Posts Tagged ‘writing about the police’

Advice on Writing about Cops

March 22, 2017

Several months ago I spoke to a meeting of Partners In Crime in San Diego and offered to be a resource for any police related questions. Below is a question and answer session with one of the participants.

1) Question: Do police customarily use the 24 hour clock in their verbal discussions of a case, or just say 8:00 pm (as opposed to 20:00)?

1) Answer: Yes, cops use the 24 hour military clock in all things. In my case, it was one of the first things taught in the academy.

2) Question: Is it likely that a police officer, interviewing a witness in their own home, seeing the witness was in distress, would offer to make the witness a warm drink (in the witness’ home)?

2) Answer: It is possible that police officers could offer to make a warm drink. However, it’s much more likely that the officers would ask the victim/witness to make them a drink. This would potentially accomplish several things. It would likely get the witness “out of their head” a little bit as they attended to routine things around the home. It would also establish some rapport as the officers and witness engage in a little domestic ritual that could break down barriers, and it might give the cops an opportunity to casually look around a bit as the witness is busy performing the task. Every bit of information officers can gather about the environment could prove useful.

3) Question: Would a police officer go with a family member (or meet a family member) to the morgue to view their next-of-kin or relative who is deceased? And if the officer needed to question the family member would they do it right then, at the morgue, if the family member was not in too much distress? Or would they go to the police station or another location?

3) Answer: The answer to your question about the morgue requires more clarification. Is this a patrol officer or a homicide investigator? What’s the size of the department? This information is necessary for me to understand the potential resources available. What type of rapport has the officer established with the victim?

It’s highly unlikely that any officer would accompany the victim to the morgue. However, this is your world that you’re creating. Is there a strong connection established that would compel the victim/family member to ask the officer to go with them in a support role. If so, find a way to make it happen through character development and interaction.

As far as the questioning goes, the officer would not engage in any sort of formal interrogation under the circumstances but could certainly utilize the the opportunity for casual and useful conversation. There’s one important point to remember here, there is no need to provide the person with their constitutional rights unless they’re in a custodial situation, meaning that the victim/witness is not free to leave. If the officer ever does develop enough information to lawfully detain that person, that is the time for the admonishment. Open ended conversation that could develop new information or line of inquiry is an open possibility until that time. If the officer wants a more formal discussion, that could happen at the police station, the home of the witness or any other place that would be suitable to the situation. If you want the victim/witness to feel intimidated, the police station is the place. If you want them to feel comfortable or safe, use your imagination for the right place.

4) Question: Is it possible to recover fingerprints from a rope?

4) Answer: Uncovering prints from a rope is problematic. The surface is likely slick and there’s even a good chance that a suspect could clutch the rope with their palm without ever touching it with their fingers. However, if you want the rope to be part of the solution, there are several ways to accomplish this. Are there remnants of the victim’s blood present? If so, have the suspect unwittingly grasp the rope where the blood is. Is the rope stored in a garage or some other place that might cause grease to be present? If so, there’s your solution. Prints could be found in the grease. Depending on the situation, it’s also possible for trace evidence to be present. Has the suspect lost a hair in a struggle that can be recovered? How about a little fleck off of the victim’s shirt or jacket or a button being left behind? This is where the author creates a situation that occurs to their benefit as the creator of their own world. If one of these things occurs, find a way to weave it in and make it part of the case solving narrative.