Jail Birds

Last night I joined a small group of my fellow Sisters in Crime for a tour of a local police department. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years. For one thing, we all know the police departments on TV are fiction. For another, they’re all big cities. Las Vegas, New York, Miami, San Francisco... This was Shaler Township, outside of Pittsburgh. The real thing.

I’ve taken online courses in Forensics, so I was familiar with the nuts and bolts. But actually seeing a fingerprint lifted was fascinating. And strangely, what interested me almost as much was the nylon canvas bag the detective used to carry his evidence collecting supplies. Not the big black box you see on CSI. More like something you might carry to the gym. Except for the Latex gloves hanging out of the pockets, of course.

We got to see the evidence lockers and some of the stuff headed for court to convict a foolish burglar. What kind of stuff? A chest freezer. Used to tote away other goodies. Unfortunately for the burglar, the cops were able to trace the serial numbers back to the victim after finding the freezer in the criminal’s apartment. According to the detective, this was very good evidence.

But it’s the small stuff that we writers can use to add authenticity to our writing. The magnetic key fobs used to access different rooms in the station. The cop hiding out in the garage, smoking a cigarette. The fact that the bars on the holding cells aren’t so much bars as a heavy mesh. I know this because my fellow crime writers and I got to briefly experience being in one of those cells. I have pictures to prove it.

My mother would be so proud.

One of my Sisters in Crime commented that the cells don’t seem very comfy. No, they don’t. Stainless steel toilet and sink right out in the open (no privacy in jail) and a matching stainless steel slab for a bed.
No feather ticking, no grandma’s quilts.

It was great to see how real cops in a real station do things.

One other interesting aspect of the real police department. There were stuffed animals everywhere. Big ones and little ones. They collect them, we were told, to give away. Real cops have big hearts. At least in Shaler Township they do.

Thanks to my friend and Sister in Crime Joyce Tremel and Detective David Benko for a most enjoyable and educational evening.


Joyce said…
Glad you had fun, Annette.

Yeah, most of the guys are softies. Our big, bad motorcycle cop who would scare you to death if he pulled you over, visits the elementary schools and reads to the kindergarten kids. He's also Santa Claus every December. He rides the bike right into the schools with his bag of goodies. Some of the guys are coaches for kids's teams, others are volunteer firemen, scout leaders, etc.

Don't ever tell them I said this but most of them are truly Public Servants.
Kristine said…
Great details and description of the event, Annette. If I had to be stuck in a holding cell with anyone, I'm glad it was with you. It was fun, huh?

By the way, I posted a response to you and Joyce on my blog about my "neat and organized" comment of the station. :-)

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