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Author Topic: Asking experts / police / detectives / FBI
Member # 8991

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We've had this topic come up a few times, and I did a search, but didn't find exactly what I'm looking for, so here's a new one.

Frankly, I'm in need of contacting a police detective. Or FBI agent. I have one question that I NEED to know to continue my story that I can't for the life of me find online. (If anyone can, that would rock my socks.)

After that, I have a list of little questions.

I doubt I can just call NYPD and set up an apt, although perhaps if I donated they may do something like that?

Does anyone know any of these things? Or know someone who does?

Oh, my specific question is, how many alike murders need to happen before the case becomes "Serial" and the FBI get involved.
I currently have the story at 3. That fits the narrative, but if I'm wrong on that, I'm screwed past page 120.


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Member # 8019

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Different agencies have different standards and different terms. A series prescriptively is a set of more that two elements. A serial murderer might also be a mass murderer. A difference between the two is a mass murderer kills more than one or two people on each occasion. A serial mass murderer might have accumulated many murders, rarely one at a time, but high body count might make it mass murder.

For literature, three crimes with similar modus operandi is sufficient to give readers a sense that there's no coincidence between separate in time and place and perhaps situation settings of crimes.

More than three serial murders, the body count mounts. A challenge then for a writer is to develop escalating psychological and visceral horror from additional murders. For either case, a reaction character's standing is as an audience surrogate, one who expresses the audience's emotional reactions to the horrors. Somewhat similar to a reader surrogate, a principal difference being a reader surrogate is a character who readers identify and associate with closely.

Where serial is concerned for the FBI is whether a crime spree rises to a level of interstate, country-wide, extra-country, domestic institutions under FBI or Justice Department jurisdiction activity, or assistance is requested from a regional agency.

Serial crime evidence is collected and evaluated for the purpose of identifying patterns, profiles, and trends so that a perpetrator can be identified and caught and tried based on fact evidence and by fact evidence corroborating circumstantial evidence. A regional agency may spearhead an investigation and only rely on the FBI to process evidence, physical evidence, and maybe offer profile evidence advice.

A writer asking a law enforcement agency for advice can be dicey. The several regional and federal agencies I've talked with all questioned my motives and began taking closer looks into my life. That was a very creepy feeling. I presented credentials that established my credibility, writing curriculum vitae credits. Didn't matter much. There was stubborn initial resistance. One common question each agency asked, "What, are you planning on doing something we ought to know about?" Creepy.

[ August 07, 2012, 11:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Member # 9883

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Sorry, I don't know anything specific myself.

I'm sure the online information I found is probably similar to what you discovered.

It seems like three (or more) murders, the murders have to be spaced out due to a cooling off period, and that there's usually a sexual element involved. Apparently, the FBI classifies serial killers into two types: organized, and disorganized.

Personally, I've never had trouble just walking into a local police station and finding someone to answer a few questions. Granted, I don't live in NYC, but folks around where I live are very open to indulging my questions, as long as I keep them relatively brief.

I would suggest contacting the police department, FBI, or a local university and discussing it with a criminal science professor.

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Member # 9331

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A quick search on Amazon for "police procedures" turns up a number of potentially useful books, the top of which is oriented towards writers.

As for your question about the criteria for serial killers, you can search for "training investigation serial murder" on FBI.GOV and you'll find a number of useful links including these symposium notes:http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/serial-murder.

Symposium participants listed the initial identification of a homicide series as the primary investigative challenge. Historically, the first indication that a serial murderer was at work was when two or more cases were linked by forensic or behavioral evidence.

Identifying a homicide series is easier in rapidly-developing, high profile cases involving low risk victims. These cases are reported to law enforcement upon discovery of the crimes and draw immediate media attention.

In contrast, identifying a series involving high risk victims in multiple jurisdictions is much more difficult. This is primarily due to the high risk lifestyle and transitory nature of the victims. Additionally, the lack of communication between law enforcement agencies and differing records management systems impede the linkage of cases to a common offender.

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Member # 7760

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My uncle is a retired FBI agent who served in Las Vegas, so I think he's seen basically everything.

