Being a part of a writing community provides opportunities that are not always possible to enjoy alone. This past weekend, I attended a wonderful workshop regarding the Cop Culture and the Organizational Differences in Law Enforcement.This workshop was about getting the details right.
There are different branches of law enforcement including, Tribal, Federal, Task Force, State Police, Private Security, Sheriff, Local Police, and even Campus Police. When creating a crime story, a mystery that entails that a crime occurred, it is important for to question jurisdiction, and to know which law enforcement agency might respond.
In understanding the jurisdiction issue (and it is not always based on county, city, state or country lines), let's look at the example of a laptop being stolen. If it happens on a college campus, it’s usually something reported to Campus police, but it could also be reported to the city or county police who have jurisdiction over that campus, based on where the campus is located.
What about the state police? Would they look into something as benign as a stolen laptop? Well, it all depends. For example, in Virginia, Virginia State Police would be called in “to investigate any matter referred by the Governor.” Additionally, “[t]he Attorney General, commonwealth's attorneys, chiefs of police, sheriffs and grand juries may request the Department to investigate matters that constitute Class 1, 2 or 3 felonies.”
Class 1, 2, or 3 felonies include: murder, and malicious wounding, and although it does not include burglary or grand larceny, I think that if it is connected to such a matter, it could then still fall under the perview of the State Police.
Now let’s suppose that this laptop has something egregious on it – say it is connected to a serial killer, and all of his victims, for such a matter the FBI would be quite interested. According to the FBI’s website: “The Bureau concentrates on crime problems that pose major threats to American society. Significant violent crime incidents such as mass killings, sniper murders, and serial killings can paralyze entire communities and stretch state and local law enforcement resources to their limits. Particular emphasis is put on criminal street gangs, bank robberies, carjackings, kidnappings, interstate transportation of stolen property and motor vehicles, assaults and threats of assault on the president and other federal officials, and the theft or destruction of government property. As part of this priority, the FBI also investigates crimes against children, art theft, child prostitution, fugitives and missing persons, and crimes on Indian reservations.”
Can you see where we're going with this? It is not just the object but how it connects to the overall crime.
And what about these organizations working together. Borders do not always stop one law enforcement's jurisdiction. This is called concurrent jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction means: "The authority of several different courts, each of which is authorized to entertain and decide cases dealing with the same subject matter.”
It is important to understand concurrent jurisdiction, especially in our understanding of the FBI, DEA, and others working in a task force. “In law enforcement, “concurrent jurisdiction” may exist, where a crime may be a local, state, and federal violation all at the same time.” See FBI on task force.
This is where task forces come into play, and there will be agents from multiple agencies on the task force.” Task forces typically focus on terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, gangs, bank robberies, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft. “Ibid. As a side note, the FBI does investigate matters which take place on Tribal land, as well, just as it can have an attache in the embassies located outside of the US borders..
Another jurisdiction to consider is the sovereign jurisdiction of the Tribal nations. The Federally recognized tribes, who have reservations, are their own sovereign nations. While some of these reservations have their own tribal law enforcement officers, those that do not have their own police force use officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). For more information, see BIA.Gov
When writing that next piece and working on solving that next case, consider that question of jurisdiction. Not only do we have to look at the crime itself, but as to the severity of the crime and if concurrent jurisdiction is indeed possible. The theft of this laptop can, from my understanding, be a jumping off point for multiple agencies to get involved in the investigation, and it will depend on the details on who actually takes the lead.
A special thanks to Lilianna Hart and Scott Silverii for leading such a wonderful workshop in making sure us writers get it right, and can take our writing and careers to the next level!
TINA GLASNECK writes in an array of genres and loves a good story. She appreciates a good cup of coffee, characters that cause visceral responses, and a nice helping laughter to balance it all out. Learn more about Tina and her writing at www.TinaGlasneck.com