OMG, do your research

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.

About the author

Writer, proud military mom and possessed by two crazy cats and one put-upon dog. Writes under the names of Amanda S. Green, Sam Schall and Ellie Ferguson.


  1. Add to the lack of vests on the cops the obvious fact that these TV cops were much worse shots than the teen shooter.

    Now the cops being poor shots is one thing I have no problem with. Spent too much time at the range with a police officer in the next lane to be impressed with police marksmanship in general, especially when you consider that these were the ones who went in on the off time to shoot. Now main characters in police shows tend to be not just good but extraordinary shots but hat, too, I can accept as part of the reason we’re following this character rather than Joe Shmoe over there.

    The issue I’d question is the teen being a good shot unless there’s particular reason for him to be. (Didn’t see the show–almost never watch TV–so I don’t know.) Shooting well is a skill that takes considerable time and training to achieve and, frankly, the average hood on the street is actually a worse shot than the average cop, which, I suppose, is a good thing.

    1. If he needed to have different guns, rather than just different clips, that suggests he’s going off of video games– never mind how hard it’d be to bring in multiple concealed weapons!

      1. Oh, it was definitely a case of going off of video games — and possibly The Godfather. He emptied the first clip, held the gun out to the side and dropped it. Then he reached behind him to grab the gun from the small of his back. The camera work as he brought the new gun to bear wasn’t a solid grip on the gun but grip, pull it up and let it catch some air before you catch it again and bring it to bear against the next person.

        1. While we’re being persnickety:

          Unless he had a revolver chambered for a rimless cartridge, HE DID NOT EMPTY ANY CLIPS.

          He emptied the *magazine.*

          I actually own a handgun which uses clips: they exist. (It’s a beautiful S&W revolver chambered in .45ACP.) But it’s fairly uncommon and very expensive. He probably had a dirt-cheap semi-auto. They have magazines, not clips.

          It’s totally acceptable to have characters in stories (written or otherwise) calling magazines clips (it tells me that they don’t know anything about guns which is hardly unrealistic) but people who should know better, should know better.


          1. True, but expecting someone pre-coffee to remember, especially when still remembering the scene with disbelief is asking a bit much, no? 😉

          2. While the clips/magazine thing is technically correct, in common use they’re all called clips.

            Even by the guy who ran the armory on my last ship. 😀

            It’s kind of like Navy guys talking about getting off the boat among themselves, but throwing a fit that it’s a ship if someone else talks about “all the boats in the harbor.”

            1. That sounds like my uncle talking about the “boats” he served on but who was quick to correct the rest of us if we called them anything but “ships”. As for the clip/mag issue, I tend to go with common use because that is how most of the cops I know describe them. I know the difference but have found most others don’t.

    2. I agree with you about the cops. I just like to think there’d be one or two with enough training to be a decent shot, especially at close quarters. As for the teen, I didn’t watch it long enough to know if he’d had the training necessary for the sort of shooting he did. I doubt that was covered in the story any more than they would have covered how he could coldly walk up to someone and shoot them at point blank range and not flinch — or get covered with cast off spray.

      1. That kind of shooting requires practice. If he had learned from video games, he would be an actively worse shot for it. Hell, just the *sound* of a firearm going off in close quarters is very disconcerting and disorienting to a person who isn’t used to it.

        Tangent: I happened to catch the last two minutes of “Sons of Guns” the other night and they were demoing an AR-15 (automatic rifle) with a HELLACIOUS suppressor (silencer) on it. In a movie that gun would have made a barely audible “pfft” sound. In real life, the comment was, “Wow, that’s quiet. We *probably* don’t need our hearing protectors.”

        He did, of course, have Conservation of Ninjitsu on his side, which does count for a lot, especially when you’re a fictional character.

  2. I used to repair copy machines in a lot of the legal buildings in Las Vegas. The hardest part was getting through the machines with tools. I would always have an escort. 😉

  3. I can’t remember what the show is, but the one with the red headed bully who has sunglasses that started that “Set up the pun… sunglass shot…. Pun” meme had my husband and I exploding. Illegal searches of the records at a tire store, he walks up at an opening and taunts the head of a SWAT team that was sent in on a “hostage situation”… Never mind the lack of basic research or puddle deep familiarity, I wanted to kill him for being an ass! (The situation was a major violation…but it was the office that told the SWAT an inaccurate summary based on an anonymous tip that were at fault.)

    To the point where the only crime drama show we can watch is NCIS, which still has SOME silly stuff but no more than a “gloss” of individual magic will cover.

  4. I watched 40 minutes of “Helix (SyFy),” first episode, and quit. *4* major bungles, none necessary, so I quit. OTOH, Grimm (NBC) is pretty good. If you want a good “behind the scenes, how they DO that.” Just Watch Face Off, and Jim Henson’s Creature shop challenge (SYFY Tuesday, 9-11 P.M. EDT). Some of these are so good that it might as well be magic.

  5. Has anyone seen a TV show where a occupation was shown accurately? Any occupation.
    Or a news reporter trying to explain something where they have no idea of what is going on.

    1. NCIS does a pretty good job of portraying active military service. (Side characters.)

      I don’t watch enough TV to think of other examples, sorry!

  6. Here’s a major failure to do research:

    This guy got out of the Army four years ago, as an E-4; some idiots found a story mentioning him and Hood from 2010 and assumed “Hey, Ivan Lopez, must be the same guy!”

    His wife got calls asking if she knew he’d been shot, and their daughter heard it.

    I can’t find the 2010 article because they yanked it as soon as they noticed the theft of the image (hope their lawyer is good) but given the other details, including interviews of the guy, it would’ve been his separation announcement.

    Good grief, didn’t anybody even consider having somebody with passing familiarity with the military LOOK at their “scoop”?

    1. Now you’re expecting the msm to actually do fact checks. I thought you knew better than that. And, yes, I really do hope he sues the crap out of the offending station, reporter, network, et al.

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