Every Wednesday local reporters for the cities of Lake Oswego, West Linn, and Tigard take to Twitter to compete in an epic showdown of small police calls. This weekly blotter war gives each reporter a chance to show off the silliest police calls from that week. Using the hashtag #BlotterWar each reporter competes for the most retweets by sharing short snippets of police calls.
— Tigard Times (@TigardTimes) February 13, 2014
First, Let’s Meet the Reporters
Lori Hall is the editor for two local papers, the West Linn Tidings and the Wilsonville Spokesman. She is the person behind the West Linn Police Blotter and has been working for the Tidings since 2011. She also worked for six years as an editor and writer for ThisWeek Newspaper. You can follow along with the West Linn side of the #BlotterWar by following Lori on Twitter, @LoriHall7.
— WLeditor (@LoriHall7) January 23, 2014
Geoff Pursinger is a reporter for the Times a local paper covering Tigard, Tualatin, and Sherwood. He attended Pacific University and was the fifteenth Knope of the Week winner in March of 2012 for his story on ELGL. Geoff is the man behind the Tigard blotter and you can follow along with his favorite police calls on Twitter, @TigardTimes.
— Tigard Times (@TigardTimes) February 6, 2014
Kara Hansen is the Assitant Editor for the Lake Oswego Review and the West Linn Tidings. She graduated from the University of Oregon and has been working for the Review since 2009. Prior to that she was a reporter for the Daily Astorian and the Oregon Daily Emerald. You can follow along with Kara on Twitter at @LOreporter.
— Kara Hansen (@LOreporter) February 13, 2014
The Original Story
Last month the Daily Beast did a feature about the Blotter War, interviewing Lori Hall about the calls that she publishes each week. The story called “In Oregon, No Silly Call Is Too Small for Papers’ Police Blotters” talked about the rivalry between Lake Oswego and West Linn and the types of calls that their police departments were responding to.
The battle rages between citizens trying to keep their quiet communities the same as they’ve always been and potential evil doers like bored teenagers or suburban wildlife. The article’s author is originally from Lake Oswego and knew of the infamy a teenager could get from doing something that appeared on the blotter.
The start of the Twitter battle using the hashtag #BlotterWar was a product of personal amusement for Lori and Kara, here’s what Lori had to say about how it all began:
“Kara and I are desk mates at the Lake Oswego Review and West Linn Tidings office. On a slow news day, as we were prepping and previewing our annual best of the police log, Kara challenged me to a “blotter off” on Twitter. So, just for our amusement, throughout the day we tweeted some of our best log entries at each other. Soon, others were favoriting them and retweeting them. It was a fun day and got us some new followers…In a world [where] there is so much crime and horrible things happen to people, it is fun as a journalist to bring in a little humor.”
— Kara Hansen (@LOreporter) February 6, 2014
The Rest of the Story
How did the Daily Beast find out about the blotters and how did that article happen?
Lori: Kelly Williams, the author of the story, grew up in Lake Oswego, where the police log is a long-held and honored tradition. In fact, kids pride themselves in being in the blotter and some arrange events to be the first item of the year in the blotter (hitting golf balls off the roof of a school). Williams just called one day out of the blue. To be honest, I didn’t know she was formally interviewing me until about halfway through the interview – I thought she was just curious about the background of the blotter for something else she was working on.
Kara: Kelly Williams Brown grew up in Lake Oswego, and I’m guessing that, like many other community members, she got a kick out of the police log. Plenty of kids look for themselves in the log after unusual or dicey experiences, and some even try to get in it. It’s sort of a time-honored tradition in a town where the prevailing police philosophy is “no call is too small.”
Why wasn’t Tigard include in the Daily Beast article?
Geoff: Lake Oswego and West Linn are very open about their great police blotter. People have been talking about their police logs for years. Radio hosts would read it on the air and the paper has really embraced it with their @NoCallTooSmall Twitter account. That’s not true in Tigard, where we have shied away from putting the blotter online. Because of that it hasn’t gotten nearly the exposure for folks outside of Tigard.
