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Here are answers to a few of the most often asked questions about police work.

  • How do I become an FBI homicide investigator so I can help solve the murder cases my town? Easy answer. You can’t. The FBI doesn’t work local homicide cases, therefore, the agency does not employ “homicide” investigators. That’s the job of city, county, and state police.

  • How long does it take to become a detective? There is no set timeline/standard, so the answer is … as long as it takes. It’s all about who’s the best person for the job. One person may be ready with as little as two years experience, while another may not be ready for a plainclothes assignment, well, they may never be ready. The job of detective isn’t for everyone, by the way. Some officers prefer to work in patrol, or traffic, in the schools, or in the division that inspects taxi cabs and buses to be sure they’re in compliance with local law and standards.

  • Why didn’t you read that guy his rights before you handcuffed him? Aren’t you required to do so by law? Don’t you have to let him go now that someone knows you broke the law by not reading him his rights?

Miranda, first of all, is only required when (a) someone is in custody, and (b) prior to questioning. Therefore, if I, as a police officer, don’t plan to ask any questions, and that’s often the case, I don’t have to spout off the “You have the right to remain silent” speech. So no, not advising someone of Miranda is not a get out of jail free card.

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  • Why do cops wear sunglasses? Umm … because they’re constantly exposed to bright sunshine and the glasses help reduce glare and eyestrain.

  • I got a ticket for not wearing my seat belt, yet the USPS letter carrier in my neighborhood doesn’t wear his. How do they get away with breaking the law? Most areas have laws that specifically address delivery drivers and similar professions—letter carriers, delivery services, police officers, firefighters, etc., whose jobs require them to be in and out of their vehicles throughout the business day. And, those laws typically excuse the driver(s) from mandatory seat belt laws while performing their jobs. However, many of these businesses and agencies require their drivers to wear safety belts when operating a vehicle.

  • Why are there so many sheriffs in my county? There is only one sheriff per county or city (yes, some cities have a sheriff’s office in addition to a county sheriff’s office). The rest of the folks you see wearing the uniform and star are deputies. A sheriff, the boss of the entire department, is elected by the people. He/she then appoints deputies to assist with the duties of the office—running the jail, courtroom security, serving papers, patrol and criminal investigations, etc.

  •  No, it’s not racial profiling to stop a shifty-eyed white subject with a black nose who’s wearing a red collar with a gold medallion in a location near a bank that was just robbed by a a white subject with a black nose who’s wearing a red collar with a gold medallion.

“Be on the lookout for a shifty-eyed white subject with a black nose. He’s wearing a red collar with gold medallion.”

  • No, you do not have the right to see the radar unit, my gun, or what I’m writing in my notebook.

  • No, turning on your hazard lights does not give you the right to park in the fire lane in front of the grocery store.

  • Yes, I am concerned about your ability to fight well. Please understand, though, that this is what I do for a living and they didn’t teach me to lose. Besides, I have a lot of loyal coworkers who’re on the way here, right now, to see to it that the good guy (me) wins.

They sometimes decide to fight wearing nothing but …

  • You keep saying you know your rights … but you really don’t. Can you hear the nonsense you’re telling me?

You have the right to remain silent. Use it!

  • Yes, no matter how much you hate me, my badge, and my uniform, I’ll still come running when/if you call.

“Help, po-leeeece!”

Realism in fiction is important, when it’s needed. The ability to weave fact into fiction is aa must. But one must first know what’s fact and what’s fiction before attempting to use reality as part of fiction. Otherwise, the author is offering readers fiction as reality.

And that’s a fact. Or is it fiction? Okay, now I’m confused.

Anyway …

Have you done the unthinkable? Are there words in your latest tale that could send your book straight to someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile? How can you avoid such disaster, you ask? Fortunately, following these four simple rules could save the day.

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S., if at all.

