Worldbuilding: A Different Kind of Cop

One of the fun kinds of story out there in print, TV, and movies is the buddy cop story. It’s also one of the trickier ones to write. After all, unless you have a cop in the family you might have a hard time researching anything beyond the surface. And if you’re thinking about an idea for a long-running series… well, after a while one homicide story can feel a lot like the last one. How do you keep your central idea fresh, so you can write as many stories as you like?

One way might be to branch out from the usual Homicide/Major Crimes departments. We have lots of different kinds of cops.

If you’re in Florida, often near a grocery store, you may spot a very odd cop car. Oh, it’s the usual white sedan with a lightbar on top of a lot of state and local cop shops, but it specifically does not say police on it. Instead it says law enforcement. On the side there’s a stylized sun rising out of a bend of green and blue, and the words, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Do not laugh these guys off. Do not think they’re only there to check for bad fruit. These are the agricultural cops. And in Florida, agriculture is Big Business. $100 billion worth of business, at that. These are the guys you call when the fish is fishy, the fruit is funky, the donuts are dank (very possibly in the marijuana way), and the hundred-thousand-dollar-plus farm tractor has gone missing.

The Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement (OALE)’s Bureau of Investigative Services handles a dizzying array of crimes, everything from telemarketing, pawnshop, and moving companies, to animal abuse, lease trespassing, theft of credit card info, forestry-related arson, and much, much more. These are the guys I could see finding Something Odd at the site of a suspicious fire, tracking it down to a storage facility, flinging open one of those garage-sized storage locker doors to reveal a demon-summoning in progress-!

And promptly pulling out badges and guns, because that’s illegal movement of animals into the U.S. without border entry documentation. Cease and desist immediately!

I mean, these are Florida agents. They could probably handle demonic mermaids and alien invading locusts without batting an eye. It can’t be worse than Spring Breakers.

In short – if you were looking for an actual agency to handle the weird and supernatural, the OALE would be a good place to start.

Also, think of your setting. If you’re working with a fantasy or SF world where people and/or cops are thin on the ground, then odds are whatever cops you do have are less likely to be homicide specialists and more likely to handle whatever kind of crime comes down the orbital path. Their days will be full, varied, and hopefully that’s how they like it.

Marshal Dillon’s escapades in Gunsmoke might give you an idea of how varied a law enforcement officer’s duties can be, though he wasn’t responsible for nearly the range of crimes of OALE. Peter Morewood and Diane Duane’s SpaceCops series, if you can find the old paperbacks, is another example.

Poke around any of the fifty states’ government law enforcement websites. You might find just the thing to model your cops on.

Or at least, you’ll know what your amateur detectives have to dodge!


21 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: A Different Kind of Cop

  1. And of course, different cultures value or penalize different things. Cattleraiding was considered good clean fun for budding warriors in many cultures, as long as you did not hurt the cattle or any people. But other cultures would give it the death penalty.

    Similarly, what is an ideal law enforcement person, given the situation and culture? Most 17th century Chinese detective novels/Chinese operas had the upright Confucian magistrate who was also great with a sword, and could go undercover as a skilled medicine seller or such.

    He usually had reformed criminals whom he had saved from death in dramatic circumstances as his bailiffs, who were bluff, honest, likeable martial artists who would also beat or torture people in court (totally aboveboard if done in public for refusal to testify!), but who also had lots of contacts, girlfriend informants, etc., and could go undercover. He would have a sneaky guy who just listened to conversations, like an ex-beggar, and a righteous house steward who also served as coordinator and advisor of investigations when the magistrate was doing stuff.

    Now, obviously this was a cast designed for crazy plotlines and entertainment, but it also drew together a lot of personality types, and different sets of values, so that audience members could agree and cheer for their favorite characters’ comments and tactics. The bailiffs could snark about corrupt officials, the beggar spy could snark about ungenerous or corrupt townspeople, the girlfriends could complain about stuff, and so on.

    Meanwhile, in the UK in real life, you had crazy stuff like the Bow Street Runners, run by the Blind Beak who could recognize criminals unerringly by voice alone, with a staff that was almost all ex-criminals!

    But the point is that different cultures do things differently for different reasons, even if a lot of the problems and resources are similar.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Kirk had an anecdote about meeting a cop from Eastern Europe, who was traveling in America, and complained about the influence of American TV. Miranda Rights were not a feature of the law enforcement he practiced back home.

      I have the first Arkady Renko novel, Gorky Park, buried in my closest after I started reading it last year, and decided that I wasn’t currently up to continuing to read it.

      LP Archive has both Police Quest, and something called Disco Elysium. Disco Elysium (DE) is a really weird game, written by a programmer and aspiring novelist from the former Warsaw Pact. DE takes place in an original world, that is strangely based on the Soviet Union, and former Soviet Union.

      Shinsengumi is rather heavily mined in anime, and seems to have been an irregular police force, a gendarme, and a secret police/political police.

      And of course, Anime includes Dominion Tank Police, Gunslinger Girl, and Kerberos Panzer Cop.

      There are lots of really weird possibilities. I’ve been wondering how to make sapper police, artillery police, or close air support police seem plausible. Or justifying a setting where police forces maintain assassin units.

