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Zelenka
12-14-2010, 08:38 PM
Hi,
Does anyone have any experience of contacting the police in order to check facts for a novel? If so, what is the best way to go about it, especially for an unpublished author (with, therefore, no real credentials to kind of offer)?

I'm at the stage where I've exhausted all avenues of research besides actually to speaking to the people themselves but I'm not sure how to go about it - I have seen a couple of 'how to' books mention going through the media liaison, is that right?

J

YAwriter72
12-14-2010, 08:46 PM
I *JUST* did this. Like got my reply last night!

I found the website for the State Police here, then tried to narrow down who to email by what I needed to know (I needed a Detective). Then I sent an email asking if they would have the time to answer a few questions. They did!

Not sure how it works there though?

waylander
12-14-2010, 09:02 PM
Go to your nearest police station and ask to talk to their force media relations team
or use the 'contact us' form on the Strathclyde Police website

amlptj
12-14-2010, 09:05 PM
I do this all the time although its easier for me because i'm related to police officers, my suggestion is to find someone who is related to one, and set up a little meeting, once you explain your an author they usually love to talk to you. My cousins think its the coolest thing and love to put in imput for what would make a great scene.

ajkjd01
12-14-2010, 09:40 PM
Well...if it's a large, metropolitan city police department, absolutely contact the media relations etc. offices mentioned above.

If it's a small town, call and ask for a sergeant, lieutenant, or chief deputy. Put the request to him/her. If they tell you that there's someone designated, or someone you should specifically talk to, then follow their direction. Sergeants and etc. are supervisors. Be prepared for them to tell you that the request has to go through their chief. Ask if they need it in writing. Be prepared for a wait for an answer. Police/sheriffs departments are bureaucracies...they may need to cross a few t's before they can answer.

When you do get that opportunity to talk with them, have questions prepared. Know what you want to ask when you go in. If you want to ride along, ask ahead of time...don't wait until you're there. There may be liability releases and etc. to fill out before you do it, and there may be some restrictions to deal with before you get in the cruiser. Some departments don't allow it for concerns about your safety. If they give you directions, follow them.

Oh, and there's nothing wrong with getting to know an officer outside of their job. If you're going to ask them questions for your writing...make sure they know it's for your writing, and not because you're actually planning to rob a bank, or whatever. And be prepared...if it gets published...thank them in the acknowledgements section.

RJK
12-16-2010, 01:49 AM
Are you writing/researching about an actual crime? If that's the case, the police won't be able to help you until the case is adjudicated. Once the case is closed with a conviction, the police may be willing to provide the details. If they are reluctant, the court proceedings are public records, you could obtain them, but they may cost you.

On the other hand, If you're just asking about police procedures, the media, or public relations people on the department will help you. Here's a site that may help you: http://www.crime-scene-investigator.net/csi-articles.html

Zelenka
12-16-2010, 02:25 AM
Thanks for the responses, guys.

RJK - It's not an actual crime, and I understand the difficulties that presents :). I work in a newsroom so we come across this daily in terms of what can or can't be mentioned during an ongoing case. It's amazing how complex the rules are as to what can or can't be discussed at each stage of the prosecution (in the UK, at least, I don't know about other jurisdictions). We get emails pretty regularly telling us what we can't say, and it can be really weird things that you'd never think of at times.

I figured it would be the media relations department or whatever the equivalent for that force happens to be and at least as far as Strathclyde Police goes, I've got the email address for an officer who's supposed to be quite helpful, which one of the journalists at work kindly gave me, but I'm just a bit unsure as to how to actually word it, etc. As I said, especially given that I've got no credentials behind me. So it's good to hear from people who've had good experiences doing this sort of thing.

dirtsider
12-16-2010, 05:41 PM
Do the police in your area have any 'meet and greet' functions? (My area - I'm in the US - does on occasion, even if the function is actually hosted by the township itself or a local fair or the like.) It allows the public to take a peek inside the police cars and speak with members of the police force. If they do, you might want to take the opportunity to ask them at this point to see what the procedure is.

ajkjd01
12-16-2010, 06:21 PM
If you're looking for general police information...Lee Lofland's book Police Procedure and Investigation (http://www.amazon.com/Howdunit-Book-Police-Procedure-Investigation/dp/1582974551/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1292508916&sr=8-1) is a great resource.

Lee's a retired homicide detective (and great guy!) and gives lots of good practical advice.

