These are hard times to be a cop. There are days when it seems like the actions of a few have tainted the entire law enforcement profession. When I began writing the Right Wrong Thing I was simply trying to write a good story about what happens when a cop shoots an innocent person. I never anticipated the headline-making shootings of unarmed citizens or the groundswell of protest that would follow.
Some of you know that I'm a police psychologist as well as a writer. I switched from non-fiction to writing mysteries in 2013 when I foolishly thought it would be easier to make things up. I use fiction to explore contemporary issues in law enforcement such as police suicide, post-traumatic stress and, in my current work-in-progress, the strain investigating internet crimes against children has on the investigator.
My protagonist is psychologist, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff. Dot was my mother's name and Meyerhoff was my maternal grandmother's surname. Neither lived to read my mysteries. It makes me happy to honor them in this way.
My books are inspired by clients, all of whom I've deeply disguised to protect their identities. I've lost count of how many officers I've counseled after a shooting. (For that matter, I've also lost track of how many officers' funerals I've attended.) Many are temporarily experiencing physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. For them, time slows down or speeds up. Hands or weapons appear larger than life. Gunshots don't sound the way they do on the firing range. Memory degrades. So does patience. Isolation increases. It's hard to sleep, to stop thinking about the shooting or to engage in normal family activities. These are all involuntary reactions generated by a storm of stress hormones and neuro-chemicals activated by the human response to threats against survival. Normal or not, post-traumatic stress can make an officer feel as though she's going crazy.
The client who inspired this book struggled to come to terms with having killed a person even though the shooting was deemed lawful and justified. Like Randy Spelling, the fictional officer who mistakenly shoots and kills an unarmed pregnant teenager in The Right Wrong Thing, my client had nightmares and suffered from extreme guilt and remorse. Unlike Randy, she found a good therapist (apologies for tooting my own horn) to help her recover.
I am very grateful to so many officers who have allowed me to fictionalize their stories and helped me get the details right. It is my hope that my books are not only good reads but are informative and shed some light on the too often unacknowledged emotional risks of being a cop or being married to one.
Readers ask me what they can do to support their police. I have a simple suggestion. Next time you see a cop – smile. They face so much negativity in their daily lives, a simple smile, or saying something like "thanks for being on the job" or "be safe" can make their day. Try it. Let me know how it works for you. And thanks Jungle Reds for letting me haul my soapbox over to your wonderful blog.
Officer Randy Spelling had always wanted to be a police officer, to follow in the footsteps of her brothers and her father. Not long after joining the force, she mistakenly shoots and kills Lakeisha Gibbs, a pregnant teenager. The community is outraged; Lakeisha’s family is vocal and vicious in their attacks against Spelling. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and filled with remorse, Randy is desperate to apologize to the girl’s family. Everyone, including the police chief, warns her against this, but the young police officer will not be dissuaded. Her attempt is catastrophic. Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, police psychologist, plunges herself into the investigation despite orders from the police chief to back off. Not only does the psychologist’s refusal to obey orders jeopardize her career, but her life as well, as she enlists unlikely allies and unconventional undercover work to expose the tangled net of Officer Spelling’s disastrous course.
Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in independent practice. She is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Society for the Study of Police and Criminal Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and the International Association of Women in Law Enforcement. She is the recipient of the California Psychological Association's 2014 award for distinguished contribution to psychology as well as the American Psychological Association's 2010 award for outstanding contribution to the practice of police and public safety psychology.
Ellen is the author of the award-winning I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know. The Right Wrong Thing is her second mystery. Her debut novel, Burying Ben is about police suicide told from the perspective of the psychologist.
Ellen and her husband live in Redwood City, California.