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The police procedural, or police crime drama, is a subgenre of procedural drama and detective fiction that emphasizes the investigative procedure of a police officer or department as the protagonist(s), as contrasted with other genres that focus on either a private detective, an amateur investigator or the characters who are the targets of investigations. While many police procedurals conceal the criminal's identity until the crime is solved in the narrative climax (the so-called whodunit), others reveal the perpetrator's identity to the audience early in the narrative, making it an inverted detective story. Whatever the plot style, the defining element of a police procedural is the attempt to accurately depict the profession of law enforcement, including such police-related topics as forensic science, autopsies, gathering evidence, search warrants, interrogation and adherence to legal restrictions and procedure.

Early history

The roots of the police procedural have been traced to at least the mid-1880s. Wilkie Collins's novel The Moonstone (1868), a tale of a Scotland Yard detective investigating the theft of a valuable diamond, has been described as perhaps the earliest clear example of the genre.[1]

As detective fiction rose to worldwide popularity in the late 19th century and early 20th century, many of the pioneering and most popular characters, at least in the English-speaking world, were private investigators or amateurs. See C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Miss Marple and others. Hercule Poirot was described as a veteran of the Belgian police, but as a protagonist he worked independently. Only after World War II would police procedural fiction rival the popularity of PIs or amateur sleuths.

Lawrence Treat's 1945 novel V as in Victim is often cited as the first police procedural, by Anthony Boucher (mystery critic for the New York Times Book Review) among others. Another early example is Hillary Waugh's Last Seen Wearing... 1952. Even earlier examples from the 20th Century, predating Treat, include the novels Vultures in the Dark, 1925, and The Borrowed Shield, 1925, by Richard Enright, retired New York City Police Commissioner, Harness Bull, 1937, and Homicide, 1937, by former Southern California police officer Leslie T. White, P.C. Richardson's First Case, 1933, by Sir Basil Thomson, former Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, and the short story collection Policeman's Lot, 1933, by former Buckinghamshire High Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Henry Wade.

The procedural became more prominent after World War II, and, while the contributions of novelists like Treat were significant, a large part of the impetus for the post-war development of the procedural as a distinct subgenre of the mystery was due, not to prose fiction, but to the popularity of a number of American films which dramatized and fictionalized actual crimes. Dubbed "semidocumentary films" by film critics, these motion pictures, often filmed on location, with the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies involved in the actual case, made a point of authentically depicting police work. Examples include The Naked City (1948), The Street with No Name (1948), T-Men (1947), He Walked by Night (1948), and Border Incident (1949).

Films from other countries soon began following the semi-documentary trend. In France, there was Quai des orfevres (1947), released in the United States as Jenny Lamour. In Japanese cinema, there was Akira Kurosawa's 1949 film Stray Dog, a serious police procedural film noir that was also a precursor to the buddy cop film genre.[2] In the UK, there were films such as The Blue Lamp (1950) and The Long Arm (1956) set in London and depicting the Metropolitan Police.

One semidocumentary, He Walked By Night (1948), released by Eagle-Lion Films, featured a young radio actor named Jack Webb in a supporting role. The success of the film, along with a suggestion from LAPD Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn, the film's technical advisor, gave Webb an idea for a radio drama that depicted police work in a similarly semi-documentary manner. The resulting series, Dragnet, which debuted on radio in 1949 and made the transition to television in 1951, has been called "the most famous procedural of all time" by mystery novelists William L. DeAndrea, Katherine V. Forrest and Max Allan Collins.

The same year that Dragnet debuted on radio, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sidney Kingsley's stage play Detective Story opened on Broadway. This frank, carefully researched dramatization of a typical day in an NYPD precinct detective squad became another benchmark in the development of the police procedural.

