We added a new feature to our website last week, an interactive map that allows users to track crime and sex offenders in their neighborhoods.
Local crime stories are among the most read on our website, so we expect the map to be popular with readers. But online and in the paper, we must strike a balance between giving people all the crime information they want and painting an accurate picture of the relative safety of our neighborhoods.
The sad fact is, crimes happen in our community every day. People are robbed, roughed up and worse. When the flashing lights of law enforcement vehicles show up on your street, you want to know why.
Even when crimes happen somewhere else, the most spectacular ones create story lines that have readers hanging on every word, trying to understand what happened. The stories of Josh Powell, who killed himself and his two sons in Graham this year, and Maurice Clemmons, who killed four Lakewood police officers in 2009, fell into this category.
The reality is that most of us won’t have a crime committed against us on any given day or month or even year. Filling the newspaper with crime stories would create a misperception that we live in a dangerous, crime-ridden community.
A homicide typically makes our front page or our South Sound section front, in part because it is out of the ordinary. Our database shows 16 homicides in Pierce County this year. That number includes people killed by police officers who fired in the line of duty.
We report on crime trends, as well, believing that adding context can be more useful to readers. Are gang incidents up or down? What’s up with that rash of break-ins? How can people avoid being scammed?
Our Lights & Sirens blog at thenewstribune.com reports on lower-level crimes that don’t make the paper. It allows us to fill a niche for people intensely interested in crime news without overwhelming readers who are less interested.
The new online crime map, at thenewstribune.com/crimemap, will give that audience another level of detail.
The map provider, CrimeReports.com, works with police agencies to capture recent data on reported crimes – everything from car break-ins to homicides – and locates them by block (exact addresses are not revealed). The map includes feeds from the Tacoma Police Department and a few other agencies. We’ll be working to get feeds from Pierce County and other local departments.
The map also shows the reported residences (down to the block level) of Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders.
Users can search by location, date and type of incident. They can submit crime tips that will be passed along to the appropriate agency and sign up for email alerts of crimes in their neighborhood.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from those who crave more crime news are those who tell us they never want to read another story about Josh Powell or former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, convicted Friday of molesting 10 boys. Some lament that the paper is filled with only “bad news.” While that can become a conventional wisdom, here a breakdown of the TNT’s 10 most recent front pages:
• Nine of the 10 had centerpieces (the story-picture package in the center of the front page) about positive things happening in our community, from the 30th birthday of a Point Defiance Zoo walrus to the two days of nice summer weather to the dozen high school students we dubbed All Star Grads. Saturday’s cover story on the death of Mount Rainier climbing ranger Nick Hall was the exception.
• Four of 36 front-page stories dealt with crimes. They included: the appeal of LaTanya Clemmons, convicted of rendering criminal assistance during her brother’s getaway; the conviction of Sandusky; the sentencing of Steven Powell, Josh Powell’s father, in his voyeurism conviction; and our story about the Army’s propensity to pursue the death penalty against soldiers who kill people.
We’ll keep working to find the right balance on crime coverage while providing you as much information as firstname.lastname@example.org