Ten Stupid Things Cops in Books Do

Robin Burcell .2008.Today The Kill Zone is thrilled to host Robin Burcell, despite the fact that her credentials make some of us feel horribly inferior in comparison. For more than two decades Robin has worked in law enforcement as a police officer, detective, hostage negotiator, and FBI-trained forensic artist. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s won an Anthony Award for her Kate Gillespie series. We especially appreciate her post since it addresses cliches that can be terribly vexing for crime fiction fans. One lucky commentor will receive a signed edition of her latest book. Read on to find out more…

Let’s say you’re writing a book (or perhaps reading one) and you want to verify that the cop stuff is correct. Where do you turn for accurate info?

The secret is… watch CSI

Just kidding. The real secret is to ply me or any other current or ex cop at mystery conventions with alcoholic FaceofaKiller mm c beverages, then remind us of whatever promises we made in our drunken state to answer questions you might have on your work in progress. But what’s a writer to do if they can’t get to those conventions and bribe us with free drinks? I thought I’d compose a Top Ten Stupid Cop Things in books to help you guide your way until you can meet us in the bar.

10. Getting the jargon/slang wrong for a particular department or part of the country. It’s more than the age-old discussion on perps versus suspects. I’m talking the everyday lingo. It’s the difference that tells me which generation of cop is talking. Saturday Night Live could have done a whole skit on some of the double entendres of this stuff. Typical phrase heard on the radio: "Put your unit at the back door." For years I resisted, instead calling my or anyone else’s "unit" by the more recognizable name of "patrol car." We won’t even go into the whole "back door" thing. And I also resisted calling the detective bureau the "dick squad." I don’t think I was the only generational upstart who started reshaping the language in a department.

9. Really dumb radio transmissions no cop would ever make. Short transmissions are a must. In real life, if you have a long transmission, you “break," for any emergencies that might arise while you’re hogging the mike. So if your characters are busy saying anything longer than one or two short sentences on the radio, have them pick up the phone instead. Radio transmissions vary by region. Some talk in "ten" code, some in "nine,” and many are moving to "plain English," because who the helllpd car remembers the damn codes when the $#!+ hits the fan?

8. Not knowing the elements of the crime, or what constitutes a crime. A cop looks up, sees a young lady falling to the ground, sees a man running away, and thinks: Purse snatch, a felony. He and his partner jump out, chase after the suspect. One problem. No one saw the crime. They assumed. At least have your cops stop and ask the victim before they get in a foot chase, tackle the suspect and cuff him for a crime they think he committed–because when those officers get to court, the defense is going to rip them apart.

7. The clichéd loner, alcoholic cop with the rumpled raincoat, whose wife and kids were murdered by the serial killer while he was out eating donuts. Wcoffee-bagelshy doesn’t this scenario work? Because the whole donut eating thing is so passé. Let’s pause for history. Donut shops were the only thing open on graveyard shifts where the coffee could be found. That cliché would never work in California. There’s a Starbucks on every corner, and a bagel shop two doors down. And who buys their bagels from Starbucks, when you can get really good ones from Noah’s

6. Having cops hired/fired on a whim. Unless a cop resigns on his own, it’s almost an act of congress to hire or fire one. But an even bigger pet peeve is the shoddy hiring background investigations I’ve seen in some really Big Name novels. Backgrounds that allowed, say, the FBI to hire someone who had an arsonist serial killer for a father, but the father’s guilt (and the suspect’s identity) are questionable, and so we should be surprised when our agent turns out to be the real killer. And if they do pass the background, are you saying these arsonist/serial killers are going to pass the psych? There’s a reason why it takes months to complete the background investigation. It almost takes that long just to fill out the background application, which is longer than the average book contract.

5. Evil or stupid police supervisors. Repeat after me: Only some of the bosses are evil or stupid (and no, they didn’t all work for my department). There are actually some pretty decent supervisors still out there. The standing joke is that to get promoted to Sergeant, you have to first have a lobotomy. To make it to Lieutenant and Captain, you have to have your spine removed. True in all cases? No. But some…

4. The hated, despised Internal Affairs cop, who is usually evil or stupid. See # 7 above (which is not to say that if you’re the one being investigated, you don’t tend to think of the IA cops that way, but that’s a different story).

