Watch Out Where
You Leave Your Trash Bags

54e73cf1475ca_neil_s_plakcyI am on vacation in the wilds of France and might not be able to talk to you guys. So I have asked one of my critique group buddies Neil Plakcy to sub for me today. Neil is a great editor as well as being a prolific writer of several series. You can check out his books by clicking here. — PJ

By Neil Plakcy

It took two years for me to make it to top of the FBI’s most-wanted list in Miami. That is, the list of those who most wanted to participate in the eight-week Citizen’s Academy. I had to pass the security clearance and then wait my turn, and while I did plot ideas kept seething in my brain, waiting for me to get the true lowdown on Bureau operations so that I could make my crime fiction as realistic as possible.

Finally all my security clearances were complete and I was off to the FBI’s Miami office. I knew why I was there — I wanted to learn more about the functions of the Bureau to use in my crime fiction.

And I’d heard you got to shoot guns with the Special Agents.


Neil gets his FBI diploma.

But why were all the other people there -– the high school principal, the veterinarian, the accountant? Everyone I asked said something like someone had told them it was fun.
Fun? Sitting in a conference room for three hours a night, once a week, listening to a bunch of men and women in dark suits talk about paperwork and statistics? Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

I did learn a lot that I could use in my own writing. South Florida was at the time, and probably still is, responsible for more health care fraud than the rest of the country combined. Why, you might ask? Perhaps because of the high number of retirees in the area?

Think again. It’s actually because allegedly 98 percent of those involved in health care fraud are Cubans and Cuban-Americans, and there have been reports of money gained fraudulently going back to the island to fund Castro’s regime. One operation alone, Operation Severed Artery, investigated eleven infusion clinics that had defrauded Medicare by over $80 million.

We learned a lot about possible methods of real estate fraud, and the millions of dollars at stake. Lots of other great things too, but one of my favorites was the concept of curtilage.
The agent defined curtilage as the area immediately around your property. This means that an outdoor area can be legally coupled with the property it surrounds, even though it’s not part of the structure. This is important when it comes to what an agent needs a search warrant for.

If an agent sees something in the yard, it may fall within the curtilage. Trash in a bag next to the house, for example, would still be within the curtilage and the agent would need a warrant to search it.


Yes, it’s legal. Police can search your trash without a warrant.

Trash in a bag out at the curb, however, is outside the curtilage and can be seen as having been abandoned. Therefore the agent doesn’t need a warrant to search it. It was fascinating to get an inside look at so many of these issues. And we got to shoot those guns, too, at a Miami-Dade police range where we lined up to fire different weapons.
We shot the Glock 22, with 40 caliber ammunition. That’s the FBI agent’s standard handgun.

The long-barrel gun was an H&K MP5, 10 millimeter, with a long barrel. It can be used in semi-automatic or full automatic mode, though we only shot in semi-automatic.
The shotgun was a Remington 12 gauge with a 14-inch barrel. The shorter barrel is important because it’s easier to conceal and to carry in and out of vehicles.

It was kind of funny watching my classmates, many of whom were middle-aged women in high heels, experiencing the kickback from the guns. Fortunately, there were many agents there to help us out. It was a real blast (no pun intended), but I also enjoyed the graduation ceremony, where I was presented with my certificate by the Special Agent in Charge.

Interested in taking part in a Citizen’s Academy? They are offered through field offices around the country. For more about the program, and how to apply, CLICK HERE.

Neil Plakcy’s golden retriever mysteries have been inspired by his own goldens, Samwise, Brody and Griffin. He has written and edited many other books; details can be found at his website, Neil, his partner, Brody and Griffin live in South Florida, where Neil is writing and the dogs are undoubtedly getting into mischief.

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About PJ Parrish

PJ Parrish is the New York Times and USAToday bestseller author of the Louis Kincaid thrillers. Her books have won the Shamus, Anthony, International Thriller Award and been nominated for the Edgar. Visit her at

6 thoughts on “Watch Out Where
You Leave Your Trash Bags

  1. I’ve done the Civilian Police Academy in Orlando, but an FBI course would be “fun” for me, I think. Thanks for sharing your experiences. We didn’t get to shoot in the Civilian Police Academy; my experiences were almost all via Romance Writers conferences!

  2. Just checking in to make sure you guys are being nice to Neil. Will be back in the saddle soon!

    But speaking of law enforcement types…we got saved by a couple of very sweet gendarmes on our first day in France. Driving from Paris down to Orleans, jet lagged and in a driving rain, we lost our way and ended up going the wrong way on a toll road, with no exit for the next 30 kilometers. We pulled into a truck stop and tried to use our fractured French on some burly cigarette-puffing drivers, but they turned out to be Italians. But one pointed us to the nearby gendarme station where we found a exceedingly polite and patient young French flic (cop) who didn’t speak English but who drew us a detailed map showing us how to use the police station’s back roads to avoid going back on the toll road. He also told us to tear up our toll ticket and bid us “bon chance.” (good luck). We wouldn’t have make it without him.

    Good cops are good cops no matter where you are.

  3. Thanks, Neil, for the great write-up!
    Another great opportunity is to participate in the annual Writer’s Police Academy ( It’s an intensive, four-day weekend with other writers and law-enforcement instructors, all focused on “getting it right” in your fiction. (And no, I’m not affiliated with the WPA in any way, just a past participant who plans to attend again!)

  4. Welcome back to TKZ, Neil! Your story about women and kickbacks reminded me of the first time I fired a shotgun at age 17 (shooting skeet). It knocked me backwards; I landed flat on my butt. I remembered that the first time I wrote about an inexperienced woman firing a gun–the kickback (and for me, also the firing pressure) is important to include. I have relatives who wish to “gift” me with some items in their gun collections–I could never handle most of them. Give me a ladylike derringer, any day!

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