Not that we haven’t had some exposure. The Times’ police log has been featured on The Tonight Show and has long been a conversation around local water coolers and kitchen tables around town. When we didn’t have room in the newspaper to print it one week people called to cancel their subscription. It’s THAT important to people, but it’s been a well kept secret in Tigard until the #blotterwars started
What was left out of the Daily Beast article that should have been included?
Lori: I think Williams did a pretty good job on the story. I emailed her several times after the interview because I wanted to make sure she understood we have complete respect for our police departments and the work they do and that we are a community newspaper that loves representing our citizens.
Geoff: Small town police blotters have been popular for years, and we aren’t alone (NPR did a great story on an Alaska police blotter in 2012). I’d have loved to see how LO, West Linn (and Tigard) stack up against some of the other great police blotters in the world. I think we could take them.
Kara: I think Geoff and Lori already covered this, but to reiterate, while the #blotterwar and @NoCallTooSmall feature the lighter side of the police log, there’s real crime in our communities too.
Give us your five strangest blotter entries.
Lori: Some of my favorite incidents have turned into larger stories but stemmed from police blotter entries, but most of them include animals:
- A beaver stuck in a backyard water feature;
- A raccoon running rampant in a home;
- Wild turkeys wreaking havoc in a neighborhood (see photo);
- The sounds of an alarm turning out to be crickets chirping; and
- A neighbor hugging a tree to prevent it from being cut down.
Geoff: The police blotter is my favorite part of my job. I’ve written hundreds of entries over the years, but the best ones are the ones that leave me wanting more:
- On my very first day at The Times I sat down to do the police log, and the very first call police responded to that day was from a man who said that someone had broken into his house and “licked all the frosting off of his donuts.”
- There was another where a grown man was seen making out with a teenage girl at the library. The man turned out to be a high school student with an impressive amount of facial hair.
- There was one time a man on Fonner Street called police and said his wife and daughter were trapped in their home and couldn’t leave. A skunk had sneaked into the home through a cat door and wandered into their bedroom. The wife and daughter jumped onto the bed to avoid the animal and couldn’t leave for fear of being sprayed.
- There was the time a man wearing full camouflage and carrying a crossbow walked into Walgreens. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but had stopped by the store and didn’t want to leave his crossbow in the car.
- We get a lot of calls from people who complain about barking dogs in their neighborhoods, but there was a woman who once called police and said that her dogs were being “falsely accused of barking” and said that her dogs were being framed. The actual barking dogs lived down the street and were giving her dogs a bad rap.
Kara: I’ll end with my strangest. The rest are randomly selected classics:
- A woman on Oak Street became suspicious when she found a wet footprint on her front porch. Upon further investigation, she discovered the footprint was her own.
- Neighbors suspected prostitution when a man who never has callers had a guest in racy clothes.
- A redhead wearing white brought a homeowner’s newspaper to the front door to keep the neighborhood “tidy.”
- A man is feeling guilty about firing his pellet gun in 1995 and wants to come clean about it.
- A raccoon entered a woman’s house, stalked her cat, opened her refrigerator and drank some of the family’s milk.
Each of you have covered the blotter for a few years now, what do the blotters say about each city? Is there a deeper takeaway about the communities?
Lori: I think the people of West Linn are diligent and truly care about their communities and want to keep their neighborhoods safe – even if it means sometimes calling in the smallest and strangest things. And, because West Linn is one of the safest cities in the U.S. (just ranked the 31st safest in the nation), our officers can and do respond to every call to the best of their ability.
