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 Myerhoff, 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.
About the Author
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.
Read an Excerpt
The Right Wrong Thing
By Ellen Kirschman
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2015 Ellen Kirschman
All rights reserved.
"The trouble with women in policing is men." Jacqueline Reagon says this without a trace of animus in her voice. "I've had to compete with men at every rank right up to chief. Men only have to be as good as each other. I've had to be better." The men on the city council look uncomfortable. The women are beaming. "If you select me as chief, I can assure you that the Kenilworth Police Department will be a place where competent women can succeed without hindrance or harassment. I've moved two organizations from cowboy cultures to community policing by rewarding interpersonal skills and problem solving, as much, if not more, than acts of physical prowess or daring, which, until I became chief, were the only activities that counted." She speaks in a low, slow monotone, letting the impact of her words settle over the room. Even sitting down, she is taller than Jay Pence. And certainly less handsome. I wince at my own sexism, how easy it is to judge a woman on her looks, not her competence.
"Thank you, Chief Reagon," the mayor says. "Now we'll have a chance to hear from Acting Chief Pence about his plans for hiring women." The mayor smiles warmly at everyone as though hosting a party. He owns an insurance agency and like the other men on the council, his service to the city is motivated by his business interests. The newly elected councilwomen are a different matter. They mean business and are determined to move Kenilworth out of its coddled, self-congratulatory existence into the real world, half of whom are women.
Jay Pence walks to the front of the room as the street lights come on, lighting the windows behind the councilmembers' seats. We've been in special session for more than two hours putting these final two candidates through their paces. It's taken months to winnow down the list of applicants to replace former Chief Bob Baxter, the perfect narcissist cum sociopath, who's off somewhere in the Middle East making tons of money providing executive security to Arab oil magnates, unmoved by the lives he wrecked, or nearly wrecked, including mine.
Jay Pence coughs and smiles. His teeth are unnaturally white and even. "I've done a great deal to rectify the embarrassment caused by my predecessor, especially in the area of bringing women into the department. I'm proud, very proud, of the fact that I hired Officer Randy Alderson Spelling. She is, as I predicted, literally sailing through field training and is almost finished with probation."
I went to Randy's badge pinning ceremony. Rich, her husband, was all thumbs trying to pin her badge on straight and she was all smiles. Same for field training: nothing but smiles and high marks from her and from her trainers. "I love this job so much I'd do it for free," she said, when she finished. And then she disappeared into the night. Rookies always get the dog watch, 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. A younger psychologist might be willing and able to ride along in the middle of the night just to stay in touch with the troops, but I need my sleep.
"I admire Chief Reagon's persistence and know her reputation for changing organizational culture." Pence turns and smiles in Reagon's direction. "I am happy to say that I have encountered no resistance bringing Officer Spelling on board at Kenilworth PD. The police association was very supportive, as they are for my candidacy." There is a smattering of applause from a group of officers in the audience.
"Bringing women into law enforcement is a priority for me. I wrote a paper on the topic for my class at the FBI National Academy. You can read it if you want; it's a good antidote for insomnia." He laughs again. "It is also the subject of my thesis for my Masters in Public Administration, when and if things slow down enough for me to complete it"
Jacqueline Reagon bends to her microphone. "Pardon my interrupting, but if I may, I'd like to ask Acting Chief Pence why he thinks women make good police officers?" Her question, so simple and unexpected, seems to throw Pence off. His hand moves to his silky, perfectly combed, prematurely white hair, as if to ruffle it, and then drops to his side. I prefer shaggy men, like Frank—the way his gray hair curls at the base of his neck when he needs a haircut, the brushy feel of his beard on my face. I feel a rising flush, perimenopause or flashes of desire—it's hard to tell anymore.
"Women are good with children. They have good communication skills. They have a natural affinity for care-taking that is very helpful with domestic violence victims."
Chief Reagon rises from her seat. She is plain as a nun in her navy suit and white nylon shell. The only jewelry she wears is a silver watch. "I congratulate Chief Pence for trying to do the right thing, although, in my opinion, hiring one woman doesn't come close to what this department requires. And, in fact, it puts a great deal of pressure on that particular woman. It's critical to have a deep understanding of the contributions women can make to law enforcement. Without it, we risk exploiting a social trend for our own means." Jay Pence's cheeks are tinged with red. Despite her diplomatic use of the editorial "we," Chief Reagon is looking directly at him.
"As Chief Pence said, women have excellent communication skills. Police work involves physical aggression only ten percent of the time." She shifts her body toward the council. "Women are more likely to defuse an explosive situation by talking someone down and less likely to act aggressively when they are challenged. This is not to say women cannot or will not respond aggressively when needed. They will go to the mat to protect their safety, or the safety of others. Whereas male officers are more likely to respond aggressively because of their egos or their need to exercise control."
Pence is still standing, but all eyes are on Chief Reagon.
"Women are also at an advantage in undercover work, because they are unexpected. And research suggests they may be more stress resistant because they will seek help in a timely fashion and are less prone to alcoholism"
She sits down and then immediately stands back up.