      I’m someone interested in corrupted national police forces of various stripes turning to political policing, and framing opposition, etc. If I didn’t have interest in themes of organizations getting up to what they should not, my bunnies would not have taken a look at the Syndicate corruption in US, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ security forces from Darker than Black, the Onmyoji police corruption in Tokyo Ravens, and stuff from other series, and then gone ‘Oooh.’

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oooh.

        I had forgotten that this was so much of the appeal Lensmen had for me.

        I like space opera. Smith in particular was a bit of an influence on my foreign policy thought. I’m not exactly a fan of the zwilniks.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. In retrospect, Satoyama, this does not surprise me at all. Do you like Hamilton too, with all his planet smashing? I really did, once I got to read some of his really good period. Nothing like starting a story with “everybody is going to die, and also we need to go to the center of the galaxy”!


    2. And on that cattle-raiding one, it might not be the culture you first expect that’d treat it that way. Consider the Norse, where cattle stealing often had the death penalty (because while they considered raiding to be all good, they were from an area where cattle could easily be the long-term difference between life and death for an entire extended clan), while murder could be dealt with by paying the appropriate amount of gold (if you were taken to court, not just murdered in turn).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. And consider the other settings for small towns. See: the Sonic the Hedgehog Movie, where the locals called their officer in to do things like help shovel out the barn or move hay. And towards the end, when he’s wanted nationally, all over the news, and a strange portal drops him in a local’s barn, “oh, hey! I was just going to call you to get some help!” Small towns breed some very interesting people. If magic turns out to be real, I fully expect it to be hiding in small towns.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. They’re also the guys you call (or at least the same flavor of guys that you call) when you find a Strange, Unexpected Package (fruit is used for smuggling a LOT) or Weird Animal. (The one in NorCal caught a tarantula that came with the bananas and gave it to the science teacher.)

    Those kind of things make it so not only do they *know* a lot of people, there’s a good chance that people know and think of them– either favorably (the science teacher) or poorly (guy who was supposed to get the package, guy who was supposed to *find* the package).

    Liked by 3 people

  4. There was a recent case where some people were charged with defrauding donators.

    They were caught by USPIS, which is the United States Postal Inspection Service.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There’s a lot of true crime that involves the postal inspectors.

      Insurance investigators and security fraud investigators are another good one.

      And there’s the time when the Secret Service was pursuing a counterfeiter, and found out that his hobby he was financing was abducting women and doing bad stuff to them. (And yeah, the details on this one are very bad, and the Secret Service ended up having to do a lot of stuff to catch this guy because the FBI wasn’t interested.)

      Liked by 4 people

      1. The interesting bit was that I saw the story on The FBI Files, a true crime TV series which was hosted by a former head of the NYC field office. In the end, the FBI did help, but it was after the Secret Service did all the work — and the host freely admitted that the FBI had messed up really badly. (I don’t think it was his field office, but I forget the timeline and area.)

        There were a couple other eps like that, but that was the most striking one.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. True Crime and Police Procedurals really aren’t my thing (aside from early Law&Order), so I’ve got little enough to contribute here. But Cliff Stoll’s autobiographical account “Cuckoo’s Egg” is the rather surreal account of how a hippie Berkley astronomer (working at USC-B in the early 70s as an Early Internet sysadmin, due to lack of Astronomical job openings) came across one of the first cases of cybercrime (international espionage over dial-up modems!) and had to struggle to get anyone in law enforcement to do anything.

    Mainly because no agency had jurisdiction, and there weren’t any laws covering cyber in those days. Stoll’s case ended up being one of the foundational incidents that got that ball rolling. It also serves as a really good non-technical primer for how “hacking” works at its most basic level, from the Cretaceous Era of the Internet. Good read.

    Speaking of multiple law enforcement agencies with overlapping or conflicting jurisdictions, what about multiple *militaries*? It turns out that, at least in the USA, there’s a lot more than just one. A lot more than even the Army, Reserve, & National Guard, even. With all sorts of different powers, responsibilities, and (of course, being the USA) every state has its own unique slants. Probably the best non-snoozefest primer I’ve seen:

    Liked by 2 people

  6. In the US, most people haven’t heard about the authority granted to private rail police.

    There were/are also tribal constabularies.

    My favorite less noticed US military organizations include the uniformed medical and weather folks, and the unorganized militia.

    During the Philippine occupation, there was group formed called the Insular Constabulary. Military with maybe some police powers, I think. Because of the acronym, the name ‘insular constabulary’ wasn’t popular, so it was called the Jungle Patrol.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Let’s not forget the times some societies had literal “Fashion Police”, enforcing sumptuary laws. When your societal status needs to be recognizable “at a glance”, in order for you to be accorded the “proper” level of respect and access, and people need to be discouraged from “slumming it”, or “rising above their station”, such officials have to be expert at spotting the discrepancies in manner and behavior, textiles, dyes, etc…

    If you have places where diverse cultures and/or species interact, “Fashion Police” might have an important role in preventing incidents sparked by openly wearing/displaying religiously symbolic items (or magically/spiritually active) that could give offense, or even cause harm, to other peoples. Likewise, wearing skins/leather, fur, feathers, etc., that are, or might be mistaken to be, taken from sentients/sapients protected by law, treaty, custom, etc…

    Perhaps you have a setting where visitors are assigned “Cultural Guides”, to prevent outsiders from literally causing mortal offense.


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