3. Dirty cops planting phony evidence in that overdone bad cop cliché manner. If you’re going to write this, do it better than anyone else. One of the best scenes I saw in a movie was where a dirty cop was seen committing a crime on a surveillance video which was booked into evidence and was going to nail him. The dirty cop set up a “window smash” of a business—with a highly magnetic device used to shatter the window. It in turn was booked into evidence right next to the surveillance tape, which it then demagnetized and was rendered useless. Such a scenario would be difficult to accomplish in this digital age, but back then it was way cool.

howdunit_lofland2. Stupid blunders at crime scenes. Being aware of what can contaminate a crime scene takes more than simply watching the latest episode of CSI. Just knowing the basics can help, everything from keeping a crime scene log to what constitutes trace evidence and cross-contamination. Keep this in mind next time your sleuth picks up a phone at the scene of the murder, tromping across a carpet, leaving fiber evidence.

And the top ten pet peeve, in my opinion?

1. Bad officer safety. This is equal to the sleuth investigating a noise outside, when she knows the killer is lurking around somewhere. Cop-wise, I’m talking things like cops showing up at a suspect’s house without backup. These guys are assigned partners for a reason. Safety is one of them, but so, too, is having a second set of eyes and ears for investigative purposes, as well as for testifying later in court. I hate it when writers shove the TSTL syndrome (too stupid to live) on their characters to foster an exciting climax.

So, aside from the age-old "safety on a Glock", what are your stupid cop (or amateur sleuth) pet peeves in books?

Robin Burcell, a veteran cop of twenty-something years, dutifully avoids all the above pet peeves in her latest novel, FACE OF A KILLER, about an FBI forensic artist. You can verify this fact by reading the first chapter on her website

66 thoughts on “Ten Stupid Things Cops in Books Do

  1. I love this post, Robin! All right, I’ve got one…having cops assigned to a case that THEY WOULD NEVER, EVER be assigned to. Like the murder of their brother. Or something where they have absolutely no jurisdiction (a federal case). Also, having fictional cops do things that (hopefully) they would never do: firing at an unarmed man in a crowded subway, breaking into buildings without a warrant, detectives going ahead of the SWAT team into a dangerous situation (L&O SVU LOVES this one, they do it every few episodes).
    I’m curious, Robin. Which shows do you think get it mostly right?

  2. Great post. I had to stop and think about my own detective character, and I think he passes. The loner, alcoholic, disillusioned male cop is at the top of the list for me.

  3. What about the rogue cop who defies regulations, procedures, and superiors to nail the criminal his/her way?

    Eliot Stabler in L&O SVU isn’t a rogue but just about every episode of L&O SVU I wonder why he hasn’t been fired. Would a department really tolerate a loose canon like the character?

  4. Good question, Michelle.

    Most of the shows get the street procedure wrong. I know a lot of it is done for dramatic effect. Can’t notch up the adrenalin unless your detectives race in before SWAT! But the shows that get the nuances right, the feel and tone… (Probably everyone agrees that THE WIRE is one.) Personally I like L&O SVU, and I tried to decide why. Bad procedure aside, I like the character interaction, the bickering, a bit of the personal life. And I want to look like Mariska Hargitay when I grow up.

  5. I had to think of my current WIP, L.J., to decide if I was violating the rules.

    Then I read Mack’s comments, and I fear my cops are usually a bit on the roguish side… After all, if they were complete rule followers, what fun would that be?

    In truth, Mack, they’d be gone a long time ago. In this age of lawsuits, the answer is no. Departments would not tolerate loose canons.

  6. I will confess that if I were reading a book and encountered any of these mistakes, they wouldn’t bother me in the least — assuming, of course, that the book was keeping me engaged.

    That said, thanks for the heads up so that I can try to avoid making stupid mistakes.

