Changes with the police and fire reports

Close readers of the Pioneer may notice tomorrow some changes in the daily police and fire report, both in print and online. I believe they are for the good. Time will tell.

Since their inception, newspapers have documented the police calls of their respective coverage area. While the procedure for obtaining and publishing reports differs at every newspaper, the objective remains the same: inform the public about the types and amount of crime happening in the area.

Here at the Pioneer, the system of obtaining the information has worked out well, albeit required some legwork on both the reporter’s and law enforcement personnel’s time.

The Records department at the Law Enforcement Center emails me every morning a list of the incident calls from the day before for both the Bemidji Police Department and Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office.

With a highlighter, I mark the calls the Pioneer would like to note, such as property damage, party complaints, peace disturbances, etc. These do not have details listed in print, but are noted with a time, date and address.

I also note the calls that I want more information on, such as thefts, assaults, burglaries, personal-injury accidents, etc. I email these lists of numbers back to the SO and PD, whose employees then need to look up every call and then review and print out that report. This takes quite a bit of time. I try to allow workers a few hours to do this; they do have many other job duties to tend to other than my media needs.

Later, I drive downtown, review the expanded reports and make notes longhand on those I want to print.

Well, no more.

This week, both agencies have been undergoing training of a newly implemented software program. I was told earlier this week that it would mean that I would no longer need to go downtown to pick up reports.

Honestly, I was a more than a little concerned. Speaking as a member of the media, the changes that I have experienced with police departments when they get technology upgrades are not usually good. It, in my experience, has meant making available to the public less information. At one newspaper I worked at about six years ago, I went from receiving full, detailed paragraphs of each incident (even for calls as minor as a traffic ticket) to getting just a type of call, time, date and location.

Today, though, I came to work and shortly after arriving, found an email with a six-page attachment containing the new blotters.

I am very pleasantly surprised. Each call is detailed with a synopsis of the incident. Even those which we, before, did not request more information on has an accompanying explanation, even if it is just a few words long.

Yes, the new system might save me a trip downtown (I still have to get fire reports) so I am happy about that too, but, more so, I think the new system appears to making more information for the public’s consumption. And, in my experience, that rarely happens with law enforcement agencies.

Of course, I write this after just one day’s work. I am optimistic. My only concern at this point is that the synopsis will be left off some of the reports. There were two today that did not have a synopsis that I would have wanted information on,

But, again, it is just the first day. And, overall, I am liking the new system.

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On a related note, did anyone see what the Chicago Police Department is doing? (Read more here.)