Police Work : Fact or Fiction

I don’t watch much TV.  One show I do enjoy is Castle. While at a writer’s conference some one made a statement and asked me a question, “But it’s so fake as far as law enforcement is concerned, don’t all the mistakes bug you?” The question brought me back to my writing beginnings. So many times I was told my writing was too much like a police report, just the facts. I wanted realism, but in truth, too much realism can be boring. Yes, I want my stories to be realistic, but I also recognize that people must want to turn the pages so I could never pen a story that followed realism completely. For example, one of the things about Castle that could be called “fake” are the times she and her team bust down a door to execute a warrant or chase a bad guy. Kate puts on her vest and Castle straps on his and away they go! Not.

In my city, (I can’t speak to policy for every department) breaking down doors and clearing a building or apartment of threats was not what detectives did. That was left to SWAT, guys who trained regularly to bust in doors and clear buildings safely and quickly of danger. Once they gave the all clear, then in went the detectives. But that would be pretty boring if Kate and Castle had to wait down on the street for some nameless guy in a SWAT uniform to give her the all clear to enter a now safe environment. It’s a pretty harmless deviation from reality to watch Kate, with Castle right behind in his “Writer” vest, bust in and chase down bad guys.

I guess I could go on and on, picking at this and that, but I really just like to get lost in the fantasy of Castle without thinking about how it should really be done.

But there is one deviation from reality in cop shows that does bother me, and I don’t recall a specific example in Castle, but I’ve seen it other places, is the idea of “shooting to wound,” you know, we want the guy alive, or he’s really not a bad guy, just confused, so try to wing him. Using deadly force is serious, and we are trained that it is only appropriate in the event of a serious threat to life, yours or another person. That being said, if the threat is serious enough to warrant your gun drawn and up on target, you aim for center of mass, the largest target available. A threat to life must be STOPPED, there is no margin to try and “wing them.” Any one who has been in that situation, I don’t care if they are an expert marksman, the adrenaline is pumping, you cannot afford a miss, and aiming for an arm, a hand, would be too great a chance for a miss. This one bothers me because I have heard people say after a shooting,  “he could have just wounded him,” casting doubt on the officer’s intentions. A shooting is split second, life or death, I hate to see officers second guessed about where they should have aimed.

In writing novels I’ve been told, you have to leave the boring parts out. I try to walk that fine line between realism and enough suspense and thrills to keep a reader turning pages. Maybe realism suffers a bit, but when I remember cruising dark streets in the wee hours of the morning, occasionally struggling to stay awake in my patrol car on slow nights, looking for anything to do, including just writing a ticket for expired registration, I know that there are some things that are better exaggerated or left out all together.

5 thoughts on “Police Work : Fact or Fiction”

  1. I tell you I am reading a fiction book, but based on the facts of the authors son’s death at the hand of corrupt police. It fits right into the media push of these things these days. The Permit is the book, author is William Scott. But I was even more impressed with his blog, and how he has come to be a face of this kind of wrong. williambscott.com is his site.

  2. I liked your insight in this blog, because I’ve often wondered just how closely fiction resembles reality. In this case, some but not much. (I like Castle as well.)

  3. When I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the
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