  7. I love that movie with the magnetic ‘evidence tampering’ (and that actor!).

    In my own WiP’s, I try to avoid egregious errors but I am conscious of how much I don’t know. Crime scene behaviors in some mystery novels, however, defy not only common knowledge but common sense. Surely every police officer in the land (and anyone who watches television) knows, for example, not to move the body before the crime-scene photographs have been taken.

  8. Thanks for being our guest today, Robin, and sharing so much useful info. Lots of blunders to avoid. I guess one of the things that always bothers me, at least on TV or in the movies, are the weapons that never need reloading.

    I also agree with Rob that if a story is told well with a compelling voice and an original premise, I can forgive inaccuracies as long as they don’t stop me cold or throw me out of the story.

  9. Great post, Robin!

    The only thing that really bugs me is the use of “vic” for victim. I’ve never heard anyone use it in real life and it just sounds so disrespectful.

    In the Pittsburgh area, “perp” is never used, although I’ve seen “perpetrator” in police reports. Cops around here use either “actor” or “suspect.”

    When I worked for the PD, there was one guy who loved to hog the radio. If he was out on the road and got on the radio, it wasn’t unusual to hear a chorus of “Would you just shut the f*** up?” from the guys in the squad room.

  10. Robin – enjoyed and agreed with everything you had to say here on the subject. Easy to screw up on such matters given that just about every law enforcment organizaiton in the country does IT differently, and when I started out there were very few, very few, very few souces of accurate information on the subject, so I had to hunt and fetch, knit togehter and sew much of my realism and not appear a damn fool, which I do too often in real life and try to avoid in my own books. Again enjoyed the top ten list. My own pet peeve is when the two cop partners think, talk, act, walk so much alike they cannot be told apart.
    Rob Walker

  11. I agree with Joyce. The use of Vic and Perp are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Especially when everyone knows the proper terminology for a perpetrator/suspect is a**hole. And, if you used the entire word, perpetrator, many of the old school cops would think you were referring to the device that’s used for making coffee.

  12. I also have to agree with Robert and Joe. (And I’ve said it on my Crimespace page) that if a story is engaging enough, it doesn’t matter how many safeties they put on a Glock. I think at least the best writers try to get it right to a basic extent, and most of today’s readers are fairly savvy on what is good procedure and what isn’t.

  13. A small one, but how about when the cops announce their presence across a large space, like an auto body shop: Are you The Guy We Came For? Thus, allowing plenty of time for The Guy to split and for an exciting chase that will often end with The Guy pinned to a chain link fence.

    It happened again this week on L&O when the cops (love Jeremy Sisto!) shouted out the kid’s name so he could get a head start running.

  14. I want to add to the lone wolf scenario you see too often. How about the cop who finds out where the perp lives, goes to arrest him, maybe with his partner, maybe even with a backup unit, but THEY ALL GO TO THE FRONT DOOR — and of course the bad guy goes out the back door or window and you get that dramatic chase down fire escapes and over roof tops. Don’t even get me started on how many of those chases involve the cops and perps exchanging uncontrolled gun fire in a residential area?

  15. My pet peeve (especially now that I’m a paralegal student and know more about such things) is the cop who busts down the door and ransacks a suspect’s apartment on the merest hint of suspicion. Umm, hello? How about search warrants, people? Ah, but then that pesky thing called “probable cause” would get in the way of a good dramatic scene.

    I happen to think that Linda Fairstein is one author who gets this aspect pretty consistently right. But then, given her background, that’s hardly surprising.

  16. Speaking of bad cop shows you love to hate, I fell in love with The Shield. Don’t ask me why — well, Michael Chiklis might be the reason — and never mind the fact that I can’t watch a show without shouting at the TV — the LAPD would never let him get away with that, or ohmigod can we say LAWSUIT! I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone on the show mention the federal consent decree and that Strike team is way too lily white to be active in a Latino banger neighborhood, but I can’t help it, I’m addicted. My guilty shame.

  17. Good point, Camille. That equates to the amateur sleuth who walks into a room and confronts the bad guy with the one piece of evidence that proves he is The Killer, leaving him with no choice but to Kill the Sleuth because of her TSTL moment.

