If you are looking for one resource to introduce you to the world of law and order, I highly recommend Police Procedures and Investigations: a Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland.
Last winter, I got the inspiration for a a new mystery series and realized I needed to know a lot more than I already did about police work, which was zero. This book covers such areas as how men and women are trained at a police academy, the proper process for arrests and searches, the different departments of law enforcement in the U.S., how the court system works (I’ve never understood which courts try which crimes), and much more.
The copyright date is 2007, so some of the science may be out of date. My favorite chapter is the last one. Mr. Lofland writes about how many Americans believe they understand law enforcement from what they see on TV. This leads to people on juries misunderstanding forensic evidence because it’s not presented in a trial like it is on the C.S.I. shows.
Mr. Lofland offers some quotes of what real police officers think of their fictional counterparts.
“Police officers don’t fire warning shots! For goodness’ sake, what goes up must come down!”
“TV cops return to a crime scene over and over again to collect evidence. In real life, you usually get one shot at the scene.”
All of these quotes are from officers in Ohio, which is especially helpful to me, because that is where my series is set.
Another part of the book that I found fascinating were the short, personal essays. The author relates stories concerning the first autopsy he watched, putting a gang under surveillance, and trying to arrest a mountain of a man without using his gun. Those stories make law enforcement seem real to me.
No one in my family, except for a cousin, who is now a member of the Army police, or my husband’s family is involved in law enforcement. So reading this book has opened my eyes to a life I knew nothing about. As a writer, I want to tell a compelling story. But not at the expense of reality. I want to write about the men and women in law enforcement in a realistic way. I’ve found the more research I do hasn’t limited my inspiration. It has actually sparked it.
What book do you recommend for mystery writers?
Sounds like an interesting book. Even for Canadian writers, it gives us a point of reference, which we can then use as a place to start. After all, sometimes we don’t know which questions we should be asking. Although, I have often thought that we might find more Canadian crime novels if we could find reference books like this for Canadian police procedures.
I don’t know if there are major differences between Canadian provinces when it comes to law enforcement, but in the U.S., huge differences exist between states. That’s why I’m glad this book has a lot of information on Ohio. Such as a sheriff in Ohio can be elected for as many terms as she wants to run for. But in West Virginia, a sheriff can only serve two consecutive terms. Things like that are important for a writer to find out.