The magic of police blotters, however, is that a sentence alone can be mightily revealing.
A police report in the right hands can turn into a brief work of art, a Hemingway-esque super short story where the shoes are always stolen, and were likely never worn because they were eaten by a cow or thrown into a tree.
Thankfully for America, most of its citizens aren't receiving citations for singing in the streets, goats aren't apparating to every neighbor's lawn, every plow driver isn't pickled and saliva assaults aren't written up everyday. But, there are enough to populate papers on a weekly basis, and provide a much needed break from the more depressing police reports that warrant more coverage from reporters. We may not remember the individual crimes described, but you can tell a lot about a town by observing how police officers spend their day.
Although the odd behavior isn't rare, the police blotters documenting them are getting so. As local newspapers condense and fade, money once set aside for young reporters to listen to police scanners gets spent elsewhere, leaving unpaid admirers on Twitter and Facebook to document the strange happenings in some towns, while others go without any record of the villainous squirrels within.
Here is an appreciation of America's police blotters, featuring nearly all 50 states, and favorites from a few police blotter writers themselves. If you don't see your state on here, but have your own personal favorite police blotter to share, send an email and we'll add it.
Permitting dogs to run at large was reported from 13th Avenue at 11:50 a.m. April 7.
Caller reported that someone was feeding the eagles causing a hazard as one of the eagles had flown into her truck. Officers investigated and discovered that the eagles were not being fed but were congregating, as eagles are known to do.
Sgt. Jennifer Shockley is one of the bards of police blotters. She has written up the reports in Unalaska, Alaska, since 2006, and has received national attention for her dry delivery of area crimes -- which often involve bald eagles, drinking, or bald eagles and drinking. Occasionally vampires. The blotter got a lot more entertaining when Shockley realized no one would protest if she spiced things up a bit. She told the Alaska Dispatch in 2012, "I was looking over some of the early ones not too long ago from mid-2006 and they were pretty bland; boring in fact. I don't recall exactly trying to have some fun with it or why, but I suspect that there was something amusing and I wanted to portray it as such. When it got published, I realized I could get away with it." The publisher of the Unalaska Advertiser told an Los Angeles Times reporter when they came to profile the blotter in 2009, "Two weeks ago, I heard from the Mensa chapter in Pennsylvania. Or was it Tennessee? They said the person that writes this police thing is probably the only person in Unalaska that qualifies for Mensa."
A man entered a residence uninvited and threw a television on to the floor Tuesday in the 1100 block of East Second Street. After the outburst, the man reportedly ran out the door and down the road.
A resident reported a large light in the sky. It was the moon.
9:53 p.m. When a roommate moved out, he took several unweaned kittens with him.
10:28 a.m. Someone reported a stolen inflatable dinosaur from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, 479 Main Ave.
“We can’t run every arrest,” said James H. Smith, the editor of The Post, which has a circulation of about 75,000. “We make news judgments on these things.” He added that the police blotter was “immensely popular.”
“People read it religiously,” he said. “It’s like gossip.”
A tenant, irate that trees were going to be cut down at an apartment complex in the 3400 block of Northeast Causeway Boulevard in Stuart, spit on the leg of a woman who serves on the community’s board. The incident began when the man argued that only 10 trees were to be cut, but the woman said the number was 23. She told the man he should have attended the last board meeting. It was as she walked away from him to avoid further confrontation that he launched his saliva assault. The woman, disgusted by the man’s behavior, had wiped the spittle from her leg before the deputy arrived. Two witnesses spoke to the deputy and provided similar details. When the deputy spoke to the spitter, he claimed he expectorated on the ground, not on the woman. He was arrested and taken to the county jail.
Lieutenant Steve Rose of the Sandy Springs Police Department has been writing up a police blotter for about ten years in newspapers around Georgia, drawing on his 39 years of experience as a police officer to keep the community informed about how to avoid trouble. It seems somewhat unfair to call his column (called "A View from the Cop" when it was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution) a police blotter, seeing as he has adapted the format into a way to analyze the colorful criminals of the Atlanta metro area.
"Everyone thinks the people in the police logs are master criminals," Rose says. "But they are pretty much morons." Rose sees it as his duty to make sure readers know that.