Geoff: The Tigard Police log is a mixture of silly and serious. We print as many entries as we can every week and not all of them are lighthearted. What I love about Tigard is that it is a microcosm for the whole metro area. This city has a healthy share of rich folks, poor folks, young and old, CEOs, working class laborers and everything in between. There are people that have acres of land and families who live in tiny studio apartments. As weird as it sounds, what I love about the Tigard police log is that you really get a sense of how diverse Tigard can be. There are parts of town that are so quiet and easygoing that the only thing people have to complain about is a duck that cut them off in traffic, while other parts of town have more serious robberies, fraud, assaults, etc. It helps people to realize how diverse our city is, even though we are only a few miles long from end to end.
Kara: Residents in these communities are encouraged to report anything out of the ordinary, and they do. When police nab chronic car burglars or robbers, citizens often receive credit for calling in some suspicious activity that led to the arrests.
So tell us the truth, are some of the blotter entries made up? They seem too good to be true.
Lori: No way! The saying “truth is stranger than fiction” holds true for the police logs. We do choose our words carefully with a tongue in cheek and a wry sense of humor, but we have discovered that less is more.
Geoff: I know they seem made up, but honestly they really happen. I even try not to avoid too much artistic license. What you see really is what you get.
Kara: No! That said, there is some wordsmithing and poetic license involved. I’ll give you an example of a call from the police activity report we receive and how it might look in the paper. The call, minus the caller’s name and address: “RPTS UNFAMILIAR CAR PARKED IFO RP’S HO#; OFCR CHECKED, OCCUPANT LIVES AT RES ACROSS THE STREET, ALL OKAY.” The blotter entry: “A suspicious car parked in front of a woman’s house belonged to a neighbor who lives across the street.” You can’t make this stuff up.
So when the Portland blotter war hits the big screen, which actor/actress would play your role?
Lori: I would definitely need a funny woman, like Tina Fey or Amy Poehler. But the real question should be – When is a book coming out? And, the answer would be – We have one in the works right now and hopefully it will be printed just in time for the holidays.
Geoff: Ewan McGregor or, if he’s not available, James Earl Jones. If he’s not available, Judi Dench.
Kara: Can it be a musical? In that case, I’m obligated to say Storm Large, right?
While we have your attention, give us two ways local government could better communicate with local newspapers?
- Call us back – right away — even if you don’t have all the answers.
- Always avoid the dreaded “declined to comment” and the “could not be reached for comment.” Nothing makes a person or a government look worse.
Geoff: One of the biggest things I have to ask myself when I think about covering a story is “WHO CARES?” I will get story tips from city staff about some big project they are working on, and they don’t understand why they don’t get coverage. I am always wondering what my story means for my readers. What is the big take-away? It’s great that the city is updating its city code, or that it just signed a new IGA with a local agency, or that it’s working on yet another visioning project, but I need to know what that means for everyday people. Will they be required to do something new? How does this affect their taxes and monthly bills? Why should we care about this?
Often in government we are talking about issues that are 5 or 10 or 20 years down the road. How do you make that story relevant to people today? That’s what I need to know when I am thinking about covering a story.
Another piece of advice is to make sure that reporters know who to talk to. If a municipality doesn’t have a designated PIO, reporters can be left in a lurch when we are on deadline and need to reach someone immediately. Making sure that reporters know who to call, and that those people know they are free to talk to the press, will make everything go smoother. I needed to reach someone during the recent snowstorm, but city hall was shut down and I had no idea where to turn, who to call or what to do. Thankfully there was a city employee manning the city’s Twitter feed who was able to put me in touch with the right person, otherwise I would have been stumped and the story would never have happened. (Thanks, Kent!)
You’d be surprised how often I hear “they are out of town, you’ll have to wait to write the story until they get back” which just doesn’t work with our deadlines. Having a staffer say “in a pinch, call this person” will go a long way for us to get the stories we need, and get information out to people.
Kara: This isn’t to suggest many agencies don’t already do these things, but help us get in the loop far ahead of a potential story, and return phone calls, texts or emails as soon as you can – even if you are simply going to redirect us, and even if you can’t answer every question.
— Tigard Times (@TigardTimes) February 6, 2014