Earlier this week I applied to ride along with the Austin Police Department. I write crime novels, and I want my books to be as authentic and true to police officers’ experiences as I can make them. I’ve ridden along before, but that was back in high school. I thought getting a perspective on policing in 2014 would be extremely valuable.
Soon after I submitted the application, I got a surprise. The department replied: “I regret to inform you, but due to a criminal history check your request for the ride along has been denied.”
I blinked, and reread it, and stared, and blurted, “What the hell?”
Here is my confession. Meg O’Death has never been arrested. She has never even gotten a speeding ticket. Mom: I know you’re relieved. Everybody else: Sorry to disappoint you.
The reply informed me that I could view my criminal records at police headquarters. A minute later I was out the door and racing downtown (and reminding myself, Slow down — don’t get yourself arrested) to view the records that had caused the cops to deny my request. The records that had caused the cops to put in writing that I had a sketchy criminal history.
I have no criminal history in any jurisdiction. And I was fairly certain that no criminal record with my name on it could exist. After all, I’m an attorney in good standing with the State Bar of California. A few months ago I took part in an FBI workshop at the Bureau’s New York Field Office. All participants had to pass an FBI criminal background check. Several years earlier I had passed a security check to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo where former president Carter was Guest of Honor. I’ve also been vetted by the U.S. Embassy in London to attend events at the home of the American Ambassador to Great Britain.
I submitted my ride along request under my full legal name, but mentioned on the application that professionally I go by Meg Gardiner. (I linked to my website but didn’t mention that they could look me up in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, and People magazine. Or that I recently chaired a panel of judges and prosecutors at a writing conference in New York City.
At police headquarters, I signed in and was escorted to Crime Records. There, I filled out a comprehensive form and had my thumbprint taken. The fingerprint tech said, “Sit here. I’m going to pull your arrest jacket.”
He returned two minutes later, confused. “Ma’am?” he said. “You don’t have an arrest jacket.”
I said, “Good.”
At that point I got a chance to explain why I was there. He said I should rest assured that I had no criminal record with the Austin Police. I asked if he could put that in writing. Above, you see it: proof.
So now you know. Everything in my novels derives from my overactive imagination. I made it all up. Sorry.
I forwarded the Never-Been-in-Jail note to the ride-along schedulers. I was concerned that somebody could have stolen my identity. Or that my evil clone had escaped from the basement and gone on another crime spree. But it turns out that the initial records search had turned up a name similar to mine. My ride along has now been scheduled.
For anybody who wishes I did have an exciting criminal past to burnish my reputation, I leave you with this, from an exchange with Don Winslow: