About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

February 8, 2012

Teaching Chicago Police How to Write

And not just reports. Monica Davey writes an interesting story in the New York Times.


Dana King said...

Great idea. I read a lot of cop memoir kinds of stuff, having started with Connie Fletcher's books. (That's how I came across COP IN THE HOOD, while browsing for true cop stories.) A lot of cops are natural storytellers. A little craft and some of them would be on their way.

EOJPG said...

That's a great story - thanks for posting. I remember seeing a somewhat similar article about the military (USMC?) bringing in people to teach Marines fiction writing.

I think of Mark Bowden's (exemplary) article in The Atlantic about The Wire (which I've never seen) and David Simon, where the closing paragraph or so is about how the stereotype of the hardened journo is inaccurate - most journos become more understanding, more compassionate with time. I wonder if the same is true with cops.

Since I'm writing on the blog of a sociologist (even if a qualitatively-inclined one), I'll be pedantic and question Dana King, and wonder if selection bias (or is it selection effects?) are at play - cops seem great storytellers because we only get to to know the ones that are.

That reservation stated for the record, I concur. I've read several cop memoirs/true stories - "Blue Blood," Jimmy the Wags, etc. (I was also a fairly serious viewer of "NYPD Blue," which while of course was TV, was written in large part by people with police or crime reporting experience.) There are some great stories, and great storytellers out there.

I'm a military affairs/history aficionado, so I'll close simply by noting that this raises for me the question of whether the same dynamic applies to the military, military memoirs, and the like, and if so, whether that is due to whatever similarities or affinities exist between the police and the military.

"Enigma of Japanese Power" guy (hereinafter, EOJPG

PCM said...

I would say not that cops are great story tellers. I would say that cops have great stories to tell. There are more great stories in the cop world than cops who can tell these stories. So if you're cop, it's a good idea to develop your storytelling ability!

I would say what holds many police back in talking to non cops is the ability to talk about race and crime and horrible victims without sounding racist, cold, and completely lacking in compassion. But this is more often an inability to walk the minefield of political correctness than a true reflection of the cop's soul. My college-educated middle-class background gives the advantage here.

As to change in police officers, I would say, in general, there is more compassion among veteran officers. But there some who simply because so hardened and bitter that they almost lose their own humanity.

One thing years on the street give's most officers (not that I had those years) is an understanding that the world is filled with grey and that even good people can do bad things. You also learn that people are products of their environment. How you interpret/use that knowledge, however, is another matter.

Of course you may not have to be a cop to come to come to any of those realizations. But cops are on the front lines. And police certainly feel (most often correctly) they know more about that world than those who simply peer in from the outside.

[And honestly, I don't know much about the military. If my father were still around, I would ask him.]