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Poem: Detectives

This poem captures the often overlooked and unsung efforts of detectives as they navigate the challenges and triumphs of their demanding roles


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Calling all police poets! Police1’s poetry column highlights some of the inspirational, moving and funny poems authored by our readers.

This poem is by Janice O’Mahony, a psychiatric social worker who worked for three years as a crisis intervention worker for the Seattle Police Department, first in the Juvenile Division with the detectives and then in a precinct with patrol officers. “I assisted on 9-1-1 calls that involved mental health, suicide, neighborhood disputes, etc., either going on calls alone or accompanying an officer,” writes Janice. “I then spent the remainder of my career as a law and justice planner in the juvenile and adult criminal justice system.

“This poem was inspired when my nephew, a homicide detective, called to tell me he and his partner were mocked by some feisty juveniles when they were working plainclothes — the kids didn’t believe they were cops and finally said, ‘Oh, you’re just DESK cops.’ We both thought that was hilarious. I wrote this poem for my nephew.”

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On their desks, phones with buttons they don’t use.
Overhead, fans swirl year-round miasma:
sweat of false leads and hectoring press,
sharp funk of clammed-up witnesses.

Cheap suits from Penneys hot as kevlar,
lacking uniform panache but street people still know.
“Good morning, Officer,” smirks one,
noting gun bulge, jacket on year-round, busy eyes.

Not many thanks go to detectives,
no cookies dropped by, no happy waves from school buses.
Their party stories about subpoenas and crime lab
never a match for sirens, lights and K-9 partners.

The new computer paperwork program
pissily rejects their spelling and scours nuance.
Once again the printer quits over toner, the copier jams.
Impatient Brass wait too long for their briefing.

In courtroom showdowns they’re second fiddle,
lawyers at the top of the news, detectives just the facts.
No attention for their caffeine-fueled hours and wily hunches,
going back one more time, over it again, 3 AM.

Their days drag when nobody tells the truth,
leaving stuff out or putting stuff in, shifty a thousand ways
It stinks. Nothing adds up until suddenly it does:
the missing piece, the flip, the DNA coming through.

Months or years after crime’s hue and cry
the detective wrangles the weight of an unsolved case,
turns back, tries another way, starts over until,
step-by-gumshoe-step, the penny drops.

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