How do you start your day? A cup of coffee, a piece of toast, a glance at the morning paper? A nice long run on the path beside the duck pond? Maybe you prefer to watch the morning news while having a steaming bowl of oatmeal before heading off to the office where you’ll spend at least eight grueling hours dealing with clients, paperwork, employee woes, supervisor troubles, payroll issues, and, well, we all know how exhausting a work day can be, right?
Suppose there’s no time for coffee, though. No oatmeal or cornflakes. No toast or Pop Tarts. Instead, your office calls and says you’re needed right away. So you head out the back door and sprint to your car. Fifteen minutes later you’re enjoying a brisk, adrenaline-filled scuffle with a murderer who’s crazy-high on methamphetamine. Ten minutes after securing the killer behind bars you’re lucky enough to have a lovely peek at a bloated body that’s teeming with hundreds of writhing, squiggly maggots.
Yes, that’s how some cops start their day. How about you? Does your job description include wondering if a wanted cop killer is hiding in the trunk of the stolen car you’ve just pulled over?
How often does your boss send you out to a deserted location to pick up the guy who was last seen carving up his elderly neighbor like a Thanksgiving turkey?
Perhaps, instead of eating lunch you can stand out in the hot sun, on asphalt that’s at least 130 degrees, to direct traffic around an auto crash where a mother and her young children were killed by a hit and run driver.
I know this happens every day at your place of employment—a man walks in off the street, naked, holding a knife to his own throat. So you, or one of your coworkers try to talk him into putting down the knife and allow you to help him. Of course, the man begins shouting and cutting himself, severely. So you reach into your desk drawer, push aside a stapler and a pack of gum, and grab your handy TASER.
Maybe you’re a pizza delivery person who receives regular training on maneuvering through tight spots while driving at high speeds.
You get the picture. A cop’s world is, well, a world of its own. And it’s up to you, the writer, to bring your readers inside this most unique place that’s occupied by real people who just happen to have a job that’s a bit different than yours.
A police agency is sort of like a pot of stew—lots of different ingredients (officers and other employees) come together to make one dish. In real life, those ingredients are a diverse group of individuals, with different mannerisms, ways of speaking, beliefs, backgrounds, etc.
In other words, no two officers/detectives think and/or act the same, and that’s how those characters should be written. Diversity, diversity, diversity.
Keep in mind, too, that police officers are real people who do real things, including grocery shopping, sing in church choirs, play ball, spend time with their kids, cook, go to movies, etc.
There are many possibilities regarding officer assignments, and the larger the department the more divisions/duty assignments are available, such as detective divisions, SWAT, CSI, etc. In smaller departments patrol officers may do it all—1st responder, crime scene investigation, witness interviews, interrogate suspects, collect evidence, fingerprint and book suspects, etc.
Still, the job of police officer is extremely unique and you owe it to your readers to offer them a believable story, even if it means…hold on to your hat…doing a bit of research. Believe it or not, you’ll probably have a lot of fun “on the inside.” For example, you might see…
Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. But before I close and head out for a doctor’s appointment, I’d like to walk you through the rest of of a police officer’s normal day (if there is such a thing as a normal day for officers). So here goes…drug dealers, shots fired, fighting, lost children, crying mothers, abusive parents, hungry children, murder, suicide, shoplifters, pursuits, fatigue, carjacking, crack cocaine, addicts, prostitutes, burglars, no lunch, robbers, assaults, bleeding, spit on by abusive citizens, battered spouses, drunks, rabid animals, B&E, lost pets, remove wild animal in citizen’s garage, pool, or basement, bad checks, autopsy, trip to crime lab, traffic accident, shots fired, fighting again, more lost children, more crying mothers, speeders, question witnesses, peeping toms, search woods filled with tons of poison ivy, serve warrants, miss child’s play at school, citizen can’t get furnace to work, dog stuck in drain pipe, citizen locked keys in car, see a woman about Elvis hiding behind the cheesecake in her refrigerator, citizen locked herself in bedroom and doesn’t know how to turn button on doorknob to get out, pull unconscious man from burning house, citizen hears prowler, kids throwing water balloons at elderly people, check homes for people while they’re on vacation, testify in court, 4-12 officer calls in sick—must work 8 more hours.
And, of course, there are moments like this one that make it all worthwhile…