While the number of people who have criticized the Anchorage Police Department about their handling of the Samantha Koenig case is small, they are noisy -- and, according to real cops in the know, unreasonable, basing their opinions on T.V. cops.
A couple of stories published by KSL Channel 5 in Salt Lake City explain the problems police have in solving cases -- and why T.V. shows like CSI presently an unrealistic and distorted portrayal of police capabilities. While the stories use Utah examples, they can be applied to police departments everywhere.
In the first story, entitled "Ask a Cop: Real cops vs. TV cops" Officer Anonymous debunks the Dirty Harry model, saying that a real life Dirty Harry would be in jail for charges ranging from manslaughter, felony criminal mischief, bribery, domestic violence, DUI, the indoor smoking act and felony tomfoolery. He would have been fired about 20 different times and never been allowed to be a police officer again. And Officer Anonymous cites another incentive against abusive behavior by police, noting that if cops were charged and convicted of any domestic violence charge, they would lose their jobs as one cannot own a firearm with a domestic violence conviction (you can thank the ridiculous Lautenberg Law for that problem).
But Officer Anonymous paints a picture of what detectives, like the ones investigating the Koenig kidnapping, are dealing with on the job:
Detectives have it hard too. They are not assigned just one case at a time that they can work till it's solved. They are assigned many cases, every day, all with victims who want something done. Property crime detectives (vehicle burglary, residential burglary, shoplifts, lawn gnome capers) can get 5-10 or more cases a day. It is not unusual for those detectives to hold about 30-70 active cases.
Detectives start performing the best juggling act they can to solve the most cases possible in the shortest amount of time. Detectives cannot “enhance” video at will and have it come out crystal clear. I have never been able to type in my computer, “locate brown haired males with a scar on the face nicknamed Thud” and have it find anything. There have been bank robberies with unmasked suspects where we couldn’t make out the guy's face! You may or may not be surprised to know also that a large amount of the witnesses and victims to crimes cannot be bothered with showing up to court. Which makes us have to file that case in the cylindrical filing cabinet. All of this is not at all mentioned or shown on the TV.
Just like the video of Koenig's kidnapper, which doesn't show his face, but which some members of the public are impetuously demanding that police release to the public without regard for potential jury contamination. A video cannot be made to show what it doesn't already show.
The second story, entitled "Real-life CSIs dish on how their jobs differ from TV dramas", focuses more upon the actions of a specific CSI-type unit. Angie Petersen, Jason Romney and Sarah Gilchrist all work as crime scene investigators for the Weber Metro Crime Scene Investigation Unit in Ogden, UT. They handle some of the most highly publicized crimes in the state, crimes they call heartbreaking, shocking and sometimes bizarre. And they also say that T.V. crime shows bear little resemblance to real-life.
All the crime scenes on the TV shows get done instantly. They go in and take a quick picture, maybe grab a swab of something, and they're done processing the scene. They don't realize that cops can hold crime scenes for several weeks. In the real world, crime scene investigation is tedious work. Getting the perfect fingerprint is nearly impossible; and if you think these ladies head out in the field wearing heels and a cocktail dress, think again.
Jason Romney seems both amused and annoyed at some of the clueless dorks who show up at crime scenes. "We were out on the scenes, and everybody's like, ‘Oh! We watch the TV shows. We want to do this. What do you need to do?'" Romney said. "And then we'd tell them about having to go to college, and the requirements that are needed, and then they're like, ‘I don't know if I can do that, but we really want to do it. It's really cool!'"
Anchorage residents want the kidnapping of Samantha Koenig resolved. She's been missing since February 1st, and, unlike many kidnappings, the failure of the kidnapper in this case to communicate even so much as a ransom demand is a foreboding concern. But we need to understand what APD can and cannot do, then back off and give them the necessary breathing room to do their job. Unlike FBI agents, who are federal mercenaries who move from one community to another and who seek to goose their careers with each move even if they have to cut corners, APD officers are vested members of the community in which they serve. They have a community loyalty which will not be known to an FBI agent until the agent actually leaves the Bureau.
In the final analysis, the one opinion about APD's efforts that counts the most is that of James Koenig, Samantha's father. And he is reportedly satisfied with APD's efforts.