Joseph Wambaugh, the Los Angeles police officer who became a best-selling novelist, began writing out of a need to describe the Watts riots of the 1960’s from the perspective of the police officers assigned to restore order there. He wanted to describe “what it was like for young men, young policemen, to grow up, on the streets, in that dreadful and fascinating era.” The body of his work concerns American police procedure and the lives of those who belong to what has been called the “maligned profession.” It is a world of frustrating, counterproductive rules and regulations drawn up by police administrators who have not been on the streets for years, a world where brutality mixes with courage, corruption with dedication, and evil with honor.
Although occasionally criticized for lengthy philosophical discourses and an undeveloped style, Wambaugh is more often praised for thoughtful and realistic storytelling, and he has been regarded as one of the “few really knowledgeable men who try to tell the public what a cop’s life is like.” Beginning with his first novel, The New Centurions (1970), positive popular response has led to the reproduction of Wambaugh’s stories in other media such as film, television, and audio cassettes. His police officers were violent, afraid, foul-mouthed, and fallible. “Do you like cops? Read The New Centurions,” a New York Times reviewer wrote. “Do you hate cops? Read The New...
(The entire section is 484 words.)