Tag Archives: agents

The Speeding Ticket You Got in Arizona Was Not My Fault – Really!

Being a former police officer and former Secret Service agent, I end up in a lot of conversations with people who want to tell me about some experience he or she has had with law enforcement.  Nine out of ten times, the experience was a somewhat negative one for the individual who was upset about getting a traffic citation, or felt the police did not adequately investigate a crime of which the person was a victim, or the individual was somehow inconvenienced by police activity.

I understand this.  I’ve gotten used to these talks during which I make sure I listen well and do my best to remain objective.  After all, cops aren’t perfect.  There are some patrol officers who are jerks on traffic stops.  There are lazy detectives who fail to follow-up on leads.  There are federal agents who have giant egos.  It happens.  However, most of the frustration that is conveyed in the telling of these stories comes from a misunderstanding of processes, the profession, and what are realistic expectations.  This is something officers experience every day and it happened to me.  I recall a victim of a theft becoming extremely frustrated with me because I didn’t “… force the suspect to take a polygraph.”  Of course, I explained that the police cannot force anybody to take a polygraph test and that the results would be inadmissible in court anyway, but the victim of the crime had already labeled me as inept or apathetic since I hadn’t pursued this unrealistic avenue.

Now while every profession has to endure some level of skepticism and scrutiny, law enforcement is unique in the way many people will attribute the circumstances of a specific officer or incident to any police action.  On the surface, this can make sense to an individual.  However, when one does this with other professions, the exercise becomes a bit silly.  Below, let’s compare some complaints / stories about law enforcement with what would be the equivalent for other professions.

Police story:  “Hey, you were a police officer in Virginia, right?  Well, I was driving in Georgia and this police officer pulled me over and gave me a ticket for going three miles per hour over the speed limit.  Three!  And he completely ignored the cars that were passing me!”

Equivalent in another profession:  “Hey, you work for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, right?  Let me tell you about this time I was driving in Delaware and had to sit in a construction zone for an hour and there was no real construction going on!”

Now, obviously most people would not think to connect a construction zone on a roadway in Delaware to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation employee, but that’s exactly what people do when discussing policing.  Another example:

Police story:  “Oh, you were in the Secret Service?  Did I tell you about the time I was late to work because the Governor’s security people wouldn’t let me use the elevator because she was visiting our building?”

Equivalent in another profession:  “So, you just retired from Xerox?  Man, we had this Konica copier at my old job and that thing always jammed.  What’s up with that?”

I know.  The conversation with the former Xerox employ would be a ridiculous conversation.  The complaint about a different product created by a different company is essentially the comparing of apples and oranges.  Aside from that, in law enforcement discussions, sometimes people try to compare apples and oranges and what people think are oranges are really tangerines.

In law enforcement, there are tens of thousands of employees in hundreds of agencies who are responsible for a variety of jurisdictions.   So, why do people tend to associate what happens with one agent or officer in a particular region or jurisdiction with an entire profession?  We usually don’t do this with construction workers, accountants, museum curators, or lawyers.  Well… maybe lawyers.  The answer is easy.  Because television, movies, and novels have made us a society of EXPERTS in all matters surrounding the administration of justice.

Many people have derived their knowledge of policing from television shows such as Law and Order, Castle, Criminal Minds, NCIS, CSI, or crime novels.  There are far fewer shows and books about construction workers, accountants, and museum curators, so people don’t believe themselves to be experts in those fields.  However, if we see NCIS Special Agent Gibbs do something on NCIS, then we know it must be partially true.  Right?  I mean lots of agencies have a computer wiz on staff who routinely, and illegally, hacks into the Pentagon in order to get classified records.  Right?

It’s natural for people to be apprehensive about law enforcement.  Many of the interactions we have with the police are negative.  Often our contacts with cops involve either being pulled over for a traffic violation or with having been the victim of some sort of crime. The overall experience may not be pleasant, but every encounter with each individual officer or agent should be evaluated independent of each other.  If an officer yelled at you in Pittsburgh, then the retired L.A. cop you are talking to at a picnic had nothing to do with it.  If you felt a detective in Austin, Texas was unfair to you, the investigator from St. Louis really can’t weigh in on the matter.  If you got jammed up in traffic because of a motorcade rolling through Washington, D.C., then don’t complain to me about…  actually, that could have been me.  Sorry about that one.

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.

image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.

