Cops, FBI, crime scenes—these have been popular subjects of fiction since the beginning. But getting the details right about law enforcement has become ever more essential.
Patrick O’Donnell is a very recently retired police sergeant who is also a published author and technical advisor for writers and screenwriters. His focus is on writing and helping authors get their facts straight regarding police procedure.
Find more about Patrick and his work at:
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Well hello, everybody. Thank you for tuning in. We’ve rebranded. We’re officially now Self-Publishing Insiders. And if you haven’t checked out the podcast yet, go over to D2Dlive.com. We’re now doing a podcast and a YouTube channel, so check us out there. Sorry if I sound a little rushed. We had some technical difficulties just before the broadcast. So I’m hoping everything’s working okay now. But I’d like to introduce my good friend Patrick O’Donnell. He’s the author of, Cops and Writers is the title of the book, correct, Patrick? I want to make sure I get that right.
Patrick O’Donnell 00:40
You are correct, sir.
Patrick O’Donnell 00:43
Yeah, I can hear you. Thank you very much for having me. It’s an honor and a privilege. And I just wanted to, before everything else, I just want to let you know that I have to thank you again. Because you were, the Wordslinger podcast was the first podcast I was ever a guest on.
Oh okay, good.
Patrick O’Donnell 01:03
You know, I just reached out to you. And I’m like, hey, I’m writing this book. I’m gonna start this business, you know, blah, blah, blah. And you were more than welcoming. And you really helped out. And I really, really appreciate that, because nobody knew me from Adam.
Yeah, well, that’s part of the job description, man. I’ve got to help introduce people to useful contributors out there. And you started life … And I think we’re on a bit of a delay, so I apologize if I talk over you every now and then. We’ll just try to work around it. But you actually started life as a police officer, correct?
Patrick O’Donnell 01:44
I did, in my former life. I started as a police officer in … January 16, 1995, was my first day at the police academy. And I retired February 21 of this year. So I did my long drive. And a little bit more.
That’s quite a long career.
Patrick O’Donnell 02:04
Most department, you can retire around the 20 to 30 year mark. There are some departments that let you retire 20 around years, but you take more of a diminished pension. So you know, you’re not maximizing your pension. 25 kind of seems like the golden number for that. So that’s very common.
Yeah. So you are probably one of the more qualified people to write a book on this particular topic. I still remember you reaching out to me. We chatted on the phone a couple of times about, you know, just sort of the plan. You were still a police officer at that time. And you were talking about this book, you were working on this book. So what was kind of the inspiration for you to start this?
Patrick O’Donnell 02:52
Well, it’s not the first book that I wrote. I already published four other books that were either nonfiction or fiction. And I was working on a sequel to a post-apocalyptic book. I like post-apocalyptic fiction. And I started putting myself out there in author groups, going to conferences, and people are always diverting back to “Hey, you know what, I’ve got this character. He’s a police officer, you know, she’s a detective. Does this sound plausible? This scenario?” And I’m like, yeah, yes, no, this is how it would actually work out. And I really enjoyed helping people. And then more and more people started reaching out to me. I remember the First 20 Books conference, somebody came up to me, we were at that little, I think it’s called the [inaudible] bar, kind of in the middle of the jungle that’s there. And she said, you know, could you look at my manuscript, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, I guess? And she said, “Well, how much are you gonna charge me?” And I’m like, I don’t even know. I’ve never done this before. But then, you know, more than one person was like, you should really write a book. There’s nothing out there quite like it. And if there is, it’s very old and outdated. So, I guess I went to that default of, you write what you know about. I’m considered an expert when I’m testifying on the stand. So, and I’ve got, I was lucky enough to be a police officer in a very busy city, where I’ve seen a lot of stuff.
Yeah. Now, yeah, that I mean, it’s interesting. I rarely talk to … I talk to experts all the time, but they they rarely get like an official expert credit. So that’s pretty handy.
Patrick O’Donnell 04:42
Yeah, it works out pretty good. I started a Facebook group called Cops and Writers. And that was more or less to dip my toes in the water and see if there was interest. I think my editor was my first person in my group. I’m like, hey, join the group, okay? I want to see if this works or not. She’s like, all right. So I had her join. And then before I know it, you know, it’s been a little over a year, and I’ve got close to 2200 members, somewhere in that ballpark.
It’s grown quite a bit.
