Police blotter: Not comprehensive, but a snapshot

Berkeley Police Department vehicles at the scene of a crime on Sacramento Street. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

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.comwhich 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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  • Coatsfan

    I once got a traffic ticket from Officer Coats. She had written the citation incorrectly, which had me going the opposite direction than I was actually travelling. I hope that Officer Coats’s summary of the crime in Berkeley is more accurate than her citation writing. 

  • Irisandjules

    I like the narrative – for the reasons stated above. It gives me an idea about the kinds of incidents currently happening and what to be aware of. My previous complaint (going back several years) was that the stats were not accurate and updated – perhaps they are now.

    But, is there anything people are happy with in Berkeley? My husband always says it’s a city of malcontents – perhaps that is why he fits in so well (he just does not see it) ;-)

  • bgal4

    None of the data coming from the various sources  is complete or comprehensive.

    1. Crime View is  a mapping tool with limited categories, for instance shots fired  data is not entered.
    2. the CFS spreadsheet appears to be UCR part 1 crimes only,  the decision to exclude part 2 does not make sense, the focus should be on accurately describe quality of life issues in different neighborhoods.

    Unfortunately this article still does not answer the primary issue, why not provide comprehensive reports to both to the city council and public? And who is calling the shots, the chief or city manager?

  • The Sharkey

    Maybe they should refer to it as a Police Highlights? Crime Overview?

    I’m surprised the BPD does this at all. In most communities I’ve lived in the Police put out the comprehensive spreadsheet, and then the local news puts together a blotter highlighting “interesting” crimes.

  • bgal4

    Having expectation that city services attempt to implement best practices for data analysis does not make critics malcontent. 

    If I tell you I think highly of Jennifer Coates and know her as our beat cop will you feel better about my criticism?

  • Completely_Serious

    I would prefer that Officer Coats be on the street, rather than spending “hours” combing and writing.  Send the cub reporters to the police station to do the combing.  How else will they learn?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    This.

  • Vortumnus

    Who cares what the summary is if full data is available to residents who pay good money for police protection. But it’s not. Why is it not? I can’t imagine a good excuse.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UTAORC2LANQF2ONEFJYXBSITTA bingo

    If you really want to be scared, scroll that crimemapping thing over to SF.  in the past 5 days or so, more crimes (600+ in the small circle) than it could apparently load.  WOW.  I had no idea.  I know it’s a less safe environment, but it looks worse than oakland, which I wasn’t expecting.

  • GeorgeDorn

    Usage note: “peruses” or “sifts through”, not “peruses through”.

  • GeorgeDorn

    Yes. The spreadsheet alluded to in the story clearly doesn’t have all the information that goes into the highlights. Where does that information come from? If it’s written down (and if not, why not?) then it could be made available.

    But even if there might be some issue with doing that, an actual overview which summarizes the complete set of data would be good, especially if it would also draw out any patterns or trends.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    Thanks.Changes made.

  • Guest

     It isn’t.

  • Anonymous
  • http://twitter.com/captfuzzbucket CaptFuzz

    Give the public a daily database dump.  This is not rocket science.  But it definitely IS public relations.  Also known as bullshit.

  • batard

    Okay, so it’s incomplete.  Effort appreciated, and for some “highlights” may be good enough.

    But for those of us with a legitimate desire to review the whole list, how do we get the data?  None of the sources mentioned provide that, and while BPD used to share it, the don’t any longer.  

  • batard

    Exactly .. article reads like this:

    1 – People say the CFS is incomplete!

    2 – BPD confirms, it’s incomplete!

    3 – um, no #3.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

     Crimemapping.com gets a direct feed from the Berkeley Police Department and supposedly is now only one or two days behind actual events. That is probably the most comprehensive record and it can be customized to feed specific kinds of activity.

  • http://twitter.com/captfuzzbucket CaptFuzz

    If Crimemapping.com can get a direct feed, why can’t we?

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

     I wish I could tell you. Berkeleyside has asked many times.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.us/ West Bezerkeley

    Despite the folks that see the blotter as a dart board to toss criticism at, for me it provides  a barometer of things going on citywide…and there is such a thing as too much information creating so much noise that you can’t ID the trends. So thanks for sorting through the noise & publishing the broader trends!

    As a side note, I’ve seen police blotters in papers for other cities and those provide a similar barometer “service” that Berkeleyside has provided a weekly basis here.