Column – A glimpse into crimeOne small part of the newspaper that takes a little work but always seems to generate a lot of interest is the sheriff and police blotter.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
One small part of the newspaper that takes a little work but always seems to generate a lot of interest is the sheriff and police blotter.
It’s printed on page A2 of the paper, typically once a week, under the heading, “For the Record.”
Here’s how it works: Each week, our news reporters take turns going to the Law Enforcement Center. We ask for the blotter and the dispatchers are always kind and courteous about giving us the thick clipboard containing the summary pages known as Incident Crime Reports (ICRs).
The blotter, by the way, is by no means exclusive to the media. Anyone from the public can ask to see the data. Minnesota law requires law enforcement agencies to maintain records of their daily activities. The disclosure must be prompt, according to the law, and there are only a few exceptions that law enforcement can use to shield information.
The records must include pertinent details: the date, time and place of action they take; agencies, unit and officers participating; whether there was pursuit, resistance or weapons involved; the names and addresses of witnesses, victims, and casualties; name of location of the health care facilities where victims were taken; a response or ICR number; whether the parties involved in a traffic accident were wearing seat belts and the blood alcohol concentration of each driver; and a brief factual reconstruction of events.
It typically takes a reporter about an hour to go through all the blotter reports for a week, jotting down the case numbers of incidents that will require more facts and information from the law enforcement records people. After we compile that information, sometimes checking with the hospital to update accident information, it’ll take a reporter another half hour or so to write the items.
We don’t print everything of course; that would take up way too much space. We’re consistent about what to report. Some of the more common items that we publish include car accidents (if someone is injured), thefts, acts of vandalism, significant property damage, fires (if they amount to anything), break-ins, burglaries and odd or unusual incidents (those are sometimes the best.)
We don’t include the names of people who report incidents to authorities. We used to years ago but we found that some people were more reluctant to report crimes if they knew their name might be printed. So we just include a general address instead, such as a residence on 7th Avenue East.
The goal of printing the blotter is two-fold. First, it gives the public a general idea of some of the more noteworthy incidents officers are investigating, sometimes in their own neighborhoods. Secondly, it can help solve or reduce crimes. If a reader sees something in the blotter about a stolen item and has information about it, they can take that information to authorities.
People can learn a few lessons from reading the blotter. Here are some blotter items from last week, along with a “moral to the story.”
A cell phone was stolen from a boy’s locker at Jefferson High School. The lesson: Tell your kids to always make sure their locker is locked; better yet, tell them not to store anything of real value inside.
Girl Scout money was stolen from a car parked near 34th Avenue East. The lesson: If you don’t know it by now, crooks have no conscience. Always keep your vehicle locked.
Deputies investigated a complaint of rotting fish and animals that were creating an offensive odor. The lesson: Think about your neighbors. Be more considerate. Don’t let your messes get so out of control that they require police involvement.
More than 80 vehicles were red-tagged throughout the city because their owners failed to move them off the street after a snowfall. The lesson: Be aware of city ordinances regarding snowfall. Vehicles must be removed from the streets within 24 hours of a snowfall to accommodate the plows.
We know that some people view the blotter as gossipy “small-town news.” More than a few blotter items from papers have been the fodder of jokes for David Letterman and Jay Leno. (I always get a kick out of those “wacky headlines” and “small town news” segments.) But as hokey as they may seem, the blotter items still serve a purpose. They alert residents about crime, give some insight into police work and shed light on the sometimes funny, sometimes dark side of human nature.