Saturday, April 26, 2014

"We Don't Make This Stuff Up"

Never having been a cop, I can't say for certain what the job is like. I'm pretty certain, however, that it's not exactly what you see on TV. That's not to say that they don't have to deal with psychopaths ("Criminal Minds"), murderous cults ("The Following") and partnerships with incredibly intelligent master criminals ("Hannibal" and "The Blacklist"). But just because they appear on the tube so frequently doesn't make them the norm. After all, I'm pretty sure my neighbors aren't keeping someone locked in a basement cell for 20 years. I mean, I'm pretty sure.  

No, if you want a more realistic view of the challenges confronting your neighborhood cops, a better place to look is probably the local police blotter. In many towns, including ones where this column is published in print, you can find a recitation of the things that commanded their attention listed in the local paper or online. Usually scrubbed of any individual identifying information, it presents a "just the facts, ma'am" picture of the transgressions in which your fellow citizens have been engaged, or more correctly, those transgressions in which they were engaged and got caught.

In the big city, the list can run to hundreds of items: drugs, burglary, prostitution, and battery major and minor, all along with the occasional fatal altercation, intentional or not. As an example, Chicago's "Clearmap" system is available online, and enables you to slice and dice the information by street, ward, park or beat. It even puts icons on a map showing the location of each incident (larceny appears as a black two-eyed Catwoman mask, while simple assault is a set of brass knuckles).

If you live in a smaller jurisdiction, the volume of incidents detailed is likely fewer. That's not to say that crime doesn't happen in your town. It's just that with a smaller population the total number of events is generally less as well. Factor in population density, socio-economic factors and a more likely homogeneous population, and the types of incidences are also probably less severe to boot. That doesn't mean you don't see the occasional burglary ("car window smashed, pocketbook taken, no arrests made"), fight ("aggravated harassment, dispute between doctor and patient") or fraud ("call from person claiming need for payment of back taxes, hung up when questioned"). But even when they do happen they don't usually rise to the standard for inclusion in "Law and Order."

That being said, what we in the hinterlands lack in shear brutality we make up for in complete over-reaction. That's because if you live in a suburban neighborhood, long before it was the norm, you were indoctrinated with a "if you see something say something" mentality. At its core, that's not a bad thing: better to see the possible problems and let the local flatfoots sort it out before it becomes something truly sinister. But a little common sense might go a long way.

For example, in our neck of the woods the blotter confirms that cops get called out to deal with a lot of stuff that they likely never covered at the academy. There's this incident that caused great alarm: "Police summoned to a playground because of report that one child was being teased by other children. Determined no crime had been committed." Good call, that one. Or this: "Report of a sick raccoon. Raccoon was not sick." Perhaps it was just mad. Or this one: "Report of an injured deer on lawn. Upon examination, deer was in process of delivering a baby. Deer left alone." No report if it was a boy or girl.

But it could be worse. In Bozeman, Montana, the local varietal has proven such good fodder that they have been collected into a bestseller. Entitled "We Don't Make This Stuff Up," the $10 paperback includes such posts as "Group of women flagged down an officer at 1:55 a.m. because newlywed in the group had to cross ‘flirt with a cop' off of her bucket list. She was warned." Then there's "Complaint of dog in truck. Dog found healthy, happy and did not want assistance." And hard to argue with "Man called to report his Subaru was stolen. Called right back saying it was not stolen, but rather rolling down 14th Avenue." In that light, I guess it's pretty boring here after all.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes living in the "sticks." His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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