Real Police Work Isn’t Always a Page Turner by Neal Griffin
Neal Griffin is a twenty-five year veteran of law enforcement who has seen it all, from routine patrols to drug enforcement to homicide investigations, from corrupt cops to men and women who went far above and beyond the call of duty. Now he’s bringing that real life experience to the page….but it turns out there’s a big difference.
I remember many years ago taking a citizen on a ride along for a graveyard patrol shift. It was pretty obvious the young woman had waited a long time for the “big night.” To get in a police car and experience all the excitement she had read about in books and seen on Hill Street Blues (I know I’m dating myself). I was more than happy to oblige and told her to hang on and get ready. As luck would have it, what followed was one of the most boring eight hour patrol shifts I’d ever experienced. The radio was quiet, the streets were deserted and after a few hours I knew she was wondering what all the fuss was about. At the end of the night, I didn’t blame her for being more than a bit disappointed, but that points out the biggest difference between the crime novels we read and what real cops experience on the street. Pace.
We don’t call a good book a ‘page turner’ for nothing, right? Every writer of crime fiction knows how important it is to hook the reader from page one. To grab the reader’s attention and keep the story moving. Every chapter has to advance the plot and build the excitement to a dramatic conclusion. So when it comes to the point in the story to arrest the killer, no one wants to read about the four hours the detective spent banging on a keyboard to type out an arrest warrant, the forty-five minute drive in heavy traffic to the courthouse, the hour for a judge to come out of a courtroom to read and sign the warrant and the two hours sitting outside the bad guy’s house. Let’s just to get to the part where the cop has the warrant in hand, bangs on the door, and the suspect makes a break for it out the back. The chase is on.
Most of what happens in a good crime novel actually does occur. Cops really do catch the bad guy as he jumps out the second story window, lands in a dumpster and takes off running. The difference between fiction and real world police work is a great deal of routine proceeds and follows each of these episodes of incredible excitement. In the real world, once the crook is in the back of the police car the excitement gives way to filling out forms and following mundane procedures. Suffice it to say the pace slows down and routine takes over. If writers put this part of police work in their crime novels, it would never get passed the first editorial review.
At the end of the tedious citizen ride along, I offered the young lady a chance to come out again. Maybe we’d have a more eventful night. She said she’d think about it, but I’m sure the idea of another eight hours of sheer boredom wasn’t very appealing. As I watched her tail lights disappear down the road, the radio beeped three times signaling an upcoming emergency transmission. The dispatcher called out a street robbery that had just occurred a few blocks away. I jumped in my black and white, hit the lights and siren, heading for the scene. What followed was a high speed pursuit, foot chase and an arrest aided by a helicopter in the air and a police dog on the ground. It was one of the best ten minute episodes of my career. Turns out the night wasn’t much of a page turner but it had a terrific ending. Real world police work can be that way.
Neal Griffin grew up in the kind of town he writes about. For many years he has been part of a police force in southern California. He often speaks about law enforcement issues to civilians and fellow cops. Griffin has participated in special training at FBI headquarters. Benefit of the Doubt is his first novel.
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