As the editor of Police-Writers.com and a retired police officer turned author I have occasion to read a lot of books written by police officers . Through the website I was contacted by former New South Wales (Australia) Police Officer Esther McKay ; and, ultimately received a copy of her book. What I received was a well-written memoir of a crime scene investigator.
What struck at first is that cop work is cop; it doesn’t matter if you are walking my former beat in downtown Los Angeles or riding in McKay’s crime scene investigator’s truck. To mimic Jack Webb, “the stories are true, only the locations have changed.” Riding along in McKay’s journey you will find out that our Aussie brothers and sisters definitely have a language of their own; indeed, just as cops have our own “secret” language, McKay adds “witches hats,” “ambros” and “Salvos” to the lexicon of the international police slang.
The deeper you read into Esther McKay ’s work the further you delve into the seriousness of her message. Time wise, Esther and I started our careers at about the same time. While the technology of policing was increasing rapidly, the technology and information about protecting police officers was seriously lagging. As the decade of the 1980s progressed, the demand to recover more evidence for DNA (and other examinations) increased, yet the idea of Universal Precautions for Bloodborne Pathogens had yet to find its way to the street cop.
At about the same time, Esther and I seem to be having the same questions about the wisdom of contact with chemicals, fluids, smoke and debris at crime scenes. It seems we were prepared to battle bullets, knives and fists but not microbes. For me, the “this ain’t right” moment came at the scene of a stabbing. The victim, cut from ear to ear, was only two blocks from a hospital. My partner and I looked at each other and made an unspoken, instantaneous decision – the victim would not survive the wait for paramedics. Somehow, I ended up in the back seat of the cruiser, with the victim’s head and shoulders in my lap as I tried to staunch the flow. I don’t really remember my partner driving to the hospital – we were just at the crime scene one moment and hospital the next. While there was only a little blood on my face, my uniform, arms and hands were drenched.
The power of McKay’s work is that it evoked that, and other memories. The second and related theme of McKay’s work is the world-wide law enforcement training paradigm of “sink or swim.” I am not certain how, but it appears we all learned police work on the fly. When you combine the intensity of the crime scenes Esther McKay investigated with the universal “sink or swim” training you get to the real root of her work: the psychological toll on cops.
As we journey with Esther we experience the unrelenting series of call outs, the contact with other’s grief, the death and injury, and its mounting toll on a good cop. While we as readers see the signs, the players can’t. Foremost, because at the time Esther McKay was playing the cop game the psychological impact was only just being understood and discussed, but rarely acted on. In fact, today, we are still seeing cops (apparently around the globe) pursue relief down blind alleys like alcohol.
Esther McKay ’s book is for every cop, sergeant and police manager. It’s for those of you who want to join the ranks; and, those of you who are the loved ones. All the signs, blind alleys and ultimately the right paths are laid out. I think, perhaps, the afterword which is written by a doctor sums it up best: “Crime Scene is also a significant contribution to the literature of police work because it outlines the insidious nature of the traumatic effects of crime-scene work.”
You can obtain additional information about Crime Scene and Esther McKay at:
About the Reviewer:
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA is a 24 year veteran of law enforcement. In his retirement he is a university professor and writer. He is the author of Police Technology ; Leadership: Texas Hold ‘em Style ; and, is currently working on. From NYPD to LAPD: An Introduction to Policing . You can view Raymond’s complete CV at www.police-technology.net/raymond.foster.cv.html .
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