Patrick O’Donnell 05:13
It has, and I’m really thankful for that. And I have a really good bunch of people, because there’s other police officers, forensic people, I have a couple of people that are death investigators, I have a kind of a treasure trove of police resources, and a lot of authors that just have, okay, I’m stuck on this one line. How would I say this? Or how would this gun work? Or is this realistic? And, you know, it’s not always me. I’m the administrator, I do have backup, but he’s busy because he’s a full-time detective. So it takes up a lot of my time. But it works. It works good.
Yeah, I’m a member of that group. And I don’t tend to post questions because most of the time, the questions I have get answered sort of vicariously. Like, other people will ask something similar to what I’m looking for, so. One of the things, okay, so one of the things I’m always interested in is like, what is it that people get wrong most often when it comes to writing about cops?
Patrick O’Donnell 06:23
Um, there’s a multitude of things. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about police. There’s a lot of, like I said, misinformation and misconceptions about what police officers do, who they are. Um, I guess one of the biggest things I see is, there’s the technical side, and then there’s the human side. With the human side, some of the most … the biggest errors that I see is they go too extreme from one end to the other. Either your character is a stoic detective that doesn’t show any emotion ever, never cracks a joke. Kind of like the Joe Friday, you know, just you know, real stone face, you know, blah blah, and that’s not true. Or you have the wild rogue detective that breaks all the rules and, you know, his captain’s always yelling at him. And, you know, he’s going out every night drinkin and boozin and doing this, that and the other thing that he shouldn’t be doing, but at the end, he always catches the bad guy. And that’s not true. You know, they’re human beings. They have families. They like dogs, they’ve got hobbies, they do other stuff, other than police stuff. I mean, like, look at me, I was a cop for 25 years. And I got into indie self-publishing. And I love that community. And it’s a real good bunch of people. And I never would have discovered that if I never kind of ventured out of my comfort zone. But I’m not the only police officer that does that. So that’s like on the human side. And then, you know, cops make mistakes. Cops, you know, can have drinking problems. They can have pain pill problems, they can, divorce is rampant in law enforcement. PTSD is a very serious issue. You know, I remember one time I was giving roll call to my cops. I was a sergeant. One morning, one copper looks up at me says “Sarge, how many dead babies is enough?” And I’m like, “Dude, we got to talk.”
Kevin Tumlinson 08:28
Wow, that’s hard.
Patrick O’Donnell 08:30
Yeah, it is. Just the things that you see and you go through. And it’s not just you, your family goes through it with you. Your husband, your wife, your kids, your parents, your friends. Then before you know it, your friends are kind of looking at a little bit differently, like, hmm, now, I wonder if he’s one of those, you know? So it really messes with your head as well. And as an author, you can use that, you know, build that into your characters that, yeah, they are human beings. They have a job to do. But they’re also human beings with human frailties and strengths. And then the technical side, you know, there’s a multitude. Most of what you see on TV and movies is complete garbage. You know, most cops that I know can’t even watch TV anymore. You know, it’s entertainment. And when you’re writing your story, you should have it in the back of your head that, hey, you know what, this is entertainment. This is not, you don’t have to have it 100% correct. You know, fiction is entertainment. That’s what, you should be entertaining your people. There are certain genres and tropes that people are looking for and are expecting. And you know, if you don’t deliver, they’re probably not going to read your book anymore. But on the technical side, you know, as far as errors go, um, there’s a rank structure in almost every police department. Everybody starts out as a cop, a police officer, you go through some kind of Academy. Then from there, you go on field training, which is, you’re actually in a squad car with a senior officer. Different agencies call them different things. I had a field training officer, an FTO. Then about four years later, I became an FTO. I trained new guys. And you’re literally graded every day on what you did. And there’s a checklist of, okay, you know, arson, auto theft, you know, homicide, rape, bank robbery, you know, just, you name it, they try to put everything in there. They don’t expect you to go through everything, but they want you to be exposed as much as possible. And like I said, I was lucky enough that I worked in a very busy part of town. I was in the most violent part of the city. And I started out working midnight to eight. So I saw a lot of stuff. I worked nights for 17 years out of my 25. And yeah, I mean, it was … was very, very busy. Lots of violence, lots of crazy stuff. Lots of chases, lots of all that kind of good stuff.
Kevin Tumlinson 11:14
So if you’re … I’m sorry, the delay is killing us. So if an author, or any type of writer, author, screenwriter or otherwise, if they’re looking to get this right, we do need to take some poetic license, right? I mean, follow anybody on their day to day job, and it’s probably not going to be all that entertaining. But like, what’s one way writers can make sure that they’re getting at least 80% of this right, other than reading your book and joining your Facebook group?
Patrick O’Donnell 11:49
Darn, that’s what I was gonna say, Oh, you got me.
Kevin Tumlinson 11:52
I got to get the easy answers out of there before you jump on those.
Patrick O’Donnell 11:57
Okay, besides my book and my Facebook group, there’s a couple of resources that are excellent resources for writers. One is Legal Fiction. It’s a Facebook group called Legal Fiction. And there’s a lot of prosecutors, defense attorneys. If you’re looking to see, if you want to get the legal stuff right, that’s real good. There’s another Facebook group called Trauma Fiction, where there’s a lot of medical experts. And it’s like, okay, if I stab my character in the rib cage, or this part, you know, what’s the chances of him dying? Or, how can I incapacitate somebody? What kind of drugs should I use? Some of the conversations get pretty interesting, I will say.
Kevin Tumlinson 12:46
Yeah, now we’re back to that thin line between author and serial killer though, so.
Patrick O’Donnell 12:52
Yeah, you know, it’s like the FBI checking your Google history going like okay, this guy’s talking about arsenic. All right, what is he up to? But another good source is an author named Jerri Williams. She wrote, she is a retired Special Agent from the FBI. She has a podcast, I believe it’s weekly. And let’s see here … and what she does with that is, she brings in retired special agents from the FBI or other federal or local law enforcement agencies to talk about a case. It’s like FBI case reviews or something like that. Just Google Jerri Williams FBI, and you’ll find all of her stuff. And then she’s got an excellent book, FBI Myths and Misconceptions. Oh yeah. The podcast is FBI Retired Case File Review. That’s real good. She even has a word puzzle, an FBI word search puzzle. She’s got a puzzle book. Yeah. And then, yeah, Myths and Misconceptions: A Manual for Armchair Detectives. So that’s real good. Um, if you really want to get hands-on, many departments will offer citizen academies. And that’s where, as a citizen, you can go—like, we have one. I retired from the City of Milwaukee Police Department, and they hold a citizen Academy at the Training Academy where we went through. And you have a chance to shoot a gun. You know, you’re not going to get sprayed, or you’re not going to get pepper sprayed or tased. Nothing like that. But you will also, but you’ll get a chance to, like hit a bag with a baton. You’ll get a chance to do some policey stuff, and you get to hang out with cops. And hanging out with cops is the best teacher. Now not every cop is … I should probably back that up a little bit. Not every cop is as good as, you know, there’s different skill sets and, you know, avenues that they’ve taken in their careers. Now, some people will become a, you know, going back to what I said before, as far as what people get wrong, is there’s two distinct paths that police officers take. One is you stay Patrol, or you go over to Investigations, or you can go over to Administration. And Patrol is the meat and potatoes. They’re the officers that take the assignments every night. They’re the ones that are the first responders to the shootings, the fires, you know, any kind of mass casualty thing. They’re the ones who do 90% or more of the proactive policing. They’re the ones out getting the car chases, foot chases, breaking down doors. It’s, you know, detectives … first of all, detectives are a small portion of any police department. And, you know, like Milwaukee, we had about 1800 sworn. And out of that I think we had 200 detectives, somewhere in that ballpark. It would fluctuate between 200 to 300. And that’s three shifts. You know, like vacations, all that kind of thing. Excuse me. And we had what we would call a suit and tie detective that would come out to like, say, the homicide or the robbery. And they come out after the fact. On TV, you see the detective running up to, you know, the shooting victim, and nobody else is there yet. No. I mean, what happens is, there’s some kind of notification system, whether it be through dispatch, because … Or, what happens in Milwaukee is, we notify through dispatch, saying, “Hey, I have a 23-year-old, conscious but … okay, unconscious, but breathing victim. He’s got three gunshot wounds to his chest. You know, get me a med unit, get me a sergeant, get me more cops,” you know. And usually if you’re going to be dispatched to a shooting, a sergeant is going to show up anyways, you were. We were required to go to those. And then after the scene is kind of calmed down a bit, that’s when the detective is gonna come in. So it’s not five minutes later, it could be 30 minutes later, it could be an hour before a detective is gonna show up. There are detectives that are, say, in a Vice control division or some kind of special operations, like a gang task force or something like that. They’re the ones in jeans and a t-shirt, and wearing a vest that says Police on it. And those are usually with cops, those divisions are augmented by police officers. And those are the ones that, if a detective is going to be breaking down a door, or running after somebody, or chasing in a car, they’re going to be in some kind of unit like that, most likely. So that’s the way that works. And there’s a rank system. Police officers and detectives have bosses. On TV, and in the movies, they’re kind of like free rein, like they do whatever they want. You know, it’s like, no, you know, you have a boss. Say, like at a homicide scene, I’m in charge of the cops, I’m in charge of the scene, I make sure everything is running smooth. And I keep track of everybody. Then a detective and either a lieutenant or a sergeant or both are going to show up. Sometimes the captain, depending how high profile, and maybe a team of four to six detectives. And their boss is going to say, “Okay, Kevin, you got the scene. You’re gonna go in there with your sketch pad, and a little roller thing. And you’re literally going to measure everything in your scene. And say it’s a living room. Okay, my head is, you know, four feet two inches from a fixed object. So like, you know, the north wall, etc. So it’s a very detailed explanation of what the crime scene looks like. And we’ll have forensic people come in. Usually it was only one, but that differs by department. That’s another point that I should bring up, Different departments do things different ways. So if you’re going to be writing about a specific department, police department, you know, say the city Milwaukee or the city of Chicago, or San Diego or wherever, you should get some background information first, know what you’re doing. Because people will call you out on that.