In his weekly police blotter email, he awards "The Einstein Award," which "is given to the crooks and other misfortunate souls who display the greatest misuse of common sense and in general, brains—those who must have said later: 'What was I thinking?' They are truly the police officer’s best friend."
A police blotter he wrote in March 2010 notes that "someone knocked over a turtle," advice for how to avoid bad eggs on online dating sites and "two things to remember when you’re getting a divorce."
"I've got kind of a cult following at this point," says the "practical jokester and self-taught cartoonist" — who was profiled in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2005. "They make fun of me at work."
No other fruit grown in Hawai'i makes the police blotter as much as lychee.
An Asotin County resident got an earful of equine last week. The horses in her neighborhood neighed long and loudly. The buggers serenaded and soliloquyed, and wouldn't stop. Her inability to reach REM prompted her to phone authorities.
It may not have been the same singing horses, but there were definitely horses on the road this week. They were "headed to Asotin," according to a report. In another report, an Asotin County caller noticed a sawhorse in the road. A decoy?
Complainant advised that unknown person(s) hacked into his airline account and used his frequent flier points to make purchases.
7:10 p.m.: 900 block of North Finlandia on criminal mischief. "Apparently some kids have made it their life mission to fill the mailbox at this address with eggs on an almost daily basis. The homeowner believes it is happening between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. He has requested extra patrols."
A couple of crime blurbs from this summer that continue to make my officemates chuckle involve downright outlandish behavior. A man who was arrested for fighting with bouncers after they tried to eject him from the club for licking the strippers. Try explaining that to the wife.
Also hard to explain would be the bridal party thrown in jail after the bride and her future mother-in-law started a brawl. The frenzy touched off by bouquet tosses was probably tame after the bride and her attendant walked down the aisle with shiners.
— September 18, 2003, as reported by the Des Moines Register
At 10:08 p.m., a Thornton woman calls the sheriff ’s office to complain that a neighbor’s coon dogs are running around in a pack terrorizing the community.
Earlier in the week, the Abbeville police were called to a church in Abbeville where the pastor advised the police that a white male was acting suspiciously around his church. The Abbeville Police Call List states that Joshua James Hebert was observed hanging out around the men’s bathroom and advised the church staff that “God had told him to stand there” according to the police call list. As stated on the call list, Hebert wanted to assist the church with its vacation bible school for children. The church learned, according to the Abbeville call list, that Joshua James Hebert is a registered sex offender, based on what he wrote on his application. The call list said he “wanted to photograph and work with children.”
The pastor and police department laid out security measures in case Hebert returned to the church, the call list said.
The next day, after dealing with the church and Joshua James Hebert, the Abbeville police were called to investigate the theft a rabbit valued at $25.
The police call list notes that someone living on Charity Street called the police because someone took a rabbit from a cage in his yard. The police officers investigated the scene and talked to neighbors, who did say they saw someone looking at the rabbit cages.
Stolen was a brown rabbit.
This is the most impressive book to come off the presses in America today. -- Robert Skoglund, The humble Farmer Show, Maine Public Radio, 9-7-94
A painstaking effort . . . It is the life of a small town community Sassaman is trying to capture here, warts and all. -- Nan Lincoln, The Bar Harbor Times, 6-30-94
It's my favorite thing. I sit in the outhouse, feed flies to my spider, and read Bar Harbor Police Beat. -- Chris Vincenty, Salisbury Cove, Maine
So that's where we left our marriage license! -- Eddie Monat, Bar Harbor harbormaster, opening the book again to chapter one
Someone entered the rear yard of a house in the 5900 block of Johnson St. on Saturday morning and removed a tomato from a tomato plant. The tomato was valued at $3, police said.
Dick Irwin published a police blotter in Baltimore newspapers for more than 30 years. When he retired in 2010, Washington Post reporter Peter Hermann -- then at the Baltimore Sun -- wrote a farewell note to the blotter, which had such a rabid fan base that people would call the newsroom to complain when it was crowded out of the print edition. Hermann wrote, "The blotter is popular because it tells a story, small tales woven to form a portrait of our neighborhoods and of our streets. Even if it's not comprehensive, it's reassuring to know that the missing trash cans and petty thefts, the break-ins and the burglaries, the crimes that most aggravate but often get crowded out by murder and mayhem, still matter. We laugh at the stolen hot tub and shake our heads at the stolen assault weapon."
