Storytelling by cop


Why is there never a cop around when you need one, but always one watching when you wish there wasn’t? Everyone who has served in any capacity as a patrol officer has heard this complaint and has probably developed several one-line responses that are only related to his or her buddies over coffee. Gather a bunch of cops together, and you will hear war stories until you wonder if any of them could possibly be true. Usually the most hair raising and the most hilarious are absolutely factual, told by the survivor of the situation for the purpose of generating a laugh.

Police officers tend to be irreverent, politically incorrect, and loyally devoted to the public they are sworn to protect. Writing about them from the perspective of a retired member of the fraternity means being able to relate to the emotions experienced on the job. Understanding that the criminals who end up in jail are those who weren’t smart enough to keep from getting caught means each shift is a challenge, not a frustration. The stories you tell at reunions are always about the ones who didn’t get away. The stories you never forget are the ones where the bad guy was smarter than you and got away. You have to remember that police work is like fishing: you can’t catch them all.

In writing Shadow Ballet I tried to make the detectives and their department truly professional. Sure, there are jokes in bad taste and what some might see as disrespect, but in the real world this is what goes on. I included those pieces of dialogue because they express the character of the people involved. The story isn’t about being politically correct; it’s an effort to make the people in the story believable. Some of the funniest off color jokes about colored people I ever heard were told by men of dark pigmentation. One of the smartest men I have ever met was a Sergeant when I came out of the academy, and I had the privilege of working with him one shift. Imagine an eight-hour shift with a man of color who never stopped cracking wise about people of his race unless he was poking fun at folks of my paler complexion. I also knew he had my back, just like every other officer I worked with and whom I depended upon for my safety. A patrol car doesn’t have enough space for discord between officers. Your life depends on that absence.

The uninitiated may think of law enforcement as catching the bad guys, high-speed chases, exciting confrontations, and a constant adrenaline rush. The reality is usually a lot more mundane and much more dangerous. Routine activities lead to complacency, and complacency leads to mistakes that can end a career or a life. Balancing civility with sensible caution for unforeseen dangers and split second decision-making is the job a patrol officer does every shift.

The law is a harsh set of rules that dictate acceptable procedure for cops. Conversely, the bad guys don’t have any rules. It does make the job interesting and makes you appreciate the old curse: “May you live in interesting times.”


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