It’s Done–Almost

by Brian Thiem

A few days ago I sent the completed manuscript for the first book of a new series to my agent. Now I wait.

People often ask what it takes to publish a book. Writers have different processes, and mine has changed since I began writing. And the first book of Spartina Island Manuscripta new series is different than a second or third book or a stand-alone novel.

Spartina Island (the working title, which may—probably will—change when a publisher gets involved) began as an idea about two years ago, shortly after I finished the third book in the Matt Sinclair series. I brainstormed a premise, main characters, and a unique setting with friends, fellow writers, and my agent. I jotted down pages of ideas.

Once my agent gave me the thumbs up, I began creating my story, writing out plot points and other details on a hundred index cards. I shuffled them, resorted them, and continued to rearrange them until the story seemed coherent.

I then wrote a detailed synopsis. The synopsis consisted of the step-by-step plot, subplots, character conflict, and bits of backstory weaved into the story. Writing a synopsis (sort of a readable plot outline) is tough. It requires a lot more thinking than typing, but it makes the subsequent writing so much easier.

My agent read it and sent me some suggested changes. I redid it, and she reviewed it and gave the go-ahead.

I then went into writing mode, where I sat my butt in my desk chair and IMG_0639wrote a minimum of 1000 words a day—well, almost every day—for the next four months.

When the first draft (just shy of 90,000 words) was finished, I took a break to distance myself from it for a week. I then read it and took notes of what I needed to change, delete, and add.

With my notes beside me, I dove into a rewrite. I added scenes, deleted scenes, added descriptions, improved dialogue, made characters more sympathetic, and upped the action.

After a break of a few days, I printed it out—all 320 pages—and read it with a pencil in hand. Four days later, I propped up the binder beside my computer and went to work making the changes from my edited copy. After two long days, I had spellcheck go through it again, and sent it to my agent.

I know it’s far from done. My agent will undoubtable suggest changes—maybe minor or maybe major. She’ll then send it off to publishers who’ve expressed interest, and if we land a contract, their editors will read it and request other changes—maybe minor, but probably major. I know from experience that every change these experts suggest make it a better book.

With luck, Spartina Island could be available in bookstores a year from now. Fingers crossed.

Giving Up the Badge by Bruce Robert Coffin

Retiring from police work was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Quite a statement, right? But it’s true. Ask any cop who has left the job after twenty or thirty years in search of a “normal” life and they will likely tell you that it was much harder than they ever imagined.

Most departments try to prepare officers for the financial realities of retirement by conducting briefings with retired cops who have moved into non-law enforcement careers, and holding training sessions put on by state retirement employees. And the financial reality is this, unless you worked a ridiculous amount of overtime – i.e., spent the last several decades away from your family – you’re going to need a job, most likely one that includes benefits like health care coverage. But financial realities aside, the real challenge in retiring from law enforcement is psychological, and on that point, in my opinion, we do a pretty poor job preparing officers.

I have discussed this very issue with enough retired cops to know that it is a real problem. They all wish they had been better prepared for the mental adjustment. I had never experienced any issues with depression, suddenly I found myself floundering, on the outside looking in. Retirement wasn’t what I had envisioned. Oh, I had plenty of free time. That wasn’t a problem. The problem was I felt obsolete, unneeded. No longer was my phone ringing twenty-four hours a day with calls from someone who needed me to supervise a case, put out a fire, give advice or guidance. No longer did have to crawl out of bed each night and drive to Portland half-awake to start a new investigation. No one was calling. Those things I retired to get away from were the very things I missed. I began to wonder if maybe I’d made a grave mistake.

My life became a roller coaster of emotion. The good days were full of all the things I enjoyed, spending time with my wife and family, working out, golfing, hiking, fishing, writing. The bad days, usually accompanied by foul weather, I often found it hard to even get out of bed. At first I told myself that I was just catching up on lost sleep. It was okay to sleep-in, I’d earned it. But the reality was I felt like I no longer mattered. My police family had moved on without me. I had hopped off the big blue bus and was no longer sure who I was. My purpose in life, once so clear, had become a mystery. And to think that I retired of my own volition. What about those who don’t? Imagine being forced out of your police family, as many cops are, due to a mental or physical impediment.

I am lucky that I had the support of friends and family to get me through the most difficult period, which in my case was the first twelve to eighteen months. I try and reach out to fellow officers as they enter into their own retirement, giving them a heads-up about the feelings they may experience as they transition from their former life to the new. My purpose in reaching out is to lend an ear, and to validate what they may end up feeling. I tell them that there is life after police work, they just have to keep busy until the transition occurs.

