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For Writers: Question (An) Authority

Former cop Mark Bergin spoke at the Chesapeake Chapter, Sisters in Crime, meeting in Bethesda, MD, on Saturday, June 2. His topic: What the police really do—and don’t do. He shared his 28-year career from uniformed patrol to command, “from narcs to pursuits to guns to the heart attacks that killed me, leading to my not-yet successful writing career.” As his talk for writers suggested, “Question (an) Authority.” His presence allowed us to do so.

Here are some of the ways that writers go wrong.

• Cops do not work independently and they don’t do whatever they want to do. • Lieutenants do not conduct investigations. As a lieutenant, 75 percent of the time, he worked behind the desk. Detectives do the detecting. • A large amount of paperwork is involved in police work. • All guns are loaded, but 80 to 90 percent of cops will never fire a gun at a person.. • Cops carry 23 pounds of gear including extra bullets, radio, extra pair of handcuffs, etc. • Cops work multiple cases at the same time, constantly juggling them. They’ll work as much as they can on one case, then put it aside until later. • Cops use a lot of jargon and code words. • Cops do sit with their backs against the wall. They are hyper-vigilant. • Cops look like cops, act like cops, and people stare at them, knowing they are cops even when they are wearing plain clothes. • Cops cultivate a presence of authority, a visible command presence, because they have to maintain control of a situation. • Cops don’t transfer to other police departments, but there are dozens of assignments in their own department. There is no lateral movement at the officer level. Chiefs and deputy chiefs might transfer to a different department, but when they do, they have to start at the bottom again. • Preliminary investigations are handled by the patrol officer. In the case of a major crime like rape or murder, the detectives come in. Missing persons are handled by the patrol officer then and there.

Mark Bergin retired from the Alexandria, Virginia, Police Department as a Lieutenant in 2014 after 28 years of service. He was twice named Police Officer of the Year, for drug and robbery investigations. Prior to police service he was a newspaper reporter in suburban Philadelphia and in Northern Virginia, where he earned the Virginia Press Association Award for General News Reporting.

His book, APPREHENSION, comes out in 2018 and covers four rough, routine, and horrific days in Detective John Kelly’s life.

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