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Old 01-09-2012, 08:02 AM   #1
doomwdfortune
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police procedural mistakes

i was researching the common mistakes police procedurals make and was unable to find any thing, so i thought i would ask you all what are some of the mistakes or things you have seen that annoy you that you've seen in police shows or detective novels.
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:15 AM   #2
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There are entire blogs dedicated to this subject. Although you can save time and just read Ken Levine's summary.

I think, however, it is a bit wrong to call most of them 'mistakes' - they are things they've deliberately chosen as being different in their fictional world.

For example - in CSI for some reason the CSI team do everything. Nobody is pretending it is a 'mistake' - it's part of the way their world is set up.

Also in CSI they seem to have magic machines that provide answers impossibly fast. So instead of taking up to a year to process DNA - someone can be murdered in the morning and they've matched DNA interviewed suspects, gone down a false trail, uncovered an unrelated mystery and solved it by that evening.

That isn't a 'mistake' anymore than Harry Potter's magic wand is a 'mistake' - it's part of the mythology of that world.

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(PS: Although there was one when they were reading the coroner's report while the body was still lying in front of them at the murder scene .. before the coroner had examined it. I think in any fantasy world that has to count as a mistake)

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Old 01-09-2012, 08:42 AM   #3
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i didn't mean things like fast DNA but more flat out mistakes like having a database for everything including the chemical make up of gum etc, etc,etc
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:59 AM   #4
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i didn't mean things like fast DNA but more flat out mistakes like having a database for everything including the chemical make up of gum etc, etc,etc
I think that's what Mac H is saying though, is that some of these 'mistakes', which are plain wrong, are more about the setup of the show / series of books, part of their 'universe' just as magic is a part of the Harry Potter world. There may not be a database for everything including gum in reality, but there have been similar things made up for books and shows, pretty much as a plot device to help solve stuff.

See to me, a 'mistake' in a police procedural would be more along the lines of the actual procedure, such as for instance quoting the PACE Act in UK law and getting it wrong, saying it allows some sort of behaviour which it doesn't, maybe something like a UK suspect demanding his right to a phonecall and them saying they have to give him it, (which doesn't happen over there, but according to a copper I knew once, lots of people still demand it, having seen it on US TV shows). Something like that, something fundamental to the way the police operate, or something that if it actually happened might have compromised the whole investigation.

See to me, I can forgive CSI's superdooper speedy magic computer systems that do DNA results in less time than it takes to boil a kettle, as I understand that's more a device to keep the story within its timeframe, but what bugs me with them is the setup where the CSI team investigate the crime / interrogate suspects. That stretches my suspension of disbelief a fair bit. As does the CSI team wandering around, collecting evidence and examining evidence with their lovely long hair tumbling down over their faces, no masks, no cleansuits, nothing. So if it's something that could feasibly happen and the investigation could still be viable, like the super fast DNA analysis (feasible in that they could invent something that was superfast in the future) then I can cope with it, but if it's something that would have the case thrown out of court in two seconds because it's totally compromised, like the lack of anti-cross-contamination precautions seen in a load of TV dramas, then it bugs me.

Don't know if any of that makes any sense.
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Old 01-09-2012, 09:09 AM   #5
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i guess the mistake is in what breaks your supension of disbelief.
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Old 01-09-2012, 11:27 AM   #6
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I think that one of the problems of a procedural is that the law can change and with it the procedures that police use. PACE has changes all the time see here http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1984/60/contents
PACE is also, iirc, one of the many things a sergeant in an English police force has to know if s/he wants to be promoted to inspector.

Anyone writing a police procedural has to have up to date and accurate information about criminal law and changes in it.
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Old 01-09-2012, 03:05 PM   #7
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Old 01-09-2012, 03:10 PM   #8
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I think it is breaches of PACE that actually annoy me most, although I'm not even all that well-versed in it. Like when they start interviewing a witness and it becomes obvious they're a suspect, but they don't caution them. Or they get a confession in the suspect's home and imagine it's admissible in court. Nope.
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Old 01-09-2012, 03:30 PM   #9
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Or they get a confession in the suspect's home and imagine it's admissible in court. Nope.
There was a Monk episode that had a nice riff on that theme.

