Role of the Police
Typically, the police first get involved when a witness or a victim calls 911 to report a crime.
One or more uniformed officers arrive on scene and assess the situation. If there is a potential suspect still on site, the officers will attempt to arrest him or her. The officers will then attempt to collect as much evidence as possible to convict the person responsible for the crime. This evidence can include statements from suspects, statements from witnesses, statements from victims, photo lineups, photographs, fingerprints, DNA, audio and/or video recordings, expert witness consultations, etc. Upon leaving the scene, the officers will write up everything they saw, heard, experienced, and did at the crime scene. This narrative goes into the police report and will be vital in the prosecution’s case.
Once the police think they have all the evidence they can get from the scene, they will study the evidence and try to figure out who committed the crime. If the police have a suspect in custody, they will decide whether the evidence they have collected points toward the in-custody suspect having committed the crime. If so, the police will recommend to the district attorney (prosecutor) that charges be filed. If not, the police should release the suspect they have in custody if there is no other basis for holding him or her.
If the police have no one in custody, they will continue searching for the perpetrator until they find him or her. Sometimes the police think they may have found the perpetrator, but, rather than arrest him or her, they will name the person as a suspect. (The recent trend in police departments to name someone a “person of interest” rather than a “suspect” is really just semantics. If you are named as a “person of interest,” you are a suspect for all intents and purposes.) Sometimes the police play this name game (“suspect” vs. “person of interest” vs. “perpetrator”) simply to get around the need to give Miranda warnings. Usually, when the police name a suspect or a “person of interest,” they will attempt to question a suspect or “person of interest” prior to arresting them. No suspect or “person of interest” should ever speak to the police—either with or without an attorney. For that matter, no person, whether a suspect, “person of interest,” or plain old member of the public should ever speak to the police. No good can come of it.
Once the police have questioned the suspect/”person of interest” and decided he or she is the perpetrator, they will obtain an arrest warrant for the suspect so they can apprehend the suspect virtually anywhere (including inside his/her home). Once arrested, the police will recommend that the district attorney (DA)/prosecutor file charges against the suspect.