Reality of police work vs. crime dramas
Updated: Feb 27
Gorodenkoff | shutterstock
I’m just an author, not a law enforcement officer. However, by writing over twenty crime novels, I’ve come to realize the stark difference between police work today and the way it is portrayed in TV dramas. Let’s call it the CSI factor.
The simple fact is, working as a police officer is way more mundane than CSI would have you believe. I’m not minimizing the danger officers put themselves in to keep us safe, but the reality is they do their jobs with far less drama and excitement than on a crime show.
Let’s start with the use of firearms. I realize that shootings make for great action scenes, but the facts show most officers go through their careers without firing their guns anywhere but at the range. Sorry.
On TV, detectives focus on a single case, wrapping up a complex crime within an hour. In the real world, detectives work on several cases at the same time. They conduct hundreds of unproductive interviews and chase countless leads into dead ends.
Everything in an investigation takes time and moves slowly. By the way, I get why Hollywood leaves out the tons of paperwork law enforcement officers must deal with it, it would make for terrible TV.
Detectives also do not analyze the evidence at a crime scene as often seen on TV. That job is for the crime scene techs from the lab to do.
Felipe Caparros | shutterstock
Crime dramas have also elevated the use of forensics to something magic-like. This perception invades the courtroom, where jurors expect to be presented with inconvertible scientific evidence, even in minor criminal cases.
They’re bound to be disappointed because the facts are, many crimes are not processed. The time and resources are simply not available. As a result, departments have thresholds in place to determine when a crime scene unit should be dispatched. The bottom line: using expensive forensic resources for lower-level crimes rarely happens.
TV would also have you believe that fingerprints have been left all over a scene. However, anyone on the planet is aware of leaving a print behind and criminals either wear gloves or wipe down what has been touched.
Additionally, like DNA, police can lift a print but if it doesn’t match anything in a database, it doesn’t help catch someone. (Note—it is useful to prove that someone was at a particular place once they identify them.) DNA also takes time to process. Generally, seven to ten days, if the lab isn’t busy and they’re all swamped.
Here’s another distortion Hollywood promotes: enhancing video or photos. Time after time, a grainy image is magically cleared up by the lab. The reality? If the pixels aren’t there in the first place, they can’t be enhanced.
Oh, one more thing, bartenders are rarely pulled over the bar.
Dan Petrosini is a crime novelist living in Naples. One murder mystery series he's written, A Luca Mystery, is set in Naples. www.danpetrosini.com