Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

TAG | journalism

Dec/09

14

Doing the police report in a small town

“Qui custodiet ipsos custodies?” (“Who shall guard the guardians themselves?”)
-Juvenal

The professions of law enforcement and journalism are alike in one way and different in another.

They are alike in that neither of us could do our jobs without the cooperation of the public.

They are different in, a good day for the cops is a day when nothing much happens.

When I first took over the police report I was told, “You’ll get to know some of the names on these reports like old friends.”

Sure have. So here’s a big “Hi” to all you guys and gals who feel like family now. The kind of family you accidentally forget to invite to reunions.

The police report appears every day in the paper, usually on page three. I come in early at 7:00 a.m. every day to collect the statistics. It doesn’t take that long to collect, write up, and file, but I have to allow more time than I generally need because every now and then something comes up I have to write about at length.

Some days the stack of report slips; yellow for police, white for the Sheriff’s office, is thick, some days thin. Thick doesn’t necessarily mean an exciting 24 hours. There might be a lot of routine traffic stops, perhaps connected to an ongoing enforcement campaign for seat belts, child restraints or whatever.

However, one of the two most common situations cops get killed in is – routine traffic stops. The other is domestic disturbance calls.

There are some differences you find in the yellow and white slips. In the city, an “animal call” usually refers to a stray dog. Outside of town an animal call is more often cattle or horses on the road.

Another difference is, within town car accidents never involve fatalities (knock wood,) outside town that’s not the case.

The sheriff’s office stack is generally thinner than the police. But you’d expect that when you routinely have with four deputies patrolling a county 20 percent larger than the state of Rhode Island. Which is also why you have so many complaints about unwanted persons or reckless drivers end with, “negative contact.” Long gone before anyone can get to the area.

There doesn’t appear to be a strong pattern to illegal activity. Holidays can be pretty busy, especially those associated with drinking to excess. But mostly, busy times and boring times just come and go.

The recent cold weather (down to minus 15, wind chill minus 30) has coincided with a quiet period with short police reports. Nobody expects that to last long. Perhaps there’s a period of acclimatization for scofflaws.

Some officers say a long period of bad weather when many people are housebound, means a busy time afterwards, as the anti-social who’ve been cooped up just have to let off steam.

Doing the police report can be a depressing experience, sometimes a hilarious one.
I’ve been told more than once it’s sad we only print bad news. With respect, I think that’s backwards. What’s sad is how often people behave badly to each other, and it isn’t news.

The sad un-news items include desperate parents who call the cops on their kids (“unruly juvenile” or “juvenile issues,”) family members who call the cops on each other (remember “domestic disturbance”?) and the truly heartbreaking “custody issues.”

Sometimes you get to follow an ongoing soap opera that makes you laugh out loud. For example, the marital misadventures of a pair of newlyweds starting to realize the truth of the old adage, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.”

But there’s a nervous edge to the laugh. That’s the kind of thing that every now and again ends in a multiple homicide, or murder-suicide.

And you find cops have a sense of humor that sometimes shows up in the reports.

“Caller reports 10-10 (fight in progress) outside bar on Main St. No weapons involved. 10-76 (en route.) 10-23 (arrived at scene.) They’re hugging each other. Awwwwwww.”

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