UpComing Classes

Emerald City Writer's Conference


October 18-20, 2013; Bellevue, WA

A Basic Guide to Weapons

Chat with a Cop

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cop Awareness

In the class I just finished teaching we had a lot of discussion on Cops and their body language. We worked on how it is possible to identify a police character simply through demeanor, body movement and attitude. Regardless if they are in uniform or not.

Daily, cops have to deal with people who feel the laws of the land don’t apply to them. My personal favorite: The people who believe they are the only ones who have broken the super secret code and gleaned the correct interpretation of what the spirit of the law was meant to be. And another good one: Everyone else is doing the same thing.

Attitude and confidence are all important, especially when dealing with people who view themselves as being in the ‘right.’ Seriously, could you ever see a cop saying, “Yes Ma’am, you are completely right. I pulled over the wrong car. Thank-you for pointing out my error. I am sorry to have bothered you. Please have a nice day.”

Not going to happen. 

Police officers are supposed to be fair, impartial and completely professional. Nowhere in the job description does it call for an officer to be humble (a definite rarity) or accommodating. Case in point, have you ever watched an argument between a police officer and a civilian? Does the cop argue or does the cop allow the other person to vent and then firmly explain to the civilian their options? For me, it depended if I already had my first cup of coffee.  

Officers are tasked with taking charge of every situation they are called to. So is it really a surprise cops tend to be a smidgen autocratic, judgmental and controlling? If I’m giving you the impression I’m describing a world class butthead, you’re not far off. Decisions, sometimes life or death decisions, have to be made split second. I’ve watched one of three scenarios play out with laid back, go-with-the-flow personality type cops: 1.Their personality hardened somewhat while they wore the uniform; 2. They left the field (by either quitting or moving to a desk position); 3. They were seriously injured or killed in the line of duty.  

A law enforcement officer’s attitude is their first and strongest deterrent against would be detractors and reputation seekers (individuals who want to make a name for themselves by taking out a police officer). Because the cop has a gun every encounter a law enforcement officers has is an armed encounter. Every person a cop talks to has the ability, if they are quick enough, smart enough, strong enough and determined enough, to take away a cop’s weapon.

Police Academies serve several simultaneous purposes. First, it prepares the cadet for life on the streets. During my time at the academy, which doubled as a training facility, veteran officers were encouraged to catch cadets off guard and steal either their baton or handgun. No place was off limits. (Yes, there were several bathroom incidents.) Most academies are five to seven months long. You can bet by the time of graduation cadets were well and truly indoctrinated to the Be Aware of Your Surroundings Regimen.

Welcome to Cop awareness: AKA – paranoia

Have you ever walked into a room and immediately felt uncomfortable? You look around and try to figure out what is wrong? What is bothering you? As you keep looking you make eye contact with someone who is obviously staring at you.

How did that make you feel? Did you think the person was harmless? Were they staring while trying to place your identity? Or did you feel/think that person wanted to do you harm?

Magnify and intensify that feeling for your cop character. Every day, both in and out of uniform, police officers feel those eyes, watching, staring accessing. The trick is to not completely dismiss the scrutiny, but rather be aware while not letting it wear you down.

That whole concept of ‘never sit with your back to a door’ is real. Don’t get me wrong, you will see people in uniform who do just that. For the most part, most cops won’t sit with their back exposed.  


Because it makes us nervous.

If my back is to the door, I can’t watch who is coming and going. I can’t scan the room looking for threats. I can’t reassure myself everything is okay. I can’t effectively protect myself.

So what about those law enforcement officers that do sit with their back to a door? Why have they done it? What is their reasoning? Are there no other seats? Is there a mirror or window in front of them where they can watch via reflection? Is there another cop, someone they respect and trust, sitting across from them? Or are they a chuckle head who’s own personal safety isn’t paramount to them? Or worse, do they believe their badge is some type of magical shield that will protect them from harm?

How long those Chuckle heads lasts is entirely -- my opinion -- dependent on how lucky that person is because his survival has nothing to do with skill or training. Cops with staying power are the ones who, both in and out of uniform, on-duty and off, protect their personal space (which for an on-duty cop is usually three to six feet all around them) with a fervor only matched by Evangelical Ministers in the middle of a revival. Encroachment on or to that buffer zone can make for a very cranky or distracted cop.   

How can you use that to mold your cop character?  


  1. I LOVE this post! Thank you so much for the insight. Writing about cops is all I want to do because of the huge respect I have for you. So first of all, thank you for your service and protection. I also feel a cop's demeanor goes deeper than what is learned at the academy. Do you all know the special type of person it takes to lay down your life for another. Heartily, I thank you and every officer out there doing this duty. Some may not have that internal drive to serve in this way but I'm convinced most do. Once again. Thank you for the post and thank you for...well, you.

  2. This was great! I have no idea how they do this job everyday. Thanks for helping me dig deeper and look at my character a different way. :)

  3. And twenty years! Wow, thank you doesn't even come close to being enough. But Thank You!!

  4. Good one, Margaret! I actually have a scene where the MMC/LEO is out of uniform/not on duty, having lunch at a mountain picnic area, when a mini-van pulls up near another table but no one gets out. Ten minutes go by and he is totally on alert, totally on guard, slows his conversation with the FMC & takes a deep breath when a man & woman start to leave the car, followed by three kids jumping out of the car yelling about the movie they just finished watching. Glad to know I got that right :-)

    Engrid (from that great online class you gave)

  5. Karen you are very kind. Thank-you.

  6. Melissa, funny how it only seems like yesterday. I know I was quite lucky to have had a career that I loved and enjoyed going to everyday.

  7. Engrid,good description and reactions. As far as the class, I need to Thank-You, your questions kept me on my toes ;-)

  8. Margaret! I'm so glad to see you blogging--just now found out about it.

    Though I never was a peace officer, I, too, have a queasy feeling about having my back to a door. Do Not Like It. Now, I'm working out a seating plan for a cop and a paranoid civilian (like me, but cuter) to see who'll get the seat that's facing the door.

    Very much looking forward to the new class. You're a knowledgeable, intuitive, and generous teacher, so I know it's going to be most useful.
    Lyn (I'm using a google ID, and can't remember what name is on it. Oy.)

  9. Lyn, good to 'see' you. Thank-you for taking my class.

    For your characters the cop may let a cutie face the door the first time he can angle his chair to make it work.

    Someone pointed out that I did that the other day. I wasn't consciously thinking about it.

    Just a thought.

  10. Margaret- I love this! I saw you speak at Emerald City in Seattle last fall, and meant to sign up for this most recent on-line class but the 'day-job' got me distracted and I missed it.

    I am following your blog, though, and love the information you share. There is nothing like getting the information you need for your book from someone who has lived the job and has firsthand experience. It is so helpful to me and I must say I love your delivery, too. You have a way with words!
    Thank you!

    Jennifer Malone

  11. An interesting, blog, Margaret. There's more to cops than the public realizes.

  12. Jennifer, sorry you missed the class a few of your contemporaries were in it and they kept me on my toes.

    I'm happy and excited to announce I will be teaching at Emerald City again this year. It will be a short version of the Investigations Class. I hope to see you there.

  13. Cate, speaking of someone who kept me on my toes during my latest class :)

    Yes, cops are pretty complex but most tend to hide behind facades, so you really have to dig to find the person behind the butthead mask.

    Thank-you for stopping by.