Many of you think I’m pretty hard on the TV show Castle. I’m not, really. I just use the show as a tool for teaching how “it’s” really done in the real world. Seeing the flaws in the show’s police procedure is a great way to learn the correct way to write about cops. Besides, it’s more fun to learn about stuffy procedures when you have Nathan Fillian and Stana Katic as visual aids.
But, there are other shows out there that have absolutely killed the way the public perceives police procedure and investigation (great title for a book, huh?).
So, let’s look at my top ten list of fictional facts that TV writers have gotten wrong for years.
10. Undercover officers must identify themselves if challenged by a criminal.
Not true. In fact, if this were indeed fact, there’d be no undercover operations. Every crook in the world would then simply ask the new guy, “Are you a cop?” The officer would then be forced to respond affirmatively, the deal would be over, and there’d be one less officer at the next Christmas party.
9. Officers must read a suspect his rights the moment he’s arrested.
No. Police officers are only required to advise bad guys of the Miranda warnings when they’re in custody and IF they’re going to question them. That gobblety-gook about spouting off the warnings the second the officer slaps on the cuffs is just that—gobblety-gook. Although, some departments may require their officers to do so at the time of arrest. But it’s not a law.
8. The law says all criminals must be allowed to use the phone.
No. Most departments have a policy that allows a phone call, but there are no laws that require it. In jail, the use of the telephone is a privilege. In fact, the telephone is used as a tool for disciplinary action. You screw up, they take your phone privileges. End of story. The same is true for family visits and shopping at the jail commissary. Those privileges may also be taken away.
7. You can be charged with obstruction of justice for not talking to the police.
No. You have the constitutional right not to incriminate yourself—the right to remain silent—because anything you say WILL be used against you. However, there are laws that require you to answer basic questions, like, “What is your name?” and “Where do you live?” I guess I should mention that you’re also required, by law, to tell the truth when answering those questions.
6. Police officers have the authority to order someone to remain in town while they conduct their investigation.
Nope. Without a signed order from a judge, police officers do not have the authority to enforce this demand.
5. Officers have the authority to make deals with criminal suspects, such as how much prison time they’ll receive if they cooperate.
No. Only a prosecutor or judge has the authority to offer a deal to criminal suspects.
4. Officers have the authority to “drop” charges on a suspect once he’s been formally charged.
Another NO. Only a judge or prosecutor may reduce or dismiss a defendant’s charges.
3. Officers can obtain a search warrant with simple phone call to a judge.
In most cases, a phone call, especially to a judge, won’t net you a search warrant. However, it is possible, especially in this day of electronic documentation. Typically, though, search warrants are signed by a judge or magistrate, which requires a face-to-face meeting and a raising-your-right-hand-swearing-to-the-facts sort of thing.
2. Most criminal cases are solved by the use of forensic science, such as DNA and fingerprints.
No. Most crimes are solved the old fashioned way, by knocking on doors and talking to people. DNA and fingerprints are rarely the smoking gun in criminal cases.
1. Police officers leave the scene of the crime with lights and sirens going full blast.
No. Officers use lights and sirens when heading TO the scene of a crime. Not when leaving. The use of emergency equipment is only permitted during an actual emergency. Once the bad guy is safely cuffed and stuffed in the rear of the patrol car the emergency is over and the lights go off. However, if the suspect is injured and requires medical care officers sometimes transport them to the hospital. They’ll use lights and siren in those instances.