His blog The Graveyard Shift (http://www.leelofland.com/)has all kinds of great hints and tips and ideas.

I've written a guest column for him myself. If you're looking for facts related to police procedure, etc. this would be my recommendation to start. Also, he's helping to put together a Writer's Police Academy next year. I don't really need to learn the stuff, but it looks WICKED cool. I'm dying to go myself, just for fun.

I will agree with the poster above, however, in that if you're writing about an actual case, you will not get any information out of the police while it's an open investigation or a pending criminal case; once the case is over, you can make a public records request for reports and records.

Zelenka
12-16-2010, 08:35 PM
If you're looking for general police information...Lee Lofland's book Police Procedure and Investigation (http://www.amazon.com/Howdunit-Book-Police-Procedure-Investigation/dp/1582974551/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1292508916&sr=8-1) is a great resource.

Lee's a retired homicide detective (and great guy!) and gives lots of good practical advice.

His blog The Graveyard Shift (http://www.leelofland.com/)has all kinds of great hints and tips and ideas.

I've written a guest column for him myself. If you're looking for facts related to police procedure, etc. this would be my recommendation to start. Also, he's helping to put together a Writer's Police Academy next year. I don't really need to learn the stuff, but it looks WICKED cool. I'm dying to go myself, just for fun.

I will agree with the poster above, however, in that if you're writing about an actual case, you will not get any information out of the police while it's an open investigation or a pending criminal case; once the case is over, you can make a public records request for reports and records.

As I said earlier, thankfully it's not an actual case. Like I said, we have to deal with a lot of that at work but this is purely fictional.

My problem is that I'm looking for specific procedural details for a certain region, about which there isn't a lot of information online and their working practices are a little different to the UK and definitely to the US, so the general research I've found on police procedures, the manuals etc I have from when I did my law degree and such, are helpful but I just need that actual contact to check the facts that aren't out there. That's why I was asking more about the etiquette of making contact, if that makes sense.

Broadswordbabe
12-16-2010, 09:31 PM
I just got the general enquiries number of my local station, rang them and said I was doing research for a novel and wanted to get the facts accurate, and was there someone I could talk to? They arranged an interview for me with the duty sergeant, who was very nice, answered all my questions and gave me a tour of the station, where I got to see lots of cool stuff. The same method worked recently when I rang local undertakers - they were happy to talk to me, answer all sorts of probing questions, and show me about. It was fascinating, and even though I ended up not writing either of the stories I was researching at the time, I'm sure it will come in useful.

Simply saying straight out; "I'm doing research for a novel, is there someone I could come in and talk to?" seems to work pretty well. Have a good list of questions ready but leave room for them to tell you things you haven't thought of. It's worth asking if they have favourite phrases, trade terms, oddities and anecdotes as well, a lot of the really interesting stuff is in the corners. Like "What made you join the profession? What were some of the most unexpected things about the job for you?" And though they were of course massively discreet, I still got some amazing snippets I'd never have found elsewhere. Good luck!

C.H. Valentino
12-16-2010, 09:40 PM
If you're looking for general police information...Lee Lofland's book Police Procedure and Investigation (http://www.amazon.com/Howdunit-Book-Police-Procedure-Investigation/dp/1582974551/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1292508916&sr=8-1) is a great resource.

Lee's a retired homicide detective (and great guy!) and gives lots of good practical advice.

I second this. I met him at Killer Nashville 2009 - bought has book. GREAT guy all the way around. IF you have something specific to email to him, he'll respond and he's about the nicest more real guy you'll ever meet.

Also, our department has a P.I.O - public info officer - who would help in this way.

And, then, of course, you can post a thread about it. There are a lot of people here at AW who are in law enforcement and can help you with the procedural, or at least tell you where to look. ;)

CHV

Charles Farley
12-16-2010, 09:42 PM
Talk to someone who's done time. You will get the real answers.

I'm available

PercyBlok
12-17-2010, 03:49 PM
O.P.

Many police departments have ride-along programs. They do it as a part of public outreach. Most departments have a public relations/media department, contact them and start there. The ride-along program is a great way to spend time on the beat with an experienced officer in their office (their patrol car). It's a good way to see what the first line of policing is all about, and you can get a little color as to what patrol thinks about the other units and network from there.

Call around and just be courteous and remember they are there to protect and SERVE.