From Camille, who couldn't wait for this topic to come up! COPS. Love them!
But this is about one cop – I'll call him CL, in case he's embarrassed being associated with me.
Years ago, writing my first mystery, I realized I'd have to know at least a smattering of police procedure. Except for the unfounded charges against my Uncle Salvie and Cousin Butch back in my bookie days on Revere Beach, I'd had little contact with law enforcement.
So, I contacted my local California PD and asked for help with murder investigation protocol (all the while hoping they weren't sending a squad car to my house.)
All I needed to do, the operator said, was to write a formal letter to the Chief, requesting assistance. That way, they'd get community outreach points. No problem. I was more than happy to provide good press for our Protectors and Servers. Within hours, I was assigned then Detective L., who would answer my questions.
Sixteen years later, he's still answering them, and never hints that a) I'm pretty dumb, or b) it's the fourth time I've asked about that.
In fact, the first thing L. did was take me into an interview room designed for suspects. Aaack! It was a cramped, colorless closet barely big enough for 2 people, providing their toes were touching. Intimidating, which I guess is the point of a suspect room. I did say I wanted first hand info, after all.
Since that introduction, CL has taught me everything I need to know about cops and police procedure in my neighborhood. Here are the biggest lessons:
1. Unlike TV cops, real-life officers and detectives can and do have a "normal" family life. They're not all working on a fourth spouse, battling alcoholism and abuse, and struggling with the other ""Red John" backstories that might make TV drama riveting, but don't necessarily reflect reality.
2. Cops, mine especially, have a great sense of humor. I have SO much evidence to back up that statement, besides the daily funny quote and regularly spaced cartoons that go to anyone lucky enough to be spammed by him. Here's a recent submission:
There's also his annual family Christmas photo, like no other I receive, where apparently 3 generations gather to perform crazy/fun antics for the camera.
I didn't want to expose the whole family in all their comic glory (Christmas 2011), so I've cropped CL himself, blurred the few bodies near him, and even took steps to protect the L. family pet from identification. (Thanks to my live-in Cable Guy for the technical work).
3. If they need it, cops can carry away the kitchen sink from a crime scene. Be warned: A simple question will generate a long, detailed response. Whether it's about criminal behavior, interview techniques, taking statements, or forensics, I always get enough material to spread a few thousand words throughout the novel—the writers among us know how valuable that is!
Yes, I have a friend in the crime business. It's hard to do this cop—now an Inspector in a DA's office— justice. I do acknowledge him in all my books; but it's about time he got this, his own own facetime, so to speak.
*** And while I'm at it, may I say TY, in modern parlance, to all those men and women who go out for us every day, putting themselves in situations I'm barely brave enough to write about. ***