 mph in a 65 mph zone? A traffic ticket or citation, possibly an arrest, and even worse, the increased probability for being involved in an accident with injury and/or fatality…yours, or someone else’s.
In the next quarter, I will talk about what to do when you see those red and blue police lights behind you…for your safety and theirs. And I hope to see all of you at the July Conference in Las Vegas.
Until the next time, Slow Down and Stay Safe!
SLIDING IN BACK STORY
A story is written in two parts: backstory and front story. Front story covers events happening in the present and accelerating to that thrilling conclusion. Backstory reflects past events and all the influences that ripple outward from them. Backstory will deepen your readers’ enjoyment of your characters and plot, and enrich a story that you remember long after you’ve finished reading. But it needs to be feathered in as a seamless part of the story, not as something parachuting in from outside, like the deus ex machina in Greek tragedies.
The deux ex machina device has come to mean a plot device in which an unsolvable dilemma is miraculously resolved by the unexpected intervention of some new event, character, or a previously unknown ability on the part of a character, or even an object. You know what I mean. A letter arrives from a rich uncle who leaves the hero enough money to save his hardware store. Or the discovery that the hero is an expert marksman who shoots the gun out of the hand of the villain fleeing before him. (Very improbable, by the way.)
Backstory deepens an appreciation of the context of your characters and setting. Once they understand character’s struggles, backstory compels readers to care about what happens next to the people in your story. They’ve seen cause and now effect. This has happened because of that.
But backstory isn’t now. By definition, it drops back into then. Done ineptly, it slows the unfolding of the front story, and may even leach the emotional power out of the action unfolding on the page in the story’s present.
Backstory yanks the story into the past, away from the readers’ engagement with you in the world you’re building paragraph by paragraph, page by page. Whatever technique you use, and we’ll get to that, dropping in a chunk of backstory to explain everything that happened in the past stops the story’s forward momentum, and jars you out of that suspension of disbelief, immersing yourself in a good story. What you’re aiming for is that wonderful experience of looking up from the pages of a book where you’d been racketing along on the back of a horse chasing a poacher through the Badlands to find yourself lying on the couch in your living room. You’ve been completely immersed in the story.
I can hear you protesting, “But I have to explain about the killer’s being locked in the closet as a child. It’s how he got to be that way.” I assure you, there are many ways to slide in this fact at exactly the right time, at exactly the right place. Depending on the situation, a passing reference to the back story may well be all you need.
WHY CRIME/THRILLER/MYSTERIES FALL SHORT (PART I)
Over the past 21 months, I’ve read and reviewed 62 crime novels and thrillers for crimefictionlover.com. While a number of them rise to greatness and many effectively get the job done, a surprising number were not ready for prime time, and a tiny number should have gone straight to the landfill. Many works fall short because author s believe their book is “done,” and it isn’t. Too often, I find myself saying, “Damn!—With a little more effort, this could have been soooo good.”
As a writer myself, I take into consideration the author’s hopes and effort, knowing it’s hard to see the flaws in one’s own children. That’s what editors are for. Yet, the acknowledgements pages of poor books often heap extravagant praise on their editors, whom I envision curled up under their desks, weeping. Authorial intentions aside, my primary obligation is to potential readers. Will readers’ limited reading time be well invested if they pick up this particular book?
The common problems in crime/thriller books I’ve read recently fit into two overlapping categories: pitfalls in thinking (mostly related to plot and character), listed below, and pitfalls in writing (look for these tomorrow). Thinking and writing problems are mutually reinforcing, since poor writing makes poor thinking more obvious. For those who respond to examples, I’ve included a few from “actual books.”
- Using increasingly gruesome torture and death methods (or a surfeit of comely young women/child victims) in the hope of sustaining reader interest. Bloodletting is easy; creating complex, unique, and engaging characters with grounded, understandable motivations is hard.
- Mechanical problems—Where and when did stuff happen? Chris Roerden calls lack of clarity about the story timeline “crazy time,” and it drives readers crazy.
- Galloping unreality—Example: after a big-city police chief spoke at a news conference, “several reporters broke into a round of applause.” Not any journalists I know. Another: two undercover CIA agents are scouting a computer research lab on a busy Chinese university campus. “‘That’s the building the lab’s in,’ XX said, pointing.” Pointing? And I don’t know how many times a bad guy has used a chloroform-soaked cloth to disable a victim, when a single moment of fact-checking would reveal this doesn’t work!
- Technological non-fixes—Either using technology when it’s not needed just to sound cool, using it wrong (weapons, especially), or not using it at all–say, not picking up the phone to ask a simple question that would solve everything.
- Lack of engagement—Some authors just want to sell books, often choosing the method describe in the first bullet, not provide the reader with a deeper, emotionally engaging experience. Crime/thrillers often appeal to the head, but the best ones capture the heart too. “When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it,” says Donald Maass.
- Cheesy theorizing—When characters repeatedly come up with premature but enthusiastically adopted explanations of what happened or whodunnit, readers know they are being misled.
