Some professional relationships are, by their nature, adversarial. For instance, in the context of a trial, opposing counsel have to be adversaries if there’s to be a fair trial. The two sides might respect, and even like, one another off duty. But in the courtroom, they have to oppose each other. Some people think of trials as zero-sum situations: if one side wins, the other has to lose.
But there are plenty of relationships that don’t have to be adversarial, although they sometimes turn out that way. For instance, if a person commits crimes in more than one jurisdiction, it helps everyone if the police in those different places cooperate. In other words, it’s not a zero-sum situation. If the police in one place catch the criminal, the police in the other place haven’t ‘lost.’ And the citizens in both places are now safer.
In real life, police in different units and different places know this, and they’re often willing to exchange information and cooperate. It’s not that there’s never friction. In most cases, though, everyone knows that working with different police departments isn’t a zero-sum situation.
We see that cooperation in plenty of crime fiction, too. And that makes sense, since police departments do have to interact. When it’s written well, that sort of interaction can add to a story. It can also introduce different characters.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, a series of murders occurs in different jurisdictions. The victims don’t have much of anything in common, and the murders are committed in different ways. The only things linking the deaths are that, before each one, Hercule Poirot receives a cryptic warning letter; and, an ABC railway guide is found near each body. At first, it seems as though a serial killer might be at work. But Poirot isn’t convinced. He and Captain Hastings work with Chief Inspector Japp and police from the different towns involved to find out who the killer is. Admittedly, one of the people they work with, Inspector Crome, has a bit of an annoyingly superior attitude. But by and large, the different police groups share information and cooperate. And in the end, we learn who the killer is and what the motive is.
In Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna, the body of a young woman is pulled from Lake Vättern. Stockholm homicide detective Martin Beck and his team travel to Motala, where the investigation is taking place, to work with the local police. The going is slow at first, since the victim doesn’t match the description of any person listed as missing. But eventually, the police learn that the woman’s name was Roseanna McGraw, and that she was an American who was on a tour of Sweden when she was killed. In the meantime, Elmer Kafka of the Lincoln, Nebraska Police is searching for Roseanna, since a missing person report was filed there. Eventually, he and Martin Beck communicate and begin to share information. That information proves to be helpful in finding the killer, and it’s an interesting example of the way police can work together without one group or another having to ‘win.’
Sharon Bolton’s A Dark and Twisted Tide sees Bolton’s protagonist, Lacey Flint, now working with the Met’s Marine Unit. In that capacity, her job is mostly to check boating licenses, warn people about unsafe conditions, and so on. One morning, she discovers the body of a young woman in the water. The victim is probably Middle Eastern or South Asian, and the likelihood is that she was drowned. What’s more disturbing, it looks as though the body might have been left where it was for Flint to find. If so, someone’s taking a bizarre sort of interest in her. The death is looking more and more like a homicide, so Flint works with Detective Inspector (DI) Dana Tulloch and her team in the Met’s Homicide group, to find out who the victim is, and who the killer is. As the two teams work to solve this case, we see solid cooperation between the Homicide Unit and the Marine Unit. There’s some good-natured back-and-forth about whose budget will be tapped for different things, but in the main, these people work together. They all know that everyone wins if the murderer is found, no matter who actually makes the arrest.
We see a similar sort of cooperation among police departments in Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team is investigating the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. They’re trying to trace the victim’s last months and weeks to find out who would want her dead. At the same time, Scarlett’s friend and colleague Fern Larter and her team are investigating two more recent deaths: book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg. Scarlett and Larter are friends; but even if they weren’t, they both know that policing isn’t a zero-sum situation. Competing with one another wouldn’t solve crimes successfully, and working together does. When a connection between the two investigations is found, the teams share information and cooperate to find the killer.
In Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling, Detective Inspector (DI) Hazel Micallef and her team at Port Dundas, Ontario, are faced with a disturbing series of deaths that look on the surface to be assisted suicides. But Micallef’s not sure of that. As time goes on, and the case is no closer to being solved, she comes to believe that it’s possible a serial killer is striking. If so, this killer has likely struck before, and will likely strike again. So, in one plot thread, Micellef’s team communicates with other police teams to get whatever background information they may have on similar killings. That cooperation turns out to be very useful, as it helps the Port Dundas team home in on the murderer.
There are plenty of crime novels, of course, in which ‘patch wars’ and worse happen between fictional police departments, or between different units in the same department. And that kind of conflict does happen in real life. But the reality is, the more cooperation there is among different police teams, the more crime is solved. And it’s easier than ever with today’s technology. Little wonder there’s an argument that police work isn’t a zero-sum situation – well, except for the criminal…
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Lacrosse.