"Law enforcement is and will remain a male dominated profession for years to come. If women are to become a meaningful statistical presence in law enforcement, rather than tokens, special consideration must be paid to their recruitment and retention, including maternity policies, of which I can find none in the general orders. If Kenilworth is ready—and I think it is judging from the support on the council—then there is no better way to recruit women to the work force than to have a woman as top cop showing, in a highly visible manner, that women have a future in the Kenilworth Police Department and a leader who has walked in their shoes."
A week later, an announcement appears in the newspaper and on the bulletin board outside the briefing room. "Kenilworth Police welcomes its first ever female police chief. Her tenure to begin the first week of October." The following day, the chief's secretary removes a handmade sign pinned to the new chief's office door. Someone has blown up the announcement of her appointment. Written across it in large red letters is the message "Welcome C-U-N-T."
* * *
Within a week, Jay Pence is back in his old captain's office. I can smell fresh paint as soon as I turn the corner. Jay and his wife have apparently come in over the weekend and redecorated. I wonder if his new decorating theme is masking a grand sulk. On the other hand, he has suffered a huge disappointment and public humiliation. So what if he pours his feelings into a can of paint? He deserves to comfort himself however he can.
Pence looks up from his desk and sees me standing in the doorway. "Looks good, doesn't it? The wife helped me. She's got the touch. What can I do for you?"
"How are you doing?"
He doesn't ask me in. I put my briefcase on the floor. "Mind if I sit ?"
"I know you had your sights set on being chief. You've worked really hard for the position."
"The council made its decision. I can live with it. If I can't, I can always apply to be chief somewhere else. I've worked for Kenilworth PD my whole career. Always planned to retire from here. But if the atmosphere changes, I'll reconsider my options."
"Have you had a chance to talk to Chief Reagon?"
"She's quite a lady. Very gracious. Wants us to work as a team. I need to give it a little time. In the meanwhile, I'll do my job like I always do." He stands up. "I appreciate your concern. People have been dropping by all day. My voicemail and in-box are filled. I didn't realize I had so much support." This isn't surprising to me. The police association publicly endorsed him and campaigned hard for his selection. Better the devil you know than the one you don't.
"Thanks for dropping by." He extends his hand and for the first time since I've been here, he smiles. "Don't worry about me, Doc. I'm good to go." And before bending his head to his paperwork, he winks at me—a big, theatrical wink that crinkles up his left cheek and pulls at the side of his mouth.
* * *
Frank turns over and nuzzles the back of my neck. Outside my window the afternoon light has turned dusky and dark. October in California is usually warm and bright. But this year—courtesy of climate change—we've had an early winter. Damp and unseasonably cold. I light the candle that I keep next to my bed.
"Nice appetizer; what's in store for dinner?" he asks stretching over me, reaching for his glass of wine on the bed stand. "How come you're on my side of the bed?" he asks.
When did it get to be his side ? We've grown close in the past year, but not close enough for him to lay claim to half my bed. At our age, Frank thinks we don't have time to waste. There's some truth to that. These days I look better dressed than naked and certainly more appealing from the front than the rear. There's a new bouquet of broken capillaries on my left calf and in the dim light, my upper arms are starting to look like driftwood. Frank challenges me wrinkle for wrinkle, shows me his liver spots and says he's going to get drunk and have them tattooed together with a Celtic chain. I don't find this funny.
On the other hand, Frank has filled the hole in my heart left by my ex-husband, Mark. I hardly think about him or his child bride Melinda and their baby Milo anymore. I feel only a hollow victory that he has surrendered his license as a psychologist after being charged with healthcare fraud. Never pays to have your unlicensed wife do your pre-employment evaluations, then sign and bill for them as though they were your own. I hear via the grapevine that Melinda is still beseeching the Psychology Examining Committee to let her sit for her license. Until her case is resolved, she's a stay-at-home mom.
Frank strokes my arms with a lascivious touch and yanks me back into the present.
I'm hungry, he says. Food, woman.
"I was hoping to tire you out so you wouldn't want to eat."
"I've worked up an appetite. I have to keep my strength up for the likes of you, you know."
"That's not all you need to keep up," I say.
He pushes me out from under the covers toward the shower and leans against the headboard. Candlelight blurs the lines on his face, and I can see the resemblance between the shaggy, bearded, silver haired man in my bed and the young Navy Lt. J.G.—tall, thin, black haired, and clean shaven—who hangs in a gold frame on the wall over the desk in his office. I turn on the water and wait for it to get hot. Frank has promised to install an instant hot something-or-other so I don't waste water. Hot showers are my vice, along with popcorn and red wine.