Dragnet marked a turn in the depiction of the police on screen. Instead of being corrupt laughingstocks, this was the first time police officers represented bravery and heroism.[3] In their quest for authenticity, Dragnet’s producers used real police cars and officers in their scenes.[3] However, this also meant that in exchange, the LAPD could vet scripts for authenticity.[3] The LAPD vetted every scene, which would allow them to remove elements they did not agree with or did not wish to draw attention to.[3]

Over the next few years, the number of novelists who picked up on the procedural trend following ‘’Dragnet’’’s example grew to include writers like Ben Benson, who wrote carefully researched novels about the Massachusetts State Police, retired police officer Maurice Procter, who wrote a series about North England cop Harry Martineau, and Jonathan Craig, who wrote short stories and novels about New York City police officers. Police novels by writers who would come to virtually define the form, like Hillary Waugh, Ed McBain, and John Creasey started to appear regularly.

In 1956, in his regular New York Times Book Review column, mystery critic Anthony Boucher, noting the growing popularity of crime fiction in which the main emphasis was the realistic depiction of police work, suggested that such stories constituted a distinct subgenre of the mystery, and, crediting the success of Dragnet for the rise of this new form, coined the phrase "police procedural" to describe it.[citation needed]

As police procedurals became increasingly popular, they maintained this image of heroic police officers who are willing to bend the rules to save the day, as well as the use of police consultants.[3] This would allow Hollywood to form a friendly relationship with law enforcement who are also responsible for granting shooting permits.[3] This, however, has garnered criticisms.

Written stories

French roman policier

French roman policier (fr) value induction over deduction, synthesis of character over analysis of crime.[4]

1931: Georges Simenon

It has been suggested[by whom?] that the Inspector Maigret novels of Georges Simenon aren't really procedurals because of their strong focus on the lead character, but the novels have always included subordinate members of his staff as supporting characters. More importantly, Simenon, who had been a journalist covering police investigations before creating Maigret, was giving an accurate depiction, or at least the appearance of an accurate depiction, of law enforcement in Paris. Further, Simenon's influence on later European procedural writers, like Sweden's Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, or Baantjer, is obvious.

1940: John Creasey/J. J. Marric

Perhaps ranking just behind McBain in importance to the development of the procedural as a distinct mystery subgenre is John Creasey, a prolific writer of many different kinds of crime fiction, from espionage to criminal protagonist. He was inspired to write a more realistic crime novel when his neighbor, a retired Scotland Yard detective, challenged Creasey to "write about us as we are." The result was Inspector West Takes Charge, 1940, the first of more than forty novels to feature Roger West of the London Metropolitan Police. The West novels were, for the era, an unusually realistic look at Scotland Yard operations, but the plots were often wildly melodramatic, and, to get around thorny legal problems, Creasey gave West an "amateur detective" friend who was able to perform the extra-procedural acts that West, as a policeman, could not.

In the mid-1950s, inspired by the success of television's Dragnet and a similar British TV series, Fabian of the Yard, Creasey decided to try a more down-to-earth series of cop stories. Adopting the pseudonym "J.J. Marric", he wrote Gideon's Day, 1955, in which George Gideon, a high-ranking detective at Scotland Yard, spends a busy day supervising his subordinates' investigations into several unrelated crimes. This novel was the first in a series of more than twenty books which brought Creasey his best critical notices. One entry, Gideon's Fire, 1961, won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Mystery Novel. The Gideon series, more than any other source, helped establish the common procedural plot structure of threading several autonomous story lines through a single novel.

1952: Hillary Waugh

Hillary Waugh, in 1952, wrote Last Seen Wearing ..., a commercial and critical success, exploring detailed and relentless police work.[5][6]

1956: Ed McBain

Ed McBain, the pseudonym of Evan Hunter, wrote dozens of novels in the 87th Precinct series beginning with Cop Hater, published in 1956. Hunter continued to write 87th Precinct novels almost until his death in 2005. Although these novels focus primarily on Detective Steve Carella, they encompass the work of many officers working alone and in teams, and Carella is not always present in any individual book.