Like most first responders, cops tend to be their own worst enemies. We are so used to assisting those in need that we are often the last to seek help from others. Most departments have employee assistance programs, critical incident debriefings, and peer support groups for active members. Perhaps the time has come for police departments to focus on those preparing to retire too.

I am one of the fortunate ones who found something I love to do after I left law enforcement. Unfortunately, there are too many still looking.

Have you experienced something similar? Do you know others who have?

Police Response to School Shootings


Brian Thiem: Within hours of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month, I heard the cries of countless people telling how the police should respond to school shootings and how they could’ve done better. The voices came from the media, politicians (this includes those wearing police uniforms (usually with stars on the collars), academics, and half the population with social media accounts. Stoneman Douglas School-Parkland, FL


People asked me to condemn the deputies who staged outside because we all know (we’re all experts about how police should do policing), cops should immediately rush inside. Right?


Well, it’s not that simple.   


I was a lieutenant with the Oakland Police Department and the commander of Special Operations (SWAT) in April 1999 when the shooting at Columbine High School occurred. The next day, I talked to an old Army buddy who worked for a suburban Denver police department and was one of the responding SWAT officers. I visited him shortly thereafter and recall his frustration over having to wait outside the school while the carnage continued inside. But that was the standard operating procedure for SWAT teams at that time.


Police tactics, equipment, procedures, and training normally evolve in response to past failures. Back in the 1960’s, SWAT teams were being formed in cities such as Philadelphia and Los Angeles in response to criminal incidents that were beyond the ability of the average patrol officer armed with revolvers and occasional shotguns—incidents which too often left officers, and sometimes innocent citizens, dead. Rushing into bank robberies in progress sometimes resulted in forced hostage situations and unnecessary gunfights. But brave officers are supposed to rush in, right?  


In the 1970s, departments began training officers at critical incidents to surround the area, contain it, and wait for SWAT, with their trained and properly equipped operators, snipers, and negotiators. When SWAT arrived, they would set up a command post, collected intelligence, and try to negotiate with the bad guys before using force. Shootings of cops, bad guys, and innocent bystanders dropped dramatically with these new tactics and training.


Those basic principles of contain, isolate, and negotiate proved successful for many years, but those tactics failed miserably at Columbine. When I returned from Colorado, I brainstormed the Columbine scenario with my fellow tactical commanders and SWAT sergeants and made a presentation at the next Bay Area Tactical Commanders meeting. I advocated sending SWAT officers into the scene immediately upon their arrival without establishing a perimeter, setting up a command post, gathering intel, or developing detailed plans. This was a radical concept in 1999, and the opposition was strong, especially from the San Francisco Field Office’s SWAT Team tactical commanders.


Nevertheless, we pushed forward. That summer, the OPD Tactical Operations Team hosted the Grass Valley SWAT competition and training, and we included a school shooting scenario for the 20-some SWAT teams from around the Western US. In the school shooting exercise, teams were required to move toward the gunfire as rapidly as possible, bypassing wounded civilians and those still in danger, rushing through danger areas without clearing them, and taking enormous personal risks to get to the shooters and stop the bloodshed. This was totally contrary to the way we’d been trained as police officers and SWAT cops: treat and evacuate wounded citizens, protect civilians still in danger, methodically search and secure rooms before moving past them, and contain suspects and offer them a chance to surrender before assaulting. However, by the end of that day, we saw what worked and what didn’t, and learned that our new tactical procedures succeeded, despite the enormous risk to the responders.


Although we’d like to think we were the first SWAT team to develop these new tactics, we later discovered similar movements were occurring around the nation, and soon, this was the standard operating procedure for what would be called Active Shooter Situations. But SWAT teams weren’t necessarily the solution to these situations.


Knowing that it would take too long for our part-time SWAT team to arrive and assemble, Oakland PD soon took this a step further and began training all officers in the department to respond to active shooter School Shooting Trainingsituations. The policy called for officers to enter in 3-officer teams, move toward the gunfire, and contain or neutralize the suspect or suspects the best they could with the weapons and tools they had. We established training for the entire department using paintball guns and Simunitions for realism, allowing officers to experience what it was like to shoot and be shot as they move rapidly toward armed adversaries.