Kevin Tumlinson 19:32
Yeah. There’s hardly anything people will call me out on faster than something related to law enforcement. I know exactly when I get it wrong.
Patrick O’Donnell 19:48
Well, just little things like, you know, in Milwaukee, there are district stations. You know, we had seven district stations. Out east, they’re precincts, you know, they;re precinct houses. So you can’t like interweave them in your story, you know. It’s either/or depending on where you’re at. I always suggest you do an avatar city, loosely based on a department, so you have consistency. But you don’t have to worry about being super accurate.
Kevin Tumlinson 20:19
That’s true. And when you say avatar city, that’s kind of like saying Gotham or Metropolis, Like, a city that may not actually exist, but it’s just sort of loosely based on other cities, right?
Patrick O’Donnell 20:30
Yes, the Metro PD, you know?
Kevin Tumlinson 20:32
I just want to call that out. Yeah, Metro PD, right. Or really get to know the law enforcement, how law enforcement works in your, you know, city of choice then, right?
Patrick O’Donnell 20:48
Right. You know, most larger departments will have a PIO, that’s a public information officer. And they’re approachable usually, via email or a phone call. And say hey, you know what, I’m an author, you know, I want to know a little bit more about your department. Now, there’s a caveat to that. Cops are very, very on their guard at all times. Not just safety wise, but you know, somebody’s always, you know, trying to dig up some dirt or trying to jumble your words around, or what have you. So, they’re very cautious when it comes to that. So going up to a cop that’s having lunch and saying, hey, I’m an author, you know, could I bend your ear for five minutes? They might be like, okay, who are you with? What are you trying to get, you know? Yeah, so that’s, I’m not saying that’s … not the worst thing in the world to do. But, you know, just expect that they may not welcome you with open arms.
Kevin Tumlinson 21:45
Yeah, I’ve experienced that, actually. And, you know, my father was a police officer. And there was, you know, I’ve had police officers kind of in and out of my circle. And, you know, there is a sort of level of caution there that … Because you don’t want to just, by the way, storm up on a police officer, no matter where, no matter what he’s doing.
Patrick O’Donnell 22:09
Yeah, not a good idea. We’re usually on our guard. Yeah, that’s … yeah. They’re usually on their guard. And, you know, they don’t like being surprised. Don’t tap them on the shoulder from behind or something like that.
Kevin Tumlinson 22:27
That’s a good rule of thumb. I like what you said, though, that was actually a helpful tip about contacting, you know, the PR department of a police department. And I know the FBI has a similar thing. You mentioned one program from the FBI. But I know the FBI actually has like, they actually have a program that’s set up for people, you know, writers. People who are … they want to talk to Hollywood writers and novelists about that sort of thing.
Patrick O’Donnell 22:59
Yeah, you know, it’s important that the public knows exactly what we do, for a couple of reasons. One, they should know. And secondly, you know, if you’re going to be drawing for a talent pool of people that want to become officers, they should know what they’re getting themselves into. They should have a realistic picture of, okay. And it’s like, okay, you know, yeah, that seems pretty cool to me. Or, meh, that’s not my cup of tea. That’s not me. So, that’s important.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:27
So um, all this is, it seems like … How challenging do you think it is here? I mean, you said, everybody gets it wrong. Is there anybody out there who’s getting it right? Like on TV or films or what? That’s the easiest go to source. It’s hard to judge books, when it comes to this, but you got any examples of people who get it right?
