Mary Rosenblum: Lee Lofland is a veteran police investigator who began his law-enforcement career working as an officer in Virginia's prison system. He later became a sheriff's deputy, a patrol officer, and finally, he achieved the highly-prized gold shield of detective. Along the way, he gained a breadth of experience that's unusual to find in the career of a single officer. In addition to his books, Lee writes articles for both Mystery Writers of America and Sisters In Crime newsletters. He also writes regular features and exclusives for newspapers across the country. He's written for The Writer magazine and has served as a consultant for Slate Magazine, Spike TV, and for many bestselling authors. Check out his website http://www.leelofland.com/ and be sure to read his blog, The Graveyard Shift http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/.
Lee, thanks so much for taking time to visit with us. Your 'Graveyard Shift' is very popular with a lot of people I know, mystery writers, and 'just plain folk'. I know you spilled your 'all' when you got tagged (on the Graveyard Shift this weekend, folks), but can we coax a bit more from you? How did you get started writing about police work instead of just doing it?
Lee Lofland: I've always been a huge fan of mystery.
In fact, as a child I read Poe, the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The
Hardy Boys, and even Nancy Drew.
After I left police work I decided to take a class on creative writing, something I'd always wanted to do, much to the surprise of my wife. I'd never shared that notion with her.
Well, one thing led to another. My teacher encouraged me to write, saying she thought I had a talent for the craft. She also invited me to speak, as someone with knowledge of police work, to her mystery writing critique group. As luck would have it one of the members of the group was the director of a large writers conference. She invited me to speak at their next event (I guess you can see where this is headed), which I did.
Fast forward a few months. I was speaking at another writers conference and after my presentation the next speaker entered the room. She sat near the front while I gathered my things and unhooked my laptop from the projector. I happened to notice her name tag and realized she was a managing editor for a well known publisher. An idea hit me, so I introduced myself and said, "I have an idea for the perfect book." She gave me that "yeah, right" look, but was polite and listened to my spur of the moment, 30 second pitch. When I saw her eyebrows arch in interest I knew we had a deal. She asked me to have my agent call her the following Monday.
Since this happened on Friday I had exactly two days to find an agent to handle the deal. I did and the book has been extremely successful. I couldn't be more pleased. The book was nominated for a 2008 Macavity Award for best mystery nonfiction and it actually hit #1 on Amazon's Hot New Releases list, and it continues to do well to this day. I'm amazed and humbled at the same time.
Since then I've sold a kids book and I've just submitted a novel to my agent. He also has a nonfiction proposal of mine that we'll be shopping in a few weeks.
Speck: Hi Lee...
Welcome to our little corner of the web. I've a copy of your "Police Procedures" and love it. It's on my keeper shelf.
Lee Lofland: Hi Speck. I'm glad you're enjoying the book. Or, did you mean you're using it to hold up the shelf?
Speck: Paper weight:--) Oh wait...never mind! Seriously, it's between Deadly Doses and You Can Write a Mystery. I've used it several times and even just browse through it for ideas.
Laina: Hi, Lee, and welcome. I'll check out your website and blog. I don't have your book, but it sounds like a good one to have.
Lee Lofland: Hi Laina. Please do visit my sites. I think you'll enjoy the blog for sure.
Pam: Hi Lee, May I ask how you found an agent so quick? Thanks!
Lee Lofland: Pam - I was fortunate. I just happened to be doing a bit of consulting for a very well known NYTimes bestselling author when the book deal came about. She introduced me to her agent who accepted the project over the phone. It was that quick. I promise that is not the norm.
is a lesson to this story, and that's how important networking is in the
writing business. My first agent (the one I mentioned above) is no longer my
agent. She still handles all business for the police procedure book, but that's
it. It's important to find an agent who's a good fit for your work and
personality. The relationship must work well. My first agent and I are still
great friends, we just don't work well together.
I'm now represented by Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management. I met Scott at a writers conference several years ago. He's a very hard worker, and very, very sharp. In fact, all the agents with Folio are top-notch literary agents. They really work for their share of the pie. I couldn't be more pleased. I've also met many, many other agents I feel I could turn to, if needed.
I believe the keys to landing a good agent are:
1) Write well - Do NOT send an agent unedited, sloppy work!
2) Networking - Attend conferences and other writer events. Introduce yourself to authors. Friends helping friends is huge in this business. Referrals go a long way.
3) Have an attractive platform - Websites, blogs, Facebook, speaking engagements, professional background related to your book, etc.
4) Oh, and write well.
5) Did I mention writing well?
Dani : WOW! This is a great professional connection interview selection. I, too, have the Police Procedure & Investigation book. I need to print out everything being said in these threads when the interview is completed.
