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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Police Chief: Information for Writers with Chief Scott Silverii

Chief Scott Silverii, PhD
Fiona - 
Today on ThrillWriting, I'm very pleased to introduce you to a friend and fellow writer, Dr. Scott Silverii.
Dr. Silverii serves as the Chief of Police in the southern Louisiana city of Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish. There, he enjoys the honor of public service. His twenty-four plus years in policing provides the experience and vision to believe there is always a way to help others. 16 of those years were spent in policing's special operations groups with thousands of undercover narcotics and SWAT missions.

His passion for public service flourished while growing up in the heart of Cajun Country, leading a life seasoned by the Mardi Gras, hurricanes, humidity, and crawfish etouffe.

Hi, Chief. Can you start by telling us about how you got involved in writing both your non-fiction and your fiction works?

Chief Silverii -
I began my non-fiction writing once I completed my PhD in Anthropology from the University of New Orleans. I self-published my dissertation - A Darker Shade of Blue, and then sold an extended manuscript to the Taylor & Francis Group where it was published by CRC Press - Cop Culture: Why Good Cops Go Bad Link 

Last year, Lee Lofland invited me to teach at Writers' Police Academy (WPA) and introduced me to the amazing world of writers. I tried my hand at crime fiction as a way to decompress from the years of grad school. I loved the challenge of transitioning from the formal, rigid academy rules and also the narrative police reports - to the descriptive content of mystery fiction. Have you ever heard, "Show. Don't tell?" Ha! - I have, plenty of times.

And that's where I had the pleasure of meeting you and becoming friends. 

(This is a LINK to a ThrillWriting article about the concept of Sheepdogs and Dr. Silverii's doctoral thesis)

Fiona -
One of the things that you talked about in one of the WPA classes was your time doing SWAT duty after Katrina. Do you think that that experience has helped you in your position as Police Chief?

Scott Silverii working a SWAT detail during the aftermath of Katrina

Chief Silverii -
Yes, my 16 years in SWAT taught me more about conflict and crisis resolution than any other experience I've had. The Katrina deployment taught me the value of compassion under extreme conflict. The ability to combine strategic functions measured by compassionate consideration helped shape the vision for leading my agency as their Chief of Police.

Fiona - 
Can you tell us a little bit about the scope of your position? As I keep up with you from day to day, it seems you're stirring a lot of pots.

Chief Silverii - 

Chief Silverii with his son
Definitely - First and most importantly, I'm a dad. All else occupies crevasses between our time together. 

As the city's Chief of Police, I'm solely responsible for every function of the agency. Being a full-service provider includes activities ranging from school crossing guard, animal control, trustee work crews to patrol officers, detectives, academy training to SWAT and narcotics ops. 

Of course, my time participating as a part of those assignments are limited. My primary duties include providing a crystal clear direction for progressing the agency. Included in that is the training, promotion, staffing and all the fun administrative things. 

I also serve as an ambassador for the city and love meeting people in our city. Related to my position, I also serve as a subject matter expert in the analysis and application of data and mapping to increase officer effectiveness in reducing social harms. Working smarter rather than harder. 

I was named as an Executive Fellow for the Police Foundation - that was very exciting.

Fiona - 
Congratulations, Chief, that's wonderful. 

With your PhD in anthropology, do you develop or refine the ongoing training of your dept.?

Chief Silverii
I look at the culture of policing from a bigger perspective. I try to incorporate theoretical principles with practical application. Sometimes that results in revised training. Other times, it's reflected in policy initiatives such as social-norming or employee engagement. 

Cop culture is a tough environment - the dynamics involved in being "socialized" are complex and a mastery of those elements are critical for effecting sustained change.

Fiona - 
Globally rather than specific to you and your department, in speaking with your peers, what are some of the common issues that arise that might create tensions and difficulties in the departments? What about between LE (law enforcement) and the public?

Chief Silverii - 
The position of Chief is to develop, share, and ensure a clear vision of public safety. Unfortunately, not every officer will share that vision. Cops are like anyone else where decisions and consequences are involved. It's vital that they follow policy and approved practices. 

Tension is at the highest when disciplinary action is assigned. Chiefs must find the balance between being friendly with the troops yet not being their friend. That's a huge challenge and often gets blurred. Also, being the one giving promotions, assignments, preferred schedules, etc. a chief will never make everyone happy - it can be a lonely duty, but it's a calling to serve and another to lead.

