We spoke to an anti-terrorism detective (he’s also worked on drugs and robberies units) about whether stake-outs, donuts and good cop/bad cop interrogations are just in the movies. Hint: they are.
Also, we can’t tell you his name. That IS like the movies. So let’s call him Jim.
Six things that are not like the movies…
In the movies: They eat donuts. Constantly.
IRL: “D’ya know, I’ve never seen a policeman eat a donut. Because it’s a lot of late night work, people tend to eat bagels. That’s the classic.”
In the movies: They’re always on stakeouts.
IRL: “It’s not my job to sit outside people’s houses for ten hours [eating bagels, probs], we have a surveillance team who sort that out.”
In the movies: Car chases happen all the time
IRL: “I’ve been in loads of car chases, but you have to be careful while driving. If you crashed the car or caused an accident or killed people, you’d be in serious trouble. And you’d have a mountain of paperwork to sort out. They never show the admin on TV, do they?! Or traffic, that’s another one. I spend most of my time sitting in traffic.”
In the movies: There’s always someone on the case who doesn’t play by the rules
IRL: “You don’t get loose cannon detectives going rogue. If they did that, they’d just get sacked – the stakes are too high because if you’re suspended, you just spend six months jobless. Which is rubbish, and nobody would want to watch a sad guy on TV sitting around unemployed.”
In the movies: They interrogate a suspect until he cracks
IRL: “Nobody says anything in interviews apart from ‘No comment’. I mean, ever. I’ve never done the good cop bad cop thing, as I wouldn’t know how and it’s not something you’re taught! Once every six months someone will answer a question during an interview and I’ll fall off my chair with surprise.”
In the movies: You’re taken off the case, but can’t help yourself working on it in your spare time
IRL: “If someone’s taken off the case, and decided to start working on it secretly, people would think they were mental. There’s often about twenty detectives working on the same thing, so you never know all the facts – they wouldn’t get very far.”
In the movies: Your partner will be the best man at your wedding
IRL: “You don’t really have partners like in the movies. It’s just like ‘Hey, Barry and Steve, you go do that’ and then the next day you might be with someone else – Barry wouldn’t pick Steve up from work and go out for a beer! Films are based on the American way of doing things and, while there might be more camaraderie over there, it’s not like that in the UK.”
In the movies: Detectives solve the whole case with a sidekick.
IRL: “I don’t watch police TV shows because they’re constantly capable of doing things they wouldn’t be. Frost goes out to the crime scene, goes into the lab, solves the whole thing by himself with a sidekick. That would NEVER happen! There’d be LOADS of people assigned to a murder case, not just some bloke going around with his mate.”
In the movies: You go to the lab and get the results immediately
IRL: “In films the detective goes straight to the lab and some hi-tec screen shoots out showing analyses of the victim’s brain composition or whatever. Actually, there’s a lot of waiting. You wait for everything, all the time. Lab results take about two weeks and then it’ll just be a bit of paper in an envelope on your desk and you’ll be like ‘Oh, I forgot I did that..’.
In the movies: You get haunted by that one case…
IRL: “You don’t have the chance to get emotionally involved – like I said, there are twenty detectives on big cases and whole other teams all helping out. You’re often sent to do a specific job as part of a case, but you never know all the details. It’s never a personal grudge match.”
… And four things that ARE
“You never go into someone’s house without a warrant, but you can get them pretty quickly depending on how serious the case is. You drive off with the sirens on and can be back there the same day.”
You have boards with loads of string on and maps in the office
“Yeah we have the boards with pins in and the string and the photos, but you wouldn’t take it home with you and stare at it in your living room. You keep all the evidence in the office in case it gets lost.”
You go the morgue
“You watch the autopsy sometimes, but you don’t get heavily involved like in the films. You just stand and watch and listen. Also, autopsies take ages to get organised – quite often you see them happening the next day on TV. That definitely wouldn’t happen.”
Work can keep you up at night
“Not one particular case, but I do take my work home with me sometimes. And it does keep me awake at night, too. I just watch TV or go for a drink with friends and try to chill out – it’s usually manageable though, just like any stressful job.”
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