Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is David Simon's nonfiction account of a year spent as a "police intern" attached to Lieutenant Gary "Dee" D'Addario's shift in the homicide unit of the Baltimore Police Department.

Simon, a staff reporter with The Baltimore Sun, took a leave of absence from January 1, 1988 until December 31st of the same year to accompany fifteen detectives and three sergeants day and night, wherever their casework took them: crime scene, administrative work, interrogations, courtrooms, autopsies, interviews, hospital emergency rooms, warrant searches. The rules of his internship were simple: do not engage in anything even remotely resembling police work; do not get in the way of any investigation, obey the department's code of conduct; publish nothing about departmental business in The Sun during his period of internship; accept any restrictions on his access deemed necessary by the department superiors; do not quote any police personnel who do not wish to be quoted. Otherwise, he was free to follow the detectives anywhere and view everything.

Understandably, this arrangement got off to a rocky start: a straw poll of homicide personnel, taken before Simon arrived, tallied three in favor and thirty-three opposed to his presence. Despite this formidable handicap, he was eventually able to ingratiate himself with the detectives on his shift to the point where "allowing a reporter to gawk at the chaos of criminal investigation was entirely natural." Having gained their trust, he obtained an unprecedented in-the-trenches view of day-to-day police work in Baltimore, homicide investigation, and ultimately the detectives themselves.

Returning to The Sun after completing his internship, Simon attempted to write columns based on his experiences of the past year, but quickly became frustrated with trying to tell the story from what he labelled "pure journalistic perspective", and decided "that this story would be best told if the narrator, rather than adopting the communal voice of the newspaper, adopted the communal voice of the city homicide detective." Feeling unable to accomplish this within the context of a daily newspaper, he wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets over the next two years, which ended up clocking in at over six hundred pages. The book was published by Random House in 1991, and won the Edgar Award for Best Fact-Based Crime writing in 1992. Subsequently, it was utilized as the source material for the critically acclaimed TV series, Homicide: Life on the Street.

Baltimore recorded 234 murders during 1988, one of the highest rates in the nation at the time, and the cases portrayed within run the gamut, from top priority "red ball" cases like the assault and murder of an eleven-year old girl named Latonya Wallace, to the most commonplace drug slaying imaginable. They range from the simplest "dunkers", where the clues fall right into your lap and the murderer walks up to the police to promptly confess (sometimes literally), to the coldest "stone whodunit", where you've got a body, but nothing else:

"... because both men know that Baltimore's thirteenth homicide of 1988, handed to them on the second leg of a midnight shift at the corner of Gold and Etting, is an exceptionally weak sister: a drug killing with no known witnesses, no specific motive and no suspects. Perhaps the only person in Baltimore who might have managed some real interest in the case is at this moment being shoveled onto a body litter. Rudy Newsome's brother will make the identification later that morning outside a freezer door across from the autopsy room, but after that the boy's family will offer little else. The morning newspaper will print not a line about the killing. The neighborhood, or whatever is left around Gold and Etting that resembles a neighborhood, will move on.

"West Baltimore, home of the misdemeanor homicide."

Against this backdrop of fallen bodies, Simon provides a gritty, insider's view of the some of the core issues faced by Baltimore police officers: eyewitnesses, Miranda rights, the neighborhoods, violence against police officers, surveying a crime scene, interrogation and interview techniques, evidence, police brutality, low pay, forensic techniques, racism, the harsh realities of the criminal justice system, motive, investigating other police officers, intuition, and underlying it all, the brutal no-quarter-given politics of civil service, especially within the police department. He creates a vibrant and realistic portrait of the detectives he travelled with, laying out their varied and sometimes checkered histories, problems, personalities, techniques, motivations, and their consistently dark senses of humor. Most interestingly, the story is told exclusively from the perspective of the homicide detectives, as Simon wanted it to be. His presence is felt in the prose and the organization of the narrative, in the way that all of the sprawling topics are grafted into appropriate places in the timeline, but the voices speaking are those of the detectives: their own stories in their own words.

It is the holistic combination of the cases, the environment, and the men, bound together by Simon's talented delivery, which make the book so amazing and crucial. This is possibly the closest the written word can bring you to understanding modern day urban policing: the overwhelming insanity and frustration of it all, and the driving motivation that keeps a small group of men coming back to take up the torch, day after day, year after year.

"Because in a police department of about three thousand sworn souls, you are one of thirty-six investigators entrusted with the pursuit of that most extraordinary of crimes: the theft of a human life. You speak for the dead. You avenge those lost to the world. Your paycheck may come from fiscal services, but, goddamnit, after six beers you can pretty much convince yourself that you work for the Lord himself. If you are not as good as you should be, you'll be gone within a year or two, transferred to fugitive, or auto theft or check and fraud at the other end of the hall. If you are good enough, you will never do anything else as a cop that matters this much."

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