I hope you're enjoying our bloggers this week. All four brave women trained with real life law enforcement agencies. Help me welcome a graduate of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Citizens Academy. Welcome Donnell Bell, writer and woman with a hair-trigger muse. I'm not talking about a muse with her trigger finger on the hair spraycan trigger, either!

When I started my fiction career, my protagonists consisted of lawyers, politicians bankers and engineers. But I loved mystery suspense so naturally a cop or two always existed on the fringes. Still, I could never bring myself to make my hero a cop. Why?Because even though I’d watched every cop show from Dragnet to the Streets of San Francisco to Hill Street Blues to Law and Order, studied police procedure and bought every Deadly Dose book available, I didn’t know cops. What made them get up every morning or how they thought. And because I didn’t know them, how could I get into the head of one and create a three- dimensional character instead of a paper doll look-alike of one of these famous shows?

So when someone told me that the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office had a Citizens Academy, not only did I enroll, I was the first in line. The secretary handed me the forms saying, “Don’t worry, you have plenty of time.” At that I smiled. She didn’t have a muse sitting on her shoulder arguing the point.

So how did the Citizens Academy help me bring a character from flimsy cardboard to dimensional? It started from the sheriff on down. He started out the six-week session and explained what it was like to be a politician, to answer to the county and its budget constraints, to oversee the massive Criminal Justice Center (e.g. the El Paso County Jail)
and be held accountable. He also talked about personnel, he made us laugh, talking about how deputies can’t drive and how he wished he could take the reverse out of squad cars at times. And then he became serious and discussed the very human component and made us consider the issues we wouldn’t normally consider.

Next came the commanders and the workshops, and again the stereotypes were left at the door. When the Vice commander arrived in his tie-dyed shirt to talk about narcotics, meth labs and undercover work and showed up with a marvelous sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye, he eradicated every preconceived notion I’d ever held.

On television we see the vice cops enter the premises and take the bad guys away. We know there’s often the risk of the lethal bullet. On the other hand, we don’t see the health
risks they take entering these contaminated sites on call outs, or the mental anguish they face when they see what a methamphetamine dealer puts his child through, cooking crystal meth right next to the Frosted Flakes and his teddy bear.

Thanks to the Citizens Academy, I’ll never look at entering a hotel room the same way.
One vice cop said even when he’s on vacation he carries a can of spray starch. When he enters the room he sprays it on the wall. It doesn’t hurt the wall he said, but if the wall turns black, he not only leaves the room, he goes to the front desk and demands his money back then leaves the hotel. Meth not only kills its victims, it leaves a trail of destruction from innocent bystanders, renters, landlords and neighbors. I can’t stress how aware this made me of this cancerous threat to society, or how much I support stiffer laws and penalties of both users and the greedy idiots who make the stuff.

The six weeks covered every department, from computer-aided analysis crime-scene re-enactment, the detective division, guns/shooting range, patrol, the victim’s advocacy,
search and rescue, homeland security/emergency response, internal affairs to a tour of the jail and dispatch. And as I sat through these courses and learned what it took to run this well-oiled machine, I got a glimpse of what made these people tick. One, they were selfless, two they were fearless and three, they didn’t require much sleep or praise.

And the muse sitting on my shoulder went “Aha,” and my first cop protagonist came to life, resulting in a 2007 Golden Heart finalist nomination. Do I recommend the Citizen’s Academy? Heck, yeah. I also recommend taking it a step further. If you have the opportunity to get involved with your local law enforcement, do so. Become a volunteer or even a recruit. That’s what the Citizens Academy’s about, after all. I give you my word; you’ll get more than you’ll ever give back.

Copyright© 2007 Donnell Ann Bell




  1. Mary Marvella // April 14, 2010 at 12:29 AM  

    Donnell, you make even me want to try this!

