New York-area police officer life in novels versus reality

In honor of spending a few days in Florida I indulged in a mystery novel: The Whites (sample review). The plot centers on a group of NYPD detectives who are upset about people whom they believe to be guilty but who can’t be convicted and imprisoned under the prevailing rules. Life for these cops is dramatic and enervating. Somebody gets killed in a bloody manner nearly every night. Nobody is concerned about quietly working until pension age (typically about 41?) and joining the check-of-the-month club. Writing sample:

He hated the no smoking laws. They created nothing but problems—late-night noise for the neighbors, elbow room enough for the bar-cramped beefers to finally start swinging, and a plague of off-duty limos and radio cabs all tapping their horns to hustle fares.

Is it a good book? Sort of. Does it reflect real life? My last long conversation with a New York-area police officer was during an airport-to-Manhattan Uber ride. The driver was a a police officer in a New Jersey town just across the river. He’d been on the force for six years. Was he obsessed with a murderer who got away, like the cops in the book? Sort of. Except the murder victim was his pension plan and the murderer was Governor Chris Christie who has been refusing to raise taxes sufficiently to fully fund the commitments that the state and local governments are making to public employees. A New Jersey cop gets a raw retirement deal compared to a New York cop. The pension starts after 25 years, which means age 43. It is 65 percent of an officer’s base salary, not the total payments including overtime as it would be in New York City or with the Port Authority.

Was there a lot of drama in the life of a NJ cop? “We have two trailer parks in town,” he responded. “That’s a big source of business for the police.” If not in the trailer park, what was he typically doing? “Our most common complaint is domestic violence,” he said. “Though more than half the time you show up and there is no evidence of anything other than maybe the couple had an argument.” (A domestic violence police report can be useful for a New Jersey divorce/custody/child support plaintiff; see Heleniak.) Any other intersection between the world of custody and child support litigation and his work as an officer? “Many women get orders that their children will be exchanged with the father at police stations,” he replied. “If the father is one minute late they ask us to log that and then they have something that they can take to their next court hearing.”

When being a police officer is in fact safer than being a trash collector (Daily Beast) how is it that these dramatic novels continue to be described by reviewers as “realistic”?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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