Feb 25 2012
If you’re looking to write superhero stories that are more about superheroes than about the police, here are some possible explanations.
1. The police mistakenly conclude that no crime took place. For example, if a supervillain murders someone, maybe he planted evidence that makes it look like a suicide, faked an accident (e.g. pushed the victim down the stairs) or used a poison that induced a heart attack. In a theft case, the villain might have replaced the stolen goods with a convincing forgery. In an assault case, the victim might have been intimidated into silence.
2. The police didn’t realize that this was an extraordinary case and gave up when ordinary police-work didn’t pan out. If Mary Jane gets killed and the police can’t find any helpful forensic data at the crime scene or any witnesses or even anybody with a discernible motive to kill MJ, the police are screwed. Half of U.S. murders go unsolved and the police will declare it a cold case and move on if they’re not getting anywhere. In a lot of cases, the police don’t have the necessary background information to figure out what’s going on–for example, knowing that MJ was dating a superhero would have been really helpful.
3. The case is unusual enough that the police wouldn’t know where to start. For example, let’s say a ghost kills somebody. The police will probably get lost running down more mundane angles if they don’t know that ghosts are an actual possibility. (They may even unknowingly railroad an innocent guy if he looks like the only plausible suspect). Even if detectives are willing to risk their careers by telling their superiors they think it’s a ghost, what are the police going to do? Arrest a ghost?
3.1. If the police know how unusual the case is, they may delegate it to an expert. In the Dresden Files, the Chicago police use Harry Dresden on supernatural cases. They know he’s more experienced with that sort of thing (being a wizard and all) and using a freelancer gives the police some degree of plausible deniability if the case goes horribly wrong.
4. The case is hard enough that the police wouldn’t know where to start. If you need Batman-grade detective and/or scientific skills to realize the first thing about who committed a crime or how to find him, it’s plausible that the police will give up after regular police-work doesn’t bear any fruit. For example, many Sherlock Holmes cases are first reported to the police, but then Holmes is brought in (either by the victims or by the police) after the police have failed to get anywhere.
5. The police may suffer from corruption, political interference and/or gross incompetence. For example, the Penguin is politically connected in Gotham (e.g. he’s a viable candidate for mayor), and it’s plausible that police brass would be more careful about investigating somebody that might be their next boss. (Political considerations may also be a factor for prosecutors and judges). Police officers and lab technicians that have been bribed might “lose” evidence or make “mistakes” that cause crucial evidence to be thrown out of court. Forensics analysts might be paid to implicate the supervillain’s rivals (maybe even a superhero). Corrupt supervisors might reassign honest police officers and technicians that won’t take a hint.