  2. Beth Trissel // April 14, 2010 at 8:43 AM  

    Welcome Donnell to the Fuzzies. You are an amazing woman with quite a story. One of those mega story behind the story kind of posts. Very interesting.

  3. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM  

    Mary, good morning! If your city and county have arranged a Citizens Academy every law abiding citizen should do one. It's their right and their duty in my opinion. Pick up that phone, I know you're law abiding.

  4. Mary Marvella // April 14, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

    Donnell, I'm too old not to be! I need the old for senior citizens.

  5. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 9:04 AM  

    Beth, thank you! I don't know about amazing, but I am darn curious. Oh my gosh, yes, the stories just poured out. Did you know cops are natural born storytellers. Generally, when you get one to take you on a ridealong, the sergeants try to get one who likes to talk. (After all they want their agencies to look good, right?) You hear war stories and you learn that some of the stuff we've read and heard is cliche, and some rightfully earned.

    Where the real stories come in is when you volunteer. However as a Victim's Advocate, there's some stories I'll never be able to share. But it does give me a deeper understanding. I sure thought it was interesting. Thank you!

  6. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 9:05 AM  

    Mary, you're so silly, okay ask for the Senior Citizen Citizens Academy package, but I know they'll never believe you!

  7. Judy // April 14, 2010 at 9:58 AM  

    Fascinating, Donnell. I was shocked to learn about the dangers of some hotel rooms because my husband has been associated with the hotel business for years and I've never heard him mention such a thing. I'm going to ask him about it... Thanks for all the info!! Good luck with everything!

  8. Patrice // April 14, 2010 at 10:49 AM  

    Me too! I wonder if we have a Citizen's academy in West Palm Beach. This is a fascinating blog, and I want to thank Donnell and the other ladies for volunteering their time and giving us this information.

  9. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 11:06 AM  

    Thanks, Judy and Patrice, As in the article I wrote, I promise you'll get more than you'll ever give back. I have an article on my web page called, Just be Professional, It's not that Hard. It was another lesson I took away from The Citizens Academy from a female sergeant who worked in the jail. As a matter of fact three of the articles there are directly from the C.A. or the Volunteer Victim's Advocacy.

    You're not a Cop Till You Taste them was required reading in the Victims Advocacy to let us into a cop's head. It was long penned anonymous. Imagine my stunned surprise when Sgt. Bernie Moss contacted me. (I thought it was written by someone long dead). He's alive and well and a wonderful guy. I defy anyone to read this article and not get choked up. if and when you have time, see www.donnellannbell.com and let me know if you don't agree.

  10. Joelle Charbonneau // April 14, 2010 at 12:07 PM  

    Great blog post, Donnell! Now I need someone to watch Max so I can enroll in a Citizen's Academy.

    Um..I noticed that your most recent GH nomination wasn't mentioned anywhere. Congrats...it looks like the academy really paid off since it resulted in TWO GH nods. Congrats on your nomination and thanks for your POV on the academy.

  11. Mary Ricksen // April 14, 2010 at 12:20 PM  

    This is such great stuff. I love to hear about the behind the scenes stuff. So CSI is exaggerated? Darn.
    Great blog, thanks for posting with us!!
    Sign me up!

  12. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 12:21 PM  

    Joelle, raising hand to watch Max; be right over. Maybe he'll teach me to roller skate. What do you think? With friends like you and the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers I don't have to mention the 2010 nod ya'll do it over. Now, off to find something to read to Max :)

  13. Anonymous // April 14, 2010 at 12:25 PM  

    Donnell, welcome to the pink fuzzies! We're so pleased that you dropped by to visit and tell us about your experience. Will stop by later to finish this interesting blog--now, back to work!

    Melba Moon
    President-Elect KOD

  14. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 12:26 PM  

    Mary, I would say CSI is great TV and abbreviated. Okay, I'll tell you something I learned in the Citizens Academy. In CSI when there's a test for blood, the team comes in and performs a luminol test. The deputies and commanders who taught me laughed and laughed at the way CSI spread it all over the place as though it were water.