I'm actually seeing him this weekend, so if you, or anyone else, have specific questions for him about procedure, culture, language or what not, email me and I'll ask.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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You might try reading the FBI's Crime Classification Manual (which can actually be pretty interesting, even if it seems potentially boring--I know because I've read it--I was able to check it out from the library, by the way).
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Member # 9148

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Years ago my wife was helping type up a mystery novel for someone and they did go ask. I can't recall the whole circumstances but at least the writer and possibly both, asked a detective. That was before the internet and E-mail so they had to just go and talk to one.

But it looks like there are a couple of suggestions here to help already.

I thought about writing a novel--trying for a mainstream--about the police chasing a supernatural killer but they treat the case as just a human serial killer. If I did I would need to talk a lot and often with a detective. E-mailing them at least.

Depending on the detective it can be done, other writers have. If you still need to that is.

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Robert Nowall
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On finding experts to vet your research...I understand Mario Puzo compiled all his info on, er, "organized crime," for The Godfather, strictly from research, and didn't meet any, er, "inside experts," until much later, after publication.

Probably it's best to do all, or nearly all, of your research before you consult experts, so at least you look like you know what you're talking about and don't ask silly simple questions.

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Member # 8991

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Thanks everyone for your replies!
I'm just now getting a chance to post. Having a day job stinks.


Extrinsic, that's pretty funny. And I agree, I'm leery of calling out of the blue. Like telling a stewardess she's the bomb. "You can't say bomb on an airplane!"

JoBird, that's a great suggestion! I hadn't thought to ask a professor. They TEACH criminology, etc.

MattLeo, that's a great link! I printed it and will read when I get time. Skimming the first few pages has gotten me closer to my primary answer, but not quite there yet. Perhaps the complete answer is further along. Either way, interesting stuff/good knowledge.

Shimmy, I just e-mailed you.

Kathleen, I will grab that from the library if my 50 page printout doesn't do the trick.

Louis, I would love to talk face to face with a detective. I can't envision how to make that happen. Right now I'm flagging all my questions in the novel. Might make a frustrating read for a critiquer, but there's nothing I can do about it - yet.

Robert, I've been surprised and pleased at how much I've been able to find on my own. But there's silly stuff like: how much vacation time does a NYC detective receive each year, and does it accumulate or is it use it or lose it?

That question/answer has a particular bearing on the plot. I'm sure I could write around it if I'm currently wrong, (3 weeks, use or lose) but what a pain not just knowing the answer.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Maybe you can contact the NYC police employment office or human resources office for that answer?
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Member # 8019

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According to NYPDrecruit.com

•10 Paid vacation days during first & second year
•13 Paid vacation days during third, fourth & fifth year
•27 Paid vacation days after 5 years of service
•Unlimited sick leave with full pay

A wealth of information available about the NYPD at:

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It's unnerving at first, but you'd be surprised at what you can find out by calling places, introducing yourself accurately, and asking if anyone there (or a specific person if you've already identified one) could talk to you for five or ten minutes to answer a few questions. When in graduate school I did this with the local universities and museums (I was doing a computer science project but writing a learning program based on mesoamerican culture and art and I was eager to get the details right.) I was able to not just get great content, but get on-camera interviews with many of the major researchers in the area. They were just so happy that *someone* was taking an interest in their work, they talked to me for no compensation, some giving several hours of their time. I learned a tremendous amount from them, not the least of which is to be generous with your time when *you* are the expert! [Smile]

So I suggest you give it a try! The worst thing that will happen is someone will either hang up on your or tell you no, you can't speak to that department. But most people wouldn't respond negatively to "Hello, I'm a writer doing a novel about a police detective set in the future. I want to learn more about today's police procedures so that I can most accurately reflect policies and cultural norms within the <whatever city> police department. Would anyone be available to speak with me briefly to help me with some facts and statistics?" Provided you make it clear that A) You're writing fiction (not a newspaper reporter writing "a story" who would get shunted over to the PR rep for the department) and B) Convey a tone of respect for the time of the people you're asking for time from and the jobs that they do.

Good luck!

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