Friday, March 8, 2013

Police Procedurals—The Process

By Peg Brantley

From a reader:

I'd like to see how/what you have to do to write so prolifically on police procedures.

That's a great question, without an easy, concise answer. Avoiding the fact that I'm not exactly prolific (yet), let me try and give this a shot.

Remember, these are from my perspective only. I'm hoping that a lot of talented crime writers will add their thoughts and tools in the comment section.

Reference Books

Police Procedure & Investigation by Lee Lofland

Scene of the Crime, a writers guide to crime scene investigation by Anne Wingate, PhD

The Investigation of Crime by William T. Forbes

FBI Handbook of Crime Scene Forensics by Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Criminal Investigation by Alan Axelrod and Guy Antinozzi


Writers' Police Academy (Lee Lofland and crew put this on annually in Greensboro, North Carolina. If you write crime fiction, this is a great place to get details… and contacts.)

Citizen Police Academy (I completed the 14-week course through Aurora Citizen Police Academy)

Courses through local colleges (I attended a multi-night presentation on Sexual Homicide at Regis University)

Online Resources

Obviously Google is a writer's best friend when it comes to research, but I'm careful to confirm information obtained from just any old website.

Crime Scene Writers is a Yahoo group with a lot of experts answering a lot of questions.


Over time, writers pull together a group of people who are willing to share time and knowledge. In addition to those I've sought out, or met at obvious places (like the Writers Police Academy or the Aurora Citizen Police Academy), I've "lucked" into meeting some generous professionals. One that comes to mind is the chief of police in Aspen. My husband and I had gone to one of our favorite in-state getaways to celebrate our anniversary, and the dates happened to coincide with a major bicycle race coming through town. The police department was out in force and we happened to meet the chief. He was very helpful with a tricky plot line in The Missings.


We've all heard of the CSI Effect where jurors expect a lot of scientific sizzle and the general public expect quick and accurate resolutions to complex crimes. A lot of bad information wrapped up in an hour long show. I don't bother, except for some fun.

But believe it or not, I've been told that there are some very accurate portrayals of police procedure on television. Most are documentary type shows (the ID Channel comes to mind), but at least the first season or two of Southland is reported to be fairly faithful to reality. I confess to not being a regular viewer of any of these options.

And finally, I read books by writers I admire who write police procedurals. One is our very own L.J. Sellers. I know she does her homework and if there's detail, it's right. And she's prolific.


  1. Thanks for the shoutout, Peg! Most of my information comes from interviews with detectives, FBI agents, medical examiners, crime scene technicians, and, once, a SWAT sergeant. They provide personal insight that you can't find anywhere else.

    I also attended our local citizens police academy, which I highly recommend for crime fiction authors.

  2. Good post, Peg. I have a few of the reference books mentioned, and I also chat with law enforcement local to where I set my books.

  3. What a great resource you're providing here for aspiring crime fiction writers, Peg! And hopefully others can add to it.

  4. Thanks for the resource list, insights and the obvious energy of the post. Bookmarked.

  5. Well, shoot. I'm missing the little "Reply" buttons.

    LJ, with your journalism background, interviews would be a perfect way for you to gather information.

    Jenny, I agree that chatting is an important element. That's where I pick up slang that wouldn't normally be in a reference book.

    Thanks, Jodie and David. Appreciate your support!

  6. Taking notes...thanks for the info, Peg.

  7. Thanks for the tip on the yahoo group. I'm going to join this weekend. It will be another great tool in my resource kit.

  8. You're more than welcome, Andrew and Kelly.


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