Police procedural

Police procedural

The police procedural is a piece of detective fiction which attempts to convincingly depict the activities of a police force as they investigate crimes. While traditional detective novels usually concentrate on a single crime, police procedurals frequently depict investigations into several unrelated crimes in a single story. While traditional mysteries usually adhere to the convention of having the criminal's identity concealed until the climax (the so-called whodunit), in police procedurals, the perpetrator's identity is often known to the audience from the outset. Police procedurals depict a number of police-related topics such as forensics, autopsies, the gathering of evidence, the use of search warrants and interrogation.


Early history

There were earlier precedents, but Lawrence Treat's 1945 novel V as in Victim is often cited as perhaps the first "true" police procedural.[1][2] Another early example is Hillary Waugh's Last Seen Wearing ..., 1952. Even earlier examples, predating Treat, include the novels Harness Bull, 1937, and Homicide, 1937, by former Southern California police officer Leslie T. White, P.C. Richardson's First Case, 1933, by Sir Basil Thomson, former Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, and the short story collection Policeman's Lot, 1933, by former Buckinghamshire High Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Henry Wade.

The procedural became more prominent after World War II, and, while the contributions of novelists like Treat were significant, a large part of the impetus for the post-war development of the procedural as a distinct sub-genre of the mystery was due, not to prose fiction, but to the popularity of a number of American films which dramatized and fictionalized actual crimes. Dubbed "semidocumentary films" by movie critics, these motion pictures, often filmed on location, with the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies involved in the actual case, made a point of authentically depicting police work. Examples include The Naked City (1948), The Street with No Name (1948), T-Men (1947), and Border Incident (1949).

Films from other countries soon began following the semidocumentary trend. In the UK there was The Blue Lamp (1950). In France, there was Quai des Orfevres (1947), released in the US as Jenny Lamour. Possibly the first Japanese police procedural film is Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog in 1949.

One semidocumentary, He Walked By Night (1948), released by Eagle-Lion Films, featured a young radio actor named Jack Webb in a supporting role. The success of the film, along with a suggestion from LAPD Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn, the film's technical advisor, gave Webb an idea for a radio drama that depicted police work in a similarly semidocumentary manner. The resulting series, Dragnet, which debuted on radio in 1949 and made the transition to television in 1951, has been called "the most famous procedural of all time" by, among others, mystery novelist and mystery historian William L. DeAndrea, mystery novelist and gay literary activist Katherine V. Forrest, speech technology specialist Judith A. Markowitz, and mystery novelist Max Allan Collins.

The same year that Dragnet debuted on radio, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sidney Kingsley's stage play Detective Story opened on Broadway. This frank, carefully researched dramatization of a typical day in an NYPD precinct detective squad became another benchmark in the development of the police procedural.

Over the next few years, the number of novelists who picked up on the procedural trend grew to include writers like Ben Benson, who wrote carefully researched novels about the Massachusetts State Police, retired police officer Maurice Procter, who wrote a series about North England cop Harry Martineau, and Jonathan Craig, who wrote short stories and novels about New York City police officers. Police novels by writers who would come to virtually define the form, like Waugh, Ed McBain, and John Creasey started to appear regularly.

In 1956, in his regular New York Times Book Review column, mystery critic Anthony Boucher, noting the growing popularity of crime fiction in which the main emphasis was the realistic depiction of police work, suggested that such stories constituted a distinct sub-genre of the mystery, and, crediting the success of Dragnet for the rise of this new form, coined the phrase "police procedural" to describe it.

Written stories

Ed McBain

Ed McBain, the pseudonym of Evan Hunter, wrote dozens of novels in the 87th Precinct series beginning with Cop Hater, published in 1956. Hunter continued to write 87th Precinct novels almost until his death in 2005. Although these novels focus primarily on Detective Steve Carella, they encompass the work of many officers working alone and in teams, and Carella is not always present in any individual book. Hunter has used many different narrative approaches over the years, and the 87th Precinct novels are often works of great power, depth, and emotional richness, and often contain moments of terrific (if sometimes gruesome) humour.

