Thursday, September 14, 2006

Crimes and Misconceptions

By Joyce Tremel

Most people probably think a mystery writer working for a police department is a perfect combination. Where else could a writer get an endless supply of plot ideas, exciting crimes, hot guys in uniform, and access to all kinds of procedural and legal information?

On second thought, leave out the hot guys in uniform. You won’t find any here.

The suburbs are not exactly hotbeds of criminal activity, and Shaler Township is no exception. We went twenty years without a homicide. Most of the reports I type are for things like lost dogs, traffic complaints and motor vehicle accidents. We have a lot of domestics, neighbor disputes and drug related crimes, like retail thefts. Not exactly riveting material for a mystery novel.

On the upside, though, I get a first hand look at how a police department functions. Sure, it’s on a smaller scale than the city, but Pennsylvania law is the same in both. I have experts on hand that I can ask crime-related questions. I only have to holler or dial a three digit extension. I have access to crime scene photos. I got to help process a burglary scene (it was my brother-in-law’s house), and I was taught how to fingerprint people.

On the downside, I’m usually the one who has to pat down (frisk) any female prisoners. Ick. I wear gloves. Police work is definitely not as exciting as it's portrayed on television. Crimes are not solved in an hour. And I get really bored entering traffic citations into the computer. But overall, the good things outweigh the bad.

I realize how lucky I am to have all the resources I need right here in my day job to enhance my crime writing and make it more realistic. I’d like to share some of that info. If anyone has questions on procedure, cops, crimes, etc., feel free to ask. I can’t guarantee that I’ll know the answer, but I certainly know who to ask!


Anonymous said...

Joyce -
Your job sounds like a great research tool! One of my cousins was married to a suburban cop for awhile. He always said that the most realistic police show on tv was Adam 12 (in which every episode essentially consisted of two guys driving around in a car). I worked as a parole agent one summer while I was in college. State parole officers are considered state police, so they all carried guns; it was kind of scary to be surrounded by armed co-workers every day. Do the guns intimidate you, or have you gotten used to it?

Annette said...

Interesting stuff, Joyce. I worked for five years as an EMT in our rural area, so I've seen some of the smaller town "excitement" first hand. It is different than the big city, but it still has its "interesting" characters.

And, yeah, ick! I'd wear gloves to frisk someone, too!

Joyce said...


The guns don't bother me at all, but I've always liked guns.

Driving around in cars is pretty much what they do all day, except in Shaler there's only one guy per car. Each cop is assigned a section of the township, but they're close enough to back each other up if necessary. And if one guy is busy on a call, one of the other guys will cover for him. No one really stays in their district.

Anonymous said...

Joyce, no hot guys in uniform? I'm crushed! :-(

I do feel grateful, however (as some of the "friskies" must feel, too) that it's someone like you patting them down and not some perv who really gets off on it.

And just as your day job adds to your writing, I'm sure your writing makes your day job more fun. I used to do that in community mental health. When things got really bad, I would think, "Now, how would this make a good story?"


Joyce said...

And the gloves are a nice purple color, too!

Joyce said...


Writing definitely makes the day job more fun!

For instance, the other day we had a call where an 86 year old man assaulted a woman in the KMart parking lot because he didn't like the way she parked. He actually opened her door and tried to pull her out of the car. Now, that would make a good story!

Anonymous said...

We're so lucky to have you on this blog, Joyce. Even the small-town crime is more exciting than what most of us deal with every day. What a great resource for material!

Anonymous said...

No cute cops in Shaler at all? Is that really a wise thing to say to guys with guns? LOL!