  18. I don’t mind rogue, it’s when it get too cartoonish that I get annoyed.

    And I stopped reading a series because of your number one peeve. I quit when I found I was rooting for the bad guy.

    Speaking of terminology, does anyone know if police in New York City really call an ambulance a bus?

    Favorite police shows:

    The Shield (a guilty pleasure like pabrown admits)

    Homicide: Life on the Street

    NYPD Blue

    Hill Street Blues

  19. Nice post, Robin. My pet peeve? Depicting police work as running from crime scene to crime scene and never doing the reports. Reports make up a HUGE amount of police work, like it or not. NYPD Blue at least showed them in the station cranking reports, but Barney Miller was probably the most accurate of the humorous banter that happens in a Detective Bureau in between filing police reports.

    Felicia Donovan

  20. Good point, Felicia. One I usually try to make. At least ad a line that your cop spent the next several hours writing a report.

    I always thought l&O did a fairly decent job showing the detectives sitting at their desks with some downtime. At least alluding to report writing.

    And Mack, don’t you wish they’d bring back Homicide: Life On the Streets ???

    In the meantime, BURN NOTICE anyone? I LOVE this show!!!

  21. Thanks for the great post, Robin. I have a Houston CSI as well as a homicide investigator who both help me get the details. Some of the “lingo” is regional, as you mentioned. No one is ever called “detective” in Houston and “perp” is unheard of. It’s “bad guy” or “turd.” Considering I write what is considered cozy stuff, that doesn’t mean I want my police people to sound like idiots. Because they are not! Thanks again for helping us get it right.

  22. Ah, but despite the lily white aspect, The Shield was such a great show. So bold how they ended it, don’t you think? And I thought in terms of what cops actually deal with on a daily basis it seemed fairly accurate. The prostitutes looked like prostitutes, by and large, not models dressed in trampy clothes. And the crimes were extremely grim (I still shudder over that carjacking episode). And I love Burn Notice, although I wonder how much of Michael’s clever spy tools actually work, like tricking a facial recognition monitor with a photo…

  23. Yeah, I agree, Michelle.

    Who knows if some of that spy stuff really works. But the show is put together so well, I really don’t care. Much like what Robert and Joe were saying. If it is compelling enough, Who Cares?

  24. Great post! Thanks for this. I chose to make my cop character off duty for most of my book since it’s my first attempt to write a police officer accurately. This gives me a bit of leeway as I ease in. πŸ™‚

    My pet peeve is the amateur sleuth solving the crime EVERY TIME before the cop/detective. Cracks me up.

  25. I agree with Michelle that tramping over jurisdictions usually gets to me. And the cliched slang of vic and perp are annoying too. But another area of TV that I’ve really begun to poke fun at is the 5 minute rule, where the police ALWAYS coerce a criminal to confess in the last 5 minutes of the show ending–simple because they want to wrap it up with a confession. And the TV cops are awful at interviewing. They usually just ask if they did it and the criminal breaks down in a fit of guilt, even if the cops don’t have much of a case regarding actual evidence. LOL

    Loved your post. Thanks for the chuckle.

  26. Which of course, Jordan, begs the question: Do TV writers get annoyed when we solve the crime at the ten pages of the book?

    We could probably do a whole ‘nother blog post on how many cases have been solved with the suspect confessing at the other end of the gun, after the sleuth or cop says: It was you, wasn’t it?

  27. Mine is when the investigating detective gets on kissing terms with the protagonist, who is of course a suspect, in the middle of the investigation–sometimes when it’s barely started. I’ve seen some variant of this in crime fiction from cozies to thrillers.

  28. I agree with the cozying up to the suspects aspect. The whole Michael Douglas/Sharon Stone thing in that movie whose name escapes me. I also liked how The Big Easy didn’t “pretty up” the scene. It’s a whole lot messier than most television shows portray. I’ve walked in on brains being splattered all over. Okay, I DID approve of the blonde getting cozy with Dennis. I would have had I had the chance. Dennis…when you speak French……

  29. I’m with Elizabeth on the whole sleeping with a suspect or witness. Good grief, you’d think cops always think from below the belt. ;-D

    My husbands biggest issue is when the gun is ALL wrong (ie: the suspect uses a German gun from WWII, which is really a Russian gun from WWI) — and yes, he read a book that was filled with these kind of errors.