As if to illustrate the universality of the police procedural, many of McBain's 87th Precinct novels, despite their being set in a slightly fictionalized New York City, have been filmed in settings outside New York, even outside the US. Akira Kurosawa's 1963 film, High and Low, based on McBain's King's Ransom (1959), is set in Yokohama. Without Apparent Motive (1972), set on the French Riviera, is based on McBain's Ten Plus One (1963). Claude Chabrol's Les Liens de Sang (1978), based on Blood Relatives (1974), is set in Montreal. Even Fuzz (1972), based on the 1968 novel, though set in the US, moves the action to Boston. Two episodes of ABC's Columbo, set in Los Angeles, were based on McBain novels. [7]

1960: Elizabeth Linington/Dell Shannon/Lesley Egan

A prolific author of police procedurals, whose work has fallen out of fashion in the years since her death, is Elizabeth Linington writing under her own name, as well as "Dell Shannon" and "Lesley Egan." Linington reserved her Dell Shannon pseudonym primarily for procedurals featuring LAPD Central Homicide Lieutenant Luis Mendoza (1960–86). Under her own name she wrote about Sergeant Ivor Maddox of LAPD's North Hollywood Station, and as Lesley Egan she wrote about suburban cop Vic Varallo. These novels are sometimes considered flawed, partly due to the author's far-right political viewpoint (she was a member of the John Birch Society), but primarily because Miss Linington's books, notwithstanding the frequent comments she made about the depth of her research, were all seriously deficient in the single element most identified with the police procedural, technical accuracy. However, they have a certain charm in their depiction of a kinder, gentler California, where the police were always "good guys" who solved all the crimes and respected the citizenry.

1965: Sjöwall and Wahlöö

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö planned and wrote the Martin Beck police procedural series of ten books between the 1960s and 1970s, set in Sweden. The series is particularly renowned for its extensive character development throughout the series.[8] Beck himself is gradually promoted from detective in a newly nationalised Swedish police force to Chief Inspector of the National Murder Squad, and the realistic depiction, as well as criticism of the Swedish welfare state at the time whilst the tedium of the police procedural continues in the background, is something still widely used today, with authors such as Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson.[9] The books gave rise to the Swedish noir scene, and The Laughing Policeman earned a "Best Novel" Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1971. The books were translated from Swedish into 35 different languages, and have sold roughly ten million copies. Sjöwall and Wahlöö used black humour extensively in the series,[10] and it is widely recognised as one of the finest police procedural series.

1970: Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman, the author of 17 novels involving Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, wrote procedurals in which the procedures were those of the Navajo Tribal Police.

1971: Joseph Wambaugh

Though not the first police officer to write procedurals, Joseph Wambaugh's success has caused him to become the exemplar of cops who turn their professional experiences into fiction. The son of a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, policeman, Wambaugh joined the Los Angeles Police Department after a stint of military duty. In 1970, his first novel, The New Centurions, was published. This followed three police officers through their training in the Academy, their first few years on the street, culminating in the Watts riots of 1965. It was followed by such novels as The Blue Knight, 1971, The Choirboys, 1975, Hollywood Station, 2006, and acclaimed non-fiction books like The Onion Field, 1973, Lines and Shadows, 1984, and Fire Lover, 2002. Wambaugh has said that his main purpose is less to show how cops work on the job, than how the job works on cops.

Detective novel writers

It is difficult to disentangle the early roots of the procedural from its forebear, the traditional detective novel, which often featured a police officer as protagonist. By and large, the better known novelists such as Ngaio Marsh produced work that falls more squarely into the province of the traditional or "cozy" detective novel. Nevertheless, some of the work of authors less well known today, like Freeman Wills Crofts's novels about Inspector French or some of the work of the prolific team of G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, might be considered as the antecedents of today's police procedural. British mystery novelist and critic Julian Symons, in his 1972 history of crime fiction, Bloody Murder, labeled these proto-procedurals "humdrums," because of their emphasis on the plodding nature of the investigators.


Televised stories

TV creators

TV series

Main article: List of police television dramas

Australia

Austria

Rex frequently saved the team's necks during pursuits and catching criminals, sniffing out clues, rescuing child victims, as well as occasionally being a nuisance around the office or while interviewing suspects. The show mixes serious themes with occasional comedy, such as Rex's penchant for ham rolls (wurstsemmeln), demanding to buy many dog toys, and interfering with Moser's and Brandtner's erratic love lives.