Three years after his retirement, Irwin died. The Baltimore Sun noted in his obituary that he "dressed like a detective and had something of a military bearing — he had been a Marine Corps Reservist. He also drove a large white Ford Crown Victoria, which gave him unchallenged access to crime scenes." Before becoming a crime reporter, he worked at a gas station in Jackson Hole, as a Baltimore police officer and in the advertising department at Sears.
2:30 p.m. — An Almont Street resident'reports a “young skunk” is roaming around his backyard, periodically collapsing. The skunk, he also reports, “appears disoriented.” (It would seem to be a clear case of something being drunk as a skunk, no?)
6:11 p.m. — More skunk issues, this time on Kennedy Road, where the ACO is asked to put down a diseased skunk.
On Thursday June 5, 2014, Officers from the 5th precinct were dispatched to the above area to investigate a call for “shots fired”. The Officers observed a Suspect walking in the street and stopped to ask him if he heard any shots fired.
Disturbance. A resident in the 4100 block of NE. Edgewood Road reported finding a burning bag of dog feces on her front steps.
When the Bozeman Daily Chronicle published a book collecting their most popular police blotter items in December 2011 during their celebration of the newspaper's 100th anniversary, the editors thought people in the city would find it a hoot, but that's about it. Instead, the book sales reached over $100,000 in two years. It has sold to all 50 states, and to countries all around the world. They published a second edition in 2013, and are already thinking about a third. An article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal last year helped — but so do the people of Bozeman.
"If you talk to any of our readers, they'll have a favorite entry in the police blotter," says Nick Ehli, who has been at the newspaper 14 years, seven as managing editor. Everyone who works at the Daily Chronicle has done their shift composing the police blotter at one time or another, since it's a task given to newbies.
His personal favorite involved a noise complaint — unending thumping that sounded like loud music playing. "I don't know if you can print it," he tells me, laughing. "Police responded to the incident and ascertained that the thumping was more of a humping in nature."
The favorite entry of Whitney Bermes, who has been writing up the blotter for a little over two years, involves a couple that was having sex next to a parked motorcycle. A deputy found them, and told them to stop, and advised them of where they could find more appropriate places to have sex. When the newspaper posted the item on their Facebook page, people asked, "Well? What are the appropriate places to have sex?"
How much of the beauty of the Bozeman police blotter is unique to Bozeman is hard to tell, as Montana seems replete with weirder than average police blotters.
The Flathead Beacon's police blotter had an item on June 17 that noted, "A dispatcher overheard a car full of girls singing "this is how you jiggle" during an accidental call to 911." The day before, an entry announced "Apparently, there is some sort of unresolved issue between a county inmate and a cat at the animal shelter."
"There are a lot of off-the-wall characters in that part of the state," Bermes says.
The Village Point restaurant, Cheeseburger in Paradise, reports the theft of 20 empty kegs. The kegs actually belong to several beer distribution companies, but the restaurant will have to pay the distributors $600.00 for the missing kegs.
8:30 p.m. — A caller in the vicinity of Bloomfield Graniteville Road and Bush Road reported an “illegal wedding,” with a PA system.
12:25 a.m. — A 911 caller on the 14000 block of Meadow Drive stated that “There is electromagnetic radar, and she has no emergency at this time.”
6:19 p.m. — A gentleman threatens to “rearrange” the face of a lady. A dog is at issue.
10:30 p.m. - Outside Kentucky Fried Chicken a car is playing the same loud song over and over. Hopefully not Peter Griffin singing The Bird is the Word.
On the above date and time a shoplifting at Costco was reported. [Named] was arrested for shoplifting saffron valued at $13.59.
Alan Furst, a best-selling author of spy novels and historical thrillers, called police last week for the second time in the past two months, concerned that he is the target of electronic skullduggery. Mr. Furst reported on June 3 that, while he had been away from his Hampton Street house for about 24 hours starting May 30, “an unknown person did change his voice recording on his home telephone answering machine.” Instead of his normal personal message, Mr. Furst told police, the outgoing recording had been switched to the generic default one that comes with the machine. He said that he did not believe anyone had entered the house, and that someone had possibly hacked into his system. Mr. Furst had previously reported a “suspicious incident” to the police on April 10, saying that he had been the target of a hacker who had “entered his computer and moved items around” on his screen from a remote location. He had also received a strange phone call at 2 a.m. that day from a caller who hung up after one ring. He said he was concerned that someone may be harassing him because of his work as a novelist.
The Scotchman convenience store at 7111 Wrightsville Ave. reported the theft of a pack of Jack Links Beef Jerky and a Mountain Dew Kickstart beverage around 4:45 a.m. Saturday, June 7.
An unidentified white male wearing a white T-shirt, white shorts and no shoes wanted to pay for the two items with a $100 bill. However, there was not enough cash in the register at the time to make change so the suspect walked out with the items.
A resident of Third NW said Friday a man was at her door, singing "I'm loving you." She slammed the door shut.
— June 1, 2014, as reported in the Times Reporter
A Sapphire Drive woman called police March 27 at 2:07 p.m. when she heard strange noises coming from the interior of the house downstairs. When police arrived, the woman called to the officer from an upstairs bedroom window. According to the report, her husband arrived and he and the officer checked the interior of the house. They discovered the couple's cat had gotten into the piano and was creating the strange sounds.
An out-of-state man was detained and arrested at Lowe’s Home Improvement on George Nigh Expressway Sunday afternoon for allegedly trying to steal more than $600 worth of nail-guns.
Caller reports puppy running at large, not causing problems, just loose.
The Erie Times News publishes a weekly feature that celebrates the city's weirdest crime of the week. There was the guy who put headstones in the middle of the road in Waterford, the person who stole venison from an old man's garage, the guy who woke up with two mysterious holes in his backyard and the "pickled plow driver" who got busted for dealing with snowy roads while intoxicated.
Officer Gilda Fortier took a report of a stolen sign on Leroy Avenue on May 25. The owner of the sign reported that the sign had been up for about eight years and said, “CATS SLOW CROSSING” and was a square that measured 40 by 40 inches. Fortier said they showed her a clipping from the Warwick Beacon that once did a story about the sign. The clipping and a note from the owner were taken as evidence and he did say he would press charges if the culprit was found. (The owner, James Tetreault, told the Beacon that the thief may get a measure of justice if he or she takes the wooden sign indoors: The post that supported it was infected with termites.)
Jim Tatum, who has been doing community journalism since 1996, says there are three things that people want to learn in small-town newspapers. "People read the newspaper to find out who died, who went to jail and how much their neighbor paid for their house." Readers of the Summerville Journal-Scene also appear to like the police blotter.
"We do have some characters here," he says.
He hasn't checked since last year, but he thinks that the police reports are getting lots of page views on the Summerville Journal-Scene Web site. Anecdotally, he knows that when people recognize him around town, it's always for the police blotter. "I guess they don't care for my riveting coverage of stormwater drainage as much," he deadpanned. "Everybody's got a sense of morbidity, I guess."
One of his favorite police blotter items, written for another small newspaper in South Carolina, appeared after two inmates at the Jasper County Jail escaped. The two inmates, who had robbed a bank, were put in an officers' break room after one of them cut his wrist with a pull tab on a soda can. They found a credit card in the room, jimmied the lock and walked out the door. The headline for the police blotter item was something along the lines of "Armed Robbery: Five Years. Breaking Out of the County Jail: Priceless."
Although his "personal predilection is toward the quirky and unusual," he also feels an obligation to "balance showing patterns in crime with the weird things that usually happen around the full moon time."
"It's good to get the lighter side in there," he says, "because the police reports can get downright depressing."
12:24 p.m., 3114 Oak Ave.
12:41 p.m., 210 E. Philadelphia St.
An unknown suspect set several items on fire in the Walmart parking lot in Oak Ridge on Saturday evening, authorities said.
The arson included an LG 50-inch flat-screen television, a computer monitor and modem, three computer hard drives.