As if to illustrate the universality of the police procedural, many of McBain's 87th Precinct novels, despite their being set in a slightly fictionalized New York City, have been filmed in settings outside New York, even outside the US. Akira Kurosawa's 1963 film, High and Low, based on McBain's King's Ransom (1959), is set in Tokyo. Without Apparent Motive (1972), set on the French Riviera, is based on McBain's Ten Plus One (1963). Claude Chabrol's Les Liens de Sang (1978), based on Blood Relatives (1974), is set in Montreal. Even Fuzz (1972), based on the 1968 novel, though set in the US, moves the action to Boston.

John Creasey/J. J. Marric

Perhaps ranking just behind McBain in importance to the development of the procedural as a distinct mystery sub-genre is John Creasey, a prolific writer of many different kinds of crime fiction, from espionage to criminal protagonist. He was inspired to write a more realistic crime novel when his neighbor, a retired Scotland Yard detective, challenged Creasey to "write about us as we are." The result was Inspector West Takes Charge, 1940, the first of more than forty novels to feature Roger West of the London Metropolitan Police. The West novels were, for the era, an unusually realistic look at Scotland Yard operations, but the plots were often wildly melodramatic, and, to get around thorny legal problems, Creasey gave West an "amateur detective" friend who was able to perform the extra-procedural acts that West, as a policeman, could not.

In the mid-1950s, inspired by the success of television's Dragnet and a similar British TV series, Fabian of the Yard, Creasey decided to try a more down-to-earth series of cop stories. Adopting the pseudonym "J.J. Marric", he wrote Gideon's Day, 1955, in which George Gideon, a high-ranking detective at Scotland Yard, spends a busy day supervising his subordinates' investigations into several unrelated crimes. This novel was the first in a series of more than twenty books which brought Creasey his best critical notices. One entry, Gideon's Fire, 1961, won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Mystery Novel. The Gideon series, more than any other source, helped establish the common procedural plot structure of threading several autonomous story lines through a single novel.

Elizabeth Linington/Dell Shannon/Lesley Egan

A prolific author of police procedurals, whose work has fallen out of fashion in the years since her death, is Elizabeth Linington writing under her own name, as well as "Dell Shannon" and "Lesley Egan." Linington reserved her Dell Shannon pseudonym primarily for procedurals featuring LAPD Central Homicide Lieutenant Luis Mendoza (1960–1986). Under her own name she wrote about Sergeant Ivor Maddox of LAPD's North Hollywood Station, and as Lesley Egan she wrote about suburban cop Vic Varallo. These novels are often considered severely flawed, partly due to the author's far-right political viewpoint (she was a proud member of the John Birch Society), but primarily because Miss Linington's books, notwithstanding the frequent comments she made about the depth of her research, were all seriously deficient in the single element most identified with the police procedural, technical accuracy. However, they have a certain charm in their depiction of a kinder, gentler California, where the police were always "good guys" who solved all the crimes and respected the citizenry.

Georges Simenon

It has been suggested that the Inspector Maigret novels of Georges Simenon aren't really procedurals because of their strong focus on the lead character, but the novels have always included subordinate members of his staff as supporting characters. More importantly, Simenon, who had been a journalist covering police investigations prior to creating Maigret, was giving an accurate depiction, or at least the appearance of an accurate depiction, of law enforcement in Paris. Further, Simenon's influence on later European procedural writers, like Sweden's Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, or the aforementioned Baantjer, is obvious.

Joseph Wambaugh

Though not the first police officer to write procedurals, Joseph Wambaugh's success has caused him to become the exemplar of cops who turn their professional experiences into fiction. The son of a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, policeman, Wambaugh joined the Los Angeles Police Department after a stint of military duty. In 1970, his first novel, The New Centurions, was published. This followed three police officers through their training in the Academy, their first few years on the street, culminating in the Watts riots of 1965. It was followed by such novels as The Blue Knight, 1971, The Choirboys, 1975, Hollywood Station, 2006, and acclaimed non-fiction books like The Onion Field, 1973, Lines and Shadows, 1984, and Fire Lover, 2002. Wambaugh has said that his main purpose is less to show how cops work on the job, than how the job works on cops.

