Despite what you’ve seen in books, TV, and the movies, the role of law enforcement leaders is to lead.
In a vast majority of police fiction, whether on the page or on screens big and small, police leaders are inaccurately portrayed. The tropes usually fall into one of two categories. Either a high ranking police official is shown performing service delivery (patrol work or detective work) or more often, the leader is shown as a blustering hard ass intent upon tearing our hero to shreds with threats to either get the case solved pronto or to back off finding the truth, depending on what kind of unethical behavior he is assigned by the writer.
He. That’s another trope. Almost all these leaders are men.
Before we go any further, let me offer my own mea culpa. I am as guilty as any other writer for perpetuating these myths, especially the blusterer. For instance, my Lieutenant Crawford bedevils more than one investigator with his sarcasm and urgings to “solve the damn case.” So rest assured, I am not casting stones here, for my own sins are prevalent. If anything, that’s all the more reason I want to share some of these inconsistencies with other writers out there.
So what’s the truth about leaders in law enforcement? If you want to write realistic crime fiction, what mistakes should you avoid? What should you include instead? Well, that’s what this series of short entries is about.
First, a caveat. What I am going to describe in these entries are generally true. That’s a dangerous word, of course – generally. It means that, as the popular Internet phrase says, YMMV. Your mileage may vary. The setting you choose to write in may or may not specifically adhere to these guidelines. A little Google research may be in order if you wish to be absolutely factually accurate. But it also means that if you want to deviate for some writerly reason, you have permission to do so. These things are generally true, not universally so.
One thing that is universal is that leaders are people. In a world where the public seems to struggle to understand that cops themselves are also people, it becomes an even greater difficulty to comprehend that the leaders within that population are human as well. As with all people, they have their strengths and weaknesses, their nobility and their failings. Because police work is a human endeavor, it is perfect for the writer to explore. The very nature of the profession makes it rife for any possibilities the writer can imagine. Most of us would be hard pressed to say, “Yeah, that could never happen.”
But this series of short entries will be about what is most likely, and is intended to help you present your police leaders in the most realistic manner possible.
Copyright © 2015 by Frank Zafiro. All rights reserved.