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How do the Police Operate?

I see in many online forums, writers ask how police operate, are organized, or how a crime scene is investigated. Here are some resources to help you out. Note that crime scene investigation, like many industries, is being transformed by technology (laser cameras, 3D cameras, drones, DNA), and some of these links may have outdated information. However, there are still many basic techniques that have been in use for decades or centuries (fingerprints) that are still in use today.

Facebook Groups

  • The Writers Police Academy – The group is mostly used to notify group members about his blog posts and updates for his seminars. Run by retired cop Lee Lofland who runs has a conference and online seminars as well as a book. (see more below).
  • Writers Detective Q&A – Run by Adam Richardson, an active police detective in Southern California. You can post questions and have them answered by real cops. Adam also has a podcast (see below).
  • Cops and Writers – Run by Patrick O’Donnell, a retired Milwaukee cop. You can post questions and have them answered by real cops. Patrick also has two books (see below).
  • Legal Fiction – You can post questions about the law.
  • Trauma Fiction – You can post questions about injuries to the body and have them answered by medical professionals.

Mystery Groups and Conferences

  • Mystery Writers of America – Online presentations and local chapters with classes on everything from procedure to becoming a better writer.
  • Sisters in Crime – Online presentations and local chapters with classes on everything from procedure to becoming a better writer. Note that men are welcome (they are called Misters in Crime.)
  • Writers Police Academy – Run by retired cop Lee Lofland. An in-person conference where you are taught by the people who teach the cops, many who are retired cops or FBI. You’ll get hands-on experience in such things driving a police car, fingerprinting, blood spatter analysis, digging up buried bodies, and more. Lee also has periodic web-delivered seminars that while not hands-on, are still taught by the same people who do the in-person conference.

Podcasts

  • Writers Detective Bureau – Adam Richardson, an active Southern California detective, answers your questions that have either been emailed or pulled from his Facebook group.
  • Coroner Talk – Hosted by Darren Drake, this podcast serves two purposes. First, it’s an ad for his business of training Death Scene Investigators (they work for the coroner/ME). You will get, sometimes very long, ads about his classes. Second, it provides training on how these people do their jobs. Sometimes there are guests. You’ll learn about everything from how to investigate a scene and collect evidence (not forensics — it’s from the view of the Coroner/ME) to how to interact with law enforcement to what happens to a burned body.

Books

  • Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon Geberth – The gold standard. Just about every cop and death scene investigator has either read this book or taken a class from Geberth. This is a text book and the price shows it. But if you’re serious about learning how to investigate a homicide, this is THE book. Warning, the book contains very disturbing photos of actual homicide victims.
  • Police Procedure and Investigation by retired cop Lee Lofland – This book specifically targets writers. A bit dated now, but still full of some very good information. Lee has a Facebook group, a blog, and also runs The Writer’s Police Academy.
  • Cops & Writers: From the Academy to the Street by retired cop Patrick O’Donnell – Targeting writers, this book discusses the training and patrol responsibilities of a new cop. Patrick also runs the Cops and Writers Facebook group.
  • Cops & Writers: Crime Scenes and Investigations by retired cop Patrick O’Donnell – Targeting writers, this book goes into how a crime scene is investigated. It provides far less detail than Practical Homicide Investigation, but it may be all you need for your book. Patrick also runs the Cops and Writers Facebook group.

Other

  • Ride Along – You ride for a few hours with a cop as he goes about his shift. Check with your local police, sheriff, state police, or highway patrol.
  • Citizen’s Academy – Weekly classes where you learn a different aspect of policing each week. Classes cover such things as traffic, driving a police car, forensics, K9, dispatch and more. Topics and number of weeks vary. Check with your local police, sheriff, state police, highway patrol, or FBI office.