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies. Andy was the sheriff (the boss) and Barney was his deputy.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre quest to take down Mr. Freeze. Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass Avenue and Stupid Street.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour, well, grab a bottle of white-out and immediately begin lathering up that string of goofy words because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can remove his name plate from the desk and replace it with one of her own along with photos of her family and her pet guinea pig. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her “guvment” vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now, I’m rolling my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality without stopping in their tracks to wonder if they should, even if only for a short time.

Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But, for goodness sake, give them something to work with—without an info dump, provide readers a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

But if you’re going for realism, then please do some real homework. I say this because I recently began reading a book and I’d barely made it halfway through the first chapter when I tossed it into my WRIAMY pile (Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years). This was a ARC a publisher sent me to review, by the way.

It was obvious the author was going for realism, and it was also painfully obvious the writer’s method of research was a couple of quick visits to crappy internet sites, and a 15-minute conversation with a friend whose sister works with a man whose brother, a cab driver in Dookyboo, North Carolina, picked up a guy ten years ago at the airport, a partially deaf man with two thumbs on his right hand, who had a friend in Whirlywind, Kansas who lived next door to a retired security guard who, during a Saturday lunch rush, sat two tables over from two cops who might’ve mentioned a crime scene … maybe.

Please, if you want good, solid information, always speak with an expert who has first-hand knowledge about the subject. Not a person who, having read a book about fingerprinting or bloodstain patterns, suddenly believes they’re pro. Sure, they may be able to relate what they’ve read on a page, however, those mere words are not the things writers need to breathe life into a story. Reading about bloodstains is not the same as standing inside a murder scene, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions felt by the person who’s there in person. The latter is the true expert who can help a writer take their work to the next level, and beyond.

So, is there a WRIAMY pile in your house? Worse … have you written something that could land one of your tales in someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile of unreadable books? If so, perhaps it’s time to change your research methods.

A great means to assist in adding realism to your work is to, of course, attend the Writers’ Police Academy! Registration for the 2020 WPA’s special event, MurderCon, our 12th anniversary blowout, opens on February 23, 2020. You will not want to miss this thrilling experience. It is THE event of the year!

*The all new MurderCon website is scheduled to go live by the end of next week (February 15, 2020). Please check back to view the all new topics and schedule.

Badge Contact Lee

It’s Wormhole Thursday, a time to journey back to a time before TASERS and prior to the CSI Effect.

It’s memories of what it was like to be a cop way “back in the day” and I share this with you for two reasons. One: The information contained within are details that could add that extra touch of realism that’s sometimes missing in a crime story. Two: To help those not involved in the real world of coppers better understand that cops are more than just someone in uniform who writes traffic tickets and locks up the bad guys.

So please join me as we wander into the Thursday Wormhole. Oh, and please keep your hands and feet inside at all times. We’re approaching Halloween and you never know what or who is lurking out there in the shadows.

Sheriff’s Office

First, a bit about the office of sheriff. Sheriff’s are elected officials and they’re like the CEOs of their departments. Most operate under a county government. However, a few cities also have sheriffs which, I believe, occurs mostly in Virginia where some cities are legally not a part of the county that surrounds them. The law there states that only a sheriff may serve civil process (jury summons, divorce papers, lien notices, etc.), meaning a sheriff is needed in those locations since, by law, a police department may not serve those papers.

Wearing “the Star”

I worked as a patrol deputy, riding county roads doing double-duty, as we all did, serving civil papers between answering criminal complaints and keeping our eyes open for bad folks doing bad things. In our “spare time” we investigated crimes resulting from those complaints. There were no detectives. Our sheriff didn’t believe in having them, just like he didn’t believe that female deputies should carry guns. In fact, our department didn’t have women working the roads. Not a single female deputy was a sworn police officer. There were female jailers, of course, because our jail, like others, housed women prisoners. We also had female dispatchers.

It was a requirement that all jailers/corrections officers were certified to carry firearms, and they received training at the range. The women who worked in our department also received the training (had to to become certified jailers), but when the training was completed the she sheriff made them turn in their weapons.

