Annapolis is a city with so little violent crime that the police department has no homicide unit -- simply a collection of eight full-time detectives who investigate everything from robberies to child abuse to fraud.
Yet the hottest ticket in town is the daily police report, created by the earnestly lugubrious Officer Hal Dalton, posted daily on the city's Web site and sent by e-mail to more than 400 subscribers around the city -- and across the country.
Every morning, Dalton comes to work at 6 a.m., rifles through the overnight police reports and puts together a description of the previous 24 hours' most intriguing crimes.
Nothing is too trivial to deserve mention, not even the 50 cents stolen from a car on Chester Avenue or the 53-year-old woman stopped on Hilltop Lane for not wearing a seat belt. There's the 13-year-old boy caught driving a car he stole from the Annapolis Mall, and the woman on Clay Street who told police she had allowed a homeless man to sleep overnight in her home but "did not want him in there during the day." The report continues, "She kicked him out," and he repaid her concern "by kicking on her side door."
The blotter, a narrative of the city's crime logs, even has a few main characters, such as Gloria Shabazz, a 29-year-old Annapolitan who, since January, has appeared in the blotter six times on charges of trespassing, drug possession and theft. In the last month alone, the police reported nabbing her for allegedly stealing a woman's purse at Tsunami's, a swanky Annapolis restaurant and club; for sleeping in the hallway of Timothy House, a senior citizens center, where the Housing Authority had banned her from setting foot; and for possession of "narcotics paraphernalia," including two razor blades, two spoons, nine hypodermic needles and a "suspected homemade crack smoking device."
"Isn't there something we can do about her?" blotter subscriber Melanie Lynch asked a police friend of hers after Shabazz's name showed up so many times that she found herself looking for it. Lynch said the officer answered, "People have to want help before they can get it."
The blotter's No.1 character, of course, is Dalton himself: a 49-year-old father of three -- with another on the way -- who has 28 years on the police force and has tacked pictures of his German shepherd, Ana, and his Belgian Malinois, Jake, on the bulletin board next to his computer.
A year ago, when Annapolis was revamping its Web site, city leaders decided they needed a draw, and for that, they turned to Dalton, his fellow officers and the city's average 100 daily calls for service and five arrests.
"He is the star," crowed Jan Hardesty, who oversees the Web site. "If Officer Hal's police report does not come out, people squawk."
Dalton responded modestly, shrugging, "If Public Works puts out an announcement, not many people will read it."
Dalton has fans everywhere. Bob Maynard, an engineer in Dexter, Mich., subscribes because several family members went to the Naval Academy and his sister works in Annapolis.
"It's kind of the same as reading the obits every day," Maynard said.
Indeed, Dalton offers an intimate window into a world that is rarely reported in such detail. Most newspapers, including the Annapolis daily, will not publish stories with the headline "DRUG ARREST/DUMB BAD GUY," as was the case on Wednesday's report. Nor will such dramas as a squabble between two brothers appear, as happened Tuesday, when Joseph Holland, 42, was accused of stabbing his brother in the hand with a screwdriver, and the brother, Roger Leon Holland, 43, was accused of punching Joseph in the face. Both were arrested on assault charges.
Added Dalton's Valdosta, Ga., subscriber, Cpl. Russ Severns of the Valdosta State University police: "My jurisdiction is bordered to the north and west by affluent residential and commercial areas, and to the south and east by blighted neighborhoods. . . . As I read the Annapolis blotter, I see that their problems mirror ours."
In addition to the blotter, Dalton makes a daily WNAV radio appearance, and he does a half-hour cable television show, which airs Mondays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. He alternates appearances with none other than the city's mayor.
"It's just like Heloise, only for law enforcement," Hardesty said. "He always has something to say."