And the corollary to that is to use a little common sense.
What brought this on was something I saw while channel surfing last night. I don’t watch that much TV. I certainly don’t watch much network TV, mainly because the plots of most shows drive me up a wall. I know too much about the legal process to be able to watch shows about lawyer without wanting to scream at the TV. Most cop shows have me wanting to go out and find the writers and take them by the scruff of the neck to the nearest inner city police station and make them do ride alongs for a month. Forensic results don’t come in instantly, especially not DNA evidence that usually goes to a lab outside of the PD for testing and where there can be backlogs of months.
So, what happened last night, you ask. I happened to land on the opening few minutes of CSI. At first, there was nothing out of the ordinary — at least not out of the ordinary for a TV cop shop. Cops and civilians mingling together inside the station and well away from the public areas. Prisoners and suspects being escorted to and fro. Then, just to make sure you know something BAD is about to happen, the camera panned to a young man, a teen, who has entered the scene. He moves further inside the station and then he pulls a gun and fires point blank at a cop.
More shots are fired before he grabs a woman to use as a human shield. More shots and he empties the clip in his gun. But he’s prepared. He has another gun in his waistband at the small of his back. He pulls it and continues firing. More cops go down. Finally, at least one cop returns fire, hitting not the shooter but a civilian. Shooter finally locks himself in a small room with the injured civilian and — dum dum dum — the head of the crime lab.
Now, I have a number of issues with the scene as it played out. The first is that the kid managed to get at least two guns deep within the police department without being challenged. Since 9/11, most government buildings in major cities have metal detectors you have to go through in order to make entry. I would assume LVPD does as well.
The second issue I had is that this kid was being allowed to walk around without an escort in the depths of the police department. No and no and no again. As a defense attorney, I’d have had a field day with something like this. How can you insure chain of custody of anything if just anyone can walk in all the street and wander through the station without anyone keeping eyes on them. Who knows what they may have touched, added or removed to any file on a desk or evidence bag that might be waiting to be booked in.
But the biggest issue was that none of the cops were wearing their protective vests. Not a one. Not those who had just brought in a suspect off the streets and not the ones manning the booking desk. That might have been how the writer wanted it so there would be more carnage in the opening scene but it isn’t how things happen. It is also where I did yell at the TV and when I changed the channel to the news.
Add to the lack of vests on the cops the obvious fact that these TV cops were much worse shots than the teen shooter. They were also pretty slow on the uptake. No one, not even those coming at the shooter from the side, thought to try to get behind him and take the shot. Sure, he had the woman in front of him but he was exposed from the sides and rear. Even a head shot from the front could have been considered. Instead, innocent bystander(s) was shot.
Sure, I know, if they’d killed the teen right there, the story would have had to be changed. Sometimes, that is a good thing. It certainly was with this particular plot. When you lose all connection with reality — and you aren’t writing fantasy of some sort — then you are not doing your job.
So, lesson of the day: do your research and use common sense in writing. Otherwise, you will have folks yelling at you and throwing your book against the wall.