Detective novel writers

It is difficult to disentangle the early roots of the procedural from its forebear, the traditional detective novel, which often featured a police officer as protagonist. By and large, the better known novelists such as Ngaio Marsh produced work that falls more squarely into the province of the traditional or "cozy" detective novel. Nevertheless, some of the work of authors less well known today, like Freeman Wills Crofts's novels about Inspector French or some of the work of the prolific team of G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, might be considered as the antecedents of today's police procedural. British mystery novelist and critic Julian Symons, in his 1972 history of crime fiction, Bloody Murder, labeled these proto-procedurals "humdrums," because of their emphasis on the plodding nature of the investigators.

Televised stories

TV creators

TV series

See: television program


  • Bellamy (Network Ten 1981)
  • Bluey (Seven Network 1976-1977)
  • Blue Heelers (Seven Network 1994-2006) 510 episodes set in the fictional rural town of Mount Thomas, Victoria, was produced by Southern Star Entertainment for the Seven Network.
  • City Homicide (Seven Network 2007–2011) Set in Melbourne, Victoria. Follows the investigations of six detectives and their two superior officers in the homicide squad of the Victoria Police.
  • Cop Shop (Seven Network, 1977–1984)
  • Division 4 (Nine Network 1969-1975) made by Crawford Productions, ran on the Nine Network for 301 episodes.
  • The Feds (Nine Network 1993-1996)
  • Homicide (Seven Network 1964-1976) was an Australian police procedural television series made by Crawford Productions for the Seven Network.
  • Jonah (Seven Network 1962)
  • The Link Men (Nine Network 1970)
  • The Long Arm (Network Ten 1970)
  • Matlock Police (Network Ten 1971-1975) was set in the rural town of Matlock, Victoria and lasted 229 episodes.
  • Murder Call (Nine Network 1997-1999)
  • Phoenix (ABC 1992-1993)
  • Police Rescue (ABC 1991-1996)
  • Rush (Network Ten 2008–Present) follows the stories of a tactical police unit in Melbourne, Victoria. The series fourth season is currently in production.
  • Skirts (Seven Network 1990)
  • Small Claims (Network Ten 2005-2006)
  • Solo One (Seven Network 1976) a short-lived spin-off from Matlock Police
  • Special Squad (Network Ten 1984)
  • Stingers (Nine Network 1998-2004)
  • Water Rats (Nine Network 1996-2001) 177 episodes set in Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, focusing on the Sydney Water Police.
  • White Collar Blue (Network Ten 2002-2003)
  • Wildside (ABC 1997-1999)
  • Young Lions (Nine Network 2002)

