Today, I have a special guest; law enforcement consultant Wesley Harris joins us on Sleuths and Suspects!
Biography: Wesley Harris has spent 36 years in law enforcement agencies in Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas as a patrol officer, detective, trainer, administrator and police chief. He lives in Ruston, Louisiana with his wife of 32 years, a son, and a daughter. A graduate of Louisiana Tech, he is the author of several books and many articles on police procedure and American history topics. Wes serves on the Criminal Justice Faculty of the University of Phoenix.
Heidi: How many years have you served in law enforcement? Why made you decide to pursue a career in law enforcement?
Wes: My law enforcement career is in its 36th year. I’ve served in virtually every police position—dispatcher, patrol officer, detective, chief. Television played a huge role in my career decision. I grew up watching old reruns like The Lone Ranger and Highway Patrol and later, 70’s dramas like Adam-12, Hawaii Five-O, and Police Story. The heroes of these shows were principled men of integrity and what they did in serving had a profound impact on me. I rarely have time for television today. Besides, very few shows portray any aspect of police work accurately.
Heidi: What sort of advice/tips can you provide writers?
Wes: I understand fiction is fiction but do your research! Readers expect and deserve credibility. If police or courtroom procedure is not portrayed realistically and accurately and readers recognize it, how does any other aspect of the story have credibility? If a Christian suspense novel doesn’t get the technical details right, how does the reader know particulars about life and faith and eternity are correct? Many resources are available to mystery and suspense writers and there’s no excuse not to take use them.
Heidi: You’re an accomplished nonfiction writer, and you also have a consulting service for fiction writers. What sort of services do you provide for writers?
Wes: I’ve written on police procedures for those in the profession, but also on American history topics. I’ve always wanted to write a crime suspense novel with a Christian perspective. When I began studying fiction writing and getting to know other writers, I found many begging for help in writing with unfamiliar topics. I started working with some authors by answering their questions about police procedures and decided to expand into a consulting service. I can brainstorm with writers about story ideas, review manuscripts for accuracy in legal procedures and other details, assist in devising realistic cop and criminal dialogue. I provide quick turnaround so writers aren’t on hold awaiting an answer. I’m happy to say I’ve helped novelists hurtle roadblocks and avoid some major technical flaws.
Heidi: I enjoy watching Castle, Bones, and The Mentalist, but I know that not everything I see on TV, with regard to law enforcement, is real. What aspect of law enforcement would surprise writers the most?
Wes: TV detectives are always on the go, chasing bad guys, getting into car chases and shootouts. Eighty percent of what a detective does is behind a desk, either on the phone or on the computer. The paperwork is horrendous. Make a big arrest and you spend the next three days writing about it.
Heidi: What are your pet peeves with regard to law enforcement mistakes in fiction?
Wes: I mention a number of pet peeves on my website, WriteCrimeRight.com. I devour Christian mystery and suspense now that I’m writing my own novel, so I often see mistakes about firearms and legal procedures for searches and arrests. But what irks me the most is a tendency of many novelists to portray federal law enforcement agents as more competent and professional than the local police. I dislike a story that disparages local officers by interjecting a federal agent or special state investigator supposedly more competent to handle the case. Ninety-five percent of America’s law enforcement officers work for local city and county agencies. They handle nearly all the murders and serious violent crimes. They are our neighbors. Their kids go to school with our kids. I’d like to see more of them as protagonists. Federal agents rarely get involved in local crimes. I’ve worked thousands of cases from burglary to fraud to murder in the past three decades and less than a dozen involved a federal agency. I love the police chief in Kathy Herman’s Sophie Trace series and Janice Cantore’s patrol officers in her Pacific Coast trilogy. They portray real officers serving in their local communities.
Heidi: How may writers connect with you/contact you?
Wes: Email is best: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m on Facebook in addition to the website. I’d love to hear from anyone with questions on crime or police and court procedures.
Wes has graciously agreed to offer a 2500-word critique to one writer, who will be chosen at random. To be entered in the drawing, please do the following:
(1) Leave a comment for Wes.
(2) Include your email address in the comment. It’s okay to spell it out to avoid spam For example, yourname(at)email(dot)com. A winner will be chosen on Sept. 24 and announced on Sept. 25.