  30. I fear I’ve been guilty of most of those things — right down to the having my cop fall for the suspect, though he didn’t do anything about it until after he knew the guy was innocent and he did fret about it. But I’ve been lucky. I got to revise my first published book and got to clean up all those perps and vics and wits and (hopefully) make the lingo and procedures more in line with reality. I always have my detectives spend a lot of time at their desks writing reports. And not a whole lot of car chases or shoot outs, either!

  31. Great post, Robin! I don’t think I’ve ever done any of your top 10, but then, I’ve never been published either!

    Burn Notice is one of my favorites. My favorite new show is Leverage (probably the opposite of a copy/spy show, but I love it).

    As with others – if an inaccuracy crops up in a book or show, I can usually overlook it (if I even recognize it as an inaccuracy). As long as it is at least logical.

    Illogical actions throw me right out of a story – which is probably why I’m not a big horror fan.

    Thanks, again!

  32. I love this blog entry. Great comments by all. One of the reasons I love The Shield (which I’ve only watched up to the last episode of season 6) is the gritty look at L.A. It’s what I’m trying to capture in my books so I love the visuals. And I recognize so many of the places they go. The grisliest crime I remember was the tire necklace show. For some reason that creeped me out more than most of the others. But they do gritty very well.

    Another beef: when the cop gets all outraged over his Lieutenant or Captain trying to rein him in and he throws his badge and gun down on the desk and storms out, subsequently solving the crime they wouldn’t let him solve and getting back on the force in good grace without consequence. Ha, you try quitting a job in high dungeon and see if you get it back. LOL.

  33. Hi Robin,
    Love the post and so true! All of them. I’ve enjoyed reading others’ pet peeves as well.
    One of mine that I haven’t seen mentioned is the officer who talks to a civilian about stuff that could make or break a case. It’s one thing to see an officer talking to a fellow officer or supervisor or even a spouse about a case, and another to see him talking to the guy in the hardware store about the brutal murder as he’s looking for a hammer similar to one found at a crime scene and airing his personal opinion of ‘who did it.”
    As the wife of an officer, we’ve discussed several cases, but most of the time it is generalities.
    I do have to speak up about the rogue cop thing though. My husband is the “lobotomy” of a small department in a small town of 4500 people. During the day there is one officer in the schools, the Chief and him on duty. Of course, we work for a community where everybody knows everyone and he knows most of the people he deals with as they are often repeat offenders. However, since he is usually the only officer on duty during the day, he goes to many calls alone. He does have the county to back him up if the need arises but he does not have an every day partner. He is in radio contact with the department and the Chief could respond if necessary but he doesn’t ride along. So, although usually the rogue cops that I read about are in large metropolitan areas where a partner would be assigned, some departments just don’t have the funding or staffing to provide for two officers on every shift. In our department, the only shifts that overlap are the 2nd and 3rd shift daily for six hours where two officers are available, during the witching hours. Or full moon hours. Or bars-closed hours.

    BTW, his favorite show was NYPD BLUE and I thought suicide was contemplated when it finished. His newest must watch is LIFE. He really like Charlie Crews and his thing for fruit.

  34. Good comments, Shannon. Can’t imagine what it would be like to work in a town so small. We worked solo cars, but back up was never more than 3-5 minutes away.

    Interesting, though. Our town was small enough that we could remember our repeat offenders. Bet your husband has arrested multi-generations, too. That’s always interesting to see how far the apple falls from the tree, so to speak…

    I agree with you about the peeve on the passing info to Joe Citizen. What are they thinking???

  35. OH,yeah. And I have to add that LIFE is a very good show. The writer is the brother-in-law of chief of police of my old police department. How’s that for six degrees of separation?

