Persistence is an important trait for both fictional and real-life detectives. Can you imagine if Jessica Fletcher took on a case, only to decide after asking a few questions that she wouldn’t be able to solve it because it was too complicated? Or if Columbo never uttered his famous phrase, “Just one more thing,” and asked that all-important final question? People would turn off their TVs in disgust. It’s that dogged persistence that eventually leads to the identity of the criminal that makes the shows worth watching. Of course, on television, the entire process looks ridiculously easy. The detective strolls around interviewing people, asking questions that are more-often-than-not answered. Kojak ate lollipops while he worked. Magnum would take a relaxing swim in the ocean while mulling over the clues. At the end of the hour, the detective would have that “ah-ha” moment and wrap up the case. Everything was always so neat and tidy.
It’s a far cry from how real-life detectives work. Witnesses and relations aren’t nearly as forth-coming with information. Some don’t want to get involved for fear of retribution or a lack of faith in the police department. Others don’t want to rat out a cousin or close friend. Even if people are willing to talk, detectives must still figure out who’s lying or who’s unreliable. And that’s just one aspect of a case. When they’re not interviewing persons of interest, they must collect and study evidence, trying to figure out who a random fingerprint belongs to or whether a ticket stub is somehow related to the crime or simply useless trash. And everything they find, hear, or discover must be documented. Evidence must be double-checked. Procedures must be followed. More than one criminal case has been dismissed after evidence was somehow contaminated or information wasn’t documented.
And yet the detectives persevere, pouring over thousands of pages or watching hours of video surveillance, all to solve a single case. At times, I’m sure the detectives would like to throw up their hands and give up when they run out of leads, but they don’t. They keep trying. If they ultimately can’t pinpoint a killer, or at least collect enough evidence to arrest one, they stow everything away, sealed and ready, just in case another clue appears years later. With the advancements in DNA, the police are closing more cold cases than ever, thanks to the fact that all the evidence is still there waiting in storage.
I can’t imagine how many criminals would be out there committing more crimes if not for the persistence of the police. While it’s fun to watch fictional detectives on TV, it’s the real cops that have my admiration.