- Failure to answer all the plot questions—Did the author just forget a main character’s spouse mysteriously committed suicide? Did he forget the police psychologist dropped the case’s murder book on a city street? For that matter, why was he carrying it out of the office anyway? Big questions need answers.
Writing Pitfalls (the Biggest Ones)
- Clichés in language and gesture – at least five chapters in a recently-read thriller ended with a character setting his/her mouth/jaw in a firm line. Using a cliché to express a thought is a writer’s shortcut. While certain characters may speak in clichés, if that’s their thing, narratives should struggle for freshness. That helps characters and settings feel unique, not like cardboard cutouts.
- Unartful explanations—Readers often need background information—about politics, finance, weapons, a character’s training, whatever—but indigestible chunks of it that read like a resume or briefing paper feel amateurish. “Tell me about yourself, Mr. Smith,” is hardly better.
- Over-explaining – Example: A Chinese scientist who’s volunteered to become a CIA source explains to an agent how his country’s government has hurt “many people who deserve better,” including his father. The author has the agent immediately think, “His motivation appeared to be revenge for his father’s mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese government.” Duh. Then, in case the reader doesn’t get it yet, the author continues with what is actually a very good way of underscoring the point (good because it adds new information, the agent’s judgment): “He’d take revenge as a motivator any day” and explains why. This would have been just fine if that clunky over-explanation were edited out.
- Mixed or inept metaphors – Example: “Trying to learn the ropes had XX feeling like a fish out of water.” I can’t picture that at all. Can you? Here’s a simple, effective one: “Out of [his police] uniform he just looked like an impatient kid waiting for his father.” I see this clearly.
- Ending each chapter with a cheesy cliffhanger. Example: “My God! XX thought. The Americans will never know what hit them.” Actually, in this book, they will. Here’s a better one: “She closes her book and shuts her eyes to look up at the sun, unaware of her two observers.” Menacing, not manipulative.
- General sloppiness – I’ve said enough about typos in my book reviews. They suggest a lack of care. Here is other evidence of it: homonym problems (hoard instead of horde, rein instead of reign, desert instead of dessert, and on and on); changing the name of a person or place, but not catching all the uses of the original name (“find and replace,” please); and of course, distracting factual errors.
- Lack of support matter – OK, maybe I’m crazy, but I believe quite a few thrillers would be improved by the inclusion of tailored supporting material. For example, maps that show the principal places mentioned in the novel (I admit to a pro-map bias here); lists of acronyms and abbreviations, especially for novels involving multiple international agencies; lists of characters and how they fit into the story; and so on. The goal should be to bring readers in to the circle of cognoscenti, not shut them out.
Working out the plot of a story and developing the characters involved are completely different tasks than effectively writing the whole thing down, and rushing into print rarely serves the material—or the reader—well. I hate to see a good plot ruined by weak presentation!
Further Reading for Authors
- Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden – packed with commonsense tips
- The Writer’s Guide to Weapons by Benjamin Sobieck – including impossible scenarios
- The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass—inspiration for digging deeper
Twitter: @vsk8s — Website: www.vweisfeld.com
Bob Martin’s new book, Bronx Justice, is receiving great reviews:
- Bill Bratton, former NYPD Police Commissioner, “There are no crime stories quite as good as a New York crime story. With Bronx Justice, Bob Martin adds another good read to that list
- “If there is an extra dose of realism in this taut suspense tale, it is because the author, a veteran NYPD cop, lived BRONX JUSTICE and stories like it. The novel is filled with good guys and bad guys and wise guys — a perfect recipe for a really fine page-turner of a novel.”
- Bob Drury & Tom Clavin, NY Times best selling authors of LUCKY 666: THE IMPOSSIBLE MISSION, “Martin didn’t just write Bronx Justice, he lived it. Hence, the reader is treated to an exciting and fact filled Cops ‘n Robbers novel posing as fiction.”
Mysti Berry will read along with Ann Parker, Walter Mosley, and six other writers at the Bay Area Festival of Books on June 3, 5:15 PM, in Berkeley. It’s the Noir at the Bar event.
Dave Freedland, author of Lincoln 9, a serial homicide novel taking place in “America’s Safest City,” Irvine, California, will be a presenter at the 2017 California Reserve Police Officers’ Association’s annual conference held in San Diego on August 17, 2017. A 34-year law enforcement veteran, Dave is the retired Deputy Chief of Police for the City of Irvine, and will be presenting a course entitled, “SWAT Tactics for the Patrol Officer.” Lincoln 9 was Oak Tree Press’ 2015 best-selling novel on Amazon.
Marilyn Meredith aka F. M. Meredith has appearances scheduled at several libraries this June, July and August in Fresno, Paso Robles, Exeter, Fowler, Selma, Kingsburg and Selma. On August 8th, she’ll be giving a presentation on “How to Write a Mystery” for the San Luis Obispo Night Writers. She’ll have copies of her latest books with her including Unresolved.