    The stuff is expensive they said, and it goes back to the budget stuff.:) they're always struggling with. Sure, they'll use it, but not in CSI's exaggerated amount.

  15. Pamela Varnado // April 14, 2010 at 3:33 PM  

    Donnell, after reading all the blogs posted this week, I made a phone call to my local police station and received a contact for the public affairs office. I can't wait until I'm able to attend our local Citizens Academy. Although going on a ride-along can be dangerous, you made it sound so exciting.

  16. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 4:07 PM  

    Hi, Melba, looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Pam, hi! I think everyone who attends a Citizens Academy looks forward to these events the most. As a V.A., I was required to go on a three ridealongs a year. You can go on days, PMs or graveyard shifts, and weekends or holidays usually generate the most excitement/action.

    The funniest (well not to me) ridealong I went on was when I accompanied a deputy who was driving out to take a report so a man could get a restraining order on his ex-wife.

    When he opened the door and saw me with the deputy, he kind of balked then said, for a moment I thought you were my ex, and she's crazy.

    Well, he had the second part right ;) All sorts of interesting things happen and it will enhance your writing! Have fun!

  17. Barbara Monajem // April 14, 2010 at 5:20 PM  

    Hey, Donnell! We've traded blogs today. Cool to see you here.

  18. Nightingale // April 14, 2010 at 5:22 PM  

    Interesting stuff! Sometimes I skim but I read every word.

  19. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 6:00 PM  

    Barbara, indeed we did. I had so much fun writing those interview questions! I hope it leads to lots of book sales.

    Nightingale, thank you! I'm glad you find the topic of Citizens Academies interesting.

  20. Mary Marvella // April 14, 2010 at 8:12 PM  

    Great job, Donnell. ant to think you had to follow Amy and Melanie. And Cindy follows you. Not easy.

    How'd you like the title I chose?

  21. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 8:22 PM  

    Loved the title you chose, Mary, and I'm honored to be included with Amy, Melanie, Cindy and Karin, I believe? Thanks for having me, Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers!

  22. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 14, 2010 at 9:41 PM  

    Donnell, I've never heard of spraying starch on the wall to detect meth. This is an interesting fact to store away for future information. Great blog. Thanks for sharing with us.

  23. Donnell // April 14, 2010 at 9:56 PM  

    You're welcome, Scarlet. Regarding the spray starch, this is what a friend who works for a police agency said.

    As for the spray starch, it will sometimes highlight iodine, which is a key by-product of meth production."

    So there ya go. Back to meth labs, ladies, be very afraid. They are inexpensive to operate and can pop up in the wealthiest of neighborhoods. Meth changes the sweetest personality into someone who would sell their soul. It's epidemic because it's easy to produce. Scary scary business.

    Thanks and take care!

  24. Mary Ricksen // April 14, 2010 at 11:12 PM  

    Get me the spray starch I am gonna carry it every time I go to a motel. Amazing information. Thanks Donnell for posting with the PFS. We are so grateful to learn new things.

    Mary, you do this so well...

  25. Donnell // April 15, 2010 at 4:09 AM  

    Mary and Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers, thanks for giving us a chance to talk about something that has become a passion for me. I love to write cop stories now. I also, think I'll take out some stock in spray starch! Happy reading & writing!

  26. Joanne // April 15, 2010 at 9:28 AM  

    Welcome to the Pink Fuzzies. Your blog was inspiring. I am looking into the Citizens Academy in my area.

  27. Edie Ramer // April 15, 2010 at 10:34 AM  

    Another excellent post. Donnell, you brought the process alive to me.

    I didn't know there were cans of spray starch. Shows how much I iron. lol I'm going to google this and find out more about it.

  28. Mary Marvella // April 15, 2010 at 12:56 PM  

    Edie, spray starch and Magic sizing make ironing so much easier, even if you iron once a year