Patrick O’Donnell 23:48
Yeah. For TV, and usually it’s bits and pieces. They’re not going to get all of it right, but a good chunk of it right, you know. Thinking way back, Hill Street Blues. I mean, the procedural stuff was way off at times. But the interpersonal stuff was spot on. You know, okay, Belka this tough guy, smoking, you know, undercover detective was calling his mom all the time. “Hey, Ma,” you know? And that’s real. I mean, some of us have parents that are elderly, we have to take care of, you know. Or, you know, the captain and his ex-wife that would be coming in all the time driving him crazy. “Hey, I need more money. I need this. I need that.” And he’s literally in the middle of this super crisis. But to his ex-wife, the crisis was, Frank Jr. needs braces. You know, so … And he’s got like a hostage situation and she’s worried about Frank Jr’s braces, but it’s important to both of them but you know, it’s all about perspective. Um, modern wise, the TV series Southland, when that was on, they caught the cop humor and the verbiage really, really well. And I realize, you know, this is Hollywood, you have to keep people’s attention. And it’s like, okay, you have that really cool chase. And, you know, you get the bad guy and all that, but they don’t show the hours and hours and hours of paperwork that go behind that. And you know, and they can’t, of course. It’s like, oh yeah, this is exciting, you know, 20 minutes on a computer, right? The other thing that they got wrong, and most TV shows and movies get wrong, if you’re involved in any kind of death while somebody is in your custody, or say you shoot and kill somebody, you’re off the street. And there’s two separate investigations that are going to occur. And it can take up to … the minimum that I’ve seen is about six months. And the longest I’ve seen is a year before the officer returned back to the street.
Kevin Tumlinson 26:03
And that’s because evaluations and things like that have to happen, right?
Patrick O’Donnell 26:11
Yeah, you know, say an officer shoots and kills somebody, usually it’s an outside jurisdiction that’s going to do the investigation. And they’re going to do an investigation that’s going to take three, four or five months sometimes. You know, they’re collecting evidence, there’s forensic evidence that has to be taken. They have to interview witnesses. You know, when somebody dies, when one human being kills another human being, it’s a homicide. That’s not a judgment. That’s not, you know … it’s just, that’s the fact, you know, so they’re gonna be looking at, is this a justifiable homicide or not? Because a police officer puts themselves in that position every day. They don’t know, when you go to work that night or that morning, you don’t know what position you’re going to be put in. And you’re going to literally have a second, two seconds, to figure it out. And whatever decision that you make, you’re gonna have to live with the rest of your life. So I’ve been the incident commander for seven different officer-involved shootings, where an officer had to shoot and kill somebody. And I’ve been the incident commander for officer suicides, for people that I know. I’ve been … yeah, I’ve seen and done a lot. And one more trope that Hollywood usually gets wrong is, the cop who, you know, shoots and kills somebody, and they’re out investigating their own shooting. That does not … if the cop is a victim of a crime, also, they’re not going to go out and clear their name, they’re not going to go out and yell … it does not happen that way.
Kevin Tumlinson 27:45
Right. And I think we get some of that every now and then. I think that there’s a level at which we know that that’s, that stuff is not real. It just doesn’t make any common sense. So, but still, I think there are enough of those shows and movies out there basically portraying that, I guess we sometimes think that’s just the way it is. It’s amazing how much of our attitude towards anybody, really, but police officers or anyone else, it’s amazing how much of our attitudes are formed by these fictions.
Patrick O’Donnell 28:22
Well, when the CSI series started getting really popular, they were having problems with jury trials, because jurors were actually, you know, they’re watching CSI, and then they’re in a real trial, like, say, even like a homicide. And it’s like, well, how come you couldn’t get a fingerprint off that rock? I’ve seen it on TV. So that’s called the CSI Effect, where people, they see it on TV or the internet. And automatically, it’s gospel. You know, it’s like, well, that’s gotta be the truth. And it’s like, nope, not even close. Oh, one more. One more tool for authors that I totally forgot about that I shouldn’t is the Writers’ Detective Bureau. That’s a weekly podcast. And he’s got a Facebook group, it’s Adam Richardson. Excellent, excellent source. I don’t know if I brought that up earlier or not. But that just popped in my head. Yeah, great guy. Very helpful. And he’s got a weekly podcast that he does, you know, people ask him questions in his Facebook group, and he picks out like two or three, and then that’s his podcast.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:32
Yeah. I love that there’s resources like this, you know, your book and your group. But then there’s all these other things. I’ve interviewed Jeff Simon, who wrote the Forensics for Writers series. Which, by the way, amazing, if you haven’t had a chance. I love the way that’s put together. And your book reminds me of that series as well. Like it’s very down to earth, you know, straightforward. There’s jargon, but the jargon is used as an example. You know, we’re not being talked down to the entire time, right? Well look, we’re at 12:30., I’m going to open things up a little. If you’re out there watching on YouTube or Facebook, feel free to pop in and ask us any question you want and we will answer you. Just ask it in the comments below the video you’re watching, and we will answer try to answer that on air. We got a couple of comments for you, man. Complimentary stuff, actually. So, “Patrick’s group is awesome and an excellent resource. So’s his book.” I agree. Got another comment here from Richard, who says, “Thank you for your service, Patrick.” And I probably should have said that at the beginning. That’s not an easy job, especially these days. Very, very challenging. So um, I mean, in dealing with that sort of thing, like, you know, there is a … I don’t want to get too political with anything. So let’s draw some lines.