In Black and White

Our shifts were divided by race. White deputies were assigned mostly to work with other white deputies, and African American deputies were assigned to work with African American deputies. I was the exception to the rule. I was a crossover deputy. The sheriff called me into his office one day to tell me he was trying the experiment of mixing us (yes, he actually said this) and he thought I had the personality to get along with everyone. Well, duh …

Anyway, that’s the flavor of how it was during the early days of my career in law enforcement. Obviously, things changed over the years, but gradually. This was the South and change and progress in many areas there were slow to come, especially within the sheriff’s office.

Moving Ahead to 1984

August 25, 1984. 2330 hours (11:30 p.m.)

I tucked my daughter in bed for the night and told the overnight sitter I’d see her in the morning, and to call my office if she needed anything. Someone there, I said, would contact me by radio to relay the message. And, if I wasn’t in one of the many “dead spots” in the county I’d respond right away. Then I headed out the front door and to my patrol car, a brown and tan sheriff’s vehicle with a red light bar on top and a long whip antenna that frequently struck and trimmed low hanging branches and leaves from the trees that lined some country roads.

I’d repeat my message to the sitter message each time I worked the night shift. Thankfully, the sheriff understood that I was single dad raising a daughter, so I was fortunate in that I worked mostly day shifts. But, nights were a part of the job so I rolled with the punches.

My attire for the evening, as always, was the standard dark brown shirt, khaki-colored pants, shoes shined until they looked like polished mahogany, a straw campaign hat, a deep brown basketweave-patterned gun belt that held a Smith and Wesson .357 with a 6-inch barrel, a pair of Peerless handcuffs, and two dump pouches that contained a few extra rounds of hollow point ammunition. And a Maglite.

My left rear pocket was weighted slightly by the spring-handled lead and leather SAP I’d slipped inside just prior to leaving my bedroom. It was my secret weapon in the event someone got the best of me and there was no other way to survive the encounter.

This was any and every night back in the late 70s and early 80s. We weren’t issued vests, semi-autos, shotguns, TASERS, or chemical sprays of any type. There were no cages/partitions in our cars either, meaning we’d have to place the crooks in the front passenger seat and, as a result, when we arrested an unruly suspect we’d often have to wrestle with them, while driving, all the way to the jail. On more than one occasion, simply for a bit of relief, I handcuffed the guy to the bracket that held the carseat to the floorboard.

Other times I’d call for backup and that poor deputy would have to ride in the backseat and tussle with the a-holes until we arrived at the jail.

Some of us kept a baseball bat tucked between the driver’s seat and door, in that narrow space on the floorboard. It’s purpose was to equal the odds a bit when facing a group of people who were hellbent on bashing in the brains of a solo deputy. To paint a better picture, imagine yourself facing a crowd of 100 drunk people in a nightclub parking lot who’re in the midst of fighting, cutting, stabbing, and shooting and it’s your job to break it up. Then many of them decide it’s time to attack the cop and that cop is you and you’re the only cop there. Yes, a baseball bat came in handy, believe me.

We were required to wear the Smokey Bear campaign hats any time we were outdoors. If the boss drove by a traffic stop and the deputy’s head was bare, well, there was a good chance by afternoon he’d no longer be a deputy. And you’d as soon be caught dead as to have your photo appear in a newspaper story without the hat perched atop your dome. Goodness, NO!

The same was true about the shine on our shoes, and that meant after rolling in a mud hole with a dangerous suspect, trying to handcuff him while he constantly punched, kicked, and bit you, well, the moment you were once again upright you’d best be wiping away the mud from your shoes and buffing them back to a glossy shine. Otherwise, you risked being sent home for good.

As I briefly mentioned above, there were several radio dead spots throughout the county. In those areas calling for backup was absolutely impossible. Remember, cell phones weren’t around back then. Therefore, we answered dangerous calls there with the mindset that we’d do whatever it took to come back. It was a bit like entering the Twilight Zone.

