What do cops really think of Australia's true crime obsession?

What do cops really think of Australia's true crime obsession?

What do cops really think of Australia's true crime obsession?

Updated 25 September 2017, 19:20 AEST

You might expect real-life detectives to be frustrated at how their work is portrayed on TV and the page — but for some it's a nice way to escape.

Given Australia's insatiable appetite for true crime on the screen, as well as in print and podcasting, you might expect police to be frustrated with how their work is portrayed.

But for Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin, a senior homicide detective in the NSW Police Force, reading true crime can provide an escape.

"I like autobiographies — sometimes it's people that I've come across in life in different circumstances," Chief Inspector Jubelin says.

"I think it's nice to escape and watch crime or read about it, but without putting too much thought into it."

Chief Inspector Jubelin has appeared in the news throughout his career, most recently in relation to his work on the Matthew Leveson murder case and the case of missing boy William Tyrell.

But while he deals with real life crimes on a daily basis, witnessing a side of society most people don't see, he also understands why the public is fascinated with "the darker side of life".

"I think it's that fascination of a world that people hear about — they see it on TV, they read about it, but they don't actually participate in it," he says.

Reality stranger than fiction

When it comes to a true crime novel or television series, Chief Inspector Jubelin even allows for some creative licence.

"I accept that things are put on there for entertainment value and it's not a documentary," he says.

"If the essence of what police do and how they interact with the criminals and the witnesses are played, I don't get too frustrated."

But readers and audiences might be surprised to hear the truth behind some stories is even stranger.

"When I've spoken to writers on TV shows, when I tell the actual facts of the case, it almost comes to the point that the public wouldn't believe that if it actually occurred," Chief Inspector Jubelin says.

Script writers can get it wrong

Duncan McNab — a former NSW police officer who now writes true crime — is far more critical.

"I think some scriptwriters just don't get it, frankly," McNab says.

"There are some TV shows and books that just get it completely wrong.

"The real story is fascinating, captivating — yet they seem to want to fictionalise things and you get a far more drab yarn."

McNab worked in Sydney's notorious Kings Cross during the 80s and 90s, the period that the third series of the popular crime drama Underbelly focused on.

"Just looking at what the script writers had come up with, I thought it was just nonsense," he says.

"The place was far more vivid, far more exciting, far more dangerous. They missed all that and they went for a bit of glitz and the occasional exposed breast."

But sometimes they get it right

Both McNab and Chief Inspector Jubelin describe the ABC's 1995 miniseries Blue Murder as landmark crime television.

The series told the story of corruption within the NSW Police Force, focusing on the relationship between former detective Roger Rogerson and notorious criminal Arthur Smith.

McNab remembers being gobsmacked while watching a bootleg copy with his father, who was also a police officer.

"It was so alarmingly accurate. I just sat there thinking, 'How did they get this on television?'" he says.

Chief Inspector Jubelin, who joined the NSW police force in 1985, says he could closely identify with the characters in the series, but he welcomed the scrutiny.

"If everything is done behind closed doors it makes it easier for these types of things to happen," he says.

"It was certainly a brutal representation of what the police were at the time."

Seeing your own character on TV

The fifth series of Underbelly — Underbelly: Badness — depicted the criminal activities of Australian kidnapper, murderer and drug dealer Anthony Perish.

If it hadn't been for the persistence of Chief Inspector Jubelin, it's unlikely Perish would have been caught.

So during the show's pre-production, he was asked by script writers how he would feel about his "personal life appearing on national TV".

"I'm not perfect, but I'm not ashamed of anything I've done, and it pretty well went from there," he recalls.

The next step in the process was casting, with Australian actor Matt Nable chosen to play the role.

"I was trying to play it cool and just made out that I didn't really care, but I was fascinated by who they were going to choose," Chief Inspector Jubelin says.

"With Matt, he could basically play me better than I could play me. I caught up with him on occasions and he'd mimic me — it was quite embarrassing."

True crime needs relationships, humanity

Chief Inspector Jubelin says "understanding the relationships involved in a homicide investigation" is the key to writing a good representation of what he does.

"It is life at its rawest. We're talking to people that have just lost their loved ones — and those people could be the people we suspect of murdering their loved one," he says.

"It's raw, it's sharp, it's emotional. It's not a nine-to-five job."

McNab, the recent co-winner of the 2017 Ned Kelly Award for true crime writing, says it's important to bring out characters' humanity.

"Even in the depths of the most horrible crimes, the thing that sparkles for you is the decent people you meet," he says.

"It makes writing it so much more reasonable. You actually see some sunshine coming out of it."