Ask The Expert — Retired Detective Sergeant Bruce Coffin

Today we welcome back Bruce Coffin who is celebrating the release of his second novel in his Detective Byron Mystery series, Beneath The Depths. I really enjoyed the first book in the series Among the Shadows.

Bruce recent helped me get my police procedure details right as I was writing my sixth book. He is here today to answer more questions. Thanks so much, Bruce!

Did you always want to be a police officer? 

Not initially. I had actually planned to become a writer and attended college with that goal in mind. It wasn’t until I had a less than positive experience with a creative writing professor that I changed career direction.

What was the process for you to become a police officer?

I took the test for several of the local police departments before being offered a job with the Portland PD. Candidates are required to pass a number of things before they are sent to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Two written tests, polygraph test, psychological test, background check, credit check, criminal check, driver’s license check, several interviews (including the captain’s boards), a physical exam performed by a doctor, and a physical assessment. I’m still wondering how I ever passed the psychological (twice). Maybe they graded on a curve.

Has the process for becoming an officer changed since you joined the force?

Not all that much. The process itself has remained the same. The biggest difference today is the number of people turning out to take the exams. When I tested to become an officer literally hundreds of people would take the test. Many local departments have trouble getting even thirty people to show up. This shortage of candidates has resulted in many officers transferring laterally from other agencies.

What are three things we should know about being a police officer?

It can be the toughest of jobs when things go wrong. It can be the most rewarding of careers when everything is going well. And policing is a front row seat to the greatest show on earth, the human condition. I don’t regret a single day of my twenty-eight years on the job.

What was your favorite part of the job? Any interesting experiences you can share? 

Ha! There are too many to list. As for interesting experiences, you’ll have to read my novels.

If I get pulled over what should I do? 

Do what I do when I’m pulled over. Shut the car off. Keep your hands where the officer can see them. Stay in the car. Be polite. Traffic stops are one of the most dangerous things an officer can do, especially at night when visibility is bad. Don’t add to the officer’s stress level by acting out or arguing. Court is the place to make your case, not on the side of the road. Treat the officer like you would want to be treated. Remember they have no idea who you are or what else you may have recently been doing when they approach you. I know an officer who pulled over a driver for failing to dim their vehicle’s high beams. That particular driver was returning home immediately after raping a murdering a woman.

What do people get wrong when they are writing a character who is a police officer?

I get asked this question a lot. If I had to sum it up quickly I’d tell you to write a real character first. After you’ve created a believable character turn his or her world upside down by making them a cop. All writers are readers first, just as all cops are people.

How do you use your expertise in your books? 

The plots for my novels are fictional but I use as much of my own experiences as I can to make the stories as realistic as I can for the reader. Obviously I have to take a few liberties for the benefit the reader. In real life murder investigations sometimes go unsolved, but if I were to write my novels that way no one would want to read them. I make it a point to delve into the human and ethical struggles that police officers must confront every day. My novels are a way for those with no police experience to jump into the car with John Byron and Diane Joyner and race toward trouble from the safety of your couch.

How are you alike and different from your protagonist John Byron? 

I constructed John Byron by throwing myself into a blender along with some of the officers who trained me when I was starting out and a few of the officers I worked with over the years. The traits John and I share are that we tend to look at things the way many veteran detectives do and we both have an irreverent streak especially when it comes to interference in our investigations. As for our differences, John is struggling with alcohol addiction and his failed marriage. I am blessed with a supportive and understanding wife. And the fact that she has put up with me and my craziness for more than thirty-five years makes me one lucky guy.

What are you working on now? 

At the moment I’m hard at work on the manuscript for the third Detective Byron mystery, tentatively titled Beyond the Truth. I am almost three quarters of the way through first draft. Oh, and for those of you wondering, I have already begun plotting Byron number four…

Readers: Do you have a question you’d like to ask about being on the police force or about Bruce’s great series?

Bruce Robert Coffin is a former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11th, Bruce spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive.
Bruce is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mysteries from HarperCollins. The debut novel in the series, Among the Shadows, was released to rave reviews, appearing in several Amazon bestseller lists and topping the paperback fiction list in the Maine Sunday Telegram. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies including the 2016 Best American Mystery Stories.


18 Thoughts

  1. Welcome to the blog, Bruce! Can’t wait to get my hands on the new book. It seems that most police detectives are sergeants. Would one ever be either a higher or lower rank than that?

  2. During his police academy training my grandson was tazed and another time was pepper sprayed and had to still take down the bad guy….did you go through anything comparable during your training?

    1. Morning Gram! At the risk of dating myself we had neither tazers nor pepper spray when I went through the academy. I was put in a closed tractor trailer and tear gassed!

  3. Thanks for being with us today, Bruce! And thank you for your help with my novel. How do you learn not to take your work home with you and I mean that in an emotional sense? Is there any case that still bugs you?

    1. My pleasure, Sherry. Thank you for having me! Ha! That is the million dollar question for all officers. Not taking the work home with you is nearly an impossible task. I think most officers carry the job with them but don’t usually talk about it. The cases I couldn’t solve or find enough evidence to take to trial all still bug me.

  4. Hi Bruce–Welcome back to the Wicked Cozys. I’m headed out on vacation today and Beneath the Depths is coming with me. Can’t wait!

  5. Thanks for visiting, Bruce! I am interested in how frequently the Portland Police force works with outside law enforcement agencies and if they do, which ones? Is this a common occurrence?

    1. Thank YOU, Jessie! They do actually. Interagency cooperation is a vital part of the work law enforcement agencies perform on a daily basis. As you know, criminals don’t recognize jurisdictional borders. PPD frequently works alongside local, state, and federal agencies on task forces and many ongoing investigations.

  6. Bruce, I really need to move your books higher in my TBR pile. And your advice about a traffic stop is pretty much what I told my daughter when she got her license. She’s a petite blonde in a Prius, but a cop doesn’t know if she’s what she seems or something worse, so just do as your told and be polite!

    Are there any particular stereotypes in crime fiction that make you grind your teeth (I won’t ask about TV!)?

    1. Thank you, Liz! Isn’t the top of the TBR pile the aspiration of every author? 🙂

      Great advice to your daughter. And you are correct, anyone can be dangerous. The officer has no way of knowing.

      Donut jokes=Teeth grinding Lol. Most of the cops I know only go to the donut shop for coffee. Those businesses are about the only thing open in the middle of the night, and they have caffeine!

      Yes, television has always been full of bad policing. I will say in recent years things have improved in that particular medium. I love Longmire and many of the crime series from the U.K. like Broadchurch.

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