Joe Mantegna and Ed Bernero, <EM>Criminal Minds</EM> Joe Mantegna and Ed Bernero, Criminal Minds

A Chicago cop for 10 years, exec producer Ed Bernero brings street smarts to Criminal Minds' (Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 9 pm/ET, CBS) explosive new season. Here, in a guest column, he details how his days on the force help inform the decisions he makes now behind the scenes.

"2031! I got a foot chase northbound on Western from Argyle!"

Raw emotion. It streams from the radio even before you understand a word that's being said. It's a higher pitch — a staccato anti-rhythm — that is unmistakable. When you hear a fellow cop screaming while simultaneously sprinting, holding a gun and climbing fences, you sit up and take notice.

But I wasn't listening to this particular foot chase. I was the guy panting into the radio. My suspect led me from Ashland Avenue through a couple of yards, up an alley, through more yards, over fences, across another street, then another alley and even more yards until I found myself in a large, unlit, debris-strewn lot. It was at this moment that two things hit me as I held my side and sucked air in the dark: We had gone

through so many yards and alleys that I had no idea where I was anymore. And the hunter/prey relationship had flipped — the bad guy now had the upper hand.

Why am I telling you this?

A few weeks ago, I used this "war story" to explain to a member of my cast what he would be feeling when he ran out onto a subway platform and realized he had lost sight of the dangerous suspect he was chasing (if you watch the Criminal Minds season premiere, you'll know the exact moment I'm talking about). I told him that foot chases aren't just about physical exertion. They are emotional roller coasters.

They always start off with a bit of anger ("How dare they run from me!"). Then comes a nagging fear that the kid you're chasing is faster, in better shape and definitely more committed to getting away than you are to catching him. Finally, in this case, there's real ice-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach fear. Trust me, if you find yourself in an almost pitch-dark backlot with no idea where your suspect is and no way to tell anyone where you are, that's frightening.

This is the sort of thing I try to relate to my fellow writers and cast. How it feels to be a cop. Nuts and bolts and procedure are important, but the feeling is a unique view of cop life my experience has given me. I was thinking about all this because, right now, 10 episodes (in various stages of production) into the fourth season, Criminal Minds is having what I believe to be our best season yet. There are bombs and foot chases and shoot-outs and huge crashes and unexpected glimpses into our characters' pasts; we have scary locations and amazing guest stars like Jason Alexander, Luke Perry and Wil Wheaton. And, of course, we've got a menagerie of terrifying "unsubs" who will have you covering your eyes and watching through your barely open fingers. It's definitely exciting. I hope you'll get to understand a little bit of what it feels like to be a cop.

And hey, you won't have to fight your way out of a dark backlot to do it.