The Texas Monthly has a reoccurring feature called "Meanwhile, in Lufkin," an appreciation of the police blotter published in the Lufkin Daily News. In a profile of Lufkin's police blotter penner , Jessica Cooley, a reporter wrote,
Items run the gamut from the mundane (“A purse was found floating in a ditch full of water Sunday”) to the bizarre (“A man reported finding a steak knife stuck in the ground outside his apartment”). Themes emerge. Like meat thefts: “Pork chops, pork loin, and ground ham-burger were reported stolen from a home Thursday,” and “A mother reported her son stealing meat from her Sunday.” Also, assaults with everyday objects: “A woman handing out sweet roll samples on Saturday at a business reported that a customer took a sample and threw it in her face,” and “A Lufkin woman was arrested for reportedly striking her uncle with a handheld vacuum cleaner.”
The complainant missed placed his cell phone and requested that a police officer "ping" the phone to see if it could be found. I informed that complainant that he will need to call his cellular provided for that service.
Not much happens in Stowe, Vermont, which is part of the reason their police blotter is so popular. Criminals tend toward the bovine variety (Dec. 18, at 11:47 a.m., cows in the middle of Randolph road prompted a call to the farmer, who cut short their asphalt adventures.), and stealing Christmas lights is an especially egregious crime. (Dec. 20, at 4:09 a.m., a particularly Grinch-like person made off with a strand of Christmas tree lights from a village tree.)
The newspaper can charge more for advertising on page two -- where the police blotter appears -- because they know people often read that first.
"No matter what you write," Tommy Gardner, who has been writing up the police blotter since October, says somewhat resignedly, "everyone concentrates on that."
Crimes at Emily's Bridge, the covered bridge in town, are always fun to report, Gardner says, given the opportunity for phantasmal embellishments. Near Halloween last year, he wrote the item, "Police investigated a complaint about a loud party at Emily’s Bridge, but when they arrived, there was no one there, corporeal or spiritual."
It's makes for an interesting dynamic between the newspaper and its readers and the police department, which is well-funded, given Stowe's role as a tourist magnet. "The police don't always like their work being read as entertaining fodder," Gardner says. "But sometimes it's pretty interesting."
One time, the Stowe Reporter's police blotter was featured on Ellen DeGeneres.
After that happened, one reader wrote a letter to the editor wondering if the police blotter should be more serious.
The editor responded, "As Charles Dana, editor of the New York Sun, once said, 'Whatever the Divine Providence permitted to occur, I was not too proud to report.'"
A resident reported that she and her sister had become involved in an argument that became
more heated when the topic of religion arose. The sister decided she would call a friend or a cab and leave the residence.
A Longview woman reported Aug. 8 that her neighbor was outside in his underwear shooting at birds.
A man in his underwear at a Kelso convenience store said Aug. 8 that someone stole his clothes.
A man said he was going to crawl into a hole and die after he was unable to pay a traffic ticket on Fifth Avenue.— KC Police Blotter (@KCPoliceBlotter) June 17, 2014
A white cow reportedly was loose on Greenfield Avenue.— KC Police Blotter (@KCPoliceBlotter) June 17, 2014
**Almost Purgatorial** theft of the A/C units from the church / 889 Providence Church Rd
pig, plymouth - man wearing kilt, w/ camera strapped to head, carrying pistol & shotgun, is doing nothing illegal— Sheboygan Scanner (@sheboyganscan) May 24, 2014
sheboygan - cop who has to deal w/ live bat says he hates mondays— Sheboygan Scanner (@sheboyganscan) April 11, 2014
The Sheboygan Scanner is a different beast from the rest of the police blotters on this list. The transcriber of crime in Sheboygan, Wis., is not affiliated with the local police department. This person doesn't work at the local newspaper. The unknown gossip of the town of 50,000 people just likes listening to the Sheboygan police scanner, and has felt obligated to share its oddities with the world since 2009.
Adrian Chen conducted an interview with the anonymous Sheboygan scribe for the New Inquiry in August 2012. He asked him what the weirdest thing he heard on the scanner was.
Probably the man who created a disturbance because he was angry about an Italian restaurant serving Italian food. It also came out that he tends to sit and watch the seagulls, but he does not like seagulls.
At 6:35 a.m. on Friday, deputies were called to assist Lander Police and Wyoming Game and Fish with a report of a moose in an alley in north Lander.
That squirrel, or one of his friends, was found in a trap again in the 800 block of Riverview Road. There have been a half-dozen or so reports of captured squirrels in that block. The latest squirrel was released by the river.
-- June 13 in Fremont County, as reported on Capital 10