I have a lot of specific questions about police procedure
June 15, 2016 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm about 98% done with the rough draft of a novel and have a lot of questions which I'm not finding answers to in various (U.S.) law enforcement manuals online. I'd ask the police, but I can't imagine they have time to field rhetorical questions from every aspiring novelist who might contact them (I'm not a famous author; I haven't even had a short story published).

I've just written the climax of the novel and have read manuals by the FBI and various other law enforcement agencies detailing crime scene procedure, including procedures for this particular kind of crime scene (domestic violence). But I still have questions.

The scenario is this: a smaller man breaks up with his much larger boyfriend, who is controlling and has a violent temper. The larger man attacks the smaller one, choking him hard enough to leave handprints and punching him repeatedly in the eye. The victim passes out; the attacker leaves. The neighbor heard the commotion and called the police. The police arrive to find the victim unconscious on the living room floor, badly bruised on the throat and face, with swelling around his eye. There are beer bottles strewn about; a painting's been knocked off the wall; an end table's been broken in the scuffle. There's a cell phone on the floor near the victim.

Once the police have secured the crime scene and lead the EMTs to the victim, who's taken unconscious to the hospital, they take photos of the scene and sketch out the floorplan with the numbers showing where all the pieces of evidence are. They take the beer bottles, the painting, and the cell phone as potential evidence.

After that I just have a lot of questions.
  • There are nanny cams in various rooms in the house, but they're fairly cleverly disguised. How often do police miss nanny cams in investigations? Do they typically only find the most obvious and/or popular models?
  • Do the police take the laptop in the bedroom down the hall when the disturbance appears to have been confined to the living room?
  • The victim is embarrassed and can't speak much but appears to be telling the truth and cooperating fully. If the cell phone has a pass code (and the laptop has a password, if it's taken as evidence), how much are they going to want access to them after the victim gives his statement? When does the victim get his cell phone (and possibly his laptop) back? When does he get the painting back?
  • When is the final survey and release of the crime scene? If the police don't discover anything particularly striking about the crime scene, would they release it shortly after the victim comes to the next day and gives his statement? (That is: when the victim is discharged, could he go back home [assuming he's comfortable there] or would he have to find a friend to stay with?) If they wouldn't have released the crime scene that early, and still have the victim's phone (and possibly laptop), how would they notify him when he's allowed to go back home?
  • If the attacker's vehicle is found at his home but the man himself is nowhere to be found, how long would they continue searching for him? What about if the cell phone company shows his last cell phone location as inside his home, and there's no activity on his credit or debit cards?
  • If the ex has disappeared and the police have the beating on the nanny cam video, showing the victim passed out when the ex leaves, how long would they continue coming to ask questions about where the victim's ex might be? Would it matter to them at all if the victim has taken out a restraining order against his ex? (Yes, I'm aware that if the victim thinks he might be a suspect, he needs a lawyer. No, I haven't been abused by my boyfriend, nor have I attacked anyone, nor am I planning any of that, nor is anyone I know missing.)
Thanks for any light you might be able to shed on any of this.
posted by johnofjack to Law & Government (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd search and/or ask on r/ProtectAndServe.
posted by town of cats at 4:53 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not involved with law enforcement except as a reader. I think you will find that the police investigation is much less organized and thorough than your questions envision, and also that procedures and diligence vary widely from one jurisdiction to another. In other words, you can pretty much make it any way that works for your story. I doubt they will pay attention to nanny cams, laptops or phones except perhaps in trying to find a perp.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, consult that board or another similar one if you want official answers. Practically speaking, the police are barely going to do anything in a situation like this other than take the victim's statement, take some pictures (almost entirely of the victim's body, MAYBE a couple of the potential-weapon objects strewn about), and help him into the ambulance. They are not taking any of that stuff you listed to the evidence room.

Point by point:
#1: If they're at all concealed they will not be noticed.

#2: No.

#3: Probably won't want to access the cell phone unless the victim recites it as being relevant to the assault in some way (this is the point I'm least sure about btw).

#4: The scene won't be seized such that it ever needs to be released. They may instruct the victim to change the locks; if the perpetrator has legal access to the building (roommate on the lease, legal partnership, etc.), there will be follow-on restraining order proceedings to keep that specific person out but it won't generally be closed. Again none of the objects you list will be seized at all. Victim can come home immediately from the hospital.

#5: They would briefly poke around the scene, ask any witness for a last known location / direction of travel for the perp, then fill out an arrest warrant back at the station.

#6: Not sure. I reject the premise that they would ever see the video. In any event the general answer to "how long would they spend looking" is "not long at all."

I don't say this from any "fuck the police" kind of disdain for cops, either. Rather, I've interacted with them on the prosecution side and their level of investigation was pretty constantly a disappointment. If it is difficult and time consuming they won't do it. To be fair many are overwhelmed with too many obligations relative to their resources, but there it is. Your victim should be ready to be disappointed.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:20 PM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I am pretty sure the police will ask victim a few questions, take a look around the house, and then secure it and leave.
Unless the other person had a weapon I don't know if they will look for him. I think a warrant will be put out for his arrest.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:34 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Okay, this is from my research into my own police procedural novels and my interactions with a small number of cases.

