Tag Archives: Richmond

Moments with the Badge: Pregnant Drunks, Presidents, and Poorly Thought-out Suicide Attempts

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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That Time I Accidentally Helped David Baldacci with Book Research

Polygraphs and Paperwork

From 2002 – 2004, I was stationed at the Washington Field Office (WFO) as a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.  I had started my career in 2000, arresting mostly counterfeiters in Richmond, VA.  Three years later I was a team leader in WFO, helping to supervise a squad that – among other things – conducted polygraph examinations.

Admittedly, this was not the most exciting task I was ever assigned.  Part of the squad conducted background investigations and the other part ran polygraph exams.  I wasn’t a trained polygraph examiner, so I pretty much left the examiners alone, other than to make sure their paperwork was correct and their travel orders were processed.  I admit that having been subjected to extensive employment/security polygraph exams in the past, part of my mind simply wanted to create some distance between me and those imposing machines that have a way of making the most innocent of individuals feel like they spent their youth on a killing spree.

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Although I did not personally conduct the exams, I did have a good understanding of the methodology and, due to my position, knew when and where examinations were taking place.  Some of the exams were for criminal investigations, while many were conducted on applicants hoping to get into the Secret Service.  Regardless of the reason, or the level of innocence with the subject of the exam, the process is long and stressful.  Additionally, the information disclosed by the subject is often personal, sensitive, and should be handled with great care.  So, you never discuss the details with anybody.  Not friends.  Not family.

And never, EVER a bestselling novelist.

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“Hey, aren’t you that guy?”

During my time in D.C., I’d seen the occasional celebrity come through the office.  One moment that stands out in my memory is when a few high-level supervisors were escorting a rough-looking individual through the building.  The man was unshaven, his hair was a mess, and he was wearing a beat-up denim jacket and ripped jeans.  Part of my brain told me that he was a suspect, but the fact he was not handcuffed and was being led around by high-ranking supervisors made me look twice.  It turned out the man was Sean Penn and he was touring the office because he was researching his role as a Secret Service agent in the movie The Interpreter.  He was getting a lot of cooperation from the agency and it seemed most of management knew he was on site.  However, it turned out some celebrities were a little more low-key.

At some point in 2003, a female agent I had worked with a couple of times approached me outside my office.  She was new to the office, so I didn’t think twice as she asked me a few innocuous questions about the number of polygraph exams we ran in a week, the purpose of the exams, and some other basic administrative questions.  Fortunately I wasn’t very specific, because I hadn’t seen the man who was taking notes while standing behind her.  After I had finished spouting off some information, my colleague stepped aside and said, “J.J., I’d like you to meet David Baldacci.”  How in the world had I not seen him?  I was a trained observer!  Seriously, the man was like a ninja with a notebook.

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Back then, I had absolutely no idea I’d become a crime novelist and I had never written a word of fiction.  However, I certainly knew of David Baldacci and had recently finished reading one of his novels.  I shook hands with Mr. Baldacci while asking myself several questions of my own.

What information had I revealed?

Had I revealed anything sensitive?

If I had disclosed anything sensitive, should I ask Baldacci to autograph my termination papers?

 

The Genesis of a Future Career?

As it turns out, I hadn’t said anything more than one could read in an official Secret Service brochure or find on the Internet.  After a few pleasantries, the female agent and Mr. Baldacci went on their way and I was left wondering if anything I had said would end up in a book someday.  Since then, I’ve read several of Baldacci’s novels and I can’t recall seeing anything about polygraphs… yet.

When my first novel Resolve was up for an award at this year’s Thrillerfest in New York City, I had hoped to see the famous writer (who I was sure would not remember our 30 second conversation) and ask him if he had ever used the information.  Unfortunately, he had left the day before and I never got a chance to ask him the questions or to tell him that a quick conversation in 2003 may have played an inspirational role in my becoming a crime novelist.

If nothing else, I learned that someday I wanted to have his ninja-like research skills so that one day someone may write a blog post about the way they accidentally helped me with my research.

Have you ever met a celebrity who left a lasting impression on you?  Comment below!

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

RESOLVE was a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization, was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine, and is one of Authors on the Air’s Best Books of the Year.

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

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