Anybody know a nice FBI agent?

I have the horrible feeling that I am about to commit massive stupitude in this novel; part of it hinges on FBI procedure, and after several hours of bookstore perusal yesterday (good for forensics, nothing on the FBI) and several days of searching on the Internet and turning up an enormous amount of garbage and nothing useful on actual FBI procedure, I am at wits end. I want to either exchange e-mails or talk on the phone to an FBI field agent, and ask questions about things like “What is the FBI’s jurisdiction when someone does A or B?” (“A” and “B” in this case being spoilers for Midnight Rain), and “Would you have fingerprints on file for a criminal in this bizarre circumstance?” — (another spoiler). The answers I get will no doubt spawn more questions. I don’t want to call up the local FBI office and say, “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood novelist and I want to take time away from your important work to ask you a bunch of idiotic questions so that I won’t look like a fool when this book is published.”

So …. anybody? Anybody?

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

12 comments… add one
  • Dogma, aka Gail Jun 21, 2003 @ 9:31

    Definitely just call the FBI.

    I called the FBI a few years back to research a non-fiction article on animal rights terrorism. After satisfying himself that I wasn’t crooked, the agent I spoke to was very courteous and answered my questions. I was very surprised that I wasn’t restricted to the public affairs office and was quickly transferred to an office with actual knowledge and jurisdiction over the matter.

    I say go for it.

    Oh and by the way, I didn’t even call my local office, I went for the big shots and made my call to FBI HQ in Washington.

  • Holly Jun 21, 2003 @ 6:18

    Thanks very much to everyone who replied to this. I’m writing up my list of questions, and then I’ll start following up leads.

    You’ve made my job considerably easier.

  • Jae Jun 20, 2003 @ 18:00

    PS Also, I’m quite a sucker for these things, so have boned up quite a bit on the procedures over the years – so if you fel safe giving out tidbits, shoot me an e-mail and I can try to help. Plus, some police departments hold a police school, where regular citizens can learn police procedure. I’m sure with your list of credits, you could get someone at the PD to speak with you.

  • Jae Jun 20, 2003 @ 17:58

    Hey stranger! I don’t know if this helps, but there are a series of shows on the Discovery Channel on FBI procedure and sample cases, and similar shows on TLC. You can learn quite a lot from these, because they are all about true crimes and why the FBI took over, and what the procedure was. You can look them all up on their website http://www.discovery.com

  • Tina Jun 20, 2003 @ 13:12

    Oh, also, regarding jurisdiction, here’s how I understand it after refreshing my memory:

    1. The FBI investigates cases where a federal crime has been committed, except,

    2. Where a federal crime has been committed and the crime is ALSO a violation of local statutes (state or smaller locale), the FBI does not have jurisdiction but frequently works in cooperation with the local law enforcement, at the behest of and with approval of said local law enforcement.

    3. A crime that is sometimes considered ‘local’ might be considered under FBI jurisdiction if its planning or execution crosses state boundaries.

    But I am not the FBI, so, er, you’re still better off with them. I’m pretty sure I understand this correctly because I actually read investigative and forensics books for fun (this statement is frequently greeted with strange looks but I don’t think that’ll be the case here) but I’d still want to double-check if you’re going for totally-accurate. Note that the FBI doesn’t care if you get it kinda wrong as long as it isn’t defamatory, and most readers have probably already gotten the wrong impression from authors that have chosen that route, but I suspect that you’d rather get it completely accurate if possible.

    (BTW: I’ve been facing this same dilemma with suicide investigation and whether or not to confirm what I think I know with a local law enforcement agency (particularly since the book isn’t set locally to ME), so I understand not wanting to bother people, but I have to say if it were a federal thing I would probably have called. The FBI has the manpower to answer questions, whereas my local police station may not.)