United Kingdom

  • Fabian of the Yard, (1954–1955) - possibly the first police drama to be made for British TV, this series, based on the memoirs of real-life Scotland Yard detective Robert Fabian, had a lot in common with Dragnet. Just as Dragnet had been the first network drama series with continuing characters to be shot on film, so Fabian of the Yard was one of the first British series to be filmed. Both shows featured voice-over narration by the main character; both fictionalized stories derived from real-life cases; and both ended with an epilog that revealed the ultimate fate of the criminals. On Fabian, this took the form of a medium-shot of Bruce Seton, who played Fabian in the series, seated at a desk. The shot slowly dissolved into one of the real-life Fabian in the same pose at the same desk. At that point, the actual Fabian stood up and told the audience what happened to the criminal he'd caught in the real-life case that had just been dramatized.
  • Dixon of Dock Green, (1955–1976) - Jack Warner reprised the role of Constable George Dixon, the uniformed beat cop he had played in The Blue Lamp, despite the fact that the Dixon character had been tragically murdered in that film. During the course of this somewhat gentle series, Warner's character became, for many, the living embodiment of what every British "bobby" was supposed to be. As the series progressed, Dixon went through several promotions, eventually winding up as the Station Sergeant at his local division. By the final season, with Warner now over 80, Dixon retired and the focus shifted to the younger officers he'd trained up over the years.
  • No Hiding Place, (1957–1967) - Produced with the cooperation of Scotland Yard, this long-running series featured Raymond Francis as high-ranking Met detective Tom Lockhart. During its run, the series went through several title changes. When it began in 1957, it was known as Murder Bag, referring to the bag of investigative tools that Superintendent Lockhart carried with him whenever he was called to a case. In 1959, with Lockhart promoted to Chief Superintendent, it became Crime Sheet. Later in 1959, the series was given its final and best-remembered title, No Hiding Place, which lasted until the series ended in 1967.
  • The Sweeney, (1975–1978) - a drama series focusing on the Flying Squad of the Metropolitan Police and their twenty-four hour a day seven day a week job of catching some of the most dangerous and violent criminals in London. The television program featured Detective Inspector Jack Regan (John Thaw) and other tough-talking hard-drinking members of his elite unit, both on and off duty. With its high level of violence, location filming, bold frankness, and well written scripts, The Sweeney revolutionized the genre. The series was so phenomenally popular that two feature-length movies, Sweeney! (1976) and Sweeney 2 (1978) were released to theatres during the show's original broadcast run.
  • The Gentle Touch, (1980–1984) - a British police drama television series made by London Weekend Television for ITV. Commencing transmission on 11 April 1980, the series is notable for being the first British series to feature a female police detective as its leading character, ahead of the similarly themed BBC series Juliet Bravo by four months.
  • Juliet Bravo, (1980–1985) - a British television series, which ran on BBC1. The theme of the series concerned a female police inspector who took over control of a police station in a fictional town of Hartley in Lancashire.
  • The Bill, (1984–2010) - a drama series focusing on both the uniformed and plain-clothes police officers working out of an inner-city London police station. The original conception of this series was as purely procedural, with an almost fly-on-the-wall approach that survived to an extent throughout.
  • The Prime Suspect series, (1991–2006) - featuring Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector (later Chief Superintendent) Jane Tennison, which focused on the police investigations and on Tennison's conflicts with her fellow officers as a prominent female detective in a heavily male-dominated work environment, as well as her personal problems concerning her family and after-work life.
  • The Cops, (1998–2000) - perhaps the most realistic police drama series yet seen on British TV, noted for its documentary-style camerawork and uncompromising portrayal of the police force.