In the 'Monk' formula, it ends with Mr Monk explaining exactly how the murder happened, and then the murderer inevitably admitting it to the police for no apparent reason.. even though there is no real evidence that would ever stand up in court. It's just the episode formula - like that week after week.

So in one episode ("Mr Monk goes to court") it did the usual .. and then the guy's lawyer suddenly interrupted - and pointed out that his client wasn't making a statement. So the murderer got away with it .. there wasn't enough evidence to convict.

A nice variation on the usual story.

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Old 01-09-2012, 04:10 PM   #10
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So in one episode ("Mr Monk goes to court") it did the usual .. and then the guy's lawyer suddenly interrupted - and pointed out that his client wasn't making a statement. So the murderer got away with it .. there wasn't enough evidence to convict.

A nice variation on the usual story.

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Old 01-09-2012, 05:04 PM   #11
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Or also people applying or referring to PACE when the police are Scottish. Or (an actual example from a book that was praised all over as brilliant but so factually awful I couldn't get past chapter one) imagining that each Scottish island has it's own police force.
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Old 01-09-2012, 09:21 PM   #12
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Or (an actual example from a book that was praised all over as brilliant but so factually awful I couldn't get past chapter one) imagining that each Scottish island has it's own police force.
Brilliant.

My Mam just read a novel recently set just north of Inverness, after a murder, Strathclyde police showed up. A little too much Taggart methinks.
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Old 01-09-2012, 10:49 PM   #13
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I think it is breaches of PACE that actually annoy me most, although I'm not even all that well-versed in it. Like when they start interviewing a witness and it becomes obvious they're a suspect, but they don't caution them.
I was told by a police officer that here, in WA state, they don't have to read you your Miranda warning unless they intend to question you. If they are not going to question you and just throw you in jail without it, you don't get your warning. I wonder if you guys have some obscure exception as well.
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Old 01-10-2012, 03:48 AM   #14
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Not that I'm aware of, but I only know bits I picked up from when my husband was prosecuting in the magistrates' court and had to 'have regard' to PACE.
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Old 01-10-2012, 04:10 AM   #15
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Not that I'm aware of, but I only know bits I picked up from when my husband was prosecuting in the magistrates' court and had to 'have regard' to PACE.
Found some police guidelines from the Home Office (mainly because I didn't know this either and was interested) that say an arrested person must be cautioned unless already cautioned earlier when they were being questioned (if the questioning was just prior to the arrest) or it is impractical to do so because of their behaviour or conduct. They have to be cautioned if they are to be questioned on suspicion of having committed an offense or if it comes up during an uncautioned session of questioning that they might have committed the offense.

It's in a pdf file here http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publica...-g?view=Binary

Might be of use to someone, so thought I'd post.
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Old 01-13-2012, 01:33 AM   #16
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If you want to ask questions of a suspect you have to caution them. Otherwise anything they say can be dismissed. Generally (in the UK that is) if someone starts incriminating themselves with something the officer will actually interrupt to caution them. And then ask them to slow down while they try and write in the pocket notebook :-) Once they have been cautioned an officer can produce it as a 'significant statement' though unless it is co-signed by the defendant it can't be produced as evidence in itself but can be part of an officers testimony (which is why during interview the'll always bring up any sig statements and ask the suspect to confirm it so that it's on formal record).
Many, many crime/police shows annoy me,but most of the time I just accept that they couldn't actually tell their story if they tried to make it realistic, it would be too long and boring. Some things do get to me though such as when they show officers behaving unprofessionally, unethically and illegally, justify it with some lame speeches and everyone's happy. I'll stop before I go off on a rant ..... :-P
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Old 01-13-2012, 02:04 AM   #17
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Phone traces vary wildly between shows, and often between episodes of the same show. Sometimes it takes time to trace a land-line (when in truth it can usually be traced even weeks after the call was made). Cell-phone traces are instant these days as well, but of course you can't get an exact location without the right equipment near the scene. It IS possible to create false leads if the person placing the call knows some tricks. Using VOIP can make it tougher to trace and there are a variety of tricks you can use with even a wired phone exchange.

