No matter where I traveled and no matter what I was traveling for, I always took time to check out the local police log.
Tampa, Florida, or Cave Creek, Arizona; doesn’t matter. I could usually find a local rag that maintained a daily list of arrests and within these, useful information could be gleaned.
Where was the drug traffic the heaviest? In which part of town was I mostly likely to have the tires stolen off my rental car and in which section was I apt to get mugged for my sneakers?
In ways, the daily police log provided a reliable glimpse into the regional zeitgeist. In areas where the economy was tanking, you’d see spikes in arrests for domestic violence, shoplifting and general thievery.
In party towns, you’d find the usual array of arrests for public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and the always popular urinating in public.
Closer to home, interest in the police log is admittedly more lurid — some readers get a bona fide tingle of excitement when they see that their former boss just got picked up for his third OUI, and whoa! Check out the sanctimonious church leader who got nabbed for engaging a prostitute.
For 25 years here in Lewiston, I was in charge of the daily police log and my philosophy matched the newspaper policy perfectly: if we list one person’s arrest, we have to list them all. There can be no exceptions and the reasons for that are obvious. If you succumb to Mr. Fancy Pants Politician’s sob story and leave his arrest out of the police log, that’s not fair to Joe Schmoe the hard drinker who thought nobody was looking when he took a leak in Kennedy Park.
For years and years, I compiled the daily log and very few people complained about it, outside of the occasional encounter with the Mr. Fancy Pants type, who thought he could stay out of the log if he greased the right palm.
For most people, the police log was as natural a part of the daily newspaper as the obituaries or the funny pages. If you did something stupid and your name landed in the log, you prayed that your boss (or wife or mother) wouldn’t pick up the newspaper that day and maybe it would go unnoticed.
Then the internet came along, and waddaya know about that? The “permanent record” we were all threatened with as kids has turned into a real thing. If that park peeing boozer decides to clean up his act and get his life together, he’ll still have to deal with the people in his life occasionally stumbling on his arrest via the marvels of the world wide web.
The web changed everything, but so did radical changes in our culture and the rise of the social justