Too Rosy a View of Cops?

Derek Pacifico’s recent Crime Writer’s Homicide School was another sizzler. This is my third session with Sgt Pacifico, a law enforcement trainer for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. I didn’t need to worry about being bored sitting in a dull classroom in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley for three days.

Pacifico is a spell-binding story teller, and for a crime writer it’s a task to keep up with the anecdotes and good stories you want to make notes on.

I worry sometimes that I’m developing a far too positive perspective on law enforcement because I’m only meeting the good cops. I wonder if other crime writer’s watch themselves in fear of writing from a too rosy vantage point.

Last week I did a ride-along with Officer Milosevich of the Santa Monica Police Department where my murder mystery series featuring Detective Dave Mason is based. Over a long shift I learned he taught defensive tactics, and watched him interact with a mentally ill woman who likes to fight. We went on a lot of calls that led to the humdrum non-excitement of an upscale beach city’s ordinary doings.

Much in contrast to the ride-along experience I had in Compton on a hot, August Saturday night a few years ago. I thought I was going to die as we raced from one call to another, lights and siren. An old latino man pulled us over to where he was sitting on the curb to show the officer a bullet wound in the sole of his foot he’d got from running away from a fracas.

At one point in a very long graveyard shift, we were sent to a parking lot behind of one of the projects. A crowd of young black kids watched the cruiser pull in with a lot of jeering and name calling. The officer slid down the window and slowly drove through. The kids moved out of the way, taking their time. Lots of attitude.

There’s no place to dive for cover in the passenger seat of a police cruiser once the shooting starts. My heart had just settled down after he got a call and we humped over the median racing in the opposite direction.

All that happened was him dispensing a lot of “Hi, how are ya’s? How’s it going, buddy?” He called a lot of them by name, people he gets to know as they cycle of in and out of County jail. Maybe he was just showing the flag of law enforcement.

These guys were great and I admire them for their discipline, people skills, and self-control. There’s a lot like them.

But what about the cops I’m not meeting? All I have to do is pick up a newspaper to know they’re out there. Close by, the Bakersfield Police Department seems to shoot first and ask questions later. The Maricopa (a Kern County town near here) Police Department has been investigated for gross incompetence and mismanagement, and Kern County Sheriff’s Department has taken them over. I notice the Seattle Police Department is in trouble.

I’m sure J.A. Jance who writes about a Seattle investigator shakes her head reading that, thinking of all the good cops she knows.

Check out Derek Pacifico’s seminars for yourself at

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