|Law & Order: A Law
& Order Perspective
By Heather Gray
Greetings to all my fellow Law & Order fans. By way of introduction, I am Heather Gray and my purpose in writing this column for apocrypha is to provide readers with a law enforcement perspective. You will find that I am certainly suited for it; my background is such that for the last 20 years I have been a police officer in a hectic, high-crime urban area. I have been a die-hard fan of the original Law & Order series since its debut eleven years ago. I welcomed the novel concept of a two-part show, illustrating the police story followed by the prosecutor's perspective and the ensuing trial.
Although I love Law & Order and SVU doesn't mean that I don't find fault with some of the technical details. One of the things that still makes me laugh is the hands-on portrayal of the role of the prosecutor. Very often we see them conducting interviews with suspects, witnesses and victims. Now, I understand that this is an opportunity for airtime for the show's stars and that writers have taken some dramatic license. You should know, though, that in reality this would not happen. There is good reason that police conduct the entire investigation, collect evidence and orchestrate interviews with all of the key players in a case. The prosecutor's role is to advise police during the course of the investigation and to ensure that all of the requisite legal bases are covered. Then, once the case goes to trial, it is up to the police officers to give testimony about their role in the investigation. Often, an officer's actions and rationale will be called into question by the defense. Prosecutors cannot give evidence. Their job at trial is to present all of the evidence to the judge and jury.
Bear with me while I tell you a little about my background so that you can appreciate from where I speak. I began my policing career in 1981 in my hometown. I was the first and only female police officer. As you can well imagine, it was a huge media event at the time!
Two years later, in 1983, I accepted a job offer to a much larger urban area that had the dubious distinction of being the national murder capital (per capita), for several years running. It was the perfect proving ground for a young and eager police officer and it certainly didn't disappoint. It was exciting, dangerous and challenging, and I loved it!
Being a 'pioneer', in any sense, is often difficult at best. As one of a mere handful of women in a decidedly male-dominated environment, I often pushed the envelope (as diplomatically as possible, of course), to open doors for women in policing. Oddly enough, in this paramilitary type of organization, I had a decided skepticism about authority and I wouldn't necessarily accept an opinion or an order from a more senior-ranking officer merely because of their rank. If their view didn't make sense, or it wasn't reasonable, I would question it. A bureaucracy is an extremely limiting environment for someone who is intelligent, progressive and creative and who possesses initiative and drive!
In 1992, after an intensive selection process, I became the first female Hostage/Crisis Negotiator for the SWAT team. This was a real coup since the officer in charge of the Team for years often stated, quite crudely, that no woman would ever be on the Team if he had anything to say about it. Ironically, it was shortly after his retirement that I was successful in my bid to join the Team. I was fortunate to train with LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) and the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), in addition to training at the elite Canadian Police College in Ottawa, Canada. During the eight years that I served on the Crisis Negotiation Team I learned vast amounts about human psychology and communication. I was clearly in my element. Conducting a negotiation with a barricaded gunman, a hostage-taker or a suicidal individual was the most stressful part of my job but a successful outcome, with no one being injured, made it very rewarding.
In 1997 I was promoted to Detective and I entered the Integrated Child Abuse Unit. We called it the 'Children's Justice Centre'. I would liken it to the Law & Order Special Victim's Unit. Our Unit was very unique, in that we were completely integrated. That meant that a number of professionals worked collaboratively on child abuse cases. The Unit incorporated the expertise of police, social workers, physicians and prosecutors and, where appropriate, psychologists. The theory behind this concept was that this type of approach would reduce the traumatic effect on vulnerable children as they progressed through the justice system. In future columns I will draw specific parallels to SVU so that you will grow to appreciate the similarities and the differences.
Recently, I left policing and started my own company, Dynamic Consulting. I am now a corporate trainer, specializing in the area of Workplace Violence and I conduct comprehensive Threat Assessments for corporations and/or individuals. This fall, in order to further my own professional development, I'll be traveling to California to train with Gavin de Becker, world-renowned authority on Predicting Violent Behavior and best-selling author of The Gift of Fear, ISBN #0-440-22619-8
I am often asked what I thought of the portrayal on a Law & Order episode ("Fools For Love"; February 23/00), of the Canadian story of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. In the real life case, these two psychopaths found each other and embarked on an odyssey of depravity and evil that was unparalleled in Canadian history. They first killed Karla's own younger sister, Tammy, in a twisted kind of sexual "Christmas gift" to Paul, whereby they drugged, raped and then stood by while Tammy aspirated on her own vomit. They then went on to abduct, torture, rape, sodomize and then kill at least two teenage girls. One of the victims was dismembered by the pair with a saw in their basement, her body parts encased in concrete and then discarded in various locations. On the very day that one of the pieces of concrete was discovered, containing a limb of one of the victims, Karla and Paul were being married in a fairy tale wedding ceremony. As they were driven around in a horse-drawn buggy, they looked for all the world like "Barbie and Ken", the consummate gorgeous couple. Little did anyone attending the wedding know of the escapades of these two vile individuals.
The follow-up to this story is the sad fact that Karla Homolka was allowed to strike a sentencing deal with prosecutors, enabling her to receive a significantly reduced sentence, in exchange for her testimony against Paul Bernardo. What wasn't known by prosecutors, at the time the deal was struck with Homolka, was that there existed videotapes that showed, in graphic detail, all of the aspects and the horrors, of the crimes. The duo had filmed the torture and rape of the two victims and hidden the tapes in the bathroom ceiling of their home. They had even videotaped the earlier attack on Tammy Homolka.
Paul Bernardo cleverly engaged his defense lawyer at the time to go and retrieve the tapes and hold onto them, keeping the content, as well as their very existence, from police. It was 18 months before the lawyer turned them over to authorities. Tragically, it was too late to change the conditions of Karla Homolka's 12-year sentence (which, in Canada, amounts to about a third of that, with "good time" served, thus making her eligible for parole in a mere four years). The lawyer's complicity in the concealment of crucial evidence raised many questions in the legal community, as well as in the media, about how far a lawyer may go to protect "lawyer/client privilege". To many, it had exceeded the bounds and his actions were indefensible.
The "Fools For Love" episode of Law & Order was highly anticipated by those of us who were familiar with the real-life Bernardo/Homolka circumstances. However, the show turned out to be a great disappointment. It only loosely mirrored the real case and it was watered down to such an extent that the stunning impact and horrific facts of the real case were not evident. In deference to the victim's families, and as a parent myself, I have to say that from that perspective, it was probably just as well.
It is a very hard thing, that the producers and writers of Law & Order and their spin-offs have to do, to balance dramatic effect with the impact of doing a story "ripped from the headlines". I have a healthy respect for the delicate line that they must walk with each controversial story.
In upcoming columns I intend to explore the various roles and responsibilities of law enforcement, illustrating the many similarities (and very few differences) between law enforcement in Canada and that of the United States. I will be weaving that tapestry along with reflections on particular episodes that I feel are worthy of note.
It has been delightful to meet you. My web site is due to be up and running by August 1, 2001. As well, you can find me on the CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) web site at www.canadianspeakers.org.