Gunplay is mostly done wrong, but nowhere worse than on NCIS LA where they often run madly up the street firing their weapon at a fleeing suspect or wave the weapon in front of themselves like a magic wand (on that show muzzle flash and sound effects are added in post).

I think the L&O series are generally best for consistency and realism and CSI is one of the worst (as was pointed out above, it takes place in an alternate reality where the word 'science' is interchangeable with 'magic' and the cast are actually all wizards without the pointy hats).

All the time you see cops breaking into houses of suspects without exigent circumstances or a warrant, although that MIGHT be realistic, they never show the court-side of things were all the evidence gathered by the cops is thrown out and the criminals walk free.
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Old 01-13-2012, 03:31 AM   #18
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Most people do not understand warnings given to them by police officers. Let's look at the Miranda warnings in the US. A standard version of them is something like this:
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You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?
If you look at it closely, you'll see it only applies to anything that the suspect says. In point of fact, a suspect has quite a few other Constitutional rights, that there is no requirement that the police mention. (However, failure to follow them can come back and bite them in the ass.)

In the US, if the police don't question you, then Miranda does not apply and they don't have to give you a Miranda warning. Here's an example. Suspect is stopped doing 80 mph in a 70 on the interstate. Officer asks driver for license and registration, then asks driver to leave car. No questioning and no need for Miranda rights. Officer asks suspect if he can search car. Although a question, it's not a question covered by Miranda, so Miranda still doesn't apply.

However, you have a Constitutional right not to be searched. But the police officer has no legal requirement to mention that little fact to you. Suspect agrees to have car searched and officer finds a gun. If officer asks about the gun, then Miranda warnings should be given beforehand. If officer doesn't bother to ask suspect about the gun (officer has already found out suspect is a convicted felon) and does a cuff and stuff, then there's still no reason to give the suspect their Miranda rights.

The English caution is roughly similar to the US, although there is a major change.
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You do not have to say anything unless you wish to do so, but I must warn you that if you fail to mention any fact which you rely on in your defence in court, your failure to take this opportunity to mention it may be treated in court as supporting any relevant evidence against you. If you do wish to say anything, what you say may be given in evidence.
In England, if a suspect doesn't say something at arrest, the jury can draw inferences from that fact when the suspect subsequently testifies about it at trial. And in England, unless the suspect is questioned, a caution is not required.

Canada, on the other hand, has a different approach. It's warning runs like this:
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You are under arrest for _________ (charge), do you understand? You have the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay. We will provide you with a toll-free telephone lawyer referral service, if you do not have your own lawyer. Anything you say can be used in court as evidence. Do you understand? Would you like to speak to a lawyer?
Notice how it doesn't apply only to what a suspect says, but pertains more to the fact that a suspect has the right to an attorney (which is the same as the US, but the police don't have to inform you of that fact). In Canada, everybody is required to receive the warning.

Other countries have different versions of notification upon arrest.

I don't know how many clients hoped their cases would be thrown out because the police "forgot" to give them their Miranda rights. But because the police didn't question them, Miranda didn't apply and their hopes disappeared almost as fast as they expressed the hope to me.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe
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Old 01-13-2012, 03:48 AM   #19
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It bugs me when cops can extract data from an audio or video track that aren't in the signal.

For example, on one CSI episode, they took a 911 telephone recording from a cell phone at a railroad crossing and separated it into discreet channels.