France

Germany

Hong Kong

India

Ireland

Italy

Japan

Malaysia

The Netherlands

New Zealand

Philippines

Russia

Singapore

The Soviet Union

United Kingdom

United States

Aside from being its depiction of police investigation, this program also relates to the legal drama and "forensic pathology" subgenres, and has inspired such other programs as the CSI series.[citation needed]

Comic strips and books

The comic strip Dick Tracy is often pointed to as an early procedural. Indeed, in his introduction to a 1970 collection of Tracy strips entitled The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, no less an authority than Ellery Queen suggested that Tracy, predating Webb, Treat, Creasey, and McBain, was the first "truly" procedural policeman in any fictional medium.

Certainly Tracy creator Chester Gould seemed to be trying to reflect the real world. Tracy himself, conceived by Gould as a "modern-day Sherlock Holmes", was partly modeled on real-life law enforcer Eliot Ness, and his first, and most frequently recurring, antagonist, the Big Boy, was based on Ness's real-life nemesis Al Capone. Other members of Tracy's Rogues Gallery, like Boris Arson, Flattop Jones, and Maw Famon, were inspired, respectively, by John Dillinger, Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, and Kate "Ma" Barker.

More to the point, Gould was making a genuine attempt to portray police work realistically. Once Tracy was sold to the Chicago Tribune syndicate, Gould enrolled in a criminology class at Northwestern University, met with members of the Chicago Police Department, and did research at the Department's crime lab, to make his depiction of law enforcement more authentic. Ultimately, he hired retired Chicago policeman Al Valanis, a pioneering forensic sketch artist, as both an artistic assistant and police technical advisor.

Later stories, in which Gould veered into space opera and extraterrestrial contacts, mitigated somewhat against the strip's being recognized for its early use of realistic police procedure, but any examination of the Tracy strip from its beginnings in 1931 through the 1950s makes Gould's status as a pioneer in the police procedural subgenre clear.

The success of Tracy led to many more police strips. While some, like Norman Marsh's Dan Dunn were unabashedly slavish imitations of Tracy, others, like Dashiell Hammett's and Alex Raymond's Secret Agent X-9, took a more original approach. Still others, like Eddie Sullivan's and Charlie Schmidt's Radio Patrol and Will Gould's Red Barry, steered a middle course. One of the best post-Tracy procedural comics was Kerry Drake, written and created by Allen Saunders and illustrated by Alfred Andriola. It diverged from the metropolitan settings used in Tracy to tell the story of the titular Chief Investigator for the District Attorney of a small-town jurisdiction. Later, following a personal tragedy, he leaves the DA's Office and joins his small city's police force in order to fight crime closer to the grass roots level. As both a DA's man and a city cop, he fights a string of flamboyant, Gould-ian criminals like "Stitches", "Bottleneck", and "Bulldozer."

Other syndicated police strips include Zane Grey's King of the Royal Mounted, depicting police work in the contemporary Canadian Northwest, Lank Leonard's Mickey Finn, which emphasized the home life of a hard-working cop, and Dragnet, which adapted stories from the pioneering radio-TV series into comics. Early comic books with police themes tended to be reprints of syndicated newspaper strips like Tracy and Drake. Others adapted police stories from other mediums, like the radio-inspired anthology comic Gang Busters, Dell's 87th Precinct issues, which adapted McBain's novels, or The Untouchables, which adapted the fictionalized TV adventures of real-life policeman Eliot Ness.

More recently, there have been attempts to depict police work with the kind of hard-edged realism seen in the novels of writers like Wambaugh, such as Marvel's four-issue mini-series Cops: The Job, in which a rookie police officer learns to cope with the physical, emotional, and mental stresses of law enforcement during her first patrol assignment. With superheroes having long dominated the comic book market, there have been some recent attempts to integrate elements of the police procedural into the universe of costumed crime-fighters. Gotham Central, for example, depicts a group of police detectives operating in Batman's Gotham City, and suggested that the caped crime-fighter is disliked by many Gotham detectives for treading on their toes. Meanwhile, Metropolis SCU tells the story of the Special Crimes Unit, an elite squad of cops in the police force serving Superman's Metropolis.

