Crime Blotter Blah-Blah

by Steed Dropout
Aug. 7, 2013
Berkeley, Ca


Who’s even reading those blah-blah police crime “blotters.”

Roughly the same number, 57,000, who have looked up Berkeley’s Alta Bates Hospital Cafeteria. That number is an accumulation of months or years of reader site-visits.

I’ll take the cafeteria over the blotters any day.

Purse snatchings, e-phone grabs, car-break-ins, strong arm robberies (force), gun brandishing, and the occasional failed home-invasion — although scary — lose their impact with repetition.

Same crimes, week after week with changing addresses.

Know this. “Police Blotter” as hyped online is a misnomer. Perhaps a fraud.

Photo by Ted Friedman.

When I broke into journalism on my home town paper, Springfield, Il, in the late Fifties, “the blotter,” was a wire basket at the police station downtown, available to me without asking.

In that wire basket were terse reports (before police report-writing became a studied art) awkwardly describing a crime. “Suspect, 5’6,” 34 years robbed Toddle House South Fifth St. Made off with $16.10 in bills and change.”

And “suspect 5’6,” 34 years…vagrant. $16.10 in bills and small change on booking.”

The robber-vagrant had been in lock-up for twelve hours without any of Springfield’s finest making a connection.

You could say the case-solve was mine. “Thanks kid,” an officer said. I could have passed for twelve.

Photo by Ted Friedman.

Flash forward to a time when a reporter must make a formal request for a crime report and wait up to two weeks, maybe longer if the case is sensitive.

Police reporters must now be investigative reporters to write about a crime. That’s where the PIO, public information officer, and the end of crime reporting come in.

The department spokesman (flack) will censor and summarize an officer’s report. This is what crime reporters use for a source these days. The courts have sided with fortressing police departments from public view.

Photo by Ted Friedman.


The citizen journalist era. A suspect flees from a bank. I-phone cameras are hoisted on Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. One photographer phones media tip numbers. Then I might get a call from an editor asking what’s going down.

I want to be prepared to photograph and describe crimes in progress, but I’ve yet to get to an in-progress crime scene. I came close with Mustang Flips-Out, but even then, I only heard — a half block away — the mustang fall to the street with a thud. In the time it took me to dash that half-block, the car had already flipped.

I got a little bloodshed in the Mustang story (unpublished, to protect the horribly injured). Also, when a woman cut her throat in a fall to the pavement at a street fair.


The suspect, according to witnesses, bolted from BA’s side-door. Soon three Berkeley cops were in hot-chasing pursuit. Then, a recent Cal graduate with his forearm in a cast. “just stuck out my foot,” he said “and tripped him.”

I was so busy grabbing shots I forgot to ask the kid why he did it. He implied what he had done was instinctual.

Photo by Ted Friedman.

I knew something was up when a nearby squad car lit-up and sounded off. The crime scene was just around the corner. I photographed the suspect, in custody, selecting a shot that shielded his identity. But I had the identity if I needed it.

A counter-person said the suspect was known in the neighborhood as a petty thief.

A bank employee who could lose his/her job for telling me, told me the suspect had passed someone else’s check and been foolish enough to wait around while the teller informed her boss.

Photo by Ted Friedman.

Later an editor with whom I was working called the police information officer who distilled a report. She told the editor the offense was fraudulent something or other , without describing the fraud.

That’s what made the Berkeley news.

Photo by Ted Friedman.

Now you know the rest of the story — the only kind of crime story I can conscientiously write — I’ll report crime only from the scene and my own sources.

The views here do not represent those of publications in which my work appears. Read Dropout’s latest at the Berkeley Daily Planet.

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