Police heroes occur often in crime fiction
Police heroes appear on our TV screens every night and they appear in print in whodunits and thrillers. Most of us would like to think their real-life counterparts have much in common with these imaginary heroes. Books and TV documentaries of the true crime genre assure us that they do. Sometimes stories about the heroism of real police officers appear in the press. Such officers deserve the praise they get.
Police heroes are not the only kind of officer
A different image of the police sometimes appears in the news. Recent events have given the police a lot of bad publicity for racism, corruption and incompetence. They have failed to follow up leads, used excess violence and mocked victims of crime. This is not just about one force. Criticism has been made of the Greater Manchester Police and the Met, whilst an officer in a force in the Midlands has been found guilty of manslaughter of a person he was trying to restrain.
What makes police heroes?
We fiction writers create characters in our minds, sometimes drawing on people we have known in real life. You may find enough backstory to help you understand what produced the hero. We do not have to think too hard about his or her formative experiences, although it can improve the quality of the novel when we do. What makes a hero or villain in the police in real life? There are undoubtedly many factors, but what about these?
- Selection: do the police recruitment practices look at character as well as ability?
- Training, both initial and ongoing: do they instil values of justice, fairness, respect and diligence? Do they teach how to handle tense situations, making tasers and firearms last resorts?
- Culture: are prejudices, conscious and subconscious, about race, religion, gender or anything else, fed or starved? Are incidents of bullying or mocking tolerated?
Do we understand our police heroes?
I try to write believable characters. This means they have good and bad qualities, make good and bad decisions. They have inner as well as outer conflicts. I try to apply such thinking to my fictional police officers as well as the amateur detectives who usually solve the crimes and the suspects, victims and even villains. Can we accept that even heroes have their faults? In Old Money and New Money, in my Accounting for Murder series, Brian is a racist thug, but has a lot of good qualities. Perhaps his involvement with Frank Hill, the accountant who is the hero and narrator, will improve the lad in the next book.