Fiona - 
One of the questions I traditionally like to ask is: In media and books you've come across characters who do your job. What stereotypes are incorrect? What do you see consistently 
mis-written, what would you like to see done differently in portrayals of Chiefs?

Flashbang and Entrance Formation

Chief Silverii- 
Oh goodness - running the span. 

While I'd like to say that portraying the hapless and the corrupt Chief is incorrect, the truth is - it takes all kinds. I've known both extremes and all in-between. 

By and large, most Chiefs are committed career law men who are often limited in demonstrating their full potential by their political appointments by a mayor, council or city administrator. 

Chiefs are not typically elected, but are appointed by elected officials. It would be rare if they operate autonomously, and that contributes to the national average tenure of a Chief is about 2.3 years in an agency. 

I'm biased of course, but I'd love to see depth written - the way a Chief grieves over the loss of a person in their city. Lots of time in media/books the chief is a fat-cat in a suit focused on their next political move or appointment. The reality is, Chiefs are always focused on their staff and how to improve their working conditions. It doesn't make for sexy TV, but a Chief takes as much pride in their detectives busting a case as they do ordering a new fleet of cars for the officers.

Fiona - 
My other traditional question is about the story behind your favorite scar.

Chief Silverii- 
Favorite scar on me, or that I left on a bad guy?

Fiona - 

Chief Silverii - 


My right palm is filleted from the tip of ring finger to below the wrist. I was the Drug Task Force Commander during an undercover op. The agent gave the bust, and this jacked up drug dealer high on a non-natural product charged at me. After battling one-on-one in an isolated field for everything from his escape to my weapons, officers arrived. End result - he went to the clink and I went to the ER - surgery followed with minimum loss of hand use.

Fiona - 

What am I not asking you, but I should? Is there an aspect of your job that you'd like to expand upon?

Chief Silverii- 
Yes, I'm trying to promote continuing education for officers. I've benefited from advanced degrees and applied them to the job. It's actually so complex, but too many officers get trapped into believing that it's all about arresting people. We cannot arrest ourselves out of the social ills plaguing our country. I'd like to see victim advocacy and alternative methods of handling citizen complaints 
explored rather than tossing everyone in jail.

Fiona - 
Amazon Link 99 cents
I agree whole-heartedly, thank you. You just came out with a short story set in your part of the world. Can you tell us about your project?

Chief Silverii- 
You introduced me to writing the short story for a contest. I wrote, then edited and then cut to meet a super concise word count. I loved the discipline and intensity of the short story. I wanted to create a continuing series of episodes based on the same characters and location. I'm so passionate about Cajun Country and law enforcement, that

I combined the

This series spun from the characters
in my competition short story and has
grown into a multi-part adventure that
I'm continuing to develop with each

It's also a great way to hone my Show/Don't Tell skills. The protagonist - Sheriff James Walker is true blue and committed to protecting the citizens of his parish. What I'm loving is the depth of conflict, crisis and resolution he deals with daily - all the while leading an agency sworn to protect the public. His scars (in & out) make him human and identifiable.
Amazon Link 99 cents

Fiona - 
And reading them will probably be a great learning tool for my fellow crime writers in that you know your
stuff backwards and forwards. We've talked
a bit about police culture, what about
writers' culture are you bridging the two pretty easily?

Chief Silverii - 
The last year has been so rewarding through the relationships I've developed with writers. It's an
honor to consult with so many
who are committed to portraying
the cop life, culture, procedure
and practices with laser accuracy. 
enjoy consulting on selected
projects and manuscripts; it gives
me the opportunity to meet new
people and learn new skills in the
writing craft.

Amazon Link 99 cents
Fiona - 
Thank you so much for spending this time with us. What
are you up to this evening?

Chief Silverii- 
It's time to eat crawfish stew
Fiona - 
Well, enjoy! 

A big thank you to my readers for stopping by. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. They will post asap, but they are moderated so you don't have to wade through spam.

Also, you can connect with Chief Silverii at this LINK

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

1 comment:

  1. I especially enjoyed reading this, having met Chief Silverii and listening to him speak at WPA2013. Great interview, Fiona! :-)