Midge Rae: I too have your book, and must compliment you on it. it is not being used a book end. LOL. I have a question for you, if I may. Is it legal for a single woman to have a taser gun? For protection? I live in the state of Utah, and suffer form PTSD. Your blog is terrific. Thank you so much for being here.
Lee Lofland: Thanks for the kind words about my
book. You guys make me blush. The laws on Taser possession by civilians vary.
Here's a link that covers each state:
Also, here's a link to a blog post I wrote about about Tasers:
Mary Rosenblum: Lee, I know that as a mystery reader as well as writer, incorrect information in a book not only sets my teeth on edge, but usually kicks me out of a story permanently. So where does a writer start if he/she has no clue how the police actually do their job. Not with the TV crime shows, I would assume?
Lee Lofland: Well, there's a fabulous book out
there called Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide For
Seriously, that book is a good place to start. I'm not saying that because I wrote it. I'm saying it because the book was written especially for writers, unlike many of the the other police/forensics/CSI-type books out there.
However, my book isn't all-inclusive. There's no way anyone could include every single detail in a single book. Besides, procedure, slang, and policy all vary in different areas of the country. No two departments are the same.
The best thing a writer can do is to contact an officer in the area where their story takes place. Many departments have public relations officers who'll be more than willing to answer your questions. Keep in mind that police officers are not the most trusting people in the world. You'll have to prove that you're not out to write a wild flaming article about them in some wacky tabloid magazine. Make an appointment and go to the department in person. Introduce yourself and ask away. If all else fails, toss a cop a doughnut and he'll spill his guts for you...
Speck: **If all else fails, toss a cop a doughnut and he'll spill his guts for you...** Is that something like..."If you give a mouse a cookie...."
But a serious question... How much has law enforcement changed since 9-11? Or maybe a better question would be how has it changed since then? Ponders...."If you give a cop a donut, he'll want a cup of coffee to go with it..."
Lee Lofland: 9-11 has definitely tightened a lot of lips. Cops now have to hold some information much closer to their chests.
Laina: Hi Lee, My husband was also in law enforcement. In the Navy he was an MP. He left after eight years, and became a police officer in NM. He worked in patrol, traffic and detectives. Then a magistrate judge retired early. He asked my husband to request a governor's appointment for his last year and a half. He did and left police work after eleven years. The chief promised to give him his job back if he didn't get elected, but for some reason the chief did not honor his promise when my husband barely missed being elected. My husband would have had to start all over and go back to the police academy.
The local sheriff was just elected and needed an undersheriff. He hired my husband as the undersheriff, but after four years a new sheriff was elected and so my husband had to find another job. Anyway, in saying all that I am wondering how much things have changed. If I write mystery/suspense will my husbands information about procedures be pretty accurate? Thanks!
Lee Lofland: Laina - Unless you're story takes place during the time when your husband was actively involved in law enforcement you should speak with a current officer. Things change daily. Even I still ask questions and learn something new every day. It's better to be safe than sorry, especially if this is your first book. You may only have one shot with an editor or agent.
Laina: Thanks, Lee. Others have asked me questions and I've answered them, but have always told them to go and speak with an officer. Generalities have probably not changed though, right? Such as cordoning off the crime scene. No one gets past the tape except those working the crime scene except ambulance and ME. One investigator takes charge of the investigation. They tag everything first and then go through and bag evidence. Can you explain some of the things that have changed or are changing? Thanks so much for your help.
Stefano: Laina, if you get to be really good friends with
that officer,I would suggest asking about policy and procedure in the
department. Specifically in the area of your concern. Funny how Navy guys went
into law enforcement. I personally wouldn't even try to do that again.
If you need to try and google the departments radio codes and calls. I learned that there are a lot of discrepancies between them.
Accuracy here is of utmost import, crime/mystry fans know this stuff inside out! My guy’s a P.I., doesn't need to worry.
Lee Lofland: The basics are still the same - no one is allowed inside the perimeter of a crime scene, a lead investigator (if there's more than one) is is charge, etc. And stephano is absolutely correct, if you want to be accurate about specific detail - department policy, hours of operation, chain of command, etc. - you should call the agency in the area where your story is set. Radio codes do vary from department to department. That's why most departments have begun abandoning them. Now, they're simply speaking in plain English. If they need to say something secretive they use cell phones or private radio channels. The consistent thing about the law and law enforcement is its inconsistencies.
Lizbeth: Hi Lee. I have a question they have not covered on Law & Order lately -- by the way, have you ever been a consultant on that show? Just wondering.. But my question is, the novel I am working on features a detective who is helping my main character discover that her husband's business partner is embezzling money to fund his gambling addiction. Can you tell me exactly how they would trace his paper trail to determine this and how he could be caught? Thanks!!
