I feel like I keep starting these discussions with disclaimers. I am not anti-police officer. But I've seen a lot of people out and about discussion how current events have soured them on billionaire heroes and I have seen very little about police officer heroes. I am aware that police officers can also be female or non-binary, I have not encountered those in fiction, particularly romance fiction with the same regularity, so I am not addressing that in this post. Although the more i think on it, a non-binary police officer would be awesome, if you know of such a book, please let me know.
I'm going to focus on heroes, as the post title suggests, this can also apply to side characters, even in non-romance. Angie Thomas' The Hate You Give, for example has an uncle who is a police officer and his character was great.
Some of this was always true, some of this I and others are simply far more aware of, but of course much fiction exists in a time that is contemporary, yet divorced a bit from reality. Timelines are compressed, diseases particularly sexually transmitted ones are often non-existent, and there is a tradition of protagonists, especially male protagonists doing things that are really quite terrible and we hope there is enough groveling in the end to make it pay off.
I don't want to yuck anyone's yum, if you really like reading about guys who break rules and laws to get their true love, then all of that is cool. But, I get the sense that some authors aren't presenting this as naughty behavior the hero engaged in because he hadn't fully confronted his emotions, but more like silly things book heroes do. That line is obviously going to be different for each reader, but nonetheless, I'm going to submit some suggestions.
A storyline where the police officer hero is accused of police brutality but of course everyone knows he is innocent that makes absolutely no mention of the current political climate is a lot of fantasy to ask your reader to engage in. See also storylines involving accusations of rape or other police corruption. Am I suggesting people can only write about good cops? Oh, heck no. But there are things that you may not have time to address in your story, and if you don't then you can't tiptoe up to it and leave it. Just like I can't read your story about a real estate developer looking for a fourth wife who has declared bankruptcy a time or two without going hmm, there are things that are too close to current concerns that it's a lot harder to not think of current issues. .
Anything your hero does that could be curtailed by the heroine calling the police (following her on dates, waiting for hours outside her apartment after she has told him she doesn't want to see him) takes on an added level of danger when it is done by a police officer. Goodness knows romance and other fiction have sometimes conflates stalking and romantic pursuit, and I am aware of some of the cultural reasons for such. But right now, yeesh.
And if your police officer hero constantly breaks both the rules and the laws, then you are likely over the line for most readers. Sure, he may be doing it out of serious concern for another character. But the point of him being a police officer is often that he represents the good guys. If you wanted to write an anti-hero, you can. There is of course room in fiction for a police officer anti-hero, but I see police officer heroes who are presented as good guys who are just hampered by mean bosses who want them to follow protocol. That is so problematic. I suspect some authors may do this to excuse violations of police procedure. Or to give him a little edge. But as a reader this looks to me like a character who should be fired. Yes, being a police officer is a job that has a lot of rules that make the job take longer. Yes, we all sympathize with that. If you want to write a character who keeps violating the law without addressing what that really means, then I question whether you actually meant to write a hero at all.