The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure – Michael O’Byrne

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I read this book because I have no idea about the police system and yet will be including bits of it for my next novel.

It’s actually quite good, even if you don’t write pure crime. It gives you the levels and names of police bureaucracy as well as how procedures work. It told me what numbers of people work on crimes, rapes and ordinary offences as well as how suspension, bad jobs, punishment etc works in the police force.

It expelled a lot of the myths which fiction and TV has created around suspension and office hates etc. Some however, like badly looked on people getting all the boring or horrible jobs, is true.

The only thing this book has none of is the comradery and how people act with each other in the police. This we have to create by ourselves it seems. However, at least now we can do it with the right name tags and equipment (there are also sections on forensics and police databases).

A good read for those, like me, that are clueless about the inner workings of the force.

Doesn’t take too long to get through either. About a day or a day and a bit in sections.

I’d give it a 4/5.

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  1. Looks to be a good read – ‘specially if you’re writing police procedural stuff or even just to get a few facts right for background or casual references. FYI – Interpersonal relationships within the police are pretty well covered in sociological studies of ‘Police Culture’ – not all dry, academic studies – try the ethnomethodological stuff (bit of a mouthful, I know, but really only studies of what it’s like to be ‘in the job’ of policing from a police officers point of view – gained from interviews, covert participation and the like. My old prof. Michael Banton at Bristol uni (also a chairman of magistrates – but never a policeman)) was always keen to discount the existence of a ‘police culture’ e.g. institutionalised and persistent racism, sexism, and right wing bias – he particularly disliked ‘ethno’ studies as a source of evidence of this and so naturally, we (students) delighted in confronting him with studies that (I think) clearly show there is an identifiable occupational culture specific to policing – why wouldn’t there be – all other occupations have a subculture – as innumerable studies show.)
    Of course, this was back in the days when the cops were getting bad press over their handling of the miner’s strike, race riots etc. and I think the old man was just trying to redress the balance – and also trying to distance himself from the increasingly obvious links between the cops, the judiciary and the ‘establishment’ in general. Not such big news now, but quite shocking to many at the time (late 70’s, early 80’s) – Constable Plod’s good-natured and impartial help old ladies across the street reputation was never the same after that. Probably due to Thatcher, Tebbit and the other crypto fascists who used the cops, courts etc quite blatantly to get their political way. Having been caught in the spotlight and publicly pilloried, the cops closed ranks and the culture has I believe, intensified and become quite overt (see news reports of American cops cheering as Boston Marathon bomber carted away with serious gunshot wounds). Of course there is a cop culture and many crime fiction writers reproduce it quite accurately as a consequence of their research – It can’t be a surprise to anybody that when a cop is attacked or killed their colleagues put in a much higher level of effort to catch the perpetrator(s) – they take care of their own – a clear indication that cops see and believe themselves to be a culturally distinct group. Cops do indeed live in daily fear of their own internal affairs investigators and public inquiries into their operational procedures – not to say all cops are bad cops – just that they’re human and they have an almost impossible job – so they cut corners and turn blind eyes, drink too much, get aggressive and are quite often mildly corrupt – and to protect themselves as a group they have developed a culture which, never exactly codified or explicit to outsiders, is nevertheless a dominant influence on their attitudes and behaviour.

    • Thanks for the new words to look up for more research John. I’ll have to look into that – sounds like it’s something I could be doing with! Soldiers are much easier to work out I think but then maybe I’ve read more with soldiers in! (Or seen more if we’re including movies). I always find your posts to be very informative. I’m learning a lot here! Keep it coming haha.

  2. I think this sounds a great book if you are looking for procedural stuff. So much of it is widely known, that if you get it wrong, the readers really are likely to pick it up.

    I wouldn’t particularly go with the blanket characterisation that all cops drink too much, get aggressive and are mildly corrupt. I think you’d alienate yourself from readers who know the police are made up of as much of mix of society as the rest of society. As much as the applicant list allows anyway. And in those applicants are people with integrity and moral standards, families and values.

    Wishing you luck with that part of your novel

    • Thanks very much! Of course, police are just like the rest of us but with an important day to day task. I have an idea of how I want to portray them – a right mix of bawdy pub laughter, dark humour and responsibility/morals is needed I think.
      Thankfully for me, the police is a smaller part of the novel. The major detective is more…fantasy freelance I could say.

  3. Hello Holly
    I’m a former Police Officer (DCI in Major Crime) who retired in 2012. Part of my new career is to advise writers on Police procedure etc. If you have any questions during your writing I’d be happy to answer them. My contact details are on my website at http://www.gibconsultancy.co.uk
    Regards
    Stuart Gibbon

    • Hello Stuart,

      Thank you for commenting. It sounds as if you have a wealth of knowledge (fairly up to date knowledge, too) to hand. Your offer is very generous – thank you. Us writers always need some good resources and expert knowledge! Are you happy to answer any questions I might have for free or is there a cost involved?

      Kind regards,

      Holly

      • Hello Holly
        As the Consultancy work is part of my new ‘business’ at GIB Consultancy I do have a set fee (charged by the hour) as the majority of advice I currently give is quite lengthy. Having said that I would be happy to answer any questions you may have and happy to negotiate. If you need any advice you can e-mail me at enquiries@gibconsultancy.co.uk or call me via the contact number shown on the website and we can discuss further – Regards – Stuart

      • Hello Stuart,
        Brilliant – thanks for clarifying.
        I will definitely be in contact next time I need some expert advice for some research.

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