United States

  • Dragnet (1951–1959, 1967–1970, 1989-1991 & 2003-2004) Dragnet was the pioneering police procedural that began on radio in 1949 and then on television in 1951. Dragnet established the tone of many police dramas in subsequent decades, and the rigorously authentic depictions of such elements as organizational structure, professional jargon, legal issues, etc., set the standard for technical accuracy that became the most identifiable element of the police procedural in all media. The show was occasionally accused of presenting an overly idealized portrait of law enforcement in which the police (represented by Sgt. Joe Friday) were invariably presented as "good guys" and the criminals as "bad guys", with little moral flexibility or complexity between the two. However, many episodes depicted sympathetic perpetrators while others depicted unsympathetic or corrupt cops. Further, though Jack Webb may have seemed to go to extremes to depict the Los Angeles Police Department in a favorable light, most depictions of cops at the time of Dragnet's debut were both unsympathetic and unrealistic. Webb's depiction was meant to offer balance. Also, the show benefited from the unprecedented technical advice, involvement, and support of the LAPD, a first in TV, which may also have been an incentive to depict the Department favorably. After the success of Dragnet, Webb would go on to produce other procedural shows like The DA's Man, about an undercover investigator for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Adam-12, about a pair of uniformed LAPD officers patrolling their beat in a radio car, and O'Hara, U.S. Treasury, with David Janssen as a trouble-shooting federal officer.
  • The Untouchables (1959–1963) fictionalized real-life Federal Agent Eliot Ness's ongoing fight with Prohibition-era gangdom in Chicago and elsewhere. Originally a two-part presentation on the anthology series Desilu Playhouse, it made such a splash that a series was launched the following fall. That two-part pilot, later released to theaters under the title The Scarface Mob, stuck comparatively close to the actual events, with Ness, as played by Robert Stack, recruiting a team of incorruptible investigators to help bring down Al Capone. Later episodes showed Ness and his squad, post-Capone, going after just about every big name gangster of the era, and when the writers ran out of real-life figures to pit against Ness, they created new ones. Quinn Martin, who would become closely associated with police and crime shows like this, produced the series during its first season, leaving to found his own company, QM Productions, which would go one to produce police procedural shows like The New Breed, The F.B.I., Dan August, and The Streets of San Francisco over the next twenty years. The success of the series led to an Academy Award-winning motion picture in 1987, and a new TV series that was syndicated to local stations in 1993.
  • Columbo (TV Series and Made for TV-Movies, 1968–2003) Columbo popularized the inverted detective story format. With the exception of a couple of special episodes with added twists, almost every episode began by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator. As such, there is no "whodunit" element. The plot mainly revolves around how the perpetrator, whose identity is known, would finally be exposed and arrested. The show's creator once referred to it as a "howcatchem". Lt. Columbo is a shambling, disheveled-looking, seemingly naive Italian American police detective who is consistently underestimated by his fellow officers and by the murderer du jour. The subjects of his investigations are initially both reassured and distracted by his circumstantial speech and increasingly irritating asides. Despite his unprepossessing appearance and apparent absentmindedness, he shrewdly solves all of his cases and secures all evidence needed for indictment. His formidable eye for detail and meticulous and dedicated approach become apparent only late in the storyline. Other "howcatchem" style Police procedurals include Castle, Criminal Minds, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Monk, The Mentalist and Psych.
  • Police Story (1973–1978) was an anthology series set in Los Angeles created by LAPD Detective Sergeant Joseph Wambaugh. Hard-hitting and unflinchingly realistic, its anthology format made it possible to look at police work from many different perspectives, what it was like to be a woman in a male-dominated profession, what it was like to be an honest cop suspected of corruption, what it was like to be a rookie cop, an undercover narc, a veteran facing retirement, or a cop who had to adjust to crippling injuries incurred in the line of duty. Despite its anthology format, there were a number of characters who appeared in more than one episode, including Robbery/Homicide partners Tony Calabrese (Tony Lo Bianco) and Bert Jameson (Don Meredith), vice cop turned homicide detective Charlie Czonka (James Farentino), and stakeout/surveillance specialist Joe LaFrieda (Vic Morrow). Several series were spun off from the show, including Police Woman, Joe Forrester, and Man Undercover. During its last two seasons, the show appeared as an irregular series of two-hour TV movies rather than a weekly one-hour program. The show was revived for a season in 1988, using old scripts reshot with new casts when a writers' strike made new material inaccessible.
  • Kojak (1973–1978, 1989–1990) created by Abby Mann, focused on a veteran New York City detective-lieutenant played by Telly Savalas. Its exteriors were filmed at New York's Ninth Precinct, the same place where NYPD Blue's exteriors would be filmed. In 1989 Savalas returned to the role briefly for five two-hour episodes, in which Kojak had been promoted to inspector and placed in charge of the Major Crimes Squad. It rotated with three other detective shows on ABC. A 2005 remake for the USA Network starred Ving Rhames. Kojak's most memorable character trait was his signature lollipop.
