Monday, September 03, 2007

The Coppers I Know

Patty here…

I love reading police procedurals but some rely too heavily on the old stereotype of the trench coat wearing loner who drinks too much and has a trail of ex-wives as long as Sunset Boulevard. I know a detective like that but he's the exception to the rule these days.

I’m a specialist reserve officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. I’m not a sworn officer. I’m a volunteer in my twelfth year of service. Here in L.A. the diversity among members of the police department is intoxicating. I suppose that's true for other large cities, as well. The sergeants (O.I.C. or officer in charge) who’ve led my unit have been men, women, gay, lesbian, straight, African-American, Asian, Anglo, Hispanic, people who have learned justice at universities and those who’ve learned it on the streets.

You see some of this multiplicity reflected in crime fiction today but not enough. That’s why it’s refreshing to read authors with real experience like our own James O. In FIELD OF FIRE, protagonist Alex Duarte, who is a tad compulsive about where he leaves his Glock (hmmm...), is an ATF agent who rooms with his brother in an apartment above his parent’s garage. I love the family set up because it feels real. As most of you know, James O is a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and has also worked as an agent with the DEA and as a deputy marshal with the U.S. Marshals Service. He had credentials.

In my experience, law enforcement types hate it when books or movies get it wrong. I suppose any reader with insider knowledge or expertise would object, as well. When I read police procedurals about the LAPD, I'm hyper-alert, especially for terminology.

Here are a couple of words you rarely hear members of "The Department" say: (1) Cop. I’ve heard “copper” used but only when officers talk among themselves. Most say police officer. If you asked one of them what they do, I'm guessing they'll say police officer. They refer to a fellow officer by his or her name or their rank, i.e., “He’s a P-3 at Wilshire.” Sergeants in charge of my unit were usually called just plain “Sarg.” They also have nicknames for each other, but mostly I can't go into that. Too bad. Some of them are pretty interesting. (2) Perp. I have never heard a member of the LAPD use this word. Not to say some don't, but in L.A. the term generally used is “suspect.”

Working for the LAPD is the most fun I've ever had working for free (well, almost for free). I love hanging out with these people, because for the most part you know who they are and where they stand. They appreciate what little I contribute and aren't afraid to tell me so. I recently went to a retirement party for a friend who was leaving The Department after thirty-five years “on the job." That’s a long time. He was ready to go. Most of the people who attended the party were interesting enough to be a protagonist in somebody's novel.

There were many funny and touching moments during the evening, most notably when my friend’s two sons spoke about their dad. I also noticed there was a lot of hugging going on. I got in a few good ones myself. Maybe people were thinking ahead to their own retirement parties, imagining their kids in front of a crowd saying things that made people's eyes mist. Or maybe they were just wondering if they’d survive long enough to retire.

What's the most fun you ever had working for free or what seemed like free?

Happy Labor Day!


  1. Go-Lo: here I am looking for some Monday morning facetiae.....I find an expose on Coppers...uh, Do-do nutters; Fuzz; Old Bill; Jake,Smokey,Barney; Po,5-O; Pigs,Scuffers; The Heat,Flatfoot; Bobby, Bottles; and even Pandu Hawaldar.

    Now I'll learn about: hump, The brass, by the boke, juice, rat squad,and skels.

    Hope the problem you described last week has been resolved without too much hassle.


  2. Wow, thanks very much for the kind words,Patty.

    he L.A. cops, down here we say "cops", are a good group.

    Just got back from the Decatur Book Festival and Labor day felt like Sunday. It took a while to realize the blog was up today.

    Jim Born

  3. I worked for a while as a volunteer probation supervisor, and one of my clients was a competetive athlete. He had certain anger-management issues that he was reluctant to face--but man, did we have a fun time talking his sport otherwise.

    Aside from that, the people that I worked with, including the full time P.S.'s, were simply amazing. What a broad spectrum of humanity!

    Aside from that, my writing is a blast--because right now it decidedly counts as working for free! lol!

  4. Santa.


  5. The first official writing gig I ever had was work for free - and I barely noticed the lack of pay, I was so happy to be published. Made me realize, once and for all, that writing was my chosen path, and if I starved in a garret, so be it, because this was what I wanted to do and be. Of course, for the longest time I had the day jobs, and it was really, really hard to make that leap when the demands of book touring meant I couldn't keep the job going any longer. I was so scared to death at making that leap - it was terrifying.

    In Britain we have had many words for the police - Peelers (after John Peel, the founder of the police force), coppers, the fuzz, etc. However, the most popular slang term is "the Bill " or "the old Bill." If we are being cheeky, it might be "the old William parked over there with his breathalyzer and speed gun."

    Not that I've ever been stopped by the old Bill, or anything like that ....

  6. Patty,
    The only unpaid job I can think of that's really given (giving?) me something is writing -- the freelance collection of stories nobody wants, the few that somebody did, and the novel that hopefully somebody will.
    That being said, having spent 10 years in the criminal justice system (social worker, not cop -- they call themselves that here in the mid-Atlantic too) -- I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your kind words about police officers. They are truly some of the finest human beings I've ever know -- sure, there are always exceptions, and inevitably they're the ones who get the press. But most of the police officers I've had the honor to call my friends are committed to their fellow man on a level far beyond most people (thanks, Jim), working bad hours for mediocre pay and often losing sight of themselves in the middle. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin, they stand on the wall between us and evil, and most of the time -- especially if they do their jobs well -- no one but them ever knows it.

  7. Camp Fire leader, Girl Scout leader, a big with Big Brothers/Big Sisters - I've been with some of these kids for half their lives- and wouldn't trade a smile, a hug, or even a pouty tantrum for cash

  8. Of course Tom's favorite "no pay" job is Santa. And he's a great one.

    My best "no pay for play" job was watching for the Loch Ness monster for two weeks in a little pup tent next to the water.

  9. Pandu Hawaldar??? Gak! Jon, my Web site is back up and running and only slightly changed. Yay!!!! Sincerely yours, Go-Lo

    Jeff, writing for free or almost. Yes, it's what we do :o)

    Lisa, thanks for your comments about police officers. I agree. Most are under appreciated.

    James O, Our J, Groupie, Louise, and Conscripted Cherry (what a great handle) thanks for your contributions.

  10. The theater! I had to give up gigging for local musicals and plays years ago, because it only pays well enough for a college student, LOL.

    Writing is fun, too, but significantly harder!

  11. Pandu Hawaldar = Indian policeman.

    Glad your "troubles" are behind you, at least the website!


  12. Spyscribbler, I can so identify. I did some acting in my misspent youth and will agree that working in the theatre is really really fun.

    Thanks, Jon. Sometimes it seems like just when you put one fire out, you find another hot spot somewhere else. Bring on the hoses!!!