Re: RARA-AVIS: police manpower

Date: 04 Sep 2003


Re your question below:

> Last night I saw Jean Pierre Melville's Le Samourai.
> During a climactic
> scene, the police follow Alain Delon through the
> Metro. The chief
> investigator of a single murder has assigned 50,
> count 'em, 50 cops to
> the task. They lose him, of course, though they
> catch up to him just in
> time.
> There were probably 50 cops assigned to the
> kidnapping in Kurosawa's
> High and Low, too.
> Granted, these were foreign films, but I seem to
> remember similar
> amounts of manpower being devoted to single cases in
> old US films
> (though I can't think of a specific example). Was
> this ever close to
> reality, that that many cops would be devoted to a
> single case, no
> matter how high profile?
> High and Low was based on McBain's King's Ransom.
> In that book, a
> handful of cops, along with help from various crime
> scene and lab
> investigators handled the case. McBain is known for
> his meticulous
> handling of police procedure, so I'm guessing that's
> far closer to the
> truth. In these days of budgetary concerns, I'm
> betting it's even less.
> How many cops are actually assigned (as opposed to
> watching out and/or
> giving occasional assistance) to a redball, as they
> call high profile
> cases in Homicide?

The answer to your question is, it all depends. It depends on which agencies (or, occasionally, agencies) has (or, occasionally, shares) ultimate jurisdiction, how many resources that department can bring to the case, what else is going on in the department at that time, etc.

With regards to LE SAMOURI, my impression, from my one visit to France (which was exclusively in Paris) is that there's a higher cop-to-citizen ratio than in the US. I remember being surprised by the number of uniformed cops on duty in Gare du L'Est (forgive me if that's misspelled), one of the large train stations in Paris. There seemed to be far more cops on duty there than I typically see in, say, Grand Central Station in NYC or Union Station in Chicago. So the number of cops in that pursuit may very well reflect the reality.

My impression is that Japan also has a very high cop-to-citizen ratio. And they have a much lower crime rate. So it wouldn't surprise me if a ransom kidnapping, particularly in 1963, got massive amounts of manpower committed exclusively to the case.

In Great Britain, according to cop-novelist John Wainwright, homicide investigations are rarely conducted at less than "Chief Inspector" level. A detective chief inspector would be roughly (and the operative word there is "roughly") equivalent to a captain of detectives in an American police force. In a big city police force in the US, a captain of detectives would very rarely be a lead investigator on a case. He administer dozens of other detectives. Case detectives are usually officers who would be equivalent to detective sergeants or detective constables in Britain. A sergeant or constable would almost never be the lead investigator on a murder case in Britain. He'd be somebody who was committed to perform certain tasks or gather specific information, then turn it over to the lead investigator. And there's often dozens of cops assigned to a single murder in Britain.

On the other hand, in a smaller US department, with a much lower caseload, a command or management-level detective might be more of a hands-on investigator than his big-city counterpart normally gets a chance to be. But there wouldn't be as much manpower to bring into play. The guy who was most responsible for nailing John Wayne Gacy was the chief of detectives for the Des Plaines Police, but his entire detective division was probably smaller than a precinct detective squad in NYC, with, presumably, less experience in homicide cases, so it wasn't odd to see the top-ranking detective become a working detective in that case, because that's what was needed. He didn't have a limitless pool to draw from and had to be a street level cop as well as an administrator.

McBain in KING'S RANSOM may be said to have emphasized the role his 87th Precinct detectives played in that case. He might even be said to have taken some artistic license to make the role his characters would play larger than it might be in real life. It's possible, for example that, in real life, the main responsibility for the case would not have been the precinct squad but some downtown specialty squad. It seems to me that I once heard that, in NYPD (and McBain's department is based on the NYPD, notwithstanding his claim that the city is
"fictional"), the Safe, Loft, & Truck Squad had responsibility for kidnapping investigations, though I've also heard that the Safe, Loft, & Truck Squad has since been disbanded, so I'm not sure who'd handle it now. Another point is that, at the time KING'S RANSOM was written, the FBI could not enter a case until one full week had passed (unless there was evidence that the victim had been transported across state lines prior to that time frame or that some other federal offense had been committed). Since the time the book was originally published, the time frame for FBI entry has been changed to 24 hours, and I believe the procedure now is to ASSUME that some federal law has been violated in a kidnapping case, bring the Bureau in immediately, and worry about which federal statutes gave them an excuse to intervene later . Obviously the Bureau is able to bring massive amounts of manpower, expertise, and technical assets often beyond the capability of local law enforcement, but McBain wanted to concentrate on his own series cops, for obvious reasons, and contrived to keep the FBI out of the case in his book, which lowered the available police manpower quite a bit.

In what was probably the most famous kidnapping case in the US prior to the Lindbergh case, the kidnapping and murder of Marian Parker by a criminal who styled himself "The Fox," virtually the entire LAPD was involved in one way or another on the case. Massive road blocks and door-to-door searches were part of the investigation. Michael Newton's STOLEN AWAY is a non-fiction account of the case. An early DRAGNET radio episode, "The Big Overtime," fictionalized it. So in certain circumstances, substantial amounts of police manpower can and will be brought to bear on a single case, particularly if it's high profile. As I said at the beginning, it all depends.


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