It’s not a good feeling to respond to a murder scene, knowing the killer was last seen entering a dark and big old abandoned building, knowing you’ve got to go in to get the guy, alone. Just you, your revolver, a Maglite, and a heart that’s jackhammering against the inside of your chest wall.

To make things worse, those were often the areas inhabited by people who loved to make and guzzle moonshine, fight the police, and who didn’t mind spending a few nights in a jail if it meant getting in a few good punches on a cop’s face.

Neighbors were no help to us either, because many of them enjoyed seeing a good brawl, scuffles that sometimes included being bitten by dogs of questionable intelligence who were defending their owners with every tooth in their snarling mouths.

Wives and shoeless and shirtless kids also liked to dive on the “beat-a-cop” pile.

The good neighbors, well, most of those folks didn’t own a phone so they were useless when it came to calling for help. They’d have to get in a car, if they owned one, and drive to the home of the nearest neighbor who had a “telly-phone.” Sometimes the closest phone was a located many miles away inside a country store, the places where large jars of pickled pigs feet and eggs sat on plywood counters near the old-timey cash registers, just a few feet from potbelly stove.

Somehow, and it’s difficult to fathom how, we’d almost always come out on top and bring in the person we’d gone out to get. And, sometimes we’d bring back an extra man or woman, depending upon how badly they’d beaten us.

Then, after tucking the offenders away in a nice warm jail cell and at shift’s end, I’d drive home facing a rising sun.

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After parking my car and signing off for the day, I’d open my front door, thank the babysitter, pack my sweet little girl’s lunch, usually a peanut butter grape jelly sandwich (her favorite), and then watch her run to meet the bus and her little friends. She never failed to grab a seat at the window so she could toss me a kiss and a wave goodbye.

Me? Well, I had shoes to polish and uniforms to wash, and a warm, soft bed and pillow waiting for me whenever I was ready to … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


More about the office of sheriff.

The duties of a county (or city) sheriff differ a bit than those of a police chief. In fact, not all sheriffs are responsible for street-type law enforcement, such as patrol.

In many areas the sheriff is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county.

Remember, this information may vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another.

Who is a sheriff?

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1) Sheriffs are constitutional officers, meaning they are elected into office by popular vote.

2) Generally, sheriffs do not have a supervisor. They don’t answer to a board of supervisors, commissioners, or a county administrator. However, any extra funding that’s not mandated by law is controlled by county government.

Sheriffs are responsible for:

1) Executing and returning process, meaning they serve all civil papers, such as divorce papers, eviction notices, lien notices, etc. They must also return a copy of the executed paperwork to the clerk of court.

2) Attending and protecting all court proceedings within the jurisdiction.

– A sheriff appoints deputies to assist with the various duties.

3) Preserve order at public polling places.

4) Publish announcements regarding sale of foreclosed property. The sheriff is also responsible for conducting public auctions of foreclosed property.

5) Serving eviction notices. The sheriff must sometimes forcibly remove tenants and their property from their homes or businesses. I’ve known sheriffs who use jail inmates (supervised by deputies) to haul property from houses out to the street.

6) Maintain the county jail and transport prisoners to and from court. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting county prisoners to state prison after they’re been sentenced by the court.

7) In many, if not most, areas the sheriff is responsible for all law enforcement of their jurisdiction. Some towns do not have police departments, but all jurisdictions (with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut) must have a sheriff’s office.

8) Sheriffs in the state of Delaware, our new home, do not have police powers.

9) In California, some sheriffs also serve as coroner of their counties.

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10) In the majority of jurisdictions, sheriffs and their deputies have arrest powers in all areas of the county where they were elected, including all cities, towns, and villages located within the county.

*In most locations, deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, meaning they can be dismissed from duty without cause or reason. Remember, in most areas, but not all, deputies are appointed by the sheriff, not hired.

The above list is not all inclusive. Sheriffs and deputies are responsible for duties in addition to those listed here.