I'm writing a WIP novel with a rookie police officer. I'm concerned that the situation is incorrect / impractical / unbelievable:

He is, respectfully, a minor character and his story is used to serve as a "mini mystery" to add realism, clues, exposition for the later chapters, which helps build the foundation of a larger tale.

  1. He is starting the night shift on his own, as a rookie. (if not realistic, maybe because of scheduling mishap?)

  2. It is his first night on the job. First time out of training.

  3. He is a "state" trooper. A rural police officer. Not a city cop.

  4. Events take place during 1 night, on the outskirts of the city.

  5. He meets up with the "sheriff / higher ranking officer" later on, as the plot thickens.

  6. Starting place: Parked in his car, on the side of the highway. Doing highway patrol.

Where can I locate resources that would let me check all this? How do I do background research that will help me?

  • Hi Ryan, welcome to Writers Stack Exchange! Your question appears to be about "What to write?" rather than "How to write?" By the way, your scenario looks quite plausible, if in #2 by "training" you mean "field training" and not just "Police academy training". – Alexander Jul 26 '17 at 0:39
  • I'm assuming this is based in USA as well? I know for a hard fact (going through the process now) that in QLD, Australia, a "rookie" cop is never, ever out alone, and has a 12 month probation period after the academy. 1) would be more realistic if he were on his way for his shift mayhap – user18397 Jul 26 '17 at 5:35
  • If he is rural, then his beat probably isn't on the edge of the city. Cops have certain zones they work in. Usually within a couple square miles of each other that they patrol give or take population density. He might be called there as back up, but if it is out of his beat, he won't be the first one on the scene. Only way for it to work is if he was coming home or leaving to a shift as an off duty officer. As Thomo said, rookies are never allowed on their own. Too much liability to only provide the acadamy and a few training nights before letting loose. – ggiaquin16 Jul 26 '17 at 15:23
  • Also as a side note, This would be off topic here as this is "worldbuilding/Research related". We here in writers want to focus on the actual writing process, not the content of the writing itself. Worldbuilding would be your best bet for fact checking/reality checks/research questions based on your world you want to create. – ggiaquin16 Jul 26 '17 at 15:26
  • 3
    @ggiaquin I think this isn't worldbuilding's cup of tea, since this is isn't so much about constructing a world as it is about researching the real world. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jul 28 '17 at 0:44

One of the best ways to find out how a "professional" in a job feels is to talk to someone who actually is doing that job.

So volunteer for the local police department, and then let word "get out" about your project. Probably someone will be thrilled to tell you about their first time on the night shift, or similar experiences that they might have had. And then how they dealt with "others" afterward, perhaps higher-ups. That's how you lend "authenticity" to your prose.


Ask for an interview of the kind of person you want to portray. You should probably tell them in advance what the interview will be used for.

There's a chance that a cop (or any other profession with responsibility for other people) would rather talk about his/her first experiences for a fictional piece than for an article about the profession.

Most people "know" that fiction is not necessarily accurate, and therefore; any feelings of doubt, neglect, lack of training that person may have had will appear more acceptable than if if it was, for instance, an article about "What it's like for new police officers in Nevada"...


Most police departments (at least in the U.S.) will allow just about anyone to go on a "ride along". You may have to fill out a form and sign a waiver, and they'll typically check to make sure you aren't a violent felon or have outstanding warrants. But then you can sit next to an officer in the patrol car, and see what they actually do on a shift.

Some cops won't be very chatty, and some will talk your ear off. If you don't have a positive experience the first time, try a different shift, or a different department if possible. Culture can vary widely.

To address your specific questions, typically once an officer graduates the police academy, he or she will be in field training for a few months, where they and partnered with a more senior officer trained to teach new cops. After this period is over, then you would usually be by yourself. It's common for new officers to work at night, because people with seniority (and families) generally prefer day shifts.

But I'd strongly suggest contacting your local department for a ride along, and then you can be there for the fast driving and traffic stops and whatever else, while being able to ask your questions. Day shifts are typically less exciting, with more "paper" calls, like taking a report for a car that was broken into overnight. So more time to ask questions maybe. Night shifts are usually more exciting, with in progress calls. Some cops will let you come along while they go inside calls, some will ask you to wait in the car. It varies widely. But it's a good way to get these questions answered by a pro, regardless.

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