Another fiction question: police procedure stuff

I’m working on another novel in my series, and I realized I don’t really know much about police procedure, despite watching lot of episodes of CSI :D. I want to get this (at least mostly) right, so once again I will call upon the power and infinite wisdom of the Dope.

So, here are the particulars:

  • Story is modern urban fantasy. Main character is a mage, who’s in a small town trying to trace a friend who’s disappeared, quite possibly through some supernatural means. There’s also been a recent murder in the town, and the friend is one of those under suspicion. (Friend had gone down to the town a couple of days previously to attend the wedding of one of his hometown friends, called the mage while drunk to report seeing something ‘weird’ he wanted to discuss with him, and then disappeared).

  • Using magic, the mage has examined the site of the murder and found a connection to another murder site (which, so far, nobody knows about). He follows the connection to an abandoned barn a short distance off a wooded road.

  • Inside the barn he finds a very messily murdered person who’s clearly been dead for at least several days. While he’s there, he’s attacked by supernatural forces. He succeeds in escaping from them, but is apprehended by the police. He tells them about the murder site and they are naturally suspicious that he’s involved somehow. They want to take him in for questioning.

So, my questions are:

  1. Would they arrest him right then and there, or just hold him and take him back to the station for questioning without arresting him?

  2. How much would they search him back at the station? Simple pat-down/check his pockets/etc. or would they take his clothes and have him in one of those jumpsuits that suspects always seem to be wearing on cop shows?

  3. He knows he didn’t do it and he knows there’s no way they can pin it on him (he has a solid alibi–he was in the Bay Area when both the first and second victims were murdered, and can prove it). Would he be stupid to simply answer their questions without a lawyer? Obviously he isn’t going to tell them the supernatural stuff, but other than that he has nothing to hide. As an aside, the cops are professional and have no ulterior motive–they just want to solve the crime.

  4. He wouldn’t need to post bail if they don’t arrest him, right? I’m assuming they’ll determine fairly quickly that he couldn’t have been involved and let him go, telling him not to leave town for now.

  5. Anything else I need to know about the process? Ideally I’d just like them to take him in, question him, and let him go without an undue amount of complication. I want to rattle him but not seriously inconvenience him. Is that reasonable?

Thanks in advance!

given the fantasy setting, I think you can have the police procedure be whatever you want.

(actually, this should probably be in Cafe Society. Derp! Reporting for change)

Well, yeah, but I want it to be at least somewhat accurate. It’s fantasy in that it’s got magic in it, but as for the “real” world, it’s pretty much like ours. I don’t want anybody who reads it to go, “Hey, the police don’t do things that way!”

Why not? It hasn’t hurt Lee Child!

  1. Ideally they cannot arrest him without having a good deal of evidence. I believe there are some places that will allow someone to be held for 48 hours (but that may be a myth). Or they could find something to arrest him for, but anything minor and he’ll just bail out very quickly. So no…they really can’t/wouldn’t arrest him just ‘on suspicion’.

  2. They really can’t even search him (I mean, Im almost sure they couldn’t do a cavity search based on what they have), but I think they could get away with doing a pat-down before taking him in for questioning. Without arresting him, they aren’t going to put him in a jumpsuit. And they almost certainly wouldn’t stick him in one until after questioning even if he is arrested.

  3. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow himself to be questioned without presence of a lawyer. It happens all the time.

  4. They may tell him not to leave town, but I’m pretty sure that’s unenforceable if he wasn’t even arrested.

  5. Is absolutely reasonable.

IANAL, but I watch a lot of ID shows. So…yeah…

What’s the trope called where people have seen the TV version of events so much…they think the real thing is unrealistic? “Reality in unreality”?

Any lawyer would advise against it.

Of course. But if he has a solid alibi…and the police have no agenda…this guy would very quickly not even be a blip on their radar except as an avenue to solving the case.

It’s one of the best tools to use to allow the reader to suspend disbelief. If the “real world” bits are credible, then that helps us swallow the fantasy bits.

Moved to CS like you asked.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of Ed Bain’s 87th Precinct novels, but he was a pro at the procedural stuff. Take a couple of days, if you think you can spare them, and check a few out at the public library. They’re pretty fast reads.

Reality is Unrealistic (Warning: TV Tropes link)

Missed the edit window.

Writer’s Digest has a book on police procedures to help writers get the details right that may help if you can track down a copy.

Basically, if you postulate a world where magic is real, you cannot assume that police procedures are the same as they are in our world.

If you really want to write a kick-ass novel, make up your own rules that are perfectly logical extensions of current procedure. What are the rules for interrogating a mage? Would the police even try to pat him down, knowing he might be able to kill them with a word? Wouldn’t the police hire mages of their own to handle situations like this? Could he post bail with fairy gold, which will vanish once he leaves the station? How do they check for it?

Just using current procedures is lazy writing; you have to invent new ones for the new situation. Do that, and you’ll improve your book immensely.

Is magic real in that world? Would the police have different procedures for a mage or a supernatural murder than for a regular one?


That’s a start, but then you have to figure out what the rules of magic are in your world, then figure out how each rule might affect a change in police procedures.

My question is pretty much the same – do the police and everyone else in the world understand that magic exists, or are magicians party of some kind of secret society that no one outside of it knows about?

The answer is going to drastically change how police act and gather evidence. In the first scenario, they have to be able to prove or disprove magic was involved, what kind of magic, what kind of spell, etc. In the second, their tactics would be would be utterly useless against someone who could commit crimes by casting spells.

Great advice, everyone. Just let me clarify something before we go too far: Magic is real in the world, but very rare (especially practitioners at the level of my protagonist) and the general public doesn’t know about it for the most part. Mages are very secretive about revealing what they are because they don’t want to deal with the fallout after the cat’s out of the bag. So whatever procedures the police use would be the same standard-issue ones that they’d use on a normal, well dressed, well-spoken (i.e., not giving off crazy or dangerous rays) guy they find hanging around a gory murder scene.

His apprehension is intended just to slow him down, rattle him, and cause him to miss an appointment with another character–not to be a major part of the story (though it will have implications down the road because another cop will become an important character in the story as it goes on, and will actually find out that he’s a mage).

Two other relevant facts if they matter: the story is set in California, and the technology level in the world is mostly modern, but things like cell phones are very new (none of the characters have one yet) and the Internet doesn’t exist yet as a thing that the general public has easy access to. I’m purposely vague about exactly what year it is.

One rule might be that powerful magic users must be registered with the state and be a part of a reserve magic corps, available for police consultation when needed. Perhaps courtrooms could become magic-free zones through various spells and/or devices. There would be a big problem and many scandals involving the government use of telepaths to gather information.