Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship.
I had the strangest dream the other night. It wasn't one of those cop dreams where you are squeezing the trigger with all your might and the gun won't fire, all the while a vile fiend is trying to shoot you. When I first starting having that nightmare decades ago, I consulted our department shrink. I was filled with anxiety about the possible Freudian meaning of my gun not working properly. He assured me it was one of the most common of law enforcement dreams and just meant we had anxiety about our firearm in a deadly force encounter. The cigar was just a cigar.
Anyway, back to my dream. I was a detective on my way to a homicide and my partner was that big guy from "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" who knows everything about everything. He was rambling on about how he knew our suspect was lying when he claimed to have been drinking a Merlot with his duck since everyone knows the correct wine pairing for duck is Pinot Noir.
The entire cast of all the "C.S.I." shows was running around the crime scene. Lt. Dan from "Forrest Gump" walked up and said the victim had fought rather intensely from the blood spatter, and the unusual nature of the bullet's composition had narrowed the suspect list. Fortunately, the DNA was already back and a team of crime scene technicians had already raced to the suspect's house and made an arrest.
"Wow!" I thought, and headed to the station to interrogate the suspect. Walking in the door I learned "The Closer" had already gotten a confession and I needed to head straight to the courthouse. The trial would be starting soon.
Arriving at court, I was able to park right at the front door as usual and ran up the steps. Walking in the door, I knew we would win. The judge was Nancy Grace.
I awoke with a start. What the heck? Was this a dream or a nightmare? I began to think about all these shows that are on television constantly. I turned on the TV and went to the Guide section on my DVR and began looking at next week's schedule. DNA would be turning up all over the country on all the different "C.S.I." shows full of brilliant, beautiful, and witty folks not only searching scenes but interviewing witnesses and making arrests. Because, after all, uniform patrol personnel are only for checking passes at the crime scene tape and being the ones shot in gunfights.
Now, I don't begrudge the Hollywood crowd their right to make the big bucks entertaining the folks. My family loves to sit and watch a few of these shows on a regular basis, but after my dream I began to think about the long-term misperceptions caused by these shows.
Remember, juries have to come from somewhere. And what do jurors think when they know DNA is "always" available and by that I mean available within about an hour, and a brilliant detective will always get a confession by her brilliant insight?
The average citizen has more misconceptions about law enforcement than a sociology major on his first day working in a jail. Whenever I watch one of these shows I am amazed how the reality of police work is ignored.
And I don't think this law enforcement fantasy is a real healthy thing in the long run or even this week. But it isn't going away nor is it new: "Perry Mason" was poisoning jury pools when I was a little kid. So I guess the only antidote is to just keep doing our jobs the best way we can, writing the best reports we can, and testifying as honestly as we can.
Ultimately, I guess if I have to have nightmares, the less stressful one on me is a television investigation vs. the impossible trigger pull. I just wish the public knew it was all a dream.
Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.