  • Jim Woosley Jun 20, 2003 @ 13:08

    Another thought — or complication: depending on the nature of "A" and "B," the appropriate jourisdiction might be state or local instead of federal; or two different state jourisdictions if the person committed "A" and "B" in different state but is not a federal crime; or BATF or DEA or Secret Service instead of FBI; or (these days) even Homeland Security. The greatest complications, of course, would come if you have a split jourisdiction situation.

    And another avenue of at least a first approach might be to contact another author who normally does police procedurals and ask their advice on jourisdictional issues. You may want to back it up with the FBI PR option (or DEA or BATF or SS or….), but your questions will probably be a lot more intelligent (if you talk to an intelligent author who writes realistic stories). Or search the "True Crimes" section of the bookstore for a novel by such an author that approximates the situation you’re building and see how she does it.

    Part of how you approach this will also depend on how critical this is to the overall plot. I presume Midnight Rain is NOT a police procedural but has an investigation which is significant for one of the subplots, that the outcome of the investigation is critical to the endgame of the novel, that you already know "who did it," and that the "ghost" is only incidental to the investigation (since you’re more interested in mainstream police investigation than in "X-files" stuff). In this event, you probably don’t have space for a full police procedural development. Although having a better knowledge of the process will certainly help make the portion you do present more believable, the situation is also a bit more forgiving.

    Rambling a bit; I hope that the ramblings are useful.

  • Tina Jun 20, 2003 @ 12:43

    In case you want someone else to say the same thing: the FBI actually does deal with authors on a fairly regular basis looking for similar information. What few penned-by-FBI books I’ve read (on serial killers) have mentioned this, and they didn’t seem put out by it at all. IIRC, Thomas Harris even spent time at Behavioral Science HQ while researching his books.

    I don’t know if it helps, but regarding fingerprints, there is a both a newish national fingerprint database with two-way flow of information and an older system where law enforcement agencies would register copies of fingerprints taken during felony arrests with the FBI, though I think the latter was voluntary cooperation and probably has gaps in it.

  • puristlove Jun 20, 2003 @ 11:14

    Hi holly, dunno what bookstore you went in, but both Barnes and Nobles I have worked for had a section just on FBI/CIA/Espionage. It isn’t with the True Crime stuff, where the Forensics books are shelved, but actually in the Military History section. Hope that helps.

  • Redhawk Jun 20, 2003 @ 11:07

    Don’t know if this will help you. It’s a site called Crimes and Clues. They have several articles on criminal investigations, though not necessarily from an FBI point of view. Might help.

    http://www.crimeandclues.com/

  • Bob Dorr Jun 20, 2003 @ 8:41

    Hi Holly, I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine that the FBI has a Public Relations office, like Verizon does.

    I had the pleasure (seriously, the woman was a saint) of talking to one of Verizon’s PR representatives. She took care of a customer who was worried about electromagnetic radiation coming off her network interface.

    If the FBI gets calls, like ours, they will be thrilled to get questions from someone sane.

    If you call your nearest Federal Building, they should have the information.

    Your local library’s reference desk, may have the phone number or address to write to.

    Hope this helps.

  • Katherine Jun 20, 2003 @ 8:02

    What David said. Also, call the FBI Public Affairs office. It’s their job to answer stupid questions from novelists and others, so you won’t be taking time away from other work. You could either call the local office and ask for Public Affairs, or call FBI headquarters in Washington: http://www.fbi.gov/contactus.htm
    There’s also an FAQ at http://www.fbi.gov/aboutus/faqs/faqsone.htm that might help.

  • David Stone Jun 20, 2003 @ 7:44

    Two ideas spring immediately to mind.

    First, write to the local office, rather than phone. State your intentions, but not your questions at this point, and ask to make an appoinment when someone could be available to answer your questions. They would probably be pleased for a bit of PR and Good Relations, both within the community and in a novel. Doing it this way puts it on their terms and allows for someone to be made available, rather than dragging them away from other work.

    Second, enquire of local schools, youth groups, community centres etc to see if any of them have invited an FBI agent to do a talk, which would give you a name and a potential ‘in’.

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