PostHeaderIcon Murder, It Really Bugs Me!

In response to questions I’ve received over the past few weeks, I thought sharing a small portion of one of my old conference presentations would be in order. These slides are from a Powerpoint presentation I made back in 2007, but please don’t worry about the information being current…death hasn’t changed a bit in five years.

As always, if you want total realism, I recommend checking details with the agency in the area where your story is set. However, you’re writing fiction so it’s perfectly fine to make up your own town and police department. But please, write believable make believe!

A great example of something that’s not believable…

An author once wrote that the villain in the story had committed a misdemeanor murder. Well, there’s no such thing!

So, what is a felony?

A misdemeanor is?

Prisons and jails are not synonymous.

Jails are normally run by local sheriffs and are for short term incarcerations, and/or for prisoners awaiting trial. Prisons are run by state and federal governments and are for inmates who have been convicted and received longer-term (felony) sentencing.

They’re not? Then why do I see this written incorrectly in so many books? What’s the difference?

I committed homicide when I shot and killed a bank robber during a shootout. The act was ruled, of course, a justifiable homicide.

Had the robber been a better shot and killed me, well, he’d have been charged with murder.

Hmm…I’ve seen this written wrong too.

Oh, so…

Carey A. Body just murdered his longtime girlfriend, Ida Kissedanyman, and fled on foot through an alley, over a fence, and into the rear parking lot of Beulah Bells’ Hog Jowl Emporium. Body, sweating heavily and breathing like a huffing locomotive traveling a 72% steep uphill grade, ditched the murder weapon inside a fat, rusted dumpster that was stuffed to the brim with discarded hocks, pinto beans, and hunks of Crisco-drentched fried cornbread.

Therefore, even though the dumpster was four blocks away from the actual scene of the crime, the dumpster is now considered a crime scene. Why? Because evidence of a crime is located there. And, yes, detectives and/or CSI’s must paw through the garbage, by hand, searching for evidence.

Normally, uniformed patrol officers are the first to respond.

And…

Obviously, there’s a difference in the roles of patrol officers and detectives. Does that indicate that their training is different too?

Well, every officer receives the same basic training. The differences begin to show up in specialized training, later on in the career.

Basic training is a lot of repetitive motions, such as draw, point, and shoot…over and over again. This is to help the officers instantly react to various situations. And they must do so without wasting precious seconds attempting to decide how to handle potentially life-ending scenarios. Speed is important, because extreme danger can unfold in mere seconds.

Detectives, on the other hand, absolutely must take the time think. No tunnel vision and an open mind are extremely important.

What methods do detectives use when solving crimes? Are there standards?

First,

Next…

Nowadays, things have changed dramatically. There are tons of crime-solving tools out there, and they’re all available to each and every officer…well, to the departments that can afford them, that is.

Even today, though, the absolute top crime-solving tool in every detective’s toolbox, above fingerprinting, bloodstain and DNA evidence is…hitting the streets and talking to people.

And a little good cop/bad cop goes a long way, too.

Remember, the secret to writing good fiction is “writing believable make believe.” Doesn’t mean it has to be true…you’ve just have to make us believe it is.

13 Responses to “Murder, It Really Bugs Me!”

  • maegan beaumont says:

    misdemeanor murder… wow.
    As always, thanks for taking the time to give us the goods. I’ve been asked by more than a few people if I worked in law enforcement before becoming a writer. I always tell them no, but I read Lee Lofland’s blog–that’s the next best thing. :)

    Hope you’re feeling better…

  • SZ says:

    More things I did not know. I love the way you teach !

    Hope you are feeling better.

  • Les Edgerton says:

    Good stuff, as always, Lee. Now, please explain to folks the difference between parole and probation. I see writers who either don’t know the difference or use the terms interchangeably.

  • Lee Lofland says:

    I did that one a few days ago, Les. I’ll dig up the link and post it.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Along with the murder vs. homicide thing, in San Antonio, TX, suicide is categorized as “homicide” in terms of investigation. The officer who spoke to our group thought it was kind of weird and unusual (meaning other TX agencies didn’t do it that way), but it makes a certain amount of sense when you look at the core meaning.

  • Nancy Sweetland says:

    Hi, Lee – once again, really valuable information and even if you think you know it, the review is great. And thanks for the Castle reviews – I love them!

  • Lee Lofland says:

    That’s truly odd, Elizabeth, especially when Black’s Law defines homicide as the “killing of one person by another.” Not, one person killing himself.

    By the way, attempted suicide is crime in many areas.

  • Thanks for another great post, Lee. Particularly like the homicide/murder distinction. They get used interchangably a lot, a big no-no I tried to drill into my cops reporters.

  • I love learning from you, Lee. You make me laugh which helps me remember what you are teaching me. Those priceless character names crack me up. Pictures were great too. Feel better.

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Thanks, Pat. I’m always happy to hear that someone finds this stuff useful.

  • David DeLee says:

    I too find these sort of posts very helpful. Along with the Castle reviews and others. Please Lee, keep them coming.

  • Carolyn says:

    Lee, thank for always providing lots of useful information on your blog. Relative to Castle, so much of what they do seems unbelievable to me. Do you view it as a cozy mystery? Would the police really allow someone like Castle to participate in every crime, or is that just on television?

    Hope you’re feeling better.

  • Ken Wishnia says:

    “Misdemeanor murder”? Sheesh. Now I’ve heard everything. Keep setting them straight, Lee.

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