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The Storyteller: Joseph Wambaugh

Thirty-five years ago Joseph Wambaugh forever changed the way that cops are portrayed in fiction. Now after a long hiatus, he's writing again about the "Blue Knights" of the LAPD.

October 01, 2007  |  by - Also by this author

POLICE: Are there any cop culture truisms that you've shared through your books that you subsequently regretted?

JW: No because everybody knows those things anyway. The general public knows anything about police work that you know. With all of the movies, all of the books, all of the docudramas, all of the interviews, all of the reporters out there, do you think there's anything that the general public doesn't know about police work?

People watch "The Wire" and they know more about wiretaps and surveillance than the average cop knows who's been on the job for 10 years. There aren't any big secrets out there.

The only secrets I ever revealed that the public didn't know about were the secrets of the human heart that's behind the badge. I didn't worry about doing a police procedural, telling how the cop acts on the job. I was more interested in how the job acts on the cop.

POLICE: What makes or breaks your decision to include something in a book?

JW: Just if it's true: factually true if I'm doing non-fiction, or whether it's true to the spirit of the job if I'm doing fiction.

I'm finishing a novel now that's a sequel to "Hollywood Station," called "Hollywood Crows." I interviewed 100 cops for those two books, 50-some cops for each book. So whenever I write fiction I'm using the anecdotes that I got from these cops. I'm using their jargon. I'm keeping up on all of the new technical stuff that's going on.

Fundamentally though, people are people and cops are cops, so I understand all that. That part of it is the most important part. I experienced that for so long that I understand it thoroughly.

POLICE: You've given genesis to a new literary genre: cop books by cops. Are there any other authors who have made similar transitions that stand out to you?

JW: There's a NYPD copper named Edward Conlon who wrote a memoir, "Blue Blood." That dude can really write. He was a journalism major, and he'd done professional writing before he became a cop. There's another guy who was a journalist and he's with LAPD, Will Beall. He also can really write. These guys have writing chops all over the place. He wrote a book that was published last year called "L.A. Rex." He can really write, but this book is really a fable. He didn't try to make it realistic.

POLICE: What accounted for your sabbatical from LAPD fiction, and what made you decide to orient the new book around Hollywood?

JW: I thought that I'd written out everything I had to say about LAPD. But James Ellroy (the award-winning author of "L.A. Confidential" and other bestsellers) told me that someone has to write about the LAPD today under the federal consent decree and U.S. Attorney's Office, and I'm the logical guy to do it. I got to thinking about that and thought, "What the hell, I'll give it a shot," and I started interviewing cops. That's how it happened.

Why Hollywood? That's easy. Hollywood is the heart of the city, and it's more than a place. It's an idea: Hollywood.

And I've always liked Hollywood. When I worked Juvenile out of the old Georgia Street, they used to send us out to Hollywood on weekend nights to supplement what the Hollywood juvie cops had going because Friday and Saturday nights in Hollywood are wild for juvenile crime. We'd be in plain clothes. I'd be with a woman officer, and we'd go up there and bust runaways, juvenile hookers, juvenile dopers, all that, and take them to the old Hollywood Station.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

David Moore S-55 @ 11/22/2007 6:30 PM

First, I have always been a big fan of (Joseph Wambaugh) as he writes from the heart - like many of your articles and Police seems to be going in that direction as well, within the channels program...(The best ones with impact/meaning/lessons to remember and use)!!

These stand out to me; "They are human and their profession takes a toll on them as individuals (Police Officers/Law Enforcement, military, as it will always affect people who care about others and are trying their best to make a difference in our world each day)." Also the last three paragraphs of this article, I won't lie had some mist from within well-up!

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