Do we have to make it authentic?
Police procedures are a complicated affair. Getting them wrong can get officers and staff into deep water, and that includes dismissal.
As writers, we must concentrate on keeping our readers engaged in the story and worry less about whether a procedure used is correct according to the letter of the law.
An example would be the arrest of some miscreant, then sitting and talking to him/her to gain a confession or get the story of their crime. In real life, had that occurred, they would have disregarded the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, commonly called PACE. Why? Soon after arrest, the defendant must be ‘brought before the custody officer as soon as practicable and a custody record must be opened’ under the Codes of Practice. Anything said in the interim, between arrest and arrival at the police station or other Criminal Justice Centre, has to be recorded if the statement applies to the offence. Nowadays, of course, we can cover that by using body worn camera’s. Back ‘in the day’ it would have to be good old pen and paper!
There is a need for writers to ignore some of the minor nuances. We are in the entertainment business, not law enforcement.
If you are going to write crime fiction and put police procedures in any story you write, there does need to be at least some authenticity. And strangely, this only seems to apply to crime fiction and no other genre.
Another example is the use of the ‘Consulting Detective.’ A term first alluded to by Hollywood for Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and television detective series seems to be full of them. Think, Poirot, Marple, Father Brown, Campion, Cracker and more recently Harry Wild and Benoit Blanc. The list goes on. All of which, almost without exclusion, are always one step ahead of the detective, who either resents the intrusion or is reluctant to accept it. Goodness knows what the Chief Constable or the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) were to say if I pitched up at the doorstep of police HQ, offering my services as a consulting detective! laughingstock comes to mind.
My first question was whether novelists had to make police procedurals authentic?
I suppose in one word, no; we don’t. But the problem is that in the climate of TV reality shows, like ‘Traffic Cops’ and ‘999 Night Shift,’ our readers need to see authentic processes in our novels. That should not, however, detract from the fundamental premise of the novel to keep readers turning the page and engaged in your fictional world.