Justin Jacoby Smith is an organizer, web geek, Buddhist, and poet.

the simple art of reporting murder

From a reader’s perspective, Martinez’s incident reports are deeply satisfying. They engage us emotionally; they vest us in the events he describes, and in the teller. They’re narratives that hint at larger truths—about Martinez himself and the South Central universe he polices. They reverberate beyond the time it takes to read them. They offer a way to understand the world. My Sergeant Martinez may be writing reports, but he’s also using the alchemy of inflection to turn them into stories—narratives that believe themselves and make us believe them, too.

At Utne Reader Ellen Collett writes about the objectivity required by police reports, and how one officer shapes his language to create something more than a dry reconstruction of the scene of the crime. I'm reminded of nothing so much as Raymond Chandler's essay on hard-boiled detective fiction fiction, "The Simple Art of Murder," in which he famously wrote of Maltese Falcon author Dashiell Hammett--

He had style, but his audience didn’t know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements. They thought they were getting a good meaty melodrama written in the kind of lingo they imagined they spoke themselves. It was, in a sense, but it was much more. All language begins with speech, and the speech of common men at that, but when it develops to the point of becoming a literary medium it only looks like speech. In his hands it had no overtones, left no echo, evoked no image beyond a distant hill. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

The Art of the Police Report — Mixed Media — Utne Reader.