The use of police procedural elements in superhero comics can partly be attributed to the success of Kurt Busiek's groundbreaking 1994 series Marvels, and his subsequent Astro City work, both of which examine the typical superhero universe from the viewpoint of the common man who witnesses the great dramas from afar, participating in them tangentially at best.

In the wake of Busiek's success, many other writers mimicked his approach, with mixed results – the narrative possibilities of someone who does not get involved in drama are limited. In 2000, however, Image Comics published the first issue of Brian Michael Bendis's comic Powers, which followed the lives of homicide detectives as they investigated superhero-related cases. Bendis's success has led both Marvel Comics and DC Comics to begin their own superhero-themed police procedurals (District X and the aforementioned Gotham Central), which focus on how the job of a police officer is affected by such tropes as secret identities, superhuman abilities, costumes, and the near-constant presence of vigilantes.

While the detectives in Powers were "normal" (unpowered) humans dealing with super-powered crime, Alan Moore and Gene Ha's Top 10 mini-series, published by America's Best Comics in 2000–01, centered around the super-powered police force in a setting where powers are omnipresent. The comic detailed the lives and work of the police force of Neopolis, a city in which everyone, from the police and criminals to civilians, children and even pets, has super-powers, colourful costumes and secret identities.

Critical reception

Masculinity and racism

The police procedural is considered to be a male-dominant genre which very often portrays the masculine hero dedicated to the professional realm. The introduction of women as protagonists is commonly attributed to either adding sexual appeal, introducing gendered issues like investigating sex crimes, or delving into the personal relationships of the characters.[12] It also often portrays rape myths, such as that rape is more often committed by strangers rather than a known acquaintance of the victim, that the majority of rape claims are false, and that rapes only happen to "bad girls."[13]

The portrayal of the criminal justice system also under-represents issues of race and institutional racism. A report by Color of Change Hollywood and the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center[14] identified that in these shows there was a severe lack of portrayal of racial bias in the criminal procedure, discussion about criminal justice reform, and victims who are women of color. There is also little representation of people of color in the creation of these shows.

Biased narratives

The police procedural genre is becoming increasingly popular and has accounted for about 22% of all scripted shows on US broadcast network in the last 10 years.[15] This prevalence implies that viewers are often facing TV series that place police officers at the center of the story, showing exclusively their vision of the world. This approach has been denounced as enforcing the idea that the life and views of policemen are more important than the ones of the communities being policed.[16]

In police procedural the policemen are presented as the "good guys" or close to superhuman, leading to a potentially biased narrative.[17] Even when they use illegal practices it is presented as a necessary decision made in the general interest. A report by Color of Change Hollywood and the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center[14] revealed that police procedural shows were normalizing unjust practices such as illegal search, surveillance, coercion, intimidation, violence, abuse and racism.

Misrepresentation of reality

Additionally, criticisms have been raised against the genre for its unrealistic depiction of crime. Particularly, police procedurals have been accused of possessing an unrealistic preoccupation with incidents such as homicide and terrorism.[18] In the United States, plot points involving murder investigations appear at more frequent rates than those involving theft, substance abuse, or domestic violence[18]—all of which citizens are more likely to personally experience.[19] Following the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, police procedurals have additionally portrayed attempted terrorism incidents at unrealistically high rates, prompting accusations of racial profiling and fear-mongering.[18]

The manner in which crime has been portrayed in the media has subsequently been linked with discrepancies both in popular perception of crime rates, as well as sentencing.[20] In a 2005 study conducted on the German public, it was found that despite a decline in total offences between 1992 and 2003, "the German public believes or assumes, on balance, that crime has increased".[20] It has been further posited that the distorted public perception arising from the prevalence of police procedurals has been a factor in influencing sentencing rates. Countries such as the US, UK and Germany—while experiencing declines in crime rates—reported increases in the volume and severity of incarceration.[20]

