Believable Cops and Robbers

Me on the streets of the Downtown East Side of Vancouver with the Mental Health Emergency Services Unit of VPD

Back in 1997/98 I taught classes on “Beleivable Cops and Robbers” at the Surrey Writer’s Conference, Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference, and for various local writer’s groups.  This is part of a class that I gave to the Vancouver Chapter of the RWA back in 1998 on competition between cops:

Cops tend to be aggressive, “A” type personalities.  They ten to be very competitive.  Rivalries between individuals or units is commonplace.  Officers sometimes hoard information to improve their standing.  Informants are jealously guarded.  Everyone wants to be the one who makes the “big arrest”.  Many don’t want to share the glory.

Often this behaviour impedes investigations and stifles inter agency and inter unit cooperation.  There may be an officer able to use that information that another officer is hoarding.  It’s stupid really, because there is plenty of work out there and thus plenty of opportunities for glory to be had for everyone.  Sometimes officers find themselves at cross purposes when they discover that they’ve both unknowingly been working on different angles of the same case, ruining the chances of an arrest for each other.  A possible conflict for the writer to explore would be the cop who is holding back the one piece of information your protagonist needs to make his case.

Older detectives often resent younger officers interfering with their investigative work.  It may be that they’ve built themselves a comfortable little empire and they don’t want to get shown up or displaced.  It may be that they want everything done the way that they’ve always done it and some young buck is trying to get them to do it some new way.  Change never comes easy.

Communication between different units sometimes breaks down.  A very common scenario involves the patrol officer who is the initial responder at a crime scene.  He does a thorough investigation as far as he can pursue it, then writes it up for the detectives to follow up.  This officer submits the report and this is often the last that he ever hears about it.  This can be very frustrating.  It is usually not that the detective that does the subsequent follow up work doesn’t see the need for passing information back.  But with the enormous case loads that most detectives find themselves faced with, it takes a special effort to take the extra time necessary to pass word back on the status of a case to the officers who initiated it.  Its easy to put it off and fall out of the habit.

This often occurs on a larger scale in interdepartmental relations.  Agencies whose jurisdictions overlap often experience communications breakdowns of this sort.  Both agencies are vying to be the one who solves the big case.  Both agencies probably consider themselves in some way superior to the other.  One agency is holding a piece of information that the other oculd use to make a case in their jurisdiction.  It could simply be that due to overwork or just plain laziness, no one is making the extra effort to disseminate vital information.  Or it could be that the legislation restricts the sort of information that can be passed between agencies.  As with individuals, petty jealousies on a departmental level often stand in the way of successful prosecution.  Your police character may have to develop some sort of rapport with a counterpart in another agency to overcome these hurdles.

Overlapping jurisdictions is another source of headaches for police officers.  A case may have aspects which could place it in several different spheres of influence.  Suppose some cop gets a bank robber in a stolen car full of drugs.  Is it the responsibility of the Robbery Squad, the Stolen Auto Squad, or the Drug Squad?  If the department does not have clear protocols and clear headed managers, such situations can lead to the most ridiculous jurisdictional battles.  “Policemen, ever the civil servants, have been known to get in screaming battles over who has to work on a crime report which will entail only a phone call, and a notation which reads: ‘No suspects. Investigation concluded.’”[1]

For additional information on police characters, take a look at my “Police Stuff” page;  I’ve posted some more class information there for you writers with police characters.

Charles Ennis

[1] Wambaugh, Joseph. (1978). The Black Marble, Dell Publishing, New York, NY, pg. 85.


About cuhulain

Kerr Cuhulain has been a Wiccan for 49 years and has been involved in anti-defamation activism and hate crimes investigation for the Pagan community from 1986 to 2005. Kerr was awarded the Shield of Valor by the Witches League for Public Awareness. Kerr is the author of the Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca, Witch Hunts, Wiccan Warrior, Full Contact Magick and Magickal Self Defense. Kerr has a column with 182 articles on anti-defamation issues and hate crimes on The Witches’ Voice web site called Witch Hunts. Kerr is the former Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon, an organization representing Neo-Pagan professionals in the emergency services (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians). Kerr retired from the Vancouver Police Department in November 2005 after serving 29 years with them. He was awarded the Governor General’s Exemplary Service Medal. Kerr's past job assignments within the VPD include the Emergency Response Team, Hostage Negotiator, Child Abuse Investigator, Gang Crime Unit, and the Mental Health Emergency Services Unit. Kerr went on to be a police dispatcher and trainer for ECOMM for Southwestern BC. Kerr retired from law enforcement work in April 2013. Kerr is the founder of a Wiccan order of Knighthood called the Order of Paladins in November 2007. The Order embraces the Warrior philosophies, precepts and code of chivalry outlined in Kerr’s books. The Order of Paladins is a study group for people interested in Wiccan magick, energy work and rituals related to the Warrior path, focusing on empowerment, personal development and creative expression. The training focuses on the effective use of magickal energy and developing psychic skills. Courses are taught on line through the Ardantane School of Magick, where Kerr is on faculty. The Order of Paladins is constantly developing new rituals, and magick and studying our Warrior philosophy. Our members are spread across the globe and connect through local preceptories and on line. All members are expected to participate and contribute. Kerr is now the National Secretary of the Royal Astrononomical Society of Canada.
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