I'm Kate Risheill. Welcome to my blog on writing.

The Reference Desk: Police Procedure & Investigation

Police Procedure.jpg

In the age of the internet, you can find just about anything online. I, like plenty of other writers, have done lots of research on Wikipedia, opening browser tab after browser tab until my browser froze and crashed. You can find a lot of great information out there on the web, but I've found some reference books that absolutely blow Wikipedia out of the water. The first I'd like to discuss is Lee Lofland's Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers.

I like to read and write stories that have some sort of crime or mystery at their center. I have an addiction to police procedural shows. I've binge-watched entire seasons of Criminal Minds, tore my way through Chicago PD, and reminisced about cop shows gone by, like NYPD Blue or Southland.  So, I felt like I should have at least a bare bones understanding of how to write a crime story. Turns out I didn't. I found myself wondering about the nitty gritty details, the ones too technical or mundane to make it into a fast-paced cop drama. That's when I decided to seek out some kind of reference book. 

The first book to really catch my interest was Lofland's. However, Police Procedure & Investigation isn't just a run-down of what it is like to be a cop, it is geared towards writers specifically. Lofland himself was a police officer for nearly twenty years and is now a fiction writer, so he understands both the subject matter and how to write it. The book does offer a complete guide to police work, from what police academies entail, to crime scene investigation, through to bringing a case to court. Whether you are looking for information on how DNA testing actually works or how long it takes to get a search warrant, Police Procedure & Investigation has got you covered. Much of this information can be found online, that is true, but I think the value of Lofland's book is that he talks about the emotions, the decision-making, the way that cops think and feel. To bring a character to life, to make them feel real and fully fleshed out, we need to know what they are thinking and feeling, why they are acting the way they are. 

In addition to providing insight into the way that police officers' minds work, Lofland also offers practical advice about how to write different situations that cops encounter, such as how to describe a crime scene. Beyond just providing the facts about how police investigate crime, Lofland explains how to write about it effectively, without sounding like a Wikipedia info dump. As Lofland explains, "Writers use words not only to deliver facts but to provoke a reader's senses."

I highly recommend this book to anyone that writes crime fiction or has an investigator of some kind at the center of their stories. Beyond being just a source for factual reference, Police Procedure & Investigation can give readers insight on how to better portray the criminal justice system and the people that work in it. 

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