Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Catching dangerous criminals: fiction vs. reality

Post by Brian O'Neill on Oct. 20, 2013 at 8:19 pm with No Comments »
October 22, 2013 4:43 pm

After a busy week, Hollywood knows that the last thing the average weekend moviegoer wants is a brain teaser. That’s why police thrillers usually pull the audience directly into the story, letting us ride shotgun with the bad guys as well as the cops.

The dialogue is spoonfed and the action slams us on the head in high definition and Dolby stereo. By the time the police finally roll up, the only question remaining is how quickly the cops will figure it all out.

That’s not how it works in real life, of course.

When an actual shooting occurs, real cops operate without the benefit of Hollywood devices – no nuanced characterization, no visceral scenes which help tell the criminals’ back story piece by piece. In most incidents, police investigators show up long after the story line has unfolded and stick around to do the drudge work.

If there were a movie depicting a real investigation, it would empty a crowded movie theater in minutes. That’s because most of the work involves obtaining information, and it ain’t sexy.

On the street, information is sacred. Extracting the details of a crime from scared or uncooperative witnesses is like sifting through a muddy river for a certain type of stone, only you won’t know what kind you’re looking for until you see it.


Violent crimes involving suspected gang members can be especially frustrating. In these cases, police investigators often work in an information vacuum, trying to put together a huge puzzle where all the pieces look the same.

Consider such a real life incident related in Saturday’s paper (which has yet to be confirmed as gang-related).

Last Thursday, 18-year-old Deshawn Boykin died of gunshot wounds shortly after being dropped off at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. Police officers traced the incident to the report of gunshots in a nearby park but were unable to locate a crime scene.

From that dismal vantage, investigators worked quickly. Within 24 hours, police officers from several jurisdictions had three alleged suspects in custody. That included one whom police considered to be the possible shooter, a man who was reportedly taken into custody after an attempt to flee. He was shot by officers and taken to Harborview where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

That was swift work even by Hollywood standards.

While Hollywood detectives often seem to be clairvoyant, the investigators who worked this crime lacked any supernatural intuition; they had no super-secret technology or possessed (with all due respect) superior brains capable of coalescing a million details into a single plausible theory.

What simple advantage these officers had, however, was sufficient to make important arrests in a violent murder. Most likely, it was a combination of experience, solid communication skills and the determination to solve the crime.

If the allegations against the arrested individuals prove out, then the officers involved should be commended for putting such a difficult case to rest so handily.

Real and fictional, there are plenty of stories out there that highlight some pretty sloppy police work. At least in this case, it appears the cops did a fine job.

Hats off to them.

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