My phone rings before the water gets hot. Frank whacks me on the rear and steps past me into the shower stall, singing under his breath. It is Raylene, chief communications supervisor at KPD. She comes right to the point with no hello and no apology for calling me on a Saturday. "We have an officer down. It's a cluster. We're going to need you at University hospital, code 3. Hold on" I can hear talking in the background. The dispatchers' normally calm voices sound high pitched and strained. Bad things aren't supposed to happen in upscale suburbs like Kenilworth where every other house is owned by a lawyer, a doctor, or a university professor. Bad things belong on the other side of the freeway in East Kenilworth, home to a working class population of Hispanics and Pacific Islanders. People like that are known to get drunk and belligerent, while people like us—white and educated—commit our crimes behind closed doors or in our offices. Raylene comes back on the phone.
"Is anyone hurt?" I ask.
"Wish I could tell you. They're stepping all over each other on the radio. All I know is someone's on the way to the hospital. Let's hope it's the bad guy." She disconnects without another word.
I start pulling on clothes as Frank comes out of the shower, dripping and smiling. "I have to go." I mean it as an apology, but it comes out like an announcement.
The look on his face is part disappointment, part irritation.
"A cop's been hurt. I don't know any details or when I'll be back."
He shakes his head and bends to give me a quick kiss. "You wait. Some day one of my clients is going to have an emergency in the middle of the night, and I'll have to leave you naked, cold, and hungry."
"Will it be a burned out light bulb or a busted pipe?"
"Something like that" He smiles. "You Ph.D. types aren't very handy, you know." He gives me a hug. "Should I wait for you? Not good to come home to a cold bed."
My chest tightens. I don't want him to stay here alone. Not that I don't trust him, I do. It just feels too soon—like we're living together in two different houses.
"Don't wait," I say. "I could be gone a long time."CHAPTER 2
There are two police cars on the edge of the hospital parking lot, parked driver's door to driver's door—the officers watching each other's back, wary of a nosy supervisor or worse, a bad guy looking to assassinate an inattentive cop. I drive past and wave. They look up, eyes wide, as though they are doing something wrong. This is the look I always get from the cops, even after a year. It's as though they think I keep a mini-cam in my bra sending a minute-by-minute feed to the chief's office.
A fire engine and a medic van are parked at odd angles in front of the entrance to the hospital emergency room. I park in the visitors' lot and walk down a long sidewalk to the door. Everything is quiet except for the fall leaves crunching underfoot. The big glass doors slide open as I approach. I step through onto a sound stage flooded with light and moving people. This is a teaching hospital; the medical personnel hardly look old enough to have graduated high school. They move quickly and quietly, dressed in pajama-like clothes and Day-Glo rubber clogs. If it weren't for the stethoscopes and name tags, I would be hard pressed to tell the patients from the personnel.
A harried-looking receptionist asks for my identification and then directs me to a private waiting room for cops only. Cops and ER staff are part of the same team and accord each other professional courtesies. Romantic liaisons between ER nurses and cops are common—after all, who else is up in the middle of the night? And who better to understand the pace and pressure of working a high stress job. I walk down a short hall and through a door marked "private." The room is jammed with cops, most in uniform, some in street clothes. There is a low hum in the room that stops momentarily when I open the door. For a second, all eyes are on me and then they drop.
"We thought you were the ER Doctor. We're waiting for him" Manny Ochoa steps out from behind the open door. He's wearing jeans and a police department t-shirt. I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I do, and Manny is it. He stood up for me, believed in me, almost lost his job because of me, after his fellow rookie, Ben Gomez, committed suicide and everyone, myself included, blamed me for his death. Manny's matured into a confident, skillful officer, and I feel a special bond with him that I don't feel with the others. He owes me nothing. I owe him, but in his quiet way, I get the sense he's still keeping his eye on me.
Excerpted from The Right Wrong Thing by Ellen Kirschman. Copyright © 2015 Ellen Kirschman. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"Riveting, compelling and authentic!EllenKirschman's been-there done-that experience makes this a real standout. Shegives readers not only a terrific story, but a chilling insight into the hidden dangers police officers face every day."
“Ellen Kirschman is a no-nonsense writer. She manages to set the scene smartly, populate it with sharply drawn personalities, and pour the story over us without wasting a word. Her confident wit, energetic prose, and special insight into the workings of the human mind make The Right Wrong Thing an outstanding read. In this timely novel of strained community relationships, where police department psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff is held hostage in a way, there's no relief from the suspense and the exciting journey into the motivations of people on both sides of the law. But even as Dot is pushed to the limit, she's determined to do the next right thing, no matter the cost.
"Ellen Kirschman’s richly nuanced The Right Wrong Thing rings with authenticity. This fiction is so gutsy and emotionally anchored in real life that it will stay with you long after reading its final pages.”
“Ellen Kirschmann’s Dot Meyerhoff is the most intriguing character in contemporary fiction. Her narrations remind me of a cabbie I had in Istanbul. He drove too fast, took me down dead ends and through dangerous neighborhoods. He yelled at pedestrians and cursed at dogs. And just when I finally decided he was hopelessly lost, he delivered me safe and sound to just they place I wanted to be and left me on the sidewalk, shaking and smiling.”