Friday, August 25, 2006

The Essex shooting spree

Everyone's shocked by the tragedy that unfolded yesterday afternoon in Essex. A 26-year-old man, scheduled to be arraigned on murder and attempted murder charges in about ten minutes, is accused of going on a shooting spree, killing two and wounding two others. The shootings, police said, happened in homes and the town elementary school. This, four days before the start of a new school year.

And it's been rather stunning to see the narrative unfold, largely online in the last 24 hours, with the Burlington Free Press's coverage. The daily paper has posted over a dozen updates today and over 30 since first reports of the shootings started trickling in on the police scanner. The latest mini-update says that the suspect, Christopher Williams, 26, of Essex has a "rather extensive” criminal record in Massachusetts. I don't know about anyone else, but this is the first time I've seen the Free Press or any other paper for that matter post so many updates on a single story over the course of a day.

Certainly, it's a big deal and the paper seems to have thrown at least seven reporters at it, contributing in some way.

Meantime, this paper is — as I'm sure are others — trying to think of appropriate ways of localizing the story. It's the question that pops into most of our minds when something like this happens: Could it happen here, and if so, what would we do about it?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Behind the Bertnapping

Here's the follow up on the crime story snippet from the other day. As some locals might have guessed, the story's about last week's "Bertnapping." A couple from Connecticut happened to see Bert the cat — a well known denizen of the village — standing by the side of the road in the rain, without his collar on. They took him into their car, thinking he was a stray. Oops.

You can read about the harrowing tale in this week's Stowe Reporter. I thought it would be interesting, though, to include more from Elizabeth Rankin's police report about the case. Here's a good chunk of it:

Gregory Poulin (DOB 1-29-77) called saying he witnessed Carolyn Andrews' cat, Bert, be taken off the side of the crosswalk across from Stafford's General Store on Main Street last night between 1930 and 2000 hours. He said a dark gray or silver wagon or small SUV, like a Honda CRV, was parked on the side of the road. The front seat passenger, who he described as an older man, got out and picked up the cat and then the car drove away. Poulin said he ran after the man to tell him the cat was not a stray but the car drove off toward Morrisville.

Poulin was unable to get a license plate number or state, saying it was right before the storm last night and it was already dark. He also mentioned that the cat did not seem to be moving or struggling but it was dark, he wasn't sure if they had hit Bert or not and that was why they took him. I asked Poulin if he could see the driver or could describe the man, but said it happened so fast that he wasn't sure. He had told Andrews about the incident and she left him a note this morning to call the police.

Bert and his brother, Ernie, are well known cats on Main Street, are very friendly, and cross the street at the crosswalk. Both normally wear collars with name tags but at the time Bert was not.

... At 1640 hours I went into the Lackey's General Store on Main Street and found Lee (DOB 2-16-33) and Walter (6-28-32) Dietzer talking with the clerk about Bert. The couple had seen Bert on the side of the road during the rain storm last night and picked him up, concerned for his welfare. They thought he was a stray since he did not have a collar but realized that he must of been owned by someone since he was so fat. They came back to the General Store this afternoon to ask about the owner and that is when I got to talk with them. Bert did have a lipstick stain on his left shoulder but seemed very well cared for. The clerk at the General Store offered to hold Bert until Andrews came home from work. The clerk and I both left messages for her on her voice mail.

Cased closed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Crime story snippet

Well, I never did catch the follow-up reply on the scanner about that loose cow on Weeks Hill Road. Oh well, moo-ving onto other animal-related things...

In this Thursday's paper you'll find a story about an "adbuction" in Stowe. Here's a snippet of the lede:

Kidnappings are big deals in rural communities. In Stowe, that goes for human and animal alike.

Last week, a witness dialed the Stowe Police Department as soon as he saw it happen Monday, Aug. 7: A man snatched up XXXXXXXXXX and drove off in a shady vehicle.

Stay tuned for the rest Thursday, plus a some more on the police report itself than what's included in the story. It's a hair-raising tale.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Scanner traffic: Holy cow

Just heard on the scanner (about 2:20 p.m.) that there's a cow on the loose off Weeks Hill Road. Wonder how long it will take to round the bovine up? I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Flash attack

Seems some folks just can't help themselves.

Stowe Police said Monday they received a report of a man who exposed himself in front of a pair of women who were sunbathing in the Cottonbrook area of town. The man ran off into the woods from whence we came after the women started screaming. Yikes.

The man is described as white, in his mid-30s, with reddish, light brown hair and a goatee.

If you see the mystery flasher Stowe police would like to hear from you. Exposing yourself in public like that is against is the law, and the man could be charged with lewd and lascivious conduct if he's caught.