Patrick O’Donnell 31:02
I didn’t want to, either.
Kevin Tumlinson 31:04
I didn’t want to, you know, I don’t want to go into current events, per se. But there is something to be said for, you know, police officers and the public have always had a sometimes volatile relationship going way back. I mean, all the way back to the beginning of the police force, basically. What do you think are some ways that, what are some appropriate ways for writers to handle that sort of conflict in their writing? You still want the police officer to be the good guy, so how do you … Unless your goal is to portray one as a bad guy, but I mean, how do you deal with that respectfully?
Patrick O’Donnell 31:37
Somebody asked me that in my Facebook group, I think it was yesterday. Or something like that. They were like, I’m getting ready to release my crime fiction book. And because of the political climate right now and, you know, current affairs, do you think I should even do it? And a bunch of people jumped on, they’re like, yes. There will always be a market for this genre. There will always be readers that want to read about, you know, the detective who solves the case, or the beat cop that you know, his daily, whatever. That’s not going away. And I’ll just say one thing. Don’t let social media, news, no matter what the news station is, whatever, sway you too hard. Because I’ve been in riots. I’ve had rocks and bottles thrown at me, I’ve had bags of urine thrown at me, feces, you name it. I’ve been shot at. I’ve had bullets miss my head by about a foot twice in my career. And when our city was literally on fire, maybe about three years ago, four years ago, there were still people coming out. And these, you know, I’m a white cop. And these were going on in primarily African American neighborhoods. Kind of on the down-low, somebody would come out and say, “Would you like some water, officer? You look really tired.” You know, we were working seven in the morning till about midnight or one in the morning. And not everybody hates us. You know, another thing that authors might want to look at is, police officers, especially bosses, have to go to community meetings. And those can be at schools, churches, you know, whatever. And I’ve been, I’ve gone to my fair share. And I’ve never heard one person say, I want less cops in my neighborhood. It’s the exact opposite. They want their own personal cop in their front lawn, protecting their house. That’s what people who live in these horrible neighborhoods where you’re literally a hostage inside your house, where you have to watch TV on the ground, because bullets might whizz through the window and hit you in the head. The answer is not less, but more. But there isn’t all that hate. And like I said, most of my career, I worked almost all black neighborhoods. And I’m glad that I did. It opened my eyes to a lot of things. I’ve never, I grew up in Chicago as a little kid, so I’ve seen poverty and I’ve seen violence, you know, all that kind of stuff. But it was a good experience for me. And I’m glad that I got the experience that I did. But not everyone … So I’ll circle back to, not everybody hates the cops. If anything, there’s a huge majority that still like us and support us. So if you’re going to write a book, don’t put it in there that, you know, everybody hates the cops that live in a bad neighborhood or “challenging neighborhood.” So that’s my number one piece of advice.
Kevin Tumlinson 34:47
Yeah. What would you say are some of the myths that just sort of cling to writing about law enforcement?
Patrick O’Donnell 34:56
Ah, the myths. Like, again, I don’t want to get too political. And we could go down a rabbit hole that I don’t think is productive for either of us. Um, as far as … you know what I mean. Um, I think the myth of the actual use of force that officers use to arrest somebody is very, very, very slim, compared to the contacts that officers have with people. And that goes all the way up to deadly force. It’s very, it doesn’t happen very often compared to the amount of contacts, the amount of whatever. Yeah, so that’s a huge myth that’s, you know, it’s not gonna make the evening news that Sergeant O’Donnell showed up to a family trouble. And when we walked out, everybody was shaking our hands and saying, hey, thanks a lot. Nobody cares about that. That’s not going to sell advertising.
Kevin Tumlinson 36:00
Yeah, exactly. And that’s the more common outcome of those things.