And they often "enhance" exterior surveillance videos to bring faces into focus, read license plate numbers, tattoos, jacket emblems, etc. One time they read the time of day on a wristwatch.

But the one that really gets me is when they enter a house, apartment, whatever, to examine a newly discovered crime scene or a suspect's dwelling. They always go through the whole place in the dark with flashlights. I scream at the TV set, "Turn on the freakin' lights, you idiots!"
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Old 01-15-2012, 10:52 AM   #20
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They always go through the whole place in the dark with flashlights. I scream at the TV set, "Turn on the freakin' lights, you idiots!"
Bless you. I've always wondered about that myself.

I've personally always been baffled when they go into the same dark dwelling (again, no lights) without clearing it properly first. One hallway and Mr. Shotgun can have the entire team dead in a quick bang.

I think inconsistency for plot is aggravating. If you do something one way one time, you have to always do it. In other words, if the cops bag a corpses hands (to preserve what is under the nails) once, you've got to bag them every time. If you have them sometimes do it one way and sometimes another, it helps break the reality of the scene.

Also, with cop stuff, paperwork. I have yet to ever meet a cop (or forensic pathologist, etc) who doesn't have to wade through mountains of useless paperwork for the most pedestrian of things and absolutely despise doing it. [Note, this is for American police only though I wouldn't be shocked if police from other parts of the world got on this thread and said 'we also have too much and hate it as well'.]
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Old 01-15-2012, 08:13 PM   #21
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A friend, a retired narcotics cop in NYC, is amused that there are always people busily milling around in the offices (precinct, squad room, whatever they call them). He said it is unusual to see more than a couple of people there, often not that many. The others are on the streets working cases.
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Old 01-16-2012, 02:03 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by jclarkdawe View Post
The English caution is roughly similar to the US, although there is a major change.
Yeah, they took out the right to silence and just left in the words.
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Old 01-16-2012, 07:28 AM   #23
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Failure to maintain a rigorous control over the provenance of forensic evidence. I think more criminal cases have been thrown out of court over this than for any other reason.

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Old 02-04-2012, 05:31 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by doomwdfortune View Post
i was researching the common mistakes police procedurals make and was unable to find any thing, so i thought i would ask you all what are some of the mistakes or things you have seen that annoy you that you've seen in police shows or detective novels.
I am not sure if anyone else answered this one already. the most common and easiest "get out of jail" card in the American justice system is failure to read Miranda rights to someone being taken into custody.

If this speech is not read to a suspect when they are taken into custody, they have to be released.

you could use this as a mistake or even a method a cop used to "accidently" let someone go.

This can also be for two reasons:
if the cop is helping the bad guy, he could arrest him and then not read the rights. this would allow the criminal to get away.

the second is if the cop wants to tail the bad guy. they are always easier to tail when they leave the station. you know where they started from.
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Old 02-04-2012, 06:12 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lenny Jennison View Post
I am not sure if anyone else answered this one already. the most common and easiest "get out of jail" card in the American justice system is failure to read Miranda rights to someone being taken into custody.

If this speech is not read to a suspect when they are taken into custody, they have to be released.

you could use this as a mistake or even a method a cop used to "accidently" let someone go.

This can also be for two reasons:
if the cop is helping the bad guy, he could arrest him and then not read the rights. this would allow the criminal to get away.

the second is if the cop wants to tail the bad guy. they are always easier to tail when they leave the station. you know where they started from.
No.

MIRANDA rights only apply when the police start to question you after you are placed in custody. Failure to read a suspect their MIRANDA rights will result in any statements made after the police officer should have read said rights results in those statements being unable to be used at trial. If the police have other evidence not resulting from those statements, they can bring the case to trial, the person can be convicted, and go to jail for long periods.

I've had many clients that were never read their MIRANDA rights. Then again, they weren't questioned. Not much value in questioning someone when they're caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

As I stated upstream, MIRANDA rights are grossly misunderstood by many people.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe
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