Despite what you’ve seen in books, TV, and the movies, the role of law enforcement leaders is to lead. I know that sounds like a simple, no-duh statement, but if you stop and think about it, that role isn’t the one most often depicted in fiction. Instead, police leaders are shown as high ranking workers or as managers.
Let’s deal with the service delivery myth first.
In real life, the delivery of law enforcement services is provided most directly by either patrol officers or by detectives, depending on the nature of the service needed. Think about it. When you call 911 because someone is breaking into your house, who shows up first? Patrol officers. A leader may show up after to deal with the situation, or lead it, but unless that leader happens to be the closest unit to the scene, s/he won’t be the first responder.
Detective work is no different, though the misuse of rank is even more prevalent. Whether a burglary or a homicide, case work is completed by detectives, not by leaders. The detective is the one who interviews witnesses, examines evidence (although not all of it – technicians do some of that), interrogates suspects, and so forth.
And yet, we routinely see characters at the rank of sergeant or lieutenant doing case work. The classic buddy cop film series, Lethal Weapon, even promotes its heroes to captain while they’re still out there doing service delivery!
Why do writers do this? Frankly, without conducting a poll, I can’t answer for sure. Some of it may have to do with an unfamiliarity with the rank structure and duties associated with the different ranks. Or perhaps because they believe that giving a character a higher rank imbues him with more gravitas. Either way, it’s largely inaccurate.
On some larger departments, of course, you may still find some “worker bees” at the sergeant level, particularly in the investigate positions. But by and large, when someone promotes to sergeant, her job just became one of leadership, not service delivery.
What does that mean? Well, I will cover that in a future entry, but an analogy might be found in sports. Since football is arguably (and unfortunately) our nation’s most popular sport, let’s use that. Once promoted, a leader is less like the players on the field, and more like the coach on the sidelines. Her job is both to guide or direct the players on the field and to make sure they have the resources to accomplish the organizational goals.
It isn’t to run the ball.
Coming back to police fiction, it’s the leader’s job to guide everything from a radio call (or a case) to the direction of the department, as well as make sure the men and women trying to accomplish that have the resources they need to do it.
It isn’t to slap cuffs on a perp.
So if your hero needs to chase bad guys in cars, or on foot over fences and through alleys, and to pull out the bracelets and hook up that bad guy…don’t make her a leader. Make her an officer or a detective. Or at the very least, please make it clear why she is an anomaly.
That could work, right?
Copyright © 2015 by Frank Zafiro. All rights reserved.