ESCONDIDO — After spending 25 years as a police officer, Escondido Detective Lt. Neal Griffin has got some stories to tell.
It’s his natural ability as a storyteller that drove him to write his first fictional crime novel, “Benefit of the Doubt” which hits stores May 12.
“Naturally, when you become a cop, you also at some point become a storyteller because people insist on hearing what you do,” Griffin said.
The plot takes place in a fictional Wisconsin town and follows both a convicted felon bent on revenge and a decommissioned Oakland police officer who is lampooned by the media after being caught on camera abusing his power.
The subject matter touches on a national hotspot of contention, with police malfeasance making headlines in cities throughout the nation.
Griffin said the timing is purely coincidental and he came up with the idea for his book four or five years ago before body cameras were being used or discussed.
He recognizes his protagonist police officer, Ben Sawyer, in many of the police brutality incidents making national headlines.
“In the last six months, I’ve seen the Ben Sawyer scenario play out half a dozen times where, you’re caught on camera and you’re doing something that’s inexcusable and you become the new poster boy for American police brutality,” Griffin said.
While he may see his characters in national headlines, he insists that they’re purely figments of his imagination.
“They say ‘write what you know, not who you know,’” said Griffin.
He said he thought about his fellow police officers’ reception of the book but he’s always been known for pushing the envelope.
“I’m a bit of a risk taker. My dad was a philosophy professor, and I’ve said many times, that’s a very odd combination, a kid that grows up to be a marine and a cop whose dad was a pacifist philosopher,” Griffin said.
As a Police Academy ethics instructor, Griffin emphasizes what makes police officers good at what they do.
He doesn’t think the media is accurately portraying the American police force and he hopes to change people’s assumptions.
“What I absolutely know without a shadow of a doubt is that the overwhelming majority of police officers are really good at what they do and they do it for the right reasons,” Griffin said.
The book is nearly five years in the making.
Griffin started toying around with the idea when his youngest son went to Kindergarten.
His wife, Escondido Councilmember Olga Diaz, also encouraged him to attend a writing conference at San Diego State University.
The annual conference is held in January and attracts top literary agents and publishers.
“There is something about San Diego that New York editors like in January, so what you wind up with is a really great group of top shelf editors and agents,” Griffin said.
He attended the conference a few times and won an award in 2012, which helped him sign with his agent Jill Marr.
Diaz was a huge support for him during the writing process, which he said lasted about four years.
Last election, she ran for Mayor and lost to incumbent Sam Abed. It was a busy time for the couple, but Griffin said she helped a lot.
“I always tell people that Olga Diaz is an incredibly successful woman in her own right but something else she is good at is supporting other people,” Griffin said.
He is still working full-time with the police force so he had to fit writing in during the mornings, starting as early as 4 a.m. on weekdays.
The process took him a while and he said the more he wrote, the more he improved.
“It’s like a golf game, you get better with practice. You take a lot of shots that you put in the trees but you have to stick with it,” Griffin said.
The contract he has with Forge Publishing is for two books, the second of which he submitted April 20 and expects to see out early 2016.
As for “Benefit of the Doubt,” Griffin will be at Warwick’s in La Jolla May 13 at 7:30 p.m. for the book launch.
He is nearing retirement and said he could see writing becoming a second career.