  • Hill Street Blues (1981–1987) featured a number of intertwined storylines in each episode, and pioneered depiction of the conflicts between the work and private lives of officers and detectives on which the police procedural was centered. The show had a deliberate "documentary" style, depicting officers who were flawed and human, and dealt openly with the gray areas of morality between right and wrong. It was set in an unidentified east coast or midwestern metropolitan area. The show was written by Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll.
  • Cagney and Lacey (1982–1988) Cagney and Lacey, revolved around two female NYPD detectives who led very different lives. Christine Cagney, played by Sharon Gless, was a single-minded, witty, brash career woman. Mary Beth Lacey was a resourceful, sensitive working mom. Loretta Swit was the original choice for Cagney [she played the role in a TV movie] however she couldn't get out of her contract on M*A*S*H. During the first season, Meg Foster played the part of Cagney, while Tyne Daly played Lacey, the role she'd originated in the pilot. CBS canceled the series claiming low ratings. It was brought back on due both to a letter-writing campaign which drew millions of letters nationwide and to the fact that ratings actually went up during summer reruns. A TV Guide magazine read Welcome Back. Daly continued as Lacey, but Foster was replaced with Gless, who would become the actress most identified with the part. It would go on to win 36 nominations and 14 wins during its run. Four TV movies were broadcast after the series ended.
  • Law & Order, a long-running series (1990–2010) focusing on the two 'halves' of a criminal proceeding in the New York City criminal justice system: the investigation of the crime by the New York City Police Department homicide detectives and the subsequent prosecution of the criminals by the New York County District Attorney's office. The success of the original Law & Order inspired nine other spin-off series in four different countries:
    • Five in the U.S.: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001–2011), Law & Order: Trial by Jury (2005–2006), Conviction (2006-debuted and concluded) and Law & Order: LA (2010–2011). Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, and LA series focued more on the police procedurals than Trial by Jury and Conviction. As of August 2011, Special Victims Unit is the only currently running American series in the Law & Order franchise.
    • Two in Russia: Adaptations of Special Victims Unit (2007) and Criminal Intent (2007), both set in Moscow.
    • Paris enquêtes criminelles (2007), a French adaptation of Criminal Intent set in Paris.
    • Law & Order: UK (2009), a British adaptation of the original Law & Order set in London.
Aside from being its depiction of police investigation, this program also relates to the Legal drama and "forensic pathology" subgenres, and has inspired such other programs as the CSI series.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–1999; TV movie in 2000), a police procedural focusing on the homicide unit of the Baltimore city police department. Critically praised (although frequently struggling in the ratings), the show was more of an ensemble piece, focusing on the activities of the unit as a whole (although significant characters such as Detective Frank Pembleton and Detective John Munch, who has also appeared on the various Law & Order shows, among others, became popular with viewers). The show (particularly in its first three seasons) used long-form arcs to depict ongoing criminal investigations, such as the investigation of a murdered child in the first season, which ran through 13 episodes but ended without an arrest or conviction, or even conclusive proof of who committed the crime. The show also heavily featured the complex internal politics of the police department, suggesting that rising through the ranks has more to do with personal connections, favors and opportunism than genuine ability.
  • NYPD Blue (1993–2005) explored the internal and external struggles of the assorted investigators of the fictional 15th Precinct of Manhattan. The show gained notoriety for profanity and nudity never previously broadcast on American network television. NYPD Blue was created by genre veteran Steven Bochco and David Milch. The cast of NYPD Blue included actor Dennis Franz, who previously played Detective Buntz on Hill Street Blues, as well as on a spin-off series, "Beverly Hills Buntz." Another cast member, David Caruso would later play Lt. Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami.
  • The Shield (2002–2008), The Shield is about an experimental division of the Los Angeles Police Department set up in the fictional Farmington district ("the Farm") of Los Angeles, using a converted church ("the Barn") as their police station, and featuring a group of detectives called "The Strike Team", who will do anything to bring justice to the streets. Michael Chiklis (Chiklis previously played the title character in the TV series, "The Commish.") has top billing with his portrayal of Strike Team leader Vic Mackey. The show has an ensemble cast that will normally run a number of separate story lines through each episode. It was on the FX network and was known for its portrayal of police brutality and its realism. The show inspired other shows similar to The Shield such as Dark Blue and Southland. The Shield was created by writer/producer Shawn Ryan.


