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Mr. 17
03-16-2011, 09:29 AM
I'm writing a mystery (set in Oakland, California), and I have a few questions about police procedure.

A businessman (a franchise owner) has fallen and died, trying to break into his employee's apartment. He was carrying equipment suggesting he might have been attempting burglary. The employee is superficially charming, but won't let the police detectives into his apartment, and avoids answering questions.

1) Which police department/s would be conducting the investigation? Homicide? Burglary?

2) How would the detectives, and/or their department/s, handle the employee? (They probably couldn't get a search warrant for the apartment, since they're not looking for anything in particular.)

Rowan
03-16-2011, 02:18 PM
I'm writing a mystery (set in Oakland, California), and I have a few questions about police procedure.

A businessman (a franchise owner) has fallen and died, trying to break into his employee's apartment. He was carrying equipment suggesting he might have been attempting burglary. The employee is superficially charming, but won't let the police detectives into his apartment, and avoids answering questions.

1) Which police department/s would be conducting the investigation? Homicide? Burglary?

2) How would the detectives, and/or their department/s, handle the employee? (They probably couldn't get a search warrant for the apartment, since they're not looking for anything in particular.)

1) Homicide (takes precedence over attempted burglary); they'll treat it as a suspicious death until proven otherwise

2) He'd be investigated as a potential suspect in the man's death--they have a connection, etc. (until it was determined a natural death--or was it suspicious?). They have no PC for a SW of the employee's apartment.

RJK
03-16-2011, 08:15 PM
Rowan covered your questions. A lot would depend on the circumstances around the businessman's fall, and where he landed. If everything took place outside the employee's apartment, the police would have no right to enter or search it.

Heart
03-17-2011, 04:54 AM
1. Homicide. Dead people trump everything.

2. They will wait until they get an excuse for a search warrant if they can't talk their way in. If the man actually gained access to a part of the house (for example, he broke a window before he fell) they will be able to gain access to that area because it's part of the crime scene. If he was on the roof, they will not need a search warrant to get on the roof; etc. If they are allowed outside the house, they will go up to the windows and look in (plain view).
But they don't want to have evidence thrown out because of questionable procedures - they will pressure the employee to give them permission to come in and search (or even just to come inside - they might try to interview him inside, for instance) but if that doesn't work, they'll just investigate him and wait until they can search, as I'm sure they would be able to eventually.



I interned with PD detectives for a semester so I'm not pulling this out my butt :)

Mr. 17
03-17-2011, 08:25 AM
Thanks.
The man entered someone else's apartment, and put a board across from that apartment window to the employee's window sill--and fell off the board. Would that count?
Also, what sort of things would they say to the employee to pressure him?

RJK
03-17-2011, 08:03 PM
Every man's home is his castle. The perpetrator did not enter the employee's home, so it is not part of the crime scene. Therefore, the police have no right to enter or search. They also would have no reason to want to do so. They would question the employee because of his relationship to the perpetrator, but overall, this is an accidental death resulting from a fall. The dead perpetrator was in the process of attempting to break into the employee's apartment, an attempted crime. He probably didn't have permission to be in the neighbor's apartment, so he committed trespass there.

You have to remember the police aren't mind readers. Unless there is some evidence (outside the apartment) of why the business owner was trying to break into his employee's apartment, they would have no reason to investigate the employee. And the evidence would have to implicate the employee in a serious crime, not just corporate espionage.

To answer your question, IF the evidence was present outside the apartment, the cops would get a search warrant, and wouldn't need to "pressure" the employee. Correct police procedure always trumps TV drama if you want to keep your readers believing your story.

Mr. 17
03-17-2011, 11:48 PM
That makes sense.
But, since the employee is being blatantly uncooperative, what kind of things would they say to at least try to persuade him to cooperate?

Heart
03-18-2011, 06:57 PM
It's a big hassle for us and for you to be here, if you just let us in there won't be as much as a fuss, we hate to bother you so let's just get this over with, we're going to have to wait for a warrant and this will be hanging over your head, etc. Easier for everyone. That's not even so much pressuring as it is the truth!

The way you describe it I find it much less likely they'd be interested, for some reason I was picturing a stand-alone house even though you said apartment, because I'm clearly a genius.

If someone's uncooperative they will be suspicious but they won't push that much. If they've done something wrong it will come out in the end. This, as is, is a straight accidental death. They will probably be more interested in looking into the employer's background to find other criminal activity if he's trying to break into this guy's house. They would then lead into being suspicious of and interviewing the employee from that angle (I'm assuming that's where you're going?). Just from where you've put the dead guy, they're going to be asking the employee Do you know why this guy was trying to get into your place? Did he harass you in any way? etc. They'll note any cagey-ness but just sort of place it on the to do list of things to consider as time goes on. There's less rush than TV/movies make it seem.

RJK
03-19-2011, 12:20 AM
Remember, too, the cops have done their job. Any crimes that were committed were done by the dead guy. They have him, and therefore, have solved the crime. They have no reason to look any further. What they have is a trespass, a misdemeanor, and the perpetrator, who happens to be dead. There's no reason for them to pursue this any further for such a minor crime. Even the attempted burglary doesn't warrant further investigation. The only reason the cops would investigate would be to find and arrest the perpetrator. He's lying on the pavement and not going anywhere. There's no reason for the cops to want to get inside the employee's apartment, unless, as I mentioned earlier, there is evidence of something illegal going on inside.

FocusOnEnergy
03-19-2011, 04:33 AM
According to the org chart on the website of the Oakland PD, a homicide would be handled by the Homicide Division of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID).

http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/OPD/o/BureauofInvestigation/index.htm

It's unlikely that the responding officers would attempt to gain entry to the employee's apartment because the decedent failed to get in. If he was inside, making it the crime scene, that would be another story, but since he was outside that makes the employee a victim or witness, and the police would be very polite, and would not ask to enter the premises. Because homicide crime scenes require a lot of processing, attract the media and onlookers and thus must be secured, they'd probably just give the employee a business card while they went about their business.

Unless...there was something suspicious about the death and the employee was considered a "person of interest" (copspeak for suspect). Then, they'd ask them to come down the station for a little chat.

If you want to go for maximum accuracy and make some new friends, call your local PD, ask for the Chief's office and tell his assistant what you are working on and that you want it to be accurate and you could use their help. The PD loves it when writers and reporters want to be accurate. My chief of police always hugs me when he sees me and calls him his favorite journalist because I've taken the time to learn from them and about them.

Be sure and ask for a "ride along". You will probably have to sign a liability waiver and wear a bulletproof vest, but you'll see the "cop's eye view" of the world very clearly, because you'll see how people look at you. Very enlightening.

Focus