Thursday, December 26, 2013

Writing about Law Enforcement

            Pet peeve and red button time!  I have been stepping over bodies and visiting celebrities in their freshly burglared homes for about nine years.  I work as a crime scene photographer for the Los Angeles Police Department.  To say that I have seen it all seems somewhat redundant.
            So here is the thing that is stuck in my craw:  People who write about crime without any people in it frosts over my will to continue reading.  WHAT!?  You heard me; stop writing as though anyone who carries a gun and a badge is devoid of personality.  I work with FBI agents who have a better sense of humor over life and its lessons than the DMV-styled officious maunder that is today’s attempt at getting a reader behind the yellow tape.  By the way, the LAPD invented that stuff to keep politicians and other ilk from trampling over evidence.
            Example:  PIII Juarez led XA-21 mission ready as always.
            Result:  I am going to find where you live and…. 
            Let us see this more clearly shall we?  A PIII has been with the department for a while, approximately five years.  They can stay at that level, many choose to do so, or promote to detectives or administration by way of Sergeant.  A PIII is a Police Officer III.  Everything has a rank.  I am Photographer III, which is right below supervisor, who could also be ranked at various levels.
            It begins at the academy where an officer is either a boot or field trainee.  After graduation, they are sent out into the field and are become another officer’s partner.  On duty, a partner is like a ventricle; you cannot pull one out and have a functioning heart.
            Rank is important.  I have been on scene where two Detective III’s had to fight over who was in charge, and it came down to date of hire.  Oh, the poor fellow who graduated first.
            XA-21 is a Unit.  Basically, two officers patrolling anywhere in the area designated as 21.  It is somewhat of a mouthy insider; do not  use.
            Avoid power words like maximum or turbo.  Relate the relatable like an officer who sees their first dead child and it looks like their cousin.
            Tensions rise on scene when brass shows up.  It gets worse when politicians are involved.  Once, the District Attorney got me on the phone to tell me directly what to photograph.
            We all have our own method of writing.  Just think about the heart behind the badge that covers it.
            Some insider things you should know.  Bulletproof vests are never comfortable.  In the summer, they do not breathe and will make a hot day even more hellish.  In the winter, they are dense, causing the cold to come straight through.  They also bunch up when you sit down.
            A car is called a unit or shop; some still call them radio cars.
            SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics and it saves more lives by less than lethal means.  Less than lethal are stuff like tasers, water cannons, ladders, so on and so forth.  They go the extra mile to stop someone from hurting themselves, but primarily anyone else.  Shootouts are nowhere near as common as you are led to believe.  The people in SWAT are extraordinary; they are in amazing shape and practice safe takedowns constantly. They are not the biggest badasses on the department.
            Special units and, in our case, Metro cops are far more likely to get into a nasty fight than anyone else.  They are also some of the nicest people I know.  Funny how true badasses know they are the 600 lb gorilla and do not need to flex.
            Officers cry.  I was shocked the first time I witnessed it.  I always let them know it is okay around me.
            Please, let us connect with the human being first before you start taking us into the world of your creation.  Detectives have been single moms needing a solid job or fresh out of the military with no idea of what to do with their lives.  It is true that all of us behind the thin blue line go into a mode when it is time, but we also have to go to the bathroom and find chow if we are stuck on a long scene.