by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we sat down to interview author and police officer Adam Plantinga about his book 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman. This book is full of interesting stories and facts about real policework and is a book all mystery authors and mystery fans should read! Also, anyone who would like to know what it’s really like being a cop. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of 400 Things Cops Know, and a link to purchase a copy.
KRL: Please tell us about 400 things Cops Know—what is its purpose and what are some of the things people will find in the book?
Adam: The book is a collection of facts, anecdotes, and reflections from my thirteen years in law enforcement in Milwaukee and San Francisco. It also contains arguably too many movie references. It’s broken down into chapters like Shots Fired, Tactics and Hazards, and Working With the Public.
I wrote it, in part, to give the general public an insider’s view into urban police work. I think most people’s contact with the police might be limited to getting a traffic ticket or reporting a car burglary. But I don’t think most folks know what the police do all day, or what the job looks like, or what it feels like. The book covers those types of things.
What you won’t find in the book is a sanitized view of law enforcement. Some police books present cops as always swooping in and saving the day. But we are imperfect people in a volatile business. Don’t get me wrong, there’s swooping. I’ve swooped. But sometimes we stumble. I include some of the stumbles in the book.
KRL: What inspired you to write this book?
Adam: I hail from a family of writers and was an English major in college. Plus I have come across so many things on the job that I just find downright fascinating. I wanted to share those things with the reader. Also, I don’t hunt, fish, drink, or play cards. I write. Man’s gotta have a hobby.
KRL: Did you write it with any particular market in mind? It seems like it would be a good book for mystery writers.
Adam: The fact that the book would engage mystery writers wasn’t on my radar when I wrote it, but I have gotten a lot of gracious feedback from them and have had a few opportunities to give talks to mystery writer groups. They are a lively, engaging bunch and they ask great questions.
KRL: How long did it take you to write it?
Adam: A few years, off and on. Some writers get up at five every morning and knock out ten pages. I find that kind of discipline both admirable and weird. I tend to write in streaks.
KRL: Was it hard to find a publisher?
Adam: Sure was. I approached ninety different literary agents, all of whom took a pass. The ninety-first guy did due diligence but we couldn’t quite make a deal happen. So I approached smaller, independent publishers, and found an outfit in Fresno, California called Linden Publishing. They took a chance on me. And here we are.
KRL: Have you done any other writing?
Adam: I wrote a short story about boxing that was included in an anthology. I also wrote about a dozen nonfiction articles on police work for a literary magazine called The Cresset. But one of the publishing credits I’m most proud of is an entry in Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary. My friend Hadley and I put together “10 Kickboxing Movies Still To be Made.” This list included Kickboxer Karwash.
KRL: Favorite story in the book?
Adam: That’s tough. I like the one where my partner and I were investigating a bloody street robbery and then an unrelated bar fight broke out right in front of us and we were trying to deal with both the robbery and the bar melee and then in the thick of it all, some guy walked up to us with a stray rabbit he had found and very much wanted to turn over to our care. The job tests your mettle and you have to learn to multi-task out there.
KRL: Do you have future writing goals?
Adam: I wrote most of my first book before I had kids. I have two little girls now, so I spend most of my free time taking them to the park or picking Cheerios out of heating vents. I squeeze in writing when I can. I’m working on a kind of companion piece to 400 Things Cops Know.
KRL: You are still a police officer correct? What has been your fellow officers’ response to the book?
Adam: I am a sergeant assigned to an investigative unit in the Mission District of San Francisco. I look into general felonies—robberies, burglaries, carjackings, aggravated assaults. It’s compelling work and every case matters. There’s a victim and a suspect and I try to get to the bottom of it.
My fellow officers have been kind in regards to the book. They said I got it right, which I take a lot of stock in. A number of them have bought it and asked me to sign it. I think it helps that I point out that I’m no kind of police expert and the book is largely a collection of other people’s wisdom. When smart cops said and did smart things, I took good notes. And that’s what made the book possible.
KRL: Where are you located?
Adam: I’m in the East Bay. My neighborhood is pretty tranquil. It’s a kind of oasis away from my job. Good to have some separation between those two worlds, I think. It allows you to recharge for the next work day.
KRL: Website, Twitter, Facebook?
Adam: I got on Twitter because one of my favorite writers, George Pelecanos, said something nice about the book and I needed an account to read his comment. I haven’t tweeted anything yet. I’m not on Facebook. I have no website. I’m sort of a Luddite, only a half-step away from wearing animal furs. That may change at some point, but not today.
KRL: Anything else you would like to share?
Adam: Yes. Due to a chance encounter in a radioactive forest, I possess both the strength and speed of a Long Beech fern. Know that I use these powers only for good.
To enter to win a copy of 400 Things Cops Know, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Cops,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 18, 2015. U.S. residents only.
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Click on this link to purchase this book: