I'm writing a novel that involves a crime (in the USA) and need to know the proper police procedure and timeline for the events. Where can I find accurate information to help me?

More specifics--A natural disaster occurs in a slightly bigger mid-western city. The main character's parents get killed in it. How long would it take the police to identify all the people who were killed and notify family?

  • Welcome to Writers. Can you be a little more specific? Small local police handling a burglary may have different procedures than NYC police investigating a terrorist event (pulling in DHS, FBI, etc). Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 21:10
  • Okay, I edited the question to provide details. Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 22:32
  • To clarify, are you interested in the 'red tape' aspect of the procedure, or the actual forensic identification techniques? If the latter, the condition of the bodies matters. For that, biology.SE might be more helpful.
    – lea
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 8:54
  • Could you not ask a police public relations rep?
    – CLockeWork
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 13:08
  • That sounds like a good place to start, CLickeWork. Thanks Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 21:28

3 Answers 3


One source that you may want to check out for general reference is Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers. It can shed a lot of light on how a criminal investigation actually works, and was written by an author who had a long career in law enforcement.

I would recommend that you check this book out at your local library or bookstore to see if it has information on the specific scenario you listed above. If anything, this book could help you ask the right questions should you decided to interview an actual police officer.


You can learn so much about police procedure by watching TV cop shows. For example, I've learned that: (a) If two policemen are assigned to be partners, one must be a straight, by-the-book person and the other a maverick. (b) Every police investigation requires at least one visit to a strip club. (c) The average police officer is involved in at least two shoot-outs per week, but is never injured. (d) Unless, of course, it is the day before he retires from the police force, in which case the most trivial call will likely result in him being shot and killed. Etc.

Okay, maybe you're better to go with Quilly's suggestion if you want realism.


Funny story about this one, but perhaps it will point you towards a previously unmentioned source of police procedural knowledge...

I was a writers group meeting a few years ago, reading and critiquing the works of other amateur authors in return for their performing the same service on my latest prose. This particular night, all of the stories had an unplanned commonality; they all involved drug related crimes. Inevitably, two of the stories contradicted each other on some miniscule aspect of the responding police officer's behavior and both authors claimed that their depiction was right. A heated discussion arose. For a few minutes voices and egos escalated, each participant claiming ever increasing intimacy with the drug world and its denizens. Then a mild mannered meeting attendee, whose drug related story did not involve any police, finally added his two cents worth. The argument ended instantly with nobody doubting that he was right. After all, he was an authority on the subject, literally. It said so on his badge.

My point is that the best way to learn about police procedure is to ask a police officer. Just make sure that you explain to them why you are asking, and invite them to not answer, if answering would compromise either their safety, or their trust that you are a law-abiding citizen.

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