Each week, Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats peruses hundreds of “calls for service” that come into the Berkeley Police Department.
There are auto burglaries, purse snatchings, cell phone thefts and strong-arm robberies. Occasionally there are killings and other violent crimes.
To show Berkeley residents what kind of crime is happening, Coats prepares a weekly narrative of crime that is distributed to numerous media outlets, including Berkeleyside. On most weeks, Coats writes a description of about 10 to 20 incidents. She describes the crime, the setting, and occasionally a description of the suspects.
“We try and find stuff that will be interesting to the community,” said Coats, a 15-year police veteran who took over the spokewoman position in late June. “I try and pick areas that cover all of the city. I don’t try and focus on just one area. I try and include things so all the neighborhoods get an idea about what is going on in their community.”
The narrative takes hours to put together. Yet some Berkeleyside readers have criticized the police blotter, speculating that it deliberately leaves things out to give a rosy picture of the crime in Berkeley.
“These reports are so selective, they are more of public disservice than service,” one anonymous commentator wrote in late July.
“I listened to the police scanner every night this week while working late, usually from about 8pm until 1am,” wrote a commentator in June. “It was a near constant stream of ‘black male, aged 20-30’ crime, dangerous crazy people, and bogus 911 calls. None of that is reflected here, it’s almost like they are describing a different city.”
“This selective snapshot is infuriating, particularly when someone was actually SHOT just the other day… you’d think that would be part of the blotter report,” wrote HeatherW62 in June.
“As I’ve opined here many times, this ‘snapshot’ data is useless,” responded batard.
Coats said the narrative is not meant to be a comprehensive cataloguing of crimes. To get that, she puts together a spreadsheet each week of about 150 calls for service. And while that leaves out some minor calls, such as traffic problems, it does give a good idea of what police do each week, she said. (The spreadsheet is included each week in the Berkeleyside blotter story.)
In addition, the Berkeley Police Department is encouraging residents to look at Crimemapping.com, which police Capt. Andrew Greenwood says is more up to date than it used to be.
Coats also tries to use her police narrative as a way to educate people. By including reports of things being stolen out of unlocked cars, she said, she hopes more people will start locking their cars. By writing about people getting robbed at an ATM, she hopes residents will look around carefully when they go to withdraw money.
“Maybe people will be a little more aware,” said Coats.
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