  • The Burke Enginma - RTÉ 1975.
  • DDU: District Detective Unit, (1998–1999) is made by RTÉ set in Waterford City and starring Sean McGinley.
  • Single-Handed (2007 - Date) is set in the west of Ireland.
  • Proof (2003–2004) set in Dublin and starring Orla Brady.
  • Na Cloigne (The Heads) a 2010 three-part supernatural police procedural produced for TG4.

New Zealand

  • Shark in the Park, (1989–1992), set in Wellington and starring Jeffrey Thomas
  • Plainclothes, (1995), set in Auckland and starring Alan Dale

Comic strips and books

The comic strip Dick Tracy is often pointed to as an early procedural. Indeed, in his introduction to a 1970 collection of Tracy strips entitled The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, no less an authority than Ellery Queen suggested that Tracy, predating Webb, Treat, Creasey, and McBain, was the first "truly" procedural policeman in any fictional medium.

Certainly Tracy creator Chester Gould seemed to be trying reflect the real world. Tracy himself, conceived by Gould as a "modern-day Sherlock Holmes", was partly modeled on real-life law enforcer Eliot Ness, and his first, and most frequently recurring, antagonist, the Big Boy, was based on Ness's real-life nemesis Al Capone. Other members of Tracy's Rogues Gallery, like Boris Arson, Flattop Jones, and Maw Famon, were inspired, respectively, by John Dillinger, Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, and Kate "Ma" Barker.

More to the point, Gould was making a genuine attempt to portray police work realistically. Once Tracy was sold to the Chicago Tribune syndicate, Gould enrolled in a criminology class at Northwestern University, met with members of the Chicago Police Department, and did research at the Department's crime lab, to make his depiction of law enforcement more authentic. Ultimately, he hired retired Chicago policeman Al Valanis, a pioneering forensic sketch artist, as both an artistic assistant and police technical advisor.

Later stories, in which Gould veered into space opera and extraterrestrial contacts, mitigated somewhat against the strip's being recognized for its early use of realistic police procedure, but any examination of the Tracy strip from its beginnings in 1931 through the 1950s makes Gould's status as a pioneer in the police procedural sub-genre clear.

The success of Tracy led to many more police strips. While some, like Norman Marsh's Dan Dunn were unabashedly slavish imitations of Tracy, others, like Dashiell Hammett's and Alex Raymond's Secret Agent X-9, took a more original approach. Still others, like Eddie Sullivan's and Charlie Schmidt's Radio Patrol and Will Gould's Red Barry, steered a middle course. One of the best post-Tracy procedural comics was Kerry Drake, written and created by Allen Saunders and illustrated by Alfred Andriola. It diverged from the metropolitan settings used in Tracy to tell the story of the titular Chief Investigator for the District Attorney of a small-town jurisdiction. Later, following a personal tragedy, he leaves the DA's Office and joins his small city's police force in order to fight crime closer to the grass roots level. As both a DA's man and a city cop, he fights a string of flamboyant, Gould-ian criminals like "Stitches", "Bottleneck", and "Bulldozer."

Other syndicated police strips include Zane Grey's King of the Royal Mounted, depicting police work in the contemporary Canadian Northwest, Lank Leonard's Mickey Finn, which emphasized the home life of a hard-working cop, and Dragnet, which adapted stories from the pioneering radio-TV series into comics. Early comic books with police themes tended to be reprints of syndicated newspaper strips like Tracy and Drake. Others adapted police stories from other mediums, like the radio-inspired anthology comic Gang Busters, Dell's 87th Precinct issues, which adapted McBain's novels, or The Untouchables, which adapted the fictionalized TV adventures of real-life policeman Eliot Ness.

More recently, there have been attempts to depict police work with the kind of hard-edged realism seen in the novels of writers like Wambaugh, such as Marvel's four-issue mini-series Cops: The Job, in which a rookie police officer learns to cope with the physical, emotional, and mental stresses of law enforcement during her first patrol assignment. With superheroes having long dominated the comic book market, there have been some recent attempts to integrate elements of the police procedural into the universe of costumed crime-fighters. Gotham Central, for example, depicts a group of police detectives operating in Batman's Gotham City, and suggested that the caped crimefighter is disliked by many Gotham detectives for treading on their toes. Meanwhile Metropolis SCU tells the story of the Special Crimes Unit, an elite squad of cops in the police force serving Superman's Metropolis.

The use of police procedural elements in superhero comics can partly be attributed to the success of Kurt Busiek's groundbreaking 1994 series Marvels, and his subsequent Astro City work, both of which examine the typical superhero universe from the viewpoint of the common man who witnesses the great dramas from afar, participating in them tangentially at best.

In the wake of Busiek's success, many other writers mimicked his approach, with mixed results – the narrative possibilities of someone who does not get involved in drama are limited. In 2000, however, Image Comics published the first issue of Brian Michael Bendis's comic Powers, which followed the lives of homicide detectives as they investigated superhero-related cases. Bendis's success has led both Marvel Comics and DC Comics to begin their own superhero-themed police procedurals (District X and the aforementioned Gotham Central), which focus on how the job of a police officer is affected by such tropes as secret identities, superhuman abilities, costumes, and the near-constant presence of vigilantes.