I am also going to buy your book. Thanks for being here!
Lee Lofland: Your comment about L&O made me chuckle. It reminded me of when my editor called about something she thought was incorrect in my ms. Writers Digest Books contracted me to write the book on police procedures because I'm an expert in the field, or so I thought. I had my doubts one morning when my editor called and asked, "Are you sure the text on page...is correct? I was watching Law and Order last night and they said...?"
Please do not use TV shows, such as L&O, CSI (NO, NO, and NO!), etc., as a means of research. They are works of fiction LOOSELY based on fact. They're meant for our entertainment. There are a few shows that I recommend, but I'd still have to say no for using them as a means of research.
Now, on to your question. Embezzlement (fraud) cases can be quite time-consuming and complex. If possible, specially trained investigators called forensic accountants work these cases. It takes a sharp eye for detail and a vast knowledge of accounting procedures. And lots and lots of patience.
There are many ways to catch embezzlers. One of the easiest is to set up surveillance, such as hidden cameras, to catch the thieves red-handed. Another means to nab the bad guy is to conduct an in-depth audit of all company books. This audit could be conducted by the forensic accountant in conjunction with a company representative, unless everyone in the company is a suspect. In that case, all company books and records would be seized for further investigation. It's a very tedious investigation.
All employees would be questioned, a favored tactic since people seem to love to spill their guts. Polygraph tests are available as well. Many employers require their workers to submit to polygraph examinations. No exam, no job.
Handwriting analysts are sometimes used to determine authenticity of signatures and other possibly forged documents.
Onepozy: How difficult is it to get a seach warrant? My character want to search the premises of what he considers a suspect but he has very little in the way of reasons to conduct the search, more gut feeling to hard evidence, would a warrant be granted?
Lee Lofland: No, it wouldn't. Here's a copy of an article about search warrants I wrote for the Sisters In Crime national newsletter. I think it will answer your questions. If not, let me know.
Search warrants are an important tool for police officers and, while they are sometimes difficult to obtain, there is no better feeling than using one to discover a cornerstone piece of evidence. Television leads the public to believe a simple phone call to a judge is all it takes to obtain a search warrant. Not so. I've written and served scores of search warrants for which I had to spend countless hours, weeks, or months of preparation. I had to collect copious and detailed facts to support my requests for the warrants that would allow me to search a person's property. A search warrant is based strictly upon facts. Police officers must swear under oath before a judge or magistrate that the information they are presenting is indeed true and without opinion.
It’s important to note that not every area requires a judge’s signature on a search warrant. Some jurisdictions employ magistrates who have the authority sign and issue warrants and commit people to jail. In fact, in some rural areas, many magistrates work on a part-time basis, reporting to their office only when summoned by police or sheriff’s departments. So it’s not always a judge who is awakened during the night to sign a search warrant. Sometimes it’s the local magistrate—a farmer, tow truck driver, or car salesman by day—who gets the call. (Part-time magistrates do receive training).
Once a judge, or magistrate, decides probable cause exists for the warrant, they sign the paperwork, setting the wheels in motion for the search-warrant entry team. The team must act quickly, carefully, and appropriately.
A search-warrant entry is one of the most dangerous situations that police officers encounter, and not knowing what lies behind closed doors creates an adrenaline boost of epic proportion. All too often, innocent people are inside a target property, and many are small children. Entry teams rehearse shoot-and-don't-shoot scenarios for hours on end, to prepare for every possible situation.
Officers are normally required to execute a search warrant during daylight hours, and they must knock on the suspect's door and verbally announce their presence. They must also wait a reasonable amount of time to allow the residents to open the door. Law enforcement personnel on the scene must determine what is reasonable for each situation. The law does not provide a specific amount of time.
The only exceptions to these rules occur when there is clear and imminent danger to the officers or to innocent citizens, or when exigent circumstances occur that could lead to the destruction of crucial evidence. A forced entry without announcement or knocking is known as a "no-knock warrant" and should be authorized by the court official who approves the warrant.
Officers must be specific, within the body of the warrant, in detailing the evidence they are searching for. Once the object of the search has been found, officers must immediately stop the search.
A search warrant is not needed if the person in control of the property to be searched grants an officer permission to do so. I found the easiest method of searching a criminal's property was to do just that—ask for permission. Nine times out of ten the suspect's answer was yes, eliminating the need for the warrant all together.
Cops are always smarter than the bad guys, right? Well, not always. I once kicked and kicked and kicked at a door, attempting to gain entry, until I finally heard the crook’s wife yell from deep within the house, "Try the doorknob before you hurt yourself. It's unlocked!"
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