My love of crime, suspense, and thriller novels comes comes from my past career - nearly a whole lifetime ago - of being a police officer. My favourite themes are redemption, and justice, and my favourite characters are anti-heroes, crusaders, and the flawed/broken/demented.
The cops portrayed on Law & Order, and the old show "Homicide: Life on the Streets" are excellent character profiles of "real" cops. Fontana is my favourite cop on L&O right now, as I knew several "older" cops like him - although not as elegantly dressed in my smaller city - who operated in much the same ways, with the same attitudes and ethics. Unfortunately, I've never met an Assistant Crown Attorney (our version of an Assistant DA) quite like McCoy. But if you're looking for good cops to emulate for character realism, Fontana on L&O, Vincent D'Onofrio on L&O: Criminal Intent, and Mariska Hargitay on L&O: Special Victims Unit, are quite true to life. Fontana is a great "street" cop, D'Onofrio portrays the cerebral cop who uses intuition and education to pick apart a case, and Mariska plays an intuitive, sensitive, but spit-in-your-eye, female cop with baggage who does her job as an equal.
My favourite themes as I said are redemption and justice, because who doesn't need that in their life at some point? Every person I arrested needed it: that second chance to do it over, or not do it, to get back that moment before they got in that car, broke into that building, slashed their wife, left their apartment for two days with the baby in the crib....
Some cops didn't care about the victims, and most didn't care about the criminals. Most criminals are not as smart as they are in the movies, even if they're "career" criminals. They're creatures of habit and that's why they're easy to profile. They're usually grouped into a) opportunists, b) habitual, and they are usually the products of "institutions" such as the foster care/juvenile system, or are sociopathic and living in a family situation, thus the "good boy from such a good family" line. Any cop who "cared" was shamed by their peers into being thought of as a "social worker with a gun". (male or female)
Most cops after they've been on the job 3-4 years see themselves as dealing with the lower echelons of society, if not "hauling garbage". Novels which deal with cops as heros do alot to embrace the ideal of the cop as guardian of society - of being more than just the person who deals with all of the horrible things that normal people do not see and do not want to see - novels with cops as heros are redemptive in themselves.
Writing crime/suspense/thriller novels is giving the public a little glimpse into a world they know is out there, but don't want to get too close to in real life. It's challenging work and invigorating at the same time. The truth is that cops are the guardians of our society - witness this one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the lawlessness that took place when one third of their police force quit en masse - and as I now have the time to write I enjoy putting to paper the real world that I know is out there...to show the public something they don't know about, and tell stories that are fictional while being real life at the same time.
I used to come home off nights and tell my fiance after a short-handed nightshift that if the public really knew what went on all night, they'd never be able to fall asleep!