Tag Archive for: detectives

Police officers in large cities become highly specialized in their areas of expertise. Patrol officers there are often assigned to section of the city, a precinct, and they know that area like the back of their hand.  They’re on a first name basis with every drug dealer, hooker, and numbers runner. Detectives in those areas are normally assigned to a particular duty, such as homicide investigations, narcotics cases, and cyber crimes. There are full-time units in place to handle CSI, cold cases, SWAT, canines, bicycle patrol, and community policing, to name just a few.

However, in less-populated jurisdictions—mid-size to small—where manpower and funding are precious commodities, officers sometimes have to serve double, or even triple duty. They wear many hats.

Patrol officers everywhere are the front line defense against crime. They’re the men and women who answer the never-ending stream of calls, ranging from homicides to people who think aliens have just landed in their back yard.

In small agencies, though, a patrol officer may also be a member of the SWAT team. That officer would probably keep his/her SWAT gear in the trunk of their patrol car, ready to suit-up in a flash. They may also serve as a member of the high-risk entry team, or as a bike patrol officer, swapping a cruiser for a bicycle to finish out the remainder of their shift.

Some detectives also serve as members of scuba dive teams. Many do their own evidence collection and crime scene photography. There are no CSI units in many, many departments across the country. In fact, many departments don’t have detectives. Patrol officers in those departments investigate criminal cases from beginning to end. Needless to say, this stretches manpower to the breaking point.

In even smaller police departments, where there are three or four officers (maybe the chief is the only officer) duties may branch out further still. For example, a tiny town of a few hundred citizens may expect their officer(s) to read the town water meters as part of their regular patrol. Yes, I do know of a town where this system was and may still be in place.

Another town police chief has an office inside a country store. His “office” is actually nothing more than a metal desk positioned in the corner near the lottery ticket machine, and the town’s highest ranking law enforcement officer only has access to his work space during the store’s normal business hours. He is also required to handle the town’s animal control duties. Once each week, this town’s top and only cop swaps his patrol car for a pickup truck and utility trailer so that he can collect the garbage set out on the curbs by the town’s residents.

So if you’re ever worried that your story seems a little off where police procedures are concerned, well, fear not because the truth about law enforcement is much more farfetched. In fact, the only thing consistent about police work is its inconsistencies.

To Preserve and Collect

To Protect and Collect

The first hours of a murder investigation are crucial to solving the crime. I say this because  as time passes memories fade, evidence can become lost or destroyed, people have the opportunity to develop excuses, stories, and alibis, and the bad guys have the time to escape arrest.

Here’s a handy list to keep on hand that could help solve the cases investigated by the detectives in your stories. Keep in mind that time is of the utmost importance! So, in no real order, off we go …

Serving a search warrant. Knock, knock!

Investigators start the search at the scene and then extend the search area as needed.

Police Public Information Officers (PIO) are the direct line of communication between departments and the public.

It’s important to keep the bosses informed. They do not like to be blindsided with questions they can’t answer.

And then it’s time for …

*Remember, no list is all inclusive since no two crimes are exactly the same. And, no two detectives operate in the exact same manner.




The investigation of criminal cases is often a time-consuming process that involves numerous hours of leg work, interviewing potential witnesses and/or suspects, evidence collection and, well, you know the drill. It’s intensive. However, there are also the cases that practically solve themselves with little or no investigative skills needed.

For example …

It was a dark and non-stormy, but bitterly cold night.

I was on call and, as my luck goes, my pager sounded off, beeping and buzzing on the nightstand next to my head. Hoping it was an informant I could ignore until morning, I reached for the device and saw the number for dispatch on the tiny screen.

My next wish was for it to be something I could handle by phone. After dialing the number, a perky female voice answered and told me that I was needed at a structure fire, one that a patrol sergeant had reason to believe was arson. Great. Just great, I thought. Not only was it 3 a.m. and as cold outside as a well digger’s hind parts, but the freakin’ case was an arson, and I absolutely despised working arson cases. They’re dirty and stinky and I despised getting dirty and stinky, especially at 3 a.m. when the outside temperature is hovering at one notch below “Brrr and Shiver.” Give me a good old murder to solve, any day. At least there was a good chance the body would’ve been indoors.

I rolled out of bed, apprehensively, and slipped on some clothes I wouldn’t mind tossing in the garbage a few hours later, and headed outside where the frigid air slapped my cheeks and launched an instant assault on my eyes nose, ears, and lungs. Even my unmarked Crown Vic seemed pissed off and protested by withholding heat for at least ten very long minutes.

I arrived at the scene, an agricultural-based business, where fire crews were still hard at it, spraying water at yellowish-orange flames that reached heights well above nearby trees and telephone poles. As horrific as all fires are, the heat from this one was not at all offensive. My toes were cold, cold, cold.

The patrol sergeant who’d requested my assistance waved me over to where he was engaged in an arm and hand-waving, finger-pointing conversation with the fire chief and a couple of shivering bystanders.

The Evidence

On my way, I saw something on the ground that reflected the brilliant colors of the dancing flames. You’d never guess, in a million years, what it was, so I’ll tell you (yes, crooks are often as dumb as a rock).

The reflective object was a driver’s license. So I picked it up, told the sergeant and fire chief that I was pretty sure I knew who’d started the fire and that I’d give them a call in a little while. I turned around and walked back to my car. I’d been at the fire scene all of two minutes.

It wasn’t that I was some sort of super-detective, or anything close. Not at all. You see, the drivers license I’d found belonged to a man who’d served time in prison for setting a couple of previous fires. I drove to the man’s house where I promptly told him I had solid evidence that placed him at the scene. Then I bluntly asked if he’d set the fire.

He first patted his pants pockets as if feeling for something that “should’ve” been there (a driver’s license), and then slowly looked down at his muddy shoes and nodded his head (a classic sign that a confession is about to spill from the lips).

I told him he’d need to do better than that. He looked up until his gaze met mine, and said, “Yeah, it was me. I set it.”

On the way to book the arsonist I called the patrol sergeant to tell him that I had the firebug in custody. It was not quite two hours after I’d received the page from the dispatcher. All without getting dirty, or stinky.

By the way, my car still refused to put forth any heat on the ride home. My toes were still cold.