Police blotters not completely gone, but much less colorful

Online lists of crimes are more comprehensive, but lack the details of blotters of old

September 14, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County police reported 9,207 "incidents" from Aug. 29 through Sept. 5. They included traffic stops (2,362), noise complaints (156), burglaries (42), car thefts (31) and drunken-driving arrests (16).

Anne Arundel County police reported 2,704 "incidents" from Sept. 5 through Sept. 12. They included disorderly conduct (675), thefts (276), drug violations (91), car thefts (40) and prowlers (10).

All this information can be found, updated every week, at the Baltimore Sun's Crime Beat blog (baltimoresun.com/crime), which is one of the most comprehensive police blotters around. The two agencies provide the data from their respective 911 centers.

On the blog, readers can map out crime going back a year and, for example, search out clusters of burglaries and armed robberies. Unfortunately, other police departments, including the city's, have not been as forthcoming with information.

But even the data from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties leaves readers wondering. Who was robbed? Where? At what time? What was taken? How did the burglar get inside? Did the person break into other houses?

The Baltimore Sun's longtime night police reporter, Dick Irwin, retired this week after 44 years of recording the mayhem in Baltimore and beyond, and it's an appropriate time to examine how crime information gets from police to residents.

Irwin was responsible for the "Police Blotter," a daily compilation of crime in our neighborhoods and on our streets. Irwin's departure means the end of this beloved feature, at least in the familiar way it appeared over his tagline for more than three decades and in three different newspapers.

A former Sun editor commented on a recent blog post on Irwin's retirement: "At a meeting some years ago of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, a very sophisticated neighbor complained that the Police Department was again suppressing crime reports. Her proof: She knew of street crimes that were not reported in the Blotter."

But the blotter was never comprehensive. As the above numbers attest, even a detailed blotter of two suburban counties could accommodate only a tiny portion of the crime reported in our area. But for some readers, it seemed an indispensible guide.

Taken together, the newspaper's print edition, website and crime blog, as well as the crime lists supplied by police, give readers a far more comprehensive view of crime than ever before. Add to that the direct outreach from police through social media sites and text messages of shootings and arrests — almost as they happen — and readers can be overwhelmed with crime news.

And still, readers won't know why the police helicopter circled over their houses the night before.

Few newspapers publish an old-fashioned police blotter anymore. The New York Post is one of the few remaining. "What a butt head," reads a headline over a Sunday item on a man found "snoozing inside a white Jeep" and who "stunk of booze." And "Extra! Extra!" is the headline for an item on a man who hit his wife with a newspaper.

The New York Times doesn't have a blotter, but it includes "Crime & Public Safety" on its City Room blog. There, you learn about crimes that might not make the print edition or find items like a picture of the Police Department's portable shredder, headlined "This Is Officer Krupke, Send Me the Shredder!"

Baltimore County police come close to publishing their own "blotter" with the "Weekly Significant Events Report." But that is the work of one sergeant, in just one precinct (the Towson area).

Among the crimes listed is one from Aug. 30 at 5:05 p.m. in the 8600 block of LaSalle Road. A man "ran up behind the victim and ripped her purse off of her shoulder. The victim chased the suspect who got into a white SUV that was waiting on Putty Hill Ave. The victim had cash in the purse, which was payroll money for the workers at a daycare."

A weekly list containing information like this from every precinct in the county and every district in the city would go a long way toward dispelling fears that police don't publicly report all crime and help residents understand at least some of what goes on around them.

What is perhaps the Baltimore area's last true blotter still appears in the Baltimore Guide, which editor Jacqueline Watts says is a fairly comprehensive list of crimes on the south and east sides of the city.

"We look for trends," Watts said. "A whole bunch of second-story break-ins in the 2800 block of East Baltimore Street, we point out all of them in the hopes that people say, 'I really got to go close my window.' I think It's important to let people know what's happening. … It's the most popular feature."

The Guide's blotter won a "Best of Baltimore" award from Baltimore Magazine this year. Judges were particularly taken by the account of a man who threatened a woman with a gun by saying, "Give me your pocketbook, Hon," and by this gem: "Some lowlife stole an 82-year-old woman's walker from her front steps."

Concluded the magazine: "We're addicted."

Of her editorial license in the walker bandit item, Watts said: "I couldn't help myself."

Local crime with local flair.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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