Recently, I became the victim of an attempted sexual assault in broad daylight.
An assailant stuck a gun in my back, dragged me into a dark, deserted barn on the county fairgrounds, and tried to rape me. When he put down the gun as he tried to tear my clothes off, I kicked him where no man wants to be kicked. He escaped out the back of the barn.
I survived completely unscathed…because, fortunately, I was not a real victim, but a role player in a law enforcement training scenario.
As alumni of the local Sheriff Citizens Academy, volunteers like me get tapped from time to time as role players in training sessions for reserve officers, search and rescue, and the posse, who are also all volunteers.
I’ve walked the heel-to-toe straight line in a mock traffic stop for drunk driving. I’veportrayed the hysterical mother of a child injured in an accident. I’ve played a victim of a medical emergency who required transport to a hospital (which turned into a bona fide emergency when a swarm of yellowjackets stung me).
This recent exercise was to prepare posse and reservists for duty at the county fair. Each team of two trainees responds to radio calls (with the help of a real 911 dispatcher) for various problems they’re likely to encounter during fair week—lost children, domestic disputes, heart attack, minor in possession, and assault. They rotate through stations scattered around the fairgrounds, while evaluators (who are deputies or police officers) observe and critique how they handle each situation.
The lead instructor had already briefed trainees about their duties. In the sexual assault scenario, they were to interview the victim (me), call for medical assistance, get a description of the suspect and broadcast it on the radio, then secure and preserve the crime scene until regular officers relieved them.
The evaluator staged the scene beforehand: drag marks in the dirt, signs of a struggle in the stall, a fake gun left on a shelf by the attacker, and footprints leaving the barn. Then the evaluator deputies and I waited for each team to rotate to our station.
As much as I learn from a tactical standpoint, my favorite part occurs in the down time between rotations, because cops love to tell stories on themselves and each other. Listening to them, I pick up details, inflections, nuances, and subtleties that lend authenticity to my novels.
Since the county covers 5000+ square miles with only four deputies on duty each shift, stories abound of the resourcefulness required when responding alone to calls in remote locations.
During a lull in this session, a CSI related the tale of an overweight officer who’d taken a lot of kidding about his size. Late one night, he arrested an uncooperative suspect who kept trying to run off, despite being handcuffed. With backup seventy-five miles away, the deputy had to find a safe way to further restrain him until help arrived. So he spent the next forty-five minutes lying on top of the suspect.
His fellow officers still kidded him, but with an underlayment of respect for a guy who used the tools at hand to solve a problem.
Because of recent ambushes on law enforcement, most officers were wearing a black band over their badges. In a lowered voice, a veteran deputy with fifteen years’ service confided, “My six-year-old just told me, ‘Dad, I don’t want you to be a police officer anymore.’” That poignant sentence spoke volumes about the family life of cops. It will stay with me for a long time.
Back to the session. Some trainees earnestly wrote down my description of the would-be rapist. Others reassured me that I was safe, they’d take care of me. Still others took the initiative to clear the barn, searching for the suspect.
After each team completed the exercise, the evaluators critiqued their responses. One team had remained outside the barn with me, not entering the crime scene at all. When an evaluator asked why, the answer was: “We could see the gun, we didn’t know if the perpetrator was still around, I wanted to keep my partner in sight.”
Another team split up, one talking with me, while the other cleared the barn, checking stalls with a flashlight, avoiding the footprints and drag marks. According to the evaluator, neither approach was wrong, as long as they took their individual limitations into account and did not compromise safety.
And then there was the volunteer who proved the adage, you get what you pay for.
This trainee had clearly never watched a single episode of CSI. Upon arriving at the scene, he immediately rushed into the barn, obliterating the footprints and drag marks. Then he spotted the gun and picked it up, handling it all over until not even a partial print from the attacker remained.
The evaluator took him aside for…counseling.
During fair week, I hope this volunteer is assigned as Chief Hydration Monitor, in charge of fetching lemonade for thirsty officers on duty.
After the training ended, they fed us lunch and reviewed the volunteers’ performances. Feedback from the 911 operator was especially useful because communication is vital to sending the appropriate backup. If a responder didn’t answer, the operator might assume big trouble and dispatch assistance, when, in fact, the responder simply forgot to acknowledge a call. Oops.
My entry into this inner world came from attending the Citizens Academy. For crime writers without a law enforcement background, the course offers a valuable glimpse into the nuts and bolts of policing agencies. Academies are sponsored free of charge by many police and sheriff departments, as well as the FBI. Seizing such opportunities can lift your story-telling to a new level, as well as show support for the men and women who protect us.
Besides, it’s not often one becomes a “victim” without suffering any trauma. I strongly recommend role-playing over the real thing!