Brian Thiem, here, sitting down to write this post after a hard day of playing golf in the sunny South Carolina low country.
I have a box of plaques and certificates in my attic from my years working in law enforcement and the Army. Yes, there was a day when I covered an entire office wall with them, but today, only five of them hang in my home office. My homicide investigators presented one of those to me when I left the Oakland Police Department’s homicide section as its commander, and it will always be one of my favorite mementos.
Along with the names of those talented investigators with whom I had the honor of working, is an excerpt from The Homicide Investigator’s Creed. The entire text of the creed reads:
No greater honor will ever be bestowed on you as a police officer or a more profound duty imposed on you than when you are entrusted with the investigation of the death of a human being. It is your moral duty, and, as an officer entrusted with such a duty, it is incumbent upon you to follow the course of events and the facts as they develop to their ultimate conclusion. It is a heavy responsibility. As such, let no person deter you from the truth or your personal conviction to see that justice is done.
When I began building fictional characters for my books, I started with the essential mental, emotional, and physical characteristics for homicide detectives.
Although exceptional intelligence is not essential, investigators must possess objectivity, logic, and common sense, and be able to retain and process vast amounts of information. One of my fellow investigators once said we only needed average smarts, but required common sense to the nth degree.
Although real-world homicide investigators rarely engage in the number of shoot-outs and fistfights as their television and movie counterparts, when those situations do arise, investigators must be physically capable of prevailing over an adversary. Perhaps the biggest reason real-world investigators must be healthy and physically fit is so they can endure the mental and emotional stress of the long and irregular hours a death investigation often demands, the intense scrutiny from department brass and media, and family and friends of the victim who are experiencing the worst day of their lives.
Great investigators are emotionally well-balanced, detached, inquisitive, suspicious, and empathetic. Balancing these often contradictory traits is not always easy. The most successful investigators I’ve known are personable, great communicators, and able to relate to people from all walks of life. Most cases are solved through information provided by people, so the ability to get people to talk and tell the truth is paramount.
Two characteristics that separate good homicide investigators from great ones, as exemplified in the creed, are an unwavering sense of duty and tenacity. The best investigators I worked with knew the profound importance of the responsibility they were entrusted with, and even after months of facing dead-end lead after dead-end lead and interviewing a hundred people who claimed to have no knowledge of the crime, they never gave up.
In the latest Detective Matt Sinclair mystery, Shallow Grave, (due out July 2017), Sinclair faces enormous obstacles in his path to solving the murder of his former partner. However, Matt Sinclair lives by the Homicide Investigator’s Creed, and…well, if you’ve read the previous books in the series, you can probably guess how that turns out.