Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: 400 Things Cops Know

Sometimes I buy a book because I think it will be good for research in the future. I usually scan it, pick up and read random chapters and put it on the shelf. Then I bought 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman by Adam Plantinga, I thought I'd follow the same pattern. So did not happen.

I don't know what I expected, but Plantinga delivered so much more information in a way that made this list of "things" a page turner. Well written with terrific organization, the book falls into chapters like "16 Things Cops Know about Booze and Drugs." Each chapter has a theme and a series of short entries. "You'll read about people on their fifth DUI conviction, their seventh, their ninth. It's enough to make you look around at the way other countries do things. Drive drunk in Finland and the punishment is a year of hard labor."

"If you encounter an assault victim in the 'hood who has been punched in the mouth and is missing teeth, ask him if his teeth were knocked out tonight or had they already been like that. It is a wholly appropriate question, for dental hygiene is one of many casualties of the urban environment."

For a writer, Plantinga's blunt and often humorous style should help us be better writers. Why? Because for one thing, he takes us inside a cop's head so we can look at the world through his eyes. Because he debunks so much of what we watch on television. It should come as no shock that the needs for visual drama trump policing procedures.

Take the Miranda bugaboo. Cops in real life don't immediately read a perp his rights. "As a police officer, you are required to read someone their rights only after they are in police custody and you have begun interrogating them about an offense. Custody plus interrogation equals Miranda, not before."

Chasing a perp isn't high on Plantinga's list of preferred activities. Many reasons. You don't usually stand a chance of catching a fleet-footed youth. You don't know what's around the corner and down an alley. You may have spent too much time at the Donut Diner. And female cops and detectives NEVER, EVER chase a suspect in high heels. Sure way to break an ankle. Besides, you won't catch him.

I ordered this before it was released. When it arrived, I fell on it like a starving person finding a chocolate cache.

For my mystery writer peeps out there, stop reading this and order it. Read it. Return to it often. I plan to.

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