Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cops


I was watching an old movie, late forties, and in it an Englishman accused two Americans on being too hard on cops after they made a derogatory remark about one. He said in England, they looked to cops to straighten things out whereas we accuse them of making things worse. (Now this was long before the sixties--when cops picked up the word pigs to describe their behavior in demonstrations).

I wondered if this was true in crime fiction too. Do American novels generally treat cops in a different way than British (or European) novels do? What about movies and TV? Or is it only in real life that we give cops a hard time.

9 comments:

George said...

I always liked the way Ed McBain presented his cops in the 87th Precinct series: some were good, some were bad, all were flawed.

Dana King said...

McBain set the standard for realistic depiction of cops. Most cop-oriented stories take a very benevolant view of the police.

Not so much wth PI stories, or stories told from the criminal's perspective. Cops live to harass PIs, and often have the compassion of Inspector Javert in pursuit of Jean Valjean.

In sum, American books treat cops much as the American people do: great when you need one, a pain in the ass the rest of the time.

Todd Mason said...

The US tradition was less likely to ignore the corruption and abuse of power by police...even Hammett the ex-Pinkerton was a committed lefty, after all.

Yvette said...

Certainly the vintage crime reads I've been indulging in lately treat cops with much more respect. At least the public they come in contact with in these stories does. (Even if it is suspicious respect.) Especially the British ones. I do love police procedurals when the cops are shown to be good, bad or indifferent, same as the rest of us. But I especially like 'procedurals' because they give me a definite point of view - the workings of a cop's mind usually, as well as the organizational, the 'how-to' aspects of the 'cop shop.'

Charles Gramlich said...

In my experience it's been the cops giving "ME" a hard time.

Richard R. said...

Many cops these days seem to wear their egos in thier utility belts and believe in shoot first, justify it later: "He bent over and was about to pull the lawn sprinkler from the ground and throw it at me with deadly intent! I HAD to shoot to kill!", "He didn't drop to the ground with his hands on his head the moment I spoke to him", "When my and the other six squad cars pulled up in front of the house with lights blazing, he acted in a nervous, suspicious way (even though it turned out we had the wrong address)."

Dorte H said...

Hm. It seems that on the whole, Swedish crime writers are much harder on their own policemen than Danish writers. Perhaps I am naive, but most Danes (citizens and writers) seem to trust the police, and we have never had many cases of bent policemen, police violence etc. I don´t know about the Swedish population, but in crime fiction the idea that the police support the system, not ´the little guy´ is not uncommon.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I agree with you about the Swedes. They seem quite dismissive of anything good coming from police forces. Ed McBain and the 87th is my favorite series about cops.
Maybe they deserved more respect a half-century ago, but I doubt it because that was before Miranda and similar laws.
Yes, there are way too many stories like that in our local paper.

Deb said...

In the "golden age" of British detective fiction, law enforcement stood for the established rule and order (most golden age writers were from the upper or upper-middle-class and very conservative in their politics and outlook), so it shouldn't be a surprise that the police are looked upon as benevolent truth-seekers. I was surprised by a Georgette Heyer mystery written in the 1930s where the (SPOILER) killer was indeed a policeman--although his derangement was made clear very early in the book so when all was revealed I was "meh."