 

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

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.

resolve-cover art CL (1)

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

 

Advertisements

When a Joke is No Laughing Matter to the Secret Service

The story popped up in my news feed sometime last week:  Secret Service shows up at Columbus man’s door after social media comment

It was the type of headline I had read too many times.  As a former Secret Service agent, and one who has worked a lot of threat cases, I recognized it as the type of investigation I had dealt with repeatedly.  In this particular instance, a man had read a social media post regarding a political event involving Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and posted the comment, “Where do we send the bomb.”  Predictably, somebody notified the Secret Service and Special Agents paid him a visit.  Just as predictably, the man claimed the comment was meant to be a joke.

Against my better judgment, I weeded through the readers’ comments attached to the post regarding the incident.  Some of the comments on the Facebook link I pulled up were:

“He was joking.  This country needs to lighten up a little.”

“Wow… this is getting out of control. Our government would just love to control social media.”

“Quite the overreaction.  But then again, it is the PC world.”

And on and on and on…

image

Of course there are always comments addressing an individual’s rights regarding freedom of speech, but that is another topic altogether and too complex to address in this post.

I am going to try to explain why “joking” threats are no joke at all.  I say “try”, because I cannot and will not reveal exactly how the Secret Service investigates threat cases.  Not only did I sign a nondisclosure agreement a long time ago, but it would be irresponsible to reveal more than what can be found through online open source resources (publicly available).  So, I am going to make an attempt at explaining why threats that are meant to be facetious are dangerous and damaging.

Using the recent Columbus, Ohio incident as an example, the man who made the “joke” stated that the agents who appeared at his home already knew a great deal about him.  Of course until the Secret Service interviews someone who makes a threatening comment there is no way to know if the threat has the potential to be real.

The individual making the threat will have to be interviewed and it is always helpful to know the background of the person you are interviewing.  So one may conclude that these agents, who could be spending their time pursuing legitimate threat cases or working various criminal investigations, have already had to spend time preparing to interview the suspect by gathering background information to include any criminal history, previous threats made, affiliations with terrorist groups, etc.  After all, you would not want to be interviewing a suspect without knowing he has a history of reacting violently to law enforcement or is wanted for murder in three states.  Information can be helpful!  With the prep time, drive time, and interviewing time, and report writing time, we are already talking about HOURS spent on this “joke” which is now a Protective Intelligence case.

But, we are not done.

According to this guide for handling threat cases, threat cases involve:

  • Identification
  • Assessment
  • Classification

Simple right?

Not quite.

Just A Few Hours?

Although hours have already been spent on the person who has been identified as having made a threatening comment, this is just the beginning of a threat case.  Now, the individual will have to be assessed.  This could include more electronic checks, calls to other agencies, visits to psychiatrists, interviews with neighbors, family members, and coworkers, and much more.  Some of these checks may be out of the state, or even out of the country, and many will have to be conducted in person.  Suddenly, multiple agents in various locations are being dedicated to this “joke”.   Real funny.

But, we are not done.

A Few Weeks?

The results of all of these checks and interviews will have to be collected by an agency’s central Intelligence entity or Threat Assessment center.  At which point, MORE agents are going to have to pick through the findings, weigh all of the factors, determine the legitimacy of the threat, and classify the case in a manner that will determine what future level of scrutiny it may receive.  Yes.  I said FUTURE.

Because… we are not done.

Months?  Years?

If at any point it is determined that an individual who made a threat will be prosecuted, then an entire chain of events occurs involving the judicial system.  That chain of events will have to be tracked and monitored.

If at any point it is determined that an individual who made a threat needs to be committed for psychiatric evaluation, then an entire of events occurs involving the mental health system.  That chain of events will have to be tracked and monitored.

If it is determined that an individual COULD be a threat, a significant amount of follow-up and monitoring will be conducted.

Even if it is determined that an individual is likely NOT a threat, the follow-up work may be minimal, but look at what has been done already.

Every single threat needs to be investigated.  Every single one.  Aside from the possibility that every threat communicated makes a violent act seem more feasible to those with disturbed minds or evil intent, a simple social media comment intended to be interpreted as a joke can cause an investigative agency to dedicate an incredible amount of resources throughout the world.  This is why making a threat toward an individual protected by the Secret Service is ALWAYS a big deal.  It is not about having a sense of humor (I have one.  I swear!).  It is about respecting the fact that our protectors have enough rough waters to navigate without any more people making waves.

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.

image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.

