Monday, November 26, 2012

Writing Cops

Homicide detective Mick Jenkins stepped through the tavern doorway onto the sidewalk. Showing his back to the icy afternoon wind, he turned up the collar on his soiled trench coat and headed for the station. The worn garment was about all she'd left him. That, and a broken heart.


funny cop thComedyPolice.jpg photoA good street cop is often a widely varied subject matter expert. Generally fluent in tequila-ese, able to glance authoritatively at an auto engine, whistle sadly and call a tow, he or she has one thing in common with all brothers and sisters of the blue.

We are SMEs on us.

Consequently, any writer presuming to venture into cops as characters would do well to meet some, marry one or be one. Failing those (my wife would caution against marrying one, but that is a separate blog) I humbly offer a few tips. First, some caveats.

1) We are not who we appear to be. Most of us are especially guarded about who we are and what we do. My publisher's editor once told me he "knew" female cops because he'd "met one." One?!

2) Sometimes, we drop F Bombs like Aspen snowflakes in January. Never...well, rarely in public. Behind closed doors, f*&k yeah.

3) We are people. We laugh, we cry, we feel fear, pain...heartbreak. Just because we don't show it off to anyone but our intimates doesn't mean it's not there.

Okay, here we go.

That's a big ten-four good buddy

Uniformed police officers are bathed in an unending stream of radio traffic. Whether murmuring from the car radio, bleating from a portable clipped to their belt or whispering through an earpiece, a duty day's soundtrack is male and female voices speaking in Grade A cop. Some shops use a ten code (there are several), most use a phonetic alphabet (whiskey, tango, foxtrot) and only the military says "over." A writer dealing with a fictional police department can make this stuff up, mostly. But, if a writer's character works for a real place, go onto 5-0 Radio or some of the other streaming web sites and listen to them. For hours. You'll pick up the tempo, the jargon and your cop stuff will seem more authentic. Caution - the ten code is confusing until you've used it for a while. Don't overdo.

Talkin' Bout My Generation

I began my police career in 1979, a year when many of my brother and sister officers' parents were still in high school. My best cultural references are...stale. Most male cops can do Dirty Harry Calihan as well as Clint Eastwood, but Ghostbusters and "Nights in White Satin" ("breathe deep, the gathering gloom...") draw blank stares from the Gen Whatever set. Older writers would do well to surf YouTube for what's popular and at least glance at the hot sheets while checking out at the grocery store. The whole frickin' world is doing shit "Gangnam Style" so if you don't know what that is, google it. Listen to the way kids talk and assume your cops are talking like that to each other when they are among friends. Whoop whoop whoop....

We'll continue this later.


  1. Love it. Not writing a cop right now, but I'll keep this in mind for when I do. Thanks!

  2. How true it is. Love it- keep em coming!

  3. Interesting, Jim. I don't know if I'll ever have a cop character, but it's a good possibility. LOL

  4. Thanks. If you ever do - and many of the women cops I know would fit into your genre - I'm here to help! :)