Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Let Me Ask You This...

What is one interview question that you wish someone would ask you but rarely, if ever, has? What’s the answer?

From Frank

Sayeth the Interviewer: "You retired after a twenty-year career in law enforcement?"

I reply: "I did."

Q: "One would think you have a positive view towards your colleagues?"

A:"I did, and I do. They're men and women who are bravely dedicated to doing a job that is increasingly more difficult and critical to our society."

Q: "So here's my question: if that's the case, why have you written a number of novels and stories that contain officers with unadmirable qualities, who fail, or are even corrupt? Isn't there a disconnect there between your real-life experience and the fiction you've presented?"

A: "Well -- "

Q: "And since you're writing from a position of institutional knowledge, does your background give more weight to those negative depictions?"

A: "Good question."


It is. And while I've been asked a lot about my police fiction and just about as much about my police experiences, no one has yet hit me with this seeming paradox.

I wish they would.

I have an answer. It's not a perfect one. It's not short, or simple, either. So in a way, maybe it's lucky I haven't been asked this in a setting that wouldn't allow for a meaningful answer. But I have a little space here today, so...

Look, there's some part of me that has to acknowledge that my work has, at times, been one more trickling stream that has fed the raging torrent of police tropes. Fiction just be that way, I guess. Sometimes I write simply to tell an entertaining or moving story. 

Other times, I have more in mind. 

One of the things I've tried to accomplish over the course of my River City series is to show the humanity of the police officers. This includes their weaknesses as well as their nobility, their failures right along with their successes. My hope has always been that in doing so, perhaps more people will look at cops and see a person first and then a uniform second rather than the other way around. Anytime we focus on what someone is instead of who they are, it creates a distance.

The Charlie-316 series isn't as clear in this regard. Virtually every character in these novels, whether in uniform or not, is painted in shades of gray. Why? Because that's real life. And while heavily dramatized, that is what my co-author and I wanted to show. Are there corrupt cops in this series? Yes. At least three who are unquestionably corrupt. But all the other characters (and there's an ensemble cast over the course of four books) lie somewhere on the spectrum between corrupt and incorruptible. We ask questions about ends and means, intent and outcome. It's not pretty. It's also not meant as an indictment of law enforcement but as an examination of human nature.

The polarity between these two series, though, is representative of my own personal stance on the topic. I am at once supportive of the overwhelming majority of officers who are dedicated, work hard, and have noble intent ever day they go out into the world to do this job... while I also believe there is a need for reform in policing in the U.S. I've seen the same horrific events the rest of the nation has watched and I'm just as outraged about them. 

This unpopular view usually doesn't make me look reasonable; it just makes both sides of the discussion (if one can call the screaming discourse going both directions a discussion) angry at me. I'm a traitor to one side, an apologist to the other, and a fence-sitter to both. 

I'd like to say I don't care, but let's face it - if you're human, you care how people think of you to some degree. So I care. But I also can't shy away from how I see it.

Going further in this conversation is beyond the scope a single blog post, so I need to either stop here or write another 10K words. Suffice it to say that I think we've become a world that likes simple lines of demarcation and easy solutions to all our problems. Complex issues don't work that way. Reforming what we want from our police and how that is accomplished? Rooting out the few bad actors in the profession and giving appropriate training and support to the rest? Changing our methods, our institutions, our culture?


Until we see the issues accurately, instead of becoming entrenched in whatever polarized (and to my mind, ridiculously simplified) viewpoint we adhere to ("cops are the problem!" "back the blue!"), we won't even begin to put together potential solutions for meaningful - and beneficial - change.


No blatant self-promotion this time around, folks. If anyone is interested in my stuff, I'm easy to find. Instead, let me post a picture of something I remain proud of.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

This issue, which seems pretty clear to me, is driving a lot of the discussion regarding police procedurals going forward. The number of folks who publicly scream across social media platforms that police procedurals should be done away with in the wake of the protests due to recent events, clearly are not the folks reading the books I am. Your books and many others depict complex characters placed across the spectrum you note in your piece. Seems to me that such books show the humanity and the fact that every single person is flawed in some way.

I was especially struck, probably because my son was pursuing multiple degrees in Criminology in recent years, by the concept of "noble cause corruption." Your Charlie-316 series has that angle as a major piece of the plot and story arc. If change, no matter how one defines it is going to happen, that aspect of law enforcement needs to be publicly addressed and dealt with.

Frank Zafiro said...

Great thoughts, Kevin. Thanks for reading and weighing in.