During Boucheron in Dallas this fall, one of my favorite panel discussions covered the portrayal of law enforcement in fiction, whether it be books, movies, or television. This panel contained a writer of forensic science for mystery and crime authors, a writer whose father served as a Chicago police officer, another whose father was the medical examiner in their small community, and a former investigator with the LAPD who was also an expert in “deception detection”. They provided a wealth of information on what’s accurate and what isn’t.
What’s true to life and what’s not:
- Success or failure of an interrogation is determined before the first question is asked.
- Intruding on the personal boundaries of suspects.
- The former LAPD officer noted only 10% of his interrogations took place at the police station, he preferred taking them to Starbucks where they were more likely to let their guard down simply by talking too much.
- Police are legally allowed to lie, but juries don’t like it.
- Police cannot break the intimate relationship they have with suspects.
- What can police legally do to intimate a suspect? Nothing, except for raising a person’s anxiety level.
- Officers control the interrogation environment.
The law enforcement community also has numerous pet peeves about how they’re portrayed:
- Good cop/bad cop in reality is completely illegal as such tactics are a violation of a person’s rights.
- Perfect hair, makeup, and clothes.
- Female cops giving chase in heels.
- That DNA comes back quickly (in TV usually between commercials).
- CSI professionals being armed and questioning suspects.
- CSIs are experts in one area, not like Abby Sciuto (on NCIS) whose an expert in everything.
- Failure of logic/lazy writing.
Addressing authors panel members added some miscellaneous but important points:
- The CSI Effect is real – jurors will often ask about DNA evidence.
- Writer’s have the time to get the forensic details correct.
- Police investigative reports.
- There is a LOTS of police paperwork.
- Much more suspense in circumstantial evidence than hard evidence.
They also noted how technology has changed police work including:
- Body cams
- Information from black boxes in cars, cellphones (as well as burner phones) can be easily downloaded
- It is extremely difficult not to leave an electronic footprint
I knew a lot of this information already, but what continues to amaze me is how often movies, TV, and books incorrectly portray law enforcement, and continue to perpetuate myths and misinformation.