As a former Army officer and police supervisor and commander, I know that merely establishing policy, especially when it deals with how to operate in tactical situations, without the resultant training and continuous refresher training, is a recipe for failure. When bullets start flying in combat, most soldiers (and police officers) will react the way they were trained. As a leader, I also know that if they fail, it is normally the fault of bad policy and poor training, not the individual soldier or police officer.


Maybe I was blessed to have worked with the finest men and women in the world at Oakland PD, but I rarely encountered an officer acting cowardly. To the contrary, in my role as a sergeant and lieutenant, I often had to hold them back to prevent them from rushing into danger unnecessarily or too quickly.


I have no doubt that if a school shooting had occurred on my watch, the first officer on the scene would wait for the next two to arrive, and the team would head toward the gunfire. They’d know there could be multiple shooters who might have superior weapons. They’d know there could be explosive booby traps that they’d never see in time as they rushed through the buildings to save lives. They’d know a shooter could ambush and gun them down as they pass and that their Kevlar vests wouldn’t stop a rifle bullet. Active shooter situations are dangerous—damn dangerous.


As I write this, it’s still unclear exactly why officers and deputies staged outside the school, but I suspect the fault lies more with failures in leadership, policy, and training than cowardice on the part of the officers. It’s easy for those who never faced a life-threatening situation to label others as cowards for not handling it the way Hollywood heroes do in the movies. It’s quite another to face a situation where gunshots are sounding, but you don’t know where they’re coming from and whether there’s one ill-trained teenage shooter or multiple skilled gunmen.  


I hope that once all the facts come out, the blaming and political posturing will stop, and law enforcement agencies can learn from this, as we did with Columbine, and do whatever is necessary to respond better when (I’d like to say “if” but I’ve been a cop too long to be that optimistic) it happens the next time.


Cop Habits Die Hard

BRIAN THIEM: After an hour of mingling with the 50 or so people at a neighborhood party on New Year’s Day, I made my way through the buffet table and located a place to sit with my overflowing plate of goodies. It was a comfy chair in a corner of the living room with my back to not only one wall but two. My friends joked that they were saving this seat especially for me so no one could sneak up behind me, and should a member of ISIS appear among the partygoers, I’d spot him. Old habits die hard.

Its’ been 13 years since I’ve carried a badge and gun for a living, but when I go out to dinner with friends, I still quickly grab the seat where I can best view the crowd and, if possible, the doors. When I enter a convenience store, I still pause at the doorway andBrian OPD 1980 scan the shoppers. I check the faces and demeanor of the clerks behind the cash registers for signs of distress. I know the chances of a take-over robbery occurring at the restaurant where I’m eating or a stick-up going down at the store I’m entering are slight, but old habit die hard.

When my wife and I first started dating 18 years ago, she was perplexed (to say the least) when I continually guided her to my left side as we walked down a street and offered up my left arm or hand for her to hold. As a young soldier in the Army, I learned to carry things in my left hand to keep my right hand free for saluting. That habit was reinforced when I joined the police department—always keep your gun hand free. Today, I still do the same because old habits die hard.

I still stand to the side of doors when knocking or ringing a doorbell. I doubt the person I’m visiting will empty an assault rifle’s magazine through the door if I’m standing in front of it, but old habits die hard.

When I pull up to a traffic light, I still stop a car length behind the car in front of me. Cops are trained not to let themselves get boxed in. If an emergency call comes over the radio or we spot a felony-want vehicle driving toward us, we want an escape route. And we certainly don’t want to be bumper-to-bumper with the car in front of us if we suddenly realize it matches the description of one used in a string of armed robberies. Old habits die hard.

When I started in police work, very few of us wore seatbelts when on patrol. The fear of being trapped in our cars if a bad guy suddenly appeared and started shooting at us was greater than dying in a crash. Halfway through my career, our department mandated the use of seatbelts during normal operations (a good decision), even though the lawOakland police car provided a law enforcement exception to the seatbelt laws. But we began unbuckling our seatbelts as we approached a scene, so that upon arrival, it was one less thing to do if we needed to hastily exit our cars. That habit continued well into retirement, whether I was pulling into the grocery store or my driveway. But thanks to my new car’s nagging admonishment when my seatbelt is undone, I no longer release it a block before my destination.

Today, my retired brothers and sisters in blue and I can laugh at some of our old cop habits, but we know that these habits may have allowed us to survive the streets and make it to retirement, so many will remain with us forever.

I’d love to hear from others out there—either former cops or friends of cops—about other cop habits they notice in people who had once carried a badge and gun for a living.