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Trebor1415
09-08-2012, 06:34 PM
Anyone have info on the operations and inner workings of a Sheriff's Department?

This is in the U.S., in Michigan to be specific. I'm loosely modeling the department on two real departments in the state. One of them is the largest in the state with 1,200 employees. The other is a little smaller, but probably still one of the top 5 in terms of size. Both have multiple departments/divisions including patrol/investigations/jail/marine/SWAT, etc.

I need to figure out what level my character should be. He is investigating a double homicide of two teenage girls. I'm assuming he'd be an investigator, but what kind of seniority and rank, etc, should he have?

In a department that size how many layers of leadership would their be between him and the Sheriff? Would he report to a Lt., who reports to the Undersheriff? Or would there be more (or fewer) levels of management?

I'm eventually going to try to do an interview with the Sheriff or another representive from at least one of the departments to get a better view of how the department operates and handles investigations. But, right now, some basic background would be enough.

I could especially use info on how they'd interact with other local law enforcement and how this might change if/when a new Sheriff takes over.

Also, in the story there would be a city PD where the bodies are found, but they are woefully underfunded (city is near bankruptcy) and don't have the experience or resources of the Sheriff's Dept. What is a realistic way to have the investigation transfered or taken over by the Sheriff's Dept instead of the city PD. Can they simply request the assistance? Is there a way the dept could "bigfoot" their way into the investigation because the girls are from two different parts of the county? Or could their be some gentleman's arrangement or even "backroom deal" to get the Sheriff's Dept involved.

I do want to keep the city PD in play, at least at the start, as a few plot points hinge on some conflict between the city cops and the Deputy/Investigator who takes over. (That's way I'm not having it occur in an unincorporated area where the Sheriff would have sole jurisdiction).

Also, any insights into politics within a large Sheriff's Dept woudl be helpful.

Dryad
09-09-2012, 12:17 AM
I think this book would be useful for you: Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland.

ironmikezero
09-09-2012, 12:20 AM
You have the right idea to contact the agency that you envision basing your story upon. All of your questions can typically be answered by their designated PIO officer. Your information will be accurate and current.

Sheriffs are elected officials and as such are very keen on keeping and maintaining a positive and helpful public image. Most will go to considerable lengths to assist writers who are willing to learn.

Mutual coordination and cooperation between a (smaller) municipal department and the respective county LE agency is very commonplace, a proven model of efficiency.

Jurisdictional issues (turf disputes, investigative control, etc.), if any, that are not mutually resolved at a lower level are typically decided by the prosecutorial authority (District Attorney) who ultimately must take the case to court.

John342
09-11-2012, 07:01 AM
Trebor,

Most county agencies are responsible for things in addition to law enforcement. Most run a Jail, they supply court security deputies, the bigger ones supply investigators to both the prosecutors office and the public defenders. They also do evictions, serve processes and do extraditions.

My suggestion would be to look up the county you are modeling this on. It is very possible they have a website with a section that features an organizational chart.

My department used to use the county for crime scene processing, we could have also asked and been provided with detectives. Our sheriff's dept called them investigators. I don't think you really need to have a conspiracy involved in allowing your sheriff's dept to take the lead, it can be a policy of the city pd or a recognition early on in this specific case that the city doesn't have the resources to do it. It doesn't need anymore spotlight than that.

That being said, you can have your conflict between city can county early on. Especially if the city is going to arrive first and make an assessment that leads to the county being called in.

All homicides are given close scrutiny by supervisors, forget what you see on TV, there is no more important case than a homicide and all depts realize that fresh homicides should get over resourced as much as possible. The first 48 hours usually get several teams of detectives assigned. Homicide detectives tend to be the most experienced and senior, but you can invent reasons why a ten year deputy is a detective.

Lastly, politics generally play more of a roll in sheriff's depts than municipal depts. That's mainly because the sheriff himself is a political entity. He needs to get elected every so often and so he has people around him to make sure that happens... like cronies?

Hope that helped.

Trebor1415
09-11-2012, 03:43 PM
Lastly, politics generally play more of a roll in sheriff's depts than municipal depts. That's mainly because the sheriff himself is a political entity. He needs to get elected every so often and so he has people around him to make sure that happens... like cronies?

This is one of the points I'm hoping that someone will worked at a Sheriff's Dept can help me with. I want to really get a feel for the types of internal and external politics and that's precisely the type of info I don't think the PIO at the Dept's I plan to talk to will help me much with.

Believe me, I do know that a Sheriff's Dept is the most politicized postition in law enforcement. I actually covered a trial where the Sheriff was sued by several high ranking officers after he demoted for supporting his opponent in an election.

I do have a general understanding of the functions of a department and the departments/jail, etc. I didn't know or think about the connection with the prosecutor's office and that's helpful.

I'm not looking for a "conspiracy" to get the case transfered, just something realistic and something that could generate some hard feelings between certain city PD officers and the Sheriff's investigator. Much of that can be personality driven, but I need something that can be a little broader than that as well.

John342
09-11-2012, 08:17 PM
This is one of the points I'm hoping that someone will worked at a Sheriff's Dept can help me with. I want to really get a feel for the types of internal and external politics and that's precisely the type of info I don't think the PIO at the Dept's I plan to talk to will help me much with.

Believe me, I do know that a Sheriff's Dept is the most politicized postition in law enforcement. I actually covered a trial where the Sheriff was sued by several high ranking officers after he demoted for supporting his opponent in an election.

I do have a general understanding of the functions of a department and the departments/jail, etc. I didn't know or think about the connection with the prosecutor's office and that's helpful.

I'm not looking for a "conspiracy" to get the case transfered, just something realistic and something that could generate some hard feelings between certain city PD officers and the Sheriff's investigator. Much of that can be personality driven, but I need something that can be a little broader than that as well.

Ok, perhaps a sheriff's deputy my be coming by to comment. Speaking from a veteran of over 30 years of municipal law enforcement in Cook County Illinois, perhaps the most political Law Enforcement agency in the US, I would say you can contrive almost anything. Its sad, sick, and disgusting who the county has given badges to over the years. Getting on the sheriff's dept here used to be more a question of how much clout you had rather than if you were going to make a good cop.

While I applaud your attempt to get it real, as you have already pointed out decisions are not always made in the public's interest, and yet to hear their campaign speeches you would think that Christ had competition.

As far as what you can do to generate enmity I would suggest a previous event or history. Maybe the county arrested a local? Just one agency giving another a speeding ticket can cause very bad feelings. Maybe the county arrested some member of the local for domestic violence, which now a days would cost the guy his job...

If you want to message me and give me a little more background I would be glad to offer an opinion. But I think you have enough to construct a good issue already. It seems you have a pretty good understanding.

I guess what I am saying is that your issue, whatever it is and however far fetched its seems to you, has probably already happened somewhere... Sad commentary I know, but true.

Hope this helps,

John