Patrick O’Donnell 36:06
Well, it’s amazing how many people I’ve arrested in my lifetime that thank me. “Oh, thank you, officer. Thank you.” And they’re in handcuffs, they’re back of a squad car, they’re going to jail. “Hey, thanks a lot. Yeah, I know, I effed up. Yeah. All right. Yeah, blah, blah.” And you know, and another misconception is, we have this total tension between the arresting officer and the person that they’re arresting. Oftentimes, we’re laughing and joking in the squad car on the way to the jail. I mean, I would much rather have somebody halfway happy. And even if you’re not happy, because it sucks to go to jail, you know, at least you can be civil towards one another. But, you know, back in the old days, when I was a cop, the police chief spent extra money to take the radios out of the dashboards of the squad cars. It was like an extra $200 or $300 a squad, because he didn’t want to listen to the radio. So what would the cops do? They’d put the radios up on the visors and attach them with rubber bands. I mean, this was 25 years ago. And I remember, I would always ask whoever I arrested, hey, what do you want to listen to on the way to jail? And they were like, what? Yeah, what station you want to hear, man? Let’s go. A couple of times, we’re like singing together and stuff. It’s like, yeah, all right. Let’s go. So, it’s not all monsters. It’s not all conflict. You know, everybody’s a human being.
Kevin Tumlinson 37:33
Stories like that, though. make great details for a book. Like, that should be something … You know, because I could imagine, somebody has been arrested. They’re in this car, the officer asks, what do you wanna listen to? That’s a whole, that’s an interesting scene, you know? So yeah, we need more stories like that.
Patrick O’Donnell 37:54
I’ve got one more that is funnier than funny, I thought. This is cop humor. Okay, so it’s 2:30 in the morning, I was working seven at night till three in the morning, the last four years of my night shift career as a sergeant. And I heard that a couple of cops, you could tell that there was a lot of tension in their voice. They were asking for more cars, which means that there’s going to be a fight, there’s going to be something bad is going to happen. And there’s indicators, you can tell when somebody is about getting ready to throw down. And you’re like, alright, like I get done with work at three. It’s 2:30. But I’m two blocks away, I’ll go. So I go. And it’s two of my cops talking to this one guy. And he only understood Spanish. And the scene was a card game off to the side with four or five guys who weren’t very happy that we were there. Nobody spoke English. But thank God, one of my officers spoke fluent Spanish. So he was having a conversation talking to them. And the guy had a broken bottle in his hand. And the floor was nothing but spilled beer and broken plates and broken bottles. And I’m like, ugh. He’s like, and yeah, he’s like, sarge, he’s got to go to jail. And I’m like, okay. So first, you know, you start talking and he ain’t talking. You know, he ain’t happy. But he’s highly, highly intoxicated. Anybody that’s had to deal with drunks, they’re not very reasonable people, you know, so I’m like, all right. So I don’t want to see my guys get hurt. One of my guys took out his expandable baton that’s about this big, maybe a little bit bigger. And it’s a metal expandable baton instead of the big piece of bulk that you know, beat men still carry today, or the old days that’s all they had. And he did a couple of baton strikes. This guy just looked at him and smiled. Most people would, they just topple. But yeah, didn’t do a thing and I’m like, oh God. So I saw my opening. I grabbed him by the head. I took him to the ground. And we’re literally sliding around on this floor that’s nothing but broken glass, broken plates, and beer. And I’m like, oh, God. So this cop is doing the baton strikes, but instead of hitting him, he’s hitting me. He got my shoulder, my knee. And he’s like, stop resisting. Bang! And I’m like, ow! I’m like, Martin, stop it already for God sakes, this hurts. And that’s not uncommon. You know, all you see is arms and legs flailing all over the place. Sometimes you’re gonna hit your own guy, or you’re gonna spray your own guy with pepper spray or that stuff happens. It’s happened to me. And so the fight continues. And he’s got this broken bottle, and I’m like, oh, my God, I have to end this right now. So I grabbed him by the head, and I smashed his face into the ground. And he looked up at me and I did it a couple more times, and finally he let go of the bottle. We handcuffed him, we took him to jail. So he’s sitting on the bench outside, I’m collecting all my stuff, because it’s the end of the night. And he says something in Spanish as I’m walking by, and the cop is laughing his butt off. And I’m like, Martin, what’s this all about? He says, I’ll tell you when you get inside. And I’m like alright, fair enough. So I’m like, okay, what was he saying? He said, he kept on saying you’re the one who brought the lightning. I said, brought the lightning? He says yeah, every time you smashed his face into the ground, he saw stars. And evidently, he thought he was seeing lightning. And I’m like, oh, my God. So I have to go out like, I’m the one who brought you the lightning. And you know, we had an interpreter. But there was a situation where potentially it could have been a lethal force situation. And then an hour later, we were laughing about it. Now, life isn’t always that convenient. But that’s, you know, it’s not we hate each other so much. That kind of thing. And sometimes there is animosity, you know, people are human beings. But most more times than not, it’s not.
