We’re going a little retro beginning with today’s newspaper.
On the front of the Sound Sound section, you’ll find a Police Beat column, much like the ones that ran for years alongside this logo in The News Tribune.
In the pre-digital era, we ran Police Beat several times a week. It was mandatory. Readers expected it. We even ran separate versions for different communities.
At papers large and small, police blotters provided a snapshot of home: intensely local, punchy and quick. Like coverage of schools, local government, local people and local business, the blotters told us what was going on.
At The News Tribune, we gradually abandoned the blotter column in the mid-2000s. Our reasons were practical. We were smaller, and we had to move faster. We embraced online journalism. We established our award-winning crime and justice blog, Lights and Sirens (blog.thenewstribune.com/crime), an outlet for breaking news in real time. Newspapers nationwide have taken similar steps.
TNT reporter Sean Robinson sensed we were missing out and has been working behind the scenes to bring back Police Beat. As a reporter who started at his family’s small papers in Federal Way, he understood the value of community journalism. As a storyteller, he was intrigued by the slices of real life revealed in the reports.
“In the quest for instant information, we lost something,” Robinson told me. “We cover big crimes: major assaults, homicides and breaking events. We don’t always see the small stuff, the crimes people experience every day.
“Police reports reveal that small stuff. They’re raw, unspun and human. They’re the first drafts of mayhem, the beginnings of patterns.”
Today’s inaugural (revived) Police Beat describes a series of purse-snatchings in Tacoma. Most of the victims were older women, waylaid on their doorsteps late at night. Not the biggest crime, perhaps – but unsettling, especially for the victims.
It’s taken three years to bring back the blotter. When we got out of the habit of daily visits to the police station, Tacoma police understandably stopped setting out the reports.
Handwritten and hand-typed reports vanished. Reports became computerized, longer and more complicated. Our first request to reinstate the process was met with concerns about database searches and legal reviews. The city thought it would need to establish a bureaucracy to honor our request.
Eventually, we agreed to return to the simple system we had before.
While we hope our weekly Police Beat will be popular with readers, it also will help our news gathering efforts. As we leaf through reports, we’ll spot crime trends. We’ll also find reports that inspire deeper investigation.
And admittedly, some of these reports will provide little more than just plain interesting reading, like this Police Beat headline I found from 2000: “Man cited for letting child, 3, steer car while on his lap.”
And this Police Beat item ran that later that year:
“A Spanaway man was arrested on suspicion of malicious mischief Friday after intentionally crashing his car into a telephone pole in the 100th block of 171st Street East in Spanaway.
“The man’s girlfriend told Pierce County sheriff’s deputies the man’s car was impounded, and he was not allowed to pick it up because his license had been suspended. As a favor, she registered the car under her name, but told her boyfriend he could not drive it. But the boyfriend took the car, and she reported it stolen Angry, the man drove to his girlfriend’s house and rammed the car into a telephone pole directly in front of her home.
“The man then got out of the car and said, ‘Now you can have it,’ and walked off.”
We’re grateful to the Tacoma Police Department for working with us to revive Police Beat. It’s bedrock community journalism, and we’re always in the market for that.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434