I went to a booklover’s meetup almost after a year the last time yesterday. I went as the last time I had gone it was just 5-7 people and in small intimate groups you can talk about books or stories you like in depth rather than just share a glimpse of the books that turn you on. Although it was a bit crowdy it was fun. The only downer is that I wasn’t able to get a list of all the books people were reading or/and recommending and the group is on whatsapp 😦
Anyways, few years ago, I had chanced upon a book called ‘The New Centurions’ by Joseph Wambaugh. It was a very different kind of writing as it was written from a Police Officer’s POV while mostly we see crime and investigation of the crime from a third-person perspective. More than that, it sort of shares the emotional turmoil that a Police Officer goes through. It also shed light on how truth is also greyer to him rather than black and white as it seems to us. While I had read that book few years ago, during a book sale some months ago, unnoticed went in The Hollywood Station . While this book is also a classic in itself I was surprised to read that the New York Police Department was operating under a consent decree for a period of five years which was later made 7 years.
There were 2-3 incidents in the book though, which shook me quite a lot. While there aren’t any overtly sexual stuff in the book, there are quite a few suicide cases which the Police Officers experience. After reading any one of the experiences, I had to stay away for almost 2 weeks or a bit more just to get the images out of my head. The scenes or situations described are not detailed or graphic in nature, it’s just the way they happen that leads you to emphatic and wonder what you would have done in that situation.
I would share one of the less scarier ones. Once while on patrol, they get a message about an elderly Causcasian gentleman who apparently lives by himself on the outskirts and with his loaded gun has been firing in the air and harassing neighbors. A whole bevy of officers come in case it becomes a shoot-out. They find an old gentleman whom they are not sure of whether he is on drugs or whatever (the officers are not sure). They ask him to surrender and he seems to comply. The place is semi-dark . While surrending, one of the cops sees what seems to be a gun and calls it out. He is riddled with holes When one of the officers turns over the palm of the dead person’s hand, he finds it had a water gun which even didn’t even have water. While searching, they later find a sort of suicide note in which he laments about his life, thanks and absolves the officers of the law and asks his ashes to be spread over the bay. One of the young officers remarks that he didn’t wear the badge to be an executioner but to protect and serve.
While reading the book and even afters, I am and was pretty sure if I were to be party to any such events, it would absolutely gaurantee me becoming an inmate in a mental asylum. The only resemblances in character formation at least in mainstream Bollywood cinema would be Paresh Rawal’s breakthrough performance as the cop on his last day when Mumbai bombings happened in Mumbai Meri Jaan and more recently Jitendra Joshi’s act as Constable Katekar in Sacred Games Season 1.
I found both the books to be pretty rich in both police trainings, philosophy, limitations which a Police Department has. I am sure there is a bit of bias as Joseph Wambaugh himself was a Police Officer and served the Police Force for a period of 14 years. He also shares some case-laws which would have made for some very dry-reading if read only in context of just a case-law but becomes more important as certain context is given to you.
One of the positives of reading these books were I actively searched about consent decree, its usage being seen through various eyes, from an eye of civil-right activist, from the political establishment and of course its application in the Indian judicial system, if any in reforming the police force. As shared in a blog post last month on the surveillance order it tells of the many steps the Indian judicial still needs to take to raise awareness on such a topic.