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A Day In The Life Of A Homicide Detective in South Los Angeles

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The UK's Guardian interviews people with interesting jobs from all walks of life for its feature "A Day's Work" and then lets commenters pose questions—not unlike Reddit's Ask Me Anything feature. Yesterday it featured a homicide detective supervisor from LAPD's 77th Division.Though The Guardian has a rep for being the hard-charging paper that brought you the Edward Snowden leak, this Q&A mostly focused on the more mundane aspects of solving murders in South Los Angeles. Detective Chris Barling, who can be found tweeting regularly under the handle @77thHomicideCop, answered questions about his schedule, the hardest parts of the job and some of the most emotionally trying cases in his division. Barling says the best part of his job is cracking the case or getting a conviction: "If I am to use an old cliché, as homicide detectives we get to speak for the dead."

Barling says the 77th Division has investigated 549 murders over the last 10 years, and there are 250 open cases that have not been solved from that time. He adds: "It would be close to a thousand if we go back to the 1970's." He estimates that 60 to 70 percent of cases get solved, but only 30 to 40 percent of cases are from that calendar year. He writes that the community often determines whether a murder gets solved.

Some of the most emotionally trying cases were the murders of Aaron Shannon Jr., a 5-year-old killed in his Spiderman costume on Halloween and Kashmier James, a 25-year-old woman shot in front of her 3-year-old daughter (both in 2010).

The first 24 hours detectives are on a case tend to be sleepless: "And yes Homicide detectives don't stop working a case until the leads dry up. They tend to work long or non-stop, with little sleep in the first 24 hours. After that time, detectives are handling multiple investigations so they then prioritize the cases based on the leads."

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It's not surprising to hear what fascinates most people about the LAPD abroad: Most of the questions from commenters were about how his job compares to its portrayal in the movies and on TV. (We're guessing the Q&A would have gone very differently in Los Angeles.)

Someone asked him whether he plays the bad cop or good cop and he replied: "You have to know how to play both. But it is being yourself works the best. And playing Barney Fife and Colombo can also work."

In case you were curious, he is a fan of The Wire ("the characters (and actors) were awesome") and he's also a fan of Crime Story, To Live And Die in L.A., Hill Street Blues, Barney Miller and Dragnet.

Reading this Q&A made me miss the big-picture reporting on murder of the Los Angeles Times' Jill Leovy who we haven't heard from in quite some time. (The Los Angeles Times has recently made an effort to reinvigorate The Homicide Report, which was an effort to cover every single murder in Los Angeles—not just the unusual or high-profile murders.)