First, the answers greatly depend on the size of the city as to whether they have their own CSI, crime scene photographers, etc. A large city investigates crimes different from a small town police department.

In the large city (and even medium-sized) expect a large degree of specialization. Large or small, the scene would be likely to be processed this way. The officers would secure the scene. The detectives would come in and make basic observations, look for phone records, etc. If the department has a CSI, the CSI would be dusting for fingerprints, looking for biological samples, etc.

The detectives might look for nanny-cams, but only if they had reason to believe they were there.

I doubt anyone would take the painting into evidence unless there were some further reason not stated. Just because it is on the floor means it could be bumped by a shoulder. It would likely be dusted for prints in place. They would not randomly collect a computer down the hall.

As Joey noted above, the professionality would come into play. In the experience in one case in which I interacted, the police did not bother to collect soda cans on the scene even though it was a murder.

The scenario you describe would be most likely, lightly investigated. The victim survives. The victim should be able to identify the culprit. If the victim did not want to file charges, the case would be dropped. But you say the victim is cooperating, so why don't they know about the cams? Or arrest the culprit based on the victim's statement. Even if he can't talk, he can write, right?

My experience with police departments, asking them questions, they would answer questions for you. If it's a big city department they may refer you to their public relations to answer general police questions, not criminal investigation questions.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:47 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Everything I've heard here would simplify the wrap-up greatly, making it a lot simpler than what I was trying to work with. I'd be fine with that, honestly; I can believe this is one of those areas where the handbook/policy/theory says one thing but the daily grind dictates another.

dances_with_sneetches, thanks for the suggestion. I'll contact the local police department and see what they have to say about it. Couldn't hurt, I guess; at worst they'd say they don't have the staffing to handle idle/rhetorical questions.

Thanks for the responses, everyone.
posted by johnofjack at 7:22 PM on June 15, 2016

This is really, really going to depend on the jurisdiction. In my neck of the woods, they are not going to take anything out of the house in the case outlined here. They will photograph/document the injuries, probably not the rest of the house. Nothing was used for a weapon besides hands, yes? No reason to take anything into evidence then. Other things depend on the jurisdiction. In some places, if there is an obvious injury, police are required to arrest the perpetrator. They will try to find that person. If they can't, and even if they do find him, they may give instructions to the victim on how to file a DV complaint with the DA and how to file a RO.

Honestly, this isn't the best site to get unbiased information about police. I'm sure you know that many people here fall on the mildly-to-vehemently anti-cop spectrum. If you want more accurate information, what cops actually do versus what people think they ought do, you need to talk with actual police officers. IME, they don't mind chatting with the public at all, esp in a non-call for service context. See if there is a meet-a-police officer event in your area. They do a lot of public relations at festivals and other community events. For example, a local department has their roll call in a coffee house once a month here to do their stuff and meet people in their community.
posted by Beti at 7:28 PM on June 15, 2016

My close observation of a big city police force is that they'd do almost none of this. At best they'd take an audio recorded statement (though more likely they'd just ask questions and take cursory notes about the answers). From what I've seen, there would likely be no fingerprints or biological samples taken in a case where no one died. Maybe photos of the scene, but no in depth searches. No collection of digital evidence unless they believed the phone or other items were stolen. And they'd probably trample the crime scene in the course of getting the person out badly enough to make it nearly impossible to tell what was from the attack and what was from police and EMTs. If they didn't immediately catch the suspect, there would be minimal follow up unless the victim was hounding them.
posted by decathecting at 7:30 PM on June 15, 2016

Ex-LEO here. I'll take a shot at this based on experience in two East Coast cities. Typically, the victim would be transported to a medical center before any questioning if they are unable to make a statement. If they are, a patrol officer will follow the ambo to the hospital and take a statement or turn it over to detectives if it warrants a higher level response. Unless Homicide is contacted because the victim is in "grave" condition, there will be no forensic inventory of the crime scene. Officers will secure the property and go back to work. Now, let's assume a crime scene is started.

Nanny Cams - Unless the victim releases the footage, nothing will be done with the cams.
Laptop - No, this is domestic assault, not murder. No items would be removed from the house except the suspected weapon, if that.
Cell phone/painting - See laptop.
Scene release - If there is no murder, the scene will be released after the statement is taken. The victim in the best of circumstances will be advised to contact a domestic violence agency or a community services officer. No followup will be done in most cases.
Car - If a felony warrant is issued, a felony apprehension task force member may case the car for looking for the subject to return. If not, we would offer to have the car towed.
Follow-up - Very little to none.

Not anywhere near as sexy as TV would have the average viewer believe.
posted by extraheavymarcellus at 11:41 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older The Calendar Application That Doesn't Exist...   |   How do I handle an antagonistic internship... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.