[Originally posted on Writingscape V1.0, 10/28/2009. Ran across it today, busted a gut, and couldn't help re-posting it here. Yes, I did this. More than once. These are my notes.]
There may be times in your life when law enforcement procedure and general police knowledge is vital to a story you're writing. When that happens, an officer can really end up saving your arse, but first... a writer must use proper caution so as not to get said arse shot off.
1. Locate available officers or deputies wherever parked out and about, at your chosen convenience store, gas station, mall parking lot, doughnut shop, et cetera. If their lights are flashing, DO NOT STOP. DO NOT APPROACH. Simply drive on without sudden moves, tire-squealing, or other nervous acts that may bring unwanted attention to your person.
2. If officers are not on high alert (lights flashing), calmly pull in and park two or three spaces away. Give them a wide berth (a happy officer is one who can see everything going on around him/her). Before leaving your car, peek inside convenience store or gas station to be sure no robbery is in progress (officers could have come in hot but silent). Make certain no perps are confined in back of cop car (if perp is present, DO NOT APPROACH. Cop is on high alert. Get Slushee or Big Gulp and be on your way.)
3. If everything checks out, leave your car and approach officer(s) slowly from the front, with both hands in plain view. If you are certain your smile has no psychotic or deviant undertones, smiling is optional. But beware--cops have been jumped by people who smiled at them first, so they're sensitive. NEVER approach the officer(s) from behind, unless you have a fetish for guns, tasers, or night sticks.
4. STOP no less than six feet away to introduce yourself; let the officer invite you closer when s/he is comfortable. Identify yourself as a local writer researching a novel or short story, and ask if s/he has a moment to answer a few questions. (They usually do, and are intrigued, unless you insist on staring at their gun.) Then ask away! It is usually smart, at some point in your Q & A, to remind said officer that you have no intentions of breaking anyone out of jail, using the info in the commission of your own crime, or using info later to get one up on said officer.
5. When Q & A is complete, do NOT bum-rush officer in your gratitude or touch officer in any way without permission. Graciously thank them for helping you out, and back away with a grateful smile and no sudden moves. Leave parking area without tire-squealing or nervous acts.
No matter what you call them (the Po-Pos, 5-0, the old Bill, et al.), police officers can be your best friend if you just don't scare them.