While the detectives in Powers were "normal" (unpowered) humans dealing with super-powered crime, Alan Moore and Gene Ha's Top 10 mini-series, published by America's Best Comics in 2000-2001, centered around the super-powered police force in a setting where powers are omnipresent. The comic detailed the lives and work of the police force of Neopolis, a city in which everyone, from the police and criminals to civilians, children and even pets, has super-powers, colourful costumes and secret identities.

However, just as Gould's introduction of science fiction elements into Tracy made that strip less believable for many readers, the notion of realistic cops working in a world where costumed, super-powered crime-fighters and criminals actually exist is a problematic concept, seemingly at odds with the rigorous, naturalistic realism that is the procedural's hallmark.

The top ten police procedurals

According to the (UK) Crime Writers' Association (1990)

  1. Hillary Waugh: Last Seen Wearing ... (1952)
  2. Ed McBain: Cop Hater (1956)
  3. Colin Dexter: The Dead of Jericho (1981)
  4. Reginald Hill: Underworld (1988)
  5. Reginald Hill: Dead Heads (1983)
  6. Martin Cruz Smith: Gorky Park (1981)
  7. J. J. Marric: Gideon's Day (1955)
  8. Ed McBain: Sadie When She Died (1972)
  9. H. R. F. Keating: The Murder of the Maharajah (1980)
  10. Joseph Wambaugh: The Onion Field (1975)

According to the Mystery Writers of America (1995)

  1. Tony Hillerman: Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
  2. Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö: The Laughing Policeman (1968)
  3. Martin Cruz Smith: Gorky Park (1981)
  4. Tony Hillerman: A Thief of Time (1988)
  5. Lawrence Sanders: The First Deadly Sin (1973)
  6. Hillary Waugh: Last Seen Wearing ... (1952)
  7. James McClure: The Steam Pig (1971)
  8. Joseph Wambaugh: The Choirboys (1975)
  9. P. D. James: Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  10. Ed McBain: Ice (1983) and John Ball: In the Heat of the Night (1965) (tie)



See also

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  • police procedural — police′ proce dural n. cvb lit. sbz a mystery novel, film, or television drama that deals realistically with police work Also called procedural • Etymology: 1965–70 …   From formal English to slang

  • police procedural — a mystery novel, film, or television drama that deals realistically with police work. Also called procedural. [1965 70] * * * …   Universalium

  • police procedural — noun (plural police procedurals) Date: 1967 a mystery story written from the point of view of the police investigating the crime …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • police procedural — noun (plural police procedurals) : a mystery story written from the point of view of the police investigating the crime …   Useful english dictionary

  • police procedural — noun a sub genre of crime fiction which portrays the activities of a police force as they investigate crimes. Unlike other types of crime fiction, the perpetrator may be known at the outset of the story …   Wiktionary

  • Procedural — Procedural, as an adjective, refers to the concept of procedure. It may also refer to: *Procedural programming, a computer programming concept *Procedural generation, a term often used in connection with computer graphics applications to indicate …   Wikipedia

  • Procedural (genre) — A Procedural is a cross genre type of literature, film, or television program involving a sequence of technical detail. A documentary film may be written in a procedural style to heighten narrative interest. Types Television Fiction In television …   Wikipedia

  • Police officer — Several terms redirect here. For other uses, see Policeman, Police Woman, Coppers (disambiguation), and Police Officer (film). Police officer Police officers in South Australia Occupation Activity sectors Law enf …   Wikipedia

  • procedural — I. adjective Date: 1889 of or relating to procedure; especially of or relating to the procedure used by courts or other bodies administering substantive law • procedurally adverb II. noun Date: 1972 a realist crime novel with a specific focus < a …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • procedural — procedurally, adv. /preuh see jeuhr euhl/, adj. 1. of or pertaining to a procedure or procedures, esp. of a court of law, legislative body, or law enforcement agency. n. 2. See police procedural. [1885 90; PROCEDURE + AL1] * * * …   Universalium

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