Recent efforts and developments

However, alongside protests against police brutality in the United States and abroad, and debates on the role of entertainment in the portrayal of law enforcement in society,[20] the genre has been facing increased scrutiny.[21] As a result, some television networks have been making an effort to address and correct the aforementioned criticism. In August 2020, it became known that the CBS writing staff will partner with 21CP Solutions,[22] an advisory group on public safety and law enforcement, on the network's legal dramas and police procedurals. CBS producers state that the team, including civil rights experts, lawyers and police veterans alike, has been hired in order to fill the recently identified lack of reality in crime shows and allow the genre to move with the times.[22] As a result, the main objectives and partnership's attention is supposed to focus on an increase of inclusivity, diversity and authenticity in the production of police procedurals.[22]

See also

References

  1. ^ Wheat, Carolyn (2003) How to Write Killer Fiction: The Funhouse Of Mystery & The Roller Coaster Of Suspense. Santa Barbara, PA: Perseverance Press, ISBN 1880284626
  2. ^ "FilmInt". Film International. Sweden: Kulturrådet. 4 (1–6): 163. 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2012. In addition to being a masterful precursor to the buddy cop movies and police procedurals popular today, Stray Dog is also a complex genre film that examines the plight of soldiers returning home to post-war Japan.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Grady, Constance (2020-06-03). "How 70 years of cop shows taught us to valorize the police". Vox. Retrieved 2020-08-24.
  4. ^ Dorff, Susan L. (Fall 1989). "The French Connection: A short history of the roman policier from Vidocq (the real-life founder of the Sûreté) to Simenon's Maigret to France's current bestselling crime writer, Frédéric Dard". The Armchair Detective. trussel.com. 22 (4). Retrieved 24 March 2021. Susan L. Dorff is a professor of French at Boston University
  5. ^ The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time
  6. ^ Mystery Writers of America#Grand Master Award
  7. ^ http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/mcbain.htm
  8. ^ Geherin, David. Scene of the Crime: The Importance of Place in Crime and Mystery Fiction. p. 162.
  9. ^ Brunsdale, Mitzi. Gumshoes: A Dictionary of Fictional Detectives. p. 62.
  10. ^ Megraw, Jeremy (21 September 2014). "CIS: A GUIDE TO THE MARTIN BECK SERIES".
  11. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (10 February 2014). "Suspects – Channel 5's stripped back cop drama: "It's electrifying"". Digitalspy.co.uk. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  12. ^ Feasey, Rebecca (2008). Masculinity and popular television. Edinburgh University Press.
  13. ^ Merken, Stacie; James, Veronyka (2020). "Perpetrating The Myth: Exploring Media Accounts of Rape Myths on "Women's" Networks". Deviant Behavior. 41 (9): 1176–1191. doi:10.1080/01639625.2019.1603531. S2CID 150690014.
  14. ^ a b Color of Change Hollywood & USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center (January 2020). "Normalizing injustice" (PDF). Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  15. ^ Porter, Rick (20 June 2020). "TV long view: How much network TV depends on cop shows". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  16. ^ VanArendonk, Kathryn (1 June 2020). "Cops are always the main characters". Vulture. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  17. ^ Adams, Sam (3 June 2020). "Cop shows are undergoing a reckoning – With one big exception". Slate. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  18. ^ a b c Tasker, Yvonne (2012). "Television Crime Drama and Homeland Security: From "Law & Order" to "Terror TV". Cinema Journal. 51 (4): 45–64. doi:10.1353/cj.2012.0085. JSTOR 23253576.
  19. ^ "Crime in the U.S. – 2019 Preliminary Report". fbi.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  20. ^ a b c d Pfeiffer, Christian; Windzio, Michael; Kleimann, Matthias (2005). "Media Use and its Impacts on Crime Perception, Sentencing Attitudes and Crime Policy". European Journal of Criminology. 2 (3): 259–285. doi:10.1177/1477370805054099. S2CID 145153535.
  21. ^ Cothran, Casey; Cannon, Mercy (2018). New perspectives on detective fiction: Mystery magnified. Routledge.
  22. ^ a b c Low, Elaine (12 August 2020). "CBS TV Studios Inks Deal for 21CP Solutions to Advise on Police, Legal Dramas (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 24 August 2020.

Further reading