I’m frequently asked if I draw upon my experiences in law enforcement for my writing. I do, but rarely do I use any specific incidents. The reason I avoid doing this is that I want my work to feel authentic to the reader and sometimes law enforcement is actually stranger than fiction. I’m often concerned that if I refer to an actual event when writing a novel, the retelling of the real story will end up feeling too unrealistic – even for fiction. However, I do try to take bits and pieces from my past and integrate those experiences into my books.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of some of these moments and I came up with 10 which I think demonstrate how the profession of law enforcement is unlike any other. Some of the events were absurd. Some were enlightening to me at the time. Some involved coincidences that are difficult to believe. All of them show why we should never assume what a “normal” day might be for a person carrying the badge.
1. As a patrol officer, once I was dispatched to drive my patrol car past a spot where someone was shooting at cars that were traveling past that spot. Think about that for a moment.
2. Several years ago, I was part of a major manhunt for an individual believed to be in Washington, D.C. We had a one hour briefing and a dozen agents were tasked to methodically check various parts of the large city. We had maps. We had equipment. We had detailed plans. We were prepared for long days of scouring the streets for this needle in a haystack. At the conclusion of the briefing, I drove out of the office parking garage and immediately spotted the individual who happened to be walking past our building.
3. I had to write a report about the Vice President shooting his hunting partner in the face. Oddly, this event only happened once in my career.
4. The first time I tried to kick in a door, I bounced right off. The same thing happened the second and third times. I came to the conclusion that cop shows on TV might be a tad bit unrealistic.
5. During a foot pursuit through a Virginia shopping mall, a suspect ended up on a ledge and threatened to jump. I said, “Go ahead.” He jumped. He had been 6 feet off the ground. Shockingly, he lived.
6. As a rookie agent at the 2000 Democratic Convention in L.A., I was instructed not to let any of the scheduled greeters onto the airport tarmac until the White House staff showed up with a verification list. The staff member did not show up until Air Force One was landing, so I couldn’t allow the greeters to meet the plane. President Clinton exited the plane (expecting greeters) and began waiving to an empty runway. It was an embarrassing moment for the White House and I had to explain to a supervisor that I had followed procedure. I had followed the rules, but it was an uncomfortable situation for a new agent. At the time, I thought I might be in big trouble. Years later, an officer with the Secret Service Uniform Division in D.C. (who had no idea I had been in L.A. for the convention) told me the story of one of the “strangest moments he had seen in his twenty years on the job”. He then recounted the incident on the tarmac in 2000. I just nodded and said, “Yeah. That sounds weird.”
7. I once worked a case in which I interviewed a counterfeiter in Richmond, VA. We knew the suspect had been using counterfeit money to buy drugs, but did not have enough evidence for an arrest. I told the suspect that law enforcement was the least of his worries if he continued to rip-off drug dealers. He responded with some unkind words. A few months later he was murdered in a field outside Richmond. Years later, I was having dinner at a restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA (344 miles from Richmond) when the waiter decided to make small talk. It turned out he was from Richmond and had been friends with the murdered counterfeiter. I never went back to that restaurant.
8. The only time I had to fire my weapon in the line of duty was at a rabid raccoon. It did not bite me.
9. I was once assulted in the line of duty by a drunk, pregnant lady. She bit me.
10. I once chased a guy down a busy D.C. street. He had a shirt hanging off one arm, making it appear that he was wearing a cape. The radio traffic from one of the other agents came out, “Hensley is chasing some guy with a cape.” The response from one agent on the radio was, “Why is Hensley wearing a cape?????”
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology