Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Where Now For The Police Procedural?

By Jay Stringer

First up, I'll point you in the direction of the new podcast I'm working on. People who follow me on Facebook will have already heard about it. I'm keeping announcement's pretty low key right now; I'm still figuring out how often I'll be able to do it, what the schedule would be, and a few other details.

I'm also still waiting to see if itunes will approve it for their listings, so while there's still a chance that I might need to re-title it or tweak the format (or even if we go it without itunes) I'm considering this more of a beta testing period.

The basic premise of the show is to give a space for crime writers to talk rubbish. One of the best things about being a crime writer is hanging out with other crime writers and cracking jokes, talking craft, debating politics and trading stories from our past. Readers don't always get to see that side of things, so I'm hoping this podcast could be win/win; something new for readers, and a venue for writers to hang out between the conferences.

Episode one featured Steve Weddle, who I think you may have heard of. We talked a good mix of crass and craft. Episode two had a couple of sound issues, but was a really great chat with Josh Stallings. As with episode one, we covered both the gutter and the brain, but I really enjoyed the chance to trade stories, opinions and ideas with Josh, and I think (keep this a secret, okay?) we got quite deep at times.

That show has been in my thoughts ever since for one main reason-

Josh asked a question during the discussion, where now for procedural writers in the wake of Fergsuon?

I'm not a big reader of police procedural booksa, and I don't write them, either. I think both McFet and I have talked on DSD before about the prevalence cliche of the crusading cop over the idea of someone just doing a job. But there's another cliche, too; the maverick. The cop who keeps breaking the rules, who keeps getting sued or charged or suspended, maybe a cop who has killed someone in the past, but we still come to follow them in the stories because they are our protagonist.

It's nothing new to say there are large communities of people out there who don't trust the police, and many crime writers have been living in that area already for their stories, but the media is now bringing that idea to more and more people, as well as exposing and raising some very important questions about authority, accountability and abuse of power.

So I'm interested. I don't feel I would be a big player in this conversation since it's not my area of crime fiction, but where now for the police procedural? What is the honest approach?


John McFetridge said...

It's a good question, I think. It's really been an elephant in the room for a long time and my prediction is it will continue to be that - denial is a powerful force.

For a long time we have accepted the 'lone cop,' the outsider, the one person willing to go against the establishment and catch this killer - but the rest of the world of the establishment has had very little effect on these stories.

Dirty Harry has become the establishment. Although I think we're having a hard time dealing with the fact that, really, Dirty Harry always was the establishment.

I don't think there will be much of an impact on the police procedural at all.

Dana King said...

All of this came up too late to have any effect on the procedural I'm close to finishing, but it's definitely going to effect at least the next two Penns River books. Two books out, the story will be about a cop shooting an unarmed man (or maybe he was armed in some way; that's a ways out yet), but the next book will have definite elements of the erosion of trust between the cops and the locals. The "Thin BLue Line" may come up for some examination, as well.

What anyone who writes procedurals needs to be careful of is not to go too far. Not all cops are like this. I can't even say most are, but this bunch sure gets a disproportionate share of the attention. As they should.

John McFetridge said...

The individuals probably haven't changed all that much but the institutions have been exposed for what people even slightly outside the mainstream have been saying forever.

The reason there is an "erosion of trust" is because more people are feeling out of the mainstream and are now being treated the same as others have always been treated.

Or, maybe, more people are asking (I can't really say demanding yet) that the institutions live up to their own mandates, which they've never had to before.

And, I guess, when you say "this bunch" get a disproportionate share of attention you mean cops who do their jobs properly don't get much attention. But I think what people are looking for is accountability - we don't need more stories of good cops (well, maybe we do) but we need a few stories of bad cops who aren't completely back-up and protected by the institutions.

I think Serpico said it best: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-police-are-still-out-of-control-112160.html#.VIc7Vu8tAms

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am loving the McKinty books so I hope to see more. Perhaps the key is setting the series in an interesting place and time. And also great writing.

seana graham said...

Patti, since you like the Sean Duffy books, you should put John's Black Rock on your TBR list for many of the same reasons.

My own upbringing seems to have been one where many people I know distrust the police but more for ideological reasons than having been actually harassed or intimidated by them. A carryover from the sixties, I think. So our ideas of the police here in Santa Cruz were really thrown for a loop a couple of years ago when two local homicide detectives on a routine investigation were murdered by the suspect in his own living room. It was a shock that went through the whole community. It turned out that one was a young woman that a couple of my friends had known well, and she had gone to the local university as a community studies major and had joined the police in an effort to be of more help to others. It was all very strange and sad.

Jay Stringer said...

I think McFet makes a good point about denial.

I think that as much as those of us who are talking about this, and a large amount of people in the media and the community are watching the news unfold, there has always been a large unspoken conservative streak to mainstream crime fiction.

If I'm honest, deep down I think the current events will lead to a lot of interesting books from the corner of the crime fiction community who read and write the kind of books that would pay attention to whats happened, but will it make a ripple in the larger pool?

Josh Stallings said...

It's cool to see this in our general conversation. I come from both sides, raised in the 60's by radicals I saw police take my pop away more than once. My grandfather, one of the best men I've known, was a life long cop. He started walking a beat and retired as Chief of corrections. Just before my grandfather passed over, I asked him what he thought we should do to improve the current prison system. "Tear it down and start over, we fundamentally got the concept wrong," he solemnly told me.

The point missed in the current news is it's not about a good cop vs bad cop it's about a deeply flawed power structure.

Although Race is clearly an issue, it runs much deeper..

“A few times each week, across the United States, police shoot and kill mentally ill people." - Portland Press Herald

15-year-old autistic child tasered by police in Iowa.

A young man with Down syndrome was asphyxiated while in police custody.

Schizophrenic murdered during police gang beating in California. Two of the officers held him down, while the other four took turns beating him with batons and stunning him with tasers.

Any one of those events in 2013 should be enough for us to rise up and scream enough. I've been there - A LAPD officer, hand on his gun, screamed at my developmentally delayed son - "Do You know what this means?" He was pointing to his uniform - as if my son should recognize the blue and drop to his knees. If my wife hadn't yelled just as loud - "No he doesn't know what it means." I do believe my son might have been shot.

For me I am looking for writing that will move the public conversation towards systemic change.

Enough is enough.

I told my boys when they were younger that violence only brought more violence. Not sure I believed it then. I do now. Maybe it's time we told this to the the men and women who work for us as cops.

Enough is enough.

seana graham said...

As a case in point, Josh, a mentally ill man was shot and killed by the NYPD tonight. He had stabbed a man, so everyone from the mayor on down was turning out to say that this was an example of a justified killing, and to congratulate the officer on only having shot the guy once. In the context of other events, its true that it does seem measured, but I was pretty shocked all the same that this was seen as a 'good shoot'.

It's a pretty bleak night in America anyway what with the torture files being released on top of everything else.

John McFetridge said...

"Tear it down and start over, we fundamentally got the concept wrong," he solemnly told me.

It certainly looks that way, as long as we agree on what that concept is, but I don't think we do.

Our countries (Canada and the US) don't very often try to deal with the fact they're both based on the concepts of invasion and suppression. (in Canada we really avoid the topic, allowing the US to do all the heavy lifting). So, since the very beginning some group has been suppressed.

Getting it out in the open can only help, I think, but it's not going to be easy and pop culture is as good a place as any for the discussion so I'm glad we're having it.