Ask A Small Town Cop: November Question

Nov 12, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Contributors, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Detective Will Knight

Welcome to a monthly column where small town, local cop and detective Will Knight answers some of your questions about how things really work in a small town police department. He has worked as a police officer in small California towns for the past ten years. If you’d like to submit a question, simply email Will at with the subject line “Cop Question”.

We here at KRL thought this would be an especially fun column for mystery writers struggling with a small town setting and police work, but also mystery fans and just those who are interested in learning how small town police departments work!


I’d like a simple guide to the hours and days after a murder and how they might differ in a small town versus a large city.
Sue Curran

Will’s response:

That’s a great question. The primary differences between a small town agency and a large city are the resources (Detectives) that are available. A larger city is sometimes able to pull together an entire team to work on a homicide case. That being said, a larger city generally has significantly more homicide cases than a smaller city so the end result can be a similar work load on each individual Detective.

Your interest in a guide to the hours and days after a murder is a bit more difficult to answer. Homicide cases vary so much in the challenges that they present to Law Enforcement. Some incidents can be fairly simple to complete. An example would be a suspect who is known to the victim and who is not trying to hide their actions. Then there are cases with few leads, little evidence and a lot of investigating to be done.

All this being said, the following is a very general timetable of what you could expect to occur:
Detectives will respond to a scene and will begin assessing what tasks need to be done and in what order. They will generally work non-stop for the first three to five days. During this time, they will be trying to identify witnesses, gather initial information, secure and search for evidence, attend an autopsy, and canvass the areas for every bit of information they can gather before it could be lost.

At this point their investigation will turn to a combination of analyzing all of this data, understanding everyone involved, and following up on new leads. This also includes following up on false information and bogus leads. Our Detectives will have started to narrow in on suspects and people of interest. Subsequent contacts with these individuals will often times provide additional leads and evidence that need to be investigated.

If all has gone well, a suspect has been arrested and the case has been filed with the District Attorney’s office. But, this is not where the case ends for the detectives. There will be follow up requests from the D.A’s office and plenty of tasks before a trial begins.

Both large and small agencies will have to deal with the fact that during this entire process a new homicide may take place. In these situations, resources are stretched thin and we will be challenged with finding a way to continue multiple investigations at once.

Again, if you’d like to submit a question, simply email Will at with the subject line “Cop Question”. Check back next month to see what kind of question Will gets to answer.


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