Stowe Police: 253-7126

Monday, August 07, 2006

July by the numbers

Each week with the blotter I include a tally of statistics: total incidents, tickets, and warnings, as recorded by the Stowe Police Department. Here's most of July by the numbers:

(July 3-30)

• Total incidents: 421
• Total tickets: 62
• Total warnings: 118

On average, that's roughly two tickets, four warnings, and 14 incidents, per day.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Writing, and blogging, a crime story

I was reminded this week of the care I must take whenever reporting on crime, especially those that include allegations of sexual assault. The story concerns a Stowe man who's accused of beating and molesting a 12-year-old girl.

My primary source for reporting on these allegations are court documents. Every week I drive down to the Hyde Park Court House and review recent arraignments and dispositions. In this case, the man was arraigned on charges of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and first-degree aggravated domestic assault, both felonies. The man pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The case has a docket that includes information on the arraignment, conditions of release, and a police affidavit outlining the allegations. The latter document is my main source for reporting; it contains a police account of what allegedly happened, and it goes into great detail. Thus arises the question: how much detail do I include? There are descriptions in the affidavit everybody can agree are inappropriate for publication and there are others that people may disagree on.

When it comes allegations of sexual assault, and in this case a minor under 18, protecting the victim's identity is paramount. At the same time, there's a balance I need to strike between giving readers fair picture of the allegations and preserving anonymity for the victim.

As a starting point, I'll take detailed notes on the police affidavit — in many cases, much more detailed than I anticipate printing. That's because, in my mind, the process of reporting involves two general steps: gathering all the information I can, and then disseminating that information.

The finished story is hopefully one that informs the public, yet treats the people involved fairly. Not everyone agrees on those standards. It is a continual conversation among our news staff.

What I find interesting is the question of how weblogs will fit into this equation. Many blogs contain original reporting, and many bloggers are not "trained" journalists — that is, they don't get paid for the work. But bloggers, too, are disseminators of information, and they, too, must decide what information gets published for public viewing.

When it comes to crime, I wonder whether bloggers will test the waters. A police affidavit filed with the court, for example, is a public document, presumably available for viewing for anyone who asks. In an age of web publishing, the issues of privacy vs. public magnify with a larger audience. Some blogs, such as The Safe City, a self-described "criminal justice system watchdog," contain links to crime stories across the nation and compile crime-related statistics. Others, such as The Blotter at the Spokesman-Review, post mainly about calls that come in on the police scanner. Here's an interesting one: Baltimore Crime, a "digest of crime in Baltimore City, Maryland." The blogger doesn't appear to be a reporter (his poll says "If I ran the papers...", and he basically links and summarizes crime stories. Here, the The Boston Police Department has its own blog with updates on incidents. Wow. I doubt you'd see something like that locally. Stowe Police would need to put up their own Web site first; now, all that's available is this general emergency services page.

*UPDATE*


I posted a couple of questions over at the Baltimore Crime blog and just got an interesting response:

Me:


Taotechuck,
I just started a crime blog in my area and so I'm interested in this one. A couple questions: How did you create the poll on the right? Do you have any experience in journalism, or are you just interested in crime and public-safety? Have you run into any problems in blogging about crime? Thanks very much.

- Scott Monroe

taotechuck said...


Scott,

I cover the site when the main person is away, so unfortunately I'm limited in offering advice on things like the poll.

I grew up around journalists and studied journalism but I've never worked as a journalist. I became interested in crime and public safety after five people were shot in front of my house (three fatally) in the first year that I owned it.

I haven't run into any problems, but I assume it's inevitable. I'm still working to find an effective way to write about murder on one of my other sites (www.murderland.org), and what I've found in Baltimore is that most people are genuinely appreciative when someone bothers to take the time to write about their dead father / brother / son / nephew / uncle. The newspapers and TV here aren't always diligent (that's me being nice) in covering murders in our fair city.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Police Blotter: July 24-30

Stowe Police Statistics

Total incidents: 112
Total tickets: 10
Total warnings: 20

From recent reports:

July 24, Stowe Mountain Resort reported someone smashed a van’s window and stole a saw.
July 25, mailboxes were vandalized along Moscow Road.
July 25, Eric Lande of Morrisville reported money stolen from a locker at the Stowe Gym.
July 25, Cristian Sola of Buenos Aires reported a missing passport in Stowe.
July 26, Robin Unruh reported a wallet was lost off Mountain Road.
July 26, a dog was impounded off Pinnacle Road.
July 26, the Pizza Joint reported money stolen from its registers — $82 cash and $45 in pennies.
July 28, Joe Santanna of Stowe reported keys were missing.
July 28, a dog was impounded off Mountain Road.
July 28, Zachary Lewis, 18, address unknown, was charged with unlawful mischief and disorderly conduct.
July 28, Scott Gowen, age unknown, of Morrisville was charged with uttering a forged instrument.
July 28, Bruce Godin of Stowe reported a pager was missing at the Stowe Recreation Fields.
July 29, Jessica Chace of Jericho reported a purse was stolen from a locker at the Swimming Hole.
July 29, a dog was impounded off Pinnacle Road.
July 30, Hillary Giaconomelli of Stowe reported several items stolen from a car — an ipod, wallet, cash and credit cards, and a cellular telephone.