  36. Small town jurisdiction can get complicated. I live outside a mountain town with a university so my county detective has to work with university as well as town police. Our local Chief of Detectives has become a valuable resource. Also, they get on a first name basis with anyone they interview immediately. No Mister or Miss or Doctor after the initial introduction.
    Thanks for the post — I’ve printed it for future reference.


  37. Thanks, Robin!

    Really appreciate your sharing your expertise.

    Anybody else willing to overlook minor mistakes from newer authors but cuss out loud when best-seller list pros make similar mistakes? I actually quit reading a book by He Who Shall Remain Nameless (and who reportedly writes all hs novels with lesser known “partners” now to increase productivity) because of a mistake no neophyte would make!

  38. Ha Susanne, I share your sentiment about that same author. When his protag went into an interview room armed and the suspect took his gun I thought, “come on!” You’ve got to be kidding right? You build this guy up to be such a pro and then he does something as stupid as this?

    I don’t THINK I pass harsher judgement on the big name writers, though. I hold them to the same standards, so it amazes me that they are the ones who usually don’t live up to said standards!

    Thanks Robin. Enoyed this very much. I’m no pro on all the fine details, so if something is glaring to me, it has to be bad!

    I also LOVE Burn Notice.

  39. My pet peeve is also cops doing something so stupid that you know a real cop would never do that.

  40. I don’t think I pass harsher judgments on the bigger authors, or the little guys. I just want a good story. But as others have mentioned, if the mistakes are so glaring that even the non-experts get it, then it’s time to maybe have someone look that manuscript over before it hits the press!

    And that out-of-bullets-throwing-the-gun-like-a-girl thing… I think I saw that in a movie, once. A comedy…?

  41. Ms. Burcell,
    I also loved Quaid’s actions in THE BIG EASY, but it could never fly now. He’d have to sneak the magnet on the CPU in the evidence lock-up and “displace” the evidence itself.

    The list is great, and I’ve heard the psych eval. is a tough one, so I admit I’m having to fudge that a bit. Any chance an ex-secret service guy with a ringing endorsement from a former senator might get a break? No?



  42. You know what they say, Jake: Truth is stranger than fiction. It’s certainly possible that if someone very high up the food chain pulled some strings, they might get them to overlook certain elements in that background. Like why he is an EX Secret Service guy… And it is fiction…

    You just gotta make it plausible for the reader to believe.

  43. Thanks for this post, Robin. I must admit, I did not like The Shield at all. I haven’t lived in the US for several years, but my reaction was that if the police were that terrible, I didn’t want to ever live there again. It didn’t engage me, it just made me angry. But I’m hooked on CSIs, L&O, Burn Notice and about any other crime drama.

    One peeve that hasn’t been mentioned is the comingling of CSIs doing regular officer and detective duties. On other lists, it’s been pointed out that the technical folks who work the lab don’t usually if ever do arrests or question suspects. I find Miami CSI to be the worst one for that.

    Interesting how a book topic switched to other media. I wonder if books get it more right than wrong because of the scrutiny and also having the benefit of no time constraints?

  44. jwhit,
    Good points. How did we get from books to TV? It did sort of morph that way.

    But as you mentioned, the shows that have the CSI types actively pursuing things that aren’t CSI duties–well, it cracks me up. CSI Las Vegas used to do that early on. They may still do it, but I quit watching it long ago, so I don’t know. But I clearly remember the CSI guy (Grissom?) questioning the suspect while the homicide detective leaned casually against the doorframe, observing… Ain’t gonna happen. But it does make for good TV drama. I suppose…

  45. Echoing here, but great post.

    One of my biggest humiliations was early in a book mentioning a character was carrying a glock–then later, having him check the safety.

    Got through the hundred times I read over the manuscript, all my “beta” readers including my critique group, and several editors.

    I’m much more careful now.