 

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

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.

resolve-cover art CL (1)

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Pitching a Novel Is Like Being in the Secret Service

For seven years, I had the pleasure of being a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. During that time, I conducted a variety of criminal investigations involving counterfeiting, check fraud, wire fraud, and even cell phone cloning. However, much of what I did included the duties that most people associate with the agency – protection. For more than four of my seven years with the USSS, I was based in Washington D.C. which is not only our nation’s capital, but the protection capital of the world. I learned many lessons while working assignments protecting the President, Vice President, and visiting heads of state. One of those lessons was that most protection assignments involve common factors. Those factors are:

  • Standing
  • Waiting
  • Uncertainty
  • Risk
  • Being Ready to React
  • Periods of Discomfort
  • Relief When it’s Over

Currently, I’m a crime fiction writer and I was lucky enough to have found some success, particularly with my first novel, RESOLVE, which was a Thriller Awards finalist in 2014. The Thriller Awards are hosted by the International Thriller Writers (ITW) organization, a group to which I happen to belong. Each year, they host a wonderful conference called Thrillerfest and a component of that event is called Pitchfest. Pitchfest is an opportunity for writers to make a verbal pitch to literary agents in the hopes that the agent will request to see your latest manuscript and subsequently wish to represent you. As my previous agent closed up shop, I decided to take my latest work to Pitchfest in an effort to land an agent.

Approximately 50 literary agents and some publishers were set up among several rooms at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. Writers flooded the rooms, lined up, and pitched to whatever agents were partial to their particular genre or writing style. As the event went on, I discovered several things were involved in working my way through Pitchfest.  Such as:

  • Standing
  • Waiting
  • Uncertainty
  • Risk
  • Being Ready to React
  • Periods of Discomfort
  • Relief When It’s Over

Sound familiar?

ITW does an outstanding job of organizing the event, but by its nature, one will be standing for long periods of time. The event is over two hours long, and it would be impossible to get the opportunity to speak to every agent (nor would you want to since some would not represent your type of manuscript). So, a great deal of time is spent standing and waiting.
I’m fairly certain none of the literary agents had plans to put a bullet in my chest, but I discovered there was a certain amount of risk involved.

Knowing you will only get to speak to eight or nine agents, you have to have a strategy and do a risk assessment to determine how to get to your high-priority representatives. While there is an inherent amount of uncertainty in the process, you can better your odds by having a solid plan and avoiding going down the wrong path.  For instance, if you write paranormal and you make a poor decision by standing in line for an agent who is not looking for paranormal manuscripts, then you have wasted a huge amount of time that could have been used to approach someone who loves paranormal novels.

You have to be able to react on a moment’s notice. Perhaps you are in a long line and you suddenly notice an agent on your priority list has a much shorter line. You may have to jump ship and bolt across the room. Additionally, some agents will ask you questions about your book. One would be wise to be able to answer questions about something he or she wrote. This is why, just as in law enforcement, preparation and training are the keys to success. Hopefully, you have spent weeks preparing for multiple contingencies and have trained yourself to answer questions about yourself and your writing.

Hey, dozens – if not hundreds – of people are stuffed into these rooms. Air conditioning can only do so much and there will be some discomfort. Nervous writers are sometimes shoulder to shoulder with each other and everyone is talking. It’s hot and nobody wants to take a break, out of fear of missing out on talking to a great agent. Many writers (like me) dress up a little for the occasion, which means a sport coat or suit jacket. If I would have added a ballistic vest under the dress shirt, it would have been déjà vu all over again.

Few things felt better than when I’d watch Air Force One take off. Someone on the radio would say the words, “Wheels Up” and I’d know I’d done all I could have and now I could let my guard down a little. I had the same feeling at the end of Pitchfest. I’d performed as well as I could and nobody died (I think). Assuming some of the agents asked for samples of your work, it could still be weeks or months before you find out if one wants to represent you and take your manuscript to various publishers. But, you have to allow yourself a moment of relief. You can’t put the gas pedal to the floor all of the time. Maybe that’s why ITW gives you tickets for two free drinks to use at a reception the evening after Pitchfest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Writers of all levels – from first-time novelists to madly famous authors – mingle about and enjoy the company. For a couple of hours, hundreds of people with incredibly creative minds come together to talk about anything and everything.

If you look carefully, you will notice that those who took part in Pitchfest all have cloud bubbles above their heads. In that comic strip thought bubble, you’ll likely see two words: “Wheels Up”.

Have you attended Pitchfest, or a similar event? What are your thoughts?  Comment below!

 

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

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.

Resolve

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

Legacy cover