Kevin Tumlinson 42:02
Yeah, that’s probably the thing people should remember when they are presenting police officers or anyone in their fiction. But you know, human beings, we don’t always act according to a script or according to a stereotype or something like that. Like, there’s those human elements are what make those stories interesting to us. So you, are you working on anything else related to this? You got another book coming off of this?
Patrick O’Donnell 42:30
I do. I have Cops and Writers II. And that’s gonna be crime scenes and investigations. The first one was from the police academy to the street, where it was a basic, you know, you’re a civilian, now you’re a cop. How do you become a cop? You know, what’s the training like? What’s life on the street like? What are the different divisions and specialty units you can kind of go into, that kind of thing, some basic information. This book is going to be, okay, you get to the homicide scene. Who does what? What is a crime scene? Who’s responsible for what during the scene? You know, so that’s, and then I also go into some interview and interrogation techniques. You know, as far as like suicidal subjects, somebody on a bridge. I’ve done that numerous times in my career. I had a guy one time with a butcher knife, and a bunch of cops around him. He’s got it to his chest, and we’re like, dude, don’t do it. Don’t do it. And he looks at us and he smiles, and he plunges it in his chest. And everybody freezes. It was kind of like, did he just do that? And the guy takes off running. And we’re like, huh? I mean, he didn’t make it very far. He made it about, you know, like, 20 feet, 25 feet, right. But he survived. And then a year later, a year to the day, I get a call for a subject with a butcher knife to his chest in a different part of the city. So I go to that. And sure enough, it’s the same dude. And I’m like, really, dude? And he’s like, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna do it. And I’m like, okay, one thing. Just remember how it felt last time. You know, close your eyes and remember, how did that feel last time? And he’s like, yeah, you’re right. And he dropped the knife and that was the end of it.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:24
Wow. Wow. Good, though. That was a peaceful resolution.
Patrick O’Donnell 44:30
Yeah. We always try that. I mean, it’s not always possible. And most of the time they are peaceful resolutions. Sometimes they’re not.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:39
Well, we’re at time Patrick. I’ve really enjoyed this. I’m always fascinated by this. I study this pretty frequently because it goes into my fiction quite a bit, but it’s good to know that there are these resources out there, man. I’m looking forward to your new book. That sounds like one I really want to get my hands on.
Patrick O’Donnell 45:00
Yeah, I’m doing a lot of consulting for people like you, you know, authors and, you know, my wife is like, you should stop doing that and just finish your book. Because, you know, I’ve already written it. I’m doing the rewrites right now from the editor and just, oh, it’s like pulling teeth. Yikes.
Kevin Tumlinson 45:15
Yeah, yeah. But this is the kind of stuff that will help make the book even better. Because you [inaudible] feedback. Well, look. I really appreciate you being on. Everybody out there, thank you for tuning in. I’ve got at the bottom of the screen right now you can see CopsandWriters.com. It’s a fantastic domain name, by the way, Patrick. So make sure you go visit Patrick online and make sure you pick up his book. And since you’re here, since you are watching, either on YouTube or Facebook right now, make sure you subscribe to one or both of those things. We’d love to see you over on youtube.com/draft2digital, or here on facebook.com/draft2digital. Go to /draft2digital on pretty much any social media platform, you’ll probably find us. And of course, we always tell you bookmark D2D live. But we also now have a whole new domain name, selfpublishinginsiders.com. And that’s where you’ll find, that’s going to be pointing, right now it’s pointing to blog posts on our blog at draft2digital.com. But if you go to Self-Publishing Insiders, we’re going to be fine-tuning that, making sure you have access to the podcast, the YouTube stuff, everything in one place. And you’ll get to hear from great guests like my good friend here, Patrick O’Donnell. Thank you, sir, for being on the show. Thank you for your service as a police officer. And we really appreciate you coming by.
Patrick O’Donnell 46:39
Thanks for having me, Kevin. I really appreciate it.
Kevin Tumlinson 46:42
Got it. All right, everybody. Thank you as well and we’ll see you all next time.