  46. Yes, I guess I’m of the mind set too that I can forgive some errors–but not factual ones like the safety issue or something too unbelievable like the cop running out of bullets while fighting it out with the bad guy, someone tossing him a gun from off camera and he saves the day. Please…

  47. Good post. Police procedure is very difficult–my way of dealing with it is to not have too much police involvement in the stories I write. :>)

  48. I switched guns midstream in a book which left a Glock with a hammer. Used it as a “find the mistake in my book” contest. Cop won it the first day.
    Favorite stupid things…
    1: The cop who tastes the powder suspected of being coke (that’s called “using!”);
    2: The LAPD radio traffic in the background for cop shows set in other cities;
    3: The fact cops don’t seem to know any of the bad guys on the street and (on L&O)the fact the DA’s seem to be meeting most of the defense attorneys for the first time. Cops know (many of)the bad guys on their beat because they deal with them over and over. DAs know the defense lawyers because it’s a relatively small club.
    4.The movies that still use “All Points Bulletin.” The more sophisticated TV shows have adopted the term “BOLO” or Be On The Lookout or even “Attempt to Locate.”
    Favorite Silencer on a Revolver story? One of the Jesse Stone TV movies. Ironic because Tom Selleck, in real life. is a handgun enthusiast and board member of the NRA.

  49. Anonymous said: I switched guns midstream in a book which left a Glock with a hammer. Used it as a “find the mistake in my book” contest.

    Great idea! I might try that!


  50. I also love the “find the mistake” idea. Great idea!

    And Great mention of the cop TASTING THE POWDER SUBSTANCE. How did I forget that one? (Maybe because we tend to see it more on TV than in books, though I did read a book once that had a cop tasting a substance from the ground and determining it was blood! Hello? Who in their right (or wrong) mind would even contemplate that one?)

    But back to the cop tasting the powder drug thing… Hawaii 5-0 probably has the most famous scene where McGarret dips his finger and tastes it and says: “Pure H.” They actually use that scene as a teaching tool in the police academy. Can you say overdose? Cops do not stick their fingers in anything and taste it. We have these cute little drug testing kits that we use to test powder. Takes about two-three minutes. Even use it for the stuff we think is just cutting powder.

    And then after it is tested, it is sent to the lab to be tested by the real experts. Experts who do not put it in their mouths either.

  51. It’s not just cops who do dumb things like this. I was watching a doco on the British Museum last night where they thought some sealed ceramic vases might contain opium. The bottle was shaped like a poppy if it was inverted. So they had a lab tech whose job it is to test organic substances on museum artifacts take on the project. These vases were over 3000 years old, don’t forget. She was concerned that it might break if she drilled into it, but that was her only choice, which she did. Then she stuck a small hooked rod inside, pulled out some of the sticky substance, put it in a mass spec vile and — wait for it — put it up to her nose and sniffed!

    I nearly fell off the sofa! It could have been anything in there, from poison to perfume. She says, it smells like coconut oil. Then she passes it to her colleague, the pot protector, and she smelled it too. OMG!

    The remainder of the analysis was pretty inconclusive because of the extent of the oil in the mixture. She did manage to find a minute amount of opiate signature in the graph, but not enough to mean much. Either it deteriorated, was changed from being a drug vase to a suntan oil vase so the opiate was leftover from other uses, or it was a blip in the analysis and was just an ointment vase. They left it unanswered in the program, saying it would take months to figure out.

  52. Of course, what makes your scenario worse is that it was For Real!

    At least we’re talking fictional cops!!!

  53. ..and I’m even later than Beth. Terrific post, and it made me glad that I write about an amateur sleuth, with victims who are more likely to be bludgeoned with whatever is at hand than a more sophisticated weapon.

    Of course, all the examples are funny, but when writers are advised to make their characters flawed I suppose it’s hard not to go down the alcoholic/divorced/responsible for his partner’s death route.

  54. Great post! Now I’ve got a ready-made list of things to remember to avoid if I ever get my own scribblings finished LOL.

    I have friends that refuse to watch movies/TV with me if there’s anything remotely resembling a cop involved in the plot – I spend the whole time picking it apart. “Oh, come on, no cop would do that!” About the only friend that tolerates it is, you guessed it, a cop. We try to see who can spot the egregious error first!

Comments are closed.