Wednesday, September 24, 2014

David Simon - Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Note: This review was originally posted to my Epinions account. 

Many years ago, there was a TV show called Homicide: Life on the Streets.  It was based on this book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.  Being a fan of the show, I decided to pick up a copy.  The book is written by David Simon, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.  In the book, Simon follows the Baltimore Police Department for a year.  (Simon wrote the about the police for the Sun, so writing this book wasn’t much of a stretch.)

As you might expect, the book takes place in Baltimore. It’s mostly in chronological order with a few exceptions.  In the book, you get to read a lot of detail that you normally wouldn’t get in a movie or TV show.  The book goes into a lot of detail about how criminals are caught and tricks that police use to get suspects to confess.

In the book Simon explains how few cases are ever made on evidence alone.  Witnesses forget or move; things like prints are circumstantial; even video doesn’t always mean anything.  A certain percentage of suspects will never see the inside of a courtroom.  Even those that make it to pretrial may get dismissed on a technicality.  For this reason, police are given some leeway in interrogating a suspect.  Most cases are cleared based on confession rather than trial.

Sometimes, they do catch a break, such as finding the murderer standing over the dead body and saying that they’re proud to have killed the person.  It’s not like TV, though.  Many times, the person believed to have committed a murder doesn’t go to jail.

It’s also a physically demanding job, and it‘s not just running after people.  If I recall correctly, the detectives would rotate shifts, meaning that they would have to work mornings one week, afternoons the next and nights the week after that.

The first year of Homicide: Life on the Streets relied heavily on this book, so if you’ve seen the show recently, you’ll probably recognize many of the characters and cases from the book as the people and events that they were based on.  This isn’t to say that it would ruin the book for you.  As I said, I was a fan of the show while it was on.  I had basically wanted to read the source material for the show.

Even if you haven’t seen the show, it’s worth the read.  As I said, many people watch police procedurals and think that every criminal is caught, or at least identified.  This isn’t the case.  Many cases go unsolved.  Many detectives spend their entire careers trying to put someone in jail only to have to retire knowing the case will never be resolved.

I’d recommend buying this book.

No comments :