If you’re a reader of crime fiction or a fan of crime shows on TV you’ve probably wondered how much of the police procedure you see depicted is accurate. In books? It’s probably not bad. On TV? Maybe not so much.
Sooner or later most writers, even if they’re in science fiction, will probably feature a crime scenario and the ensuing police investigation, and I think writers have an obligation to try to get the details right. Fortunately there are now lots of resources to help, including websites and books especially produced for writers. But details can vary a lot from place to place, so why not get it straight from the horse’s mouth (a police horse, of course)? You might be surprised to find that your local police service is very willing to help you get your facts straight. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about policing in a medium-sized city in Ontario, Canada.
- police services in Ontario are networked and use PowerCase software to collect case information. One of the benefits is that similarities to a case in another jurisdiction can be readily found and flagged.
- Any major case passed to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) is handled by a Major Case Management Team (MCMT) which uses the Major Case Management Triangle, consisting of a Team Commander, a Primary Investigator, and a File Coordinator. The titles sometimes change, and the triangle can be only two people instead of three, but the three roles must be covered.
- In my city, investigators routinely handle 20 cases at a time. In some jurisdictions it can be twice that many!
- Some police services have Scenes Of Crime Officers known as SOCO’s who take all the photographs and collect all of the physical evidence at a crime scene. In other places, it is an officer of the Forensics Identification Unit who does this. In every instance they’re very strict about who gets access to a crime scene. A local FIU might process fingerprints on their own, but chemical or other physical evidence is sent to a specialized lab. In Ontario it would be either the Centre for Forensic Science in Toronto or the Northern Regional Forensic Laboratory in Sault Ste. Marie. Your area will have similar places.
Just from this sampling, it’s easy to see how a writer could go wrong and damage the credibility of their story.
So don’t “surrender” to your lack of knowledge. Get the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.