Thursday, March 5, 2015

400 Things Cops Know

I bought 400 Things Cops Know because I figured it would be a good resource for my writing. By about Page 10 I was prepared to recommend it to all crime fiction writers. Now that I’ve finished it, I think everyone who expresses an opinion about police work should read it before they shoot off their mouths, regardless of which side of the debate they come from.

Adam Plantinga has been/is a cop in Milwaukee and San Francisco, so he not only has big city cred, he’s worked in two very different big cities. As someone who has taken writing courses, he is better able to express himself than a lot of people, and views police work from both inside and out. The book is a fascinating look not only at what cops know, but how they perceive themselves.

Lots of cops know these things. Plantinga’s observations are set apart by the quality of his writing. His dry wit shows how cops have to look at things just to get through the days, juxtaposing the gut-wrenching and entertaining aspects of the job. Plantinga trusts his readers to decide how they feel about each example and incident. He’s less interested in directing emotions than he is in making sure the reader gets even-handed information. It doesn’t hurt that he’s laugh out loud funny in spots, sometimes when least expected.

For writers of crime fiction, this book is a gold mine. I marked for reference close to a hundred of the 400 things. (The only reason the number isn’t higher is because I already knew some things, and the validation in this context was good to have.) Among the things I didn’t know before but will be sure to use are, in no particular order:
·         How best for a male officer to recover from a blow to the groin.
·         How to tell if someone who claims not to speak English is bullshitting you.
·         The three most common techniques used by fleeing motorists to avoid capture.
·         What kinds of things you can, and cannot, lift fingerprints from.
·         On a traffic stop, give the offending driver either a ticket or a lecture. It’s not fair to give both.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
·         Write your blood type on your ballistic vest so EMTs can see it right away, if needed.
There are about 394 more of these, but I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Not only will 400 Things Cops Know give you a better idea of what cops look for on the job, it will give you a better idea of how cops think. (Well, at least how cops think who aren’t wedded to the “Us versus Them” mentality and understand we’re all in this together.) It’s by turn fascinating, informative, funny, and heartbreaking, often more than one simultaneously. The only comparable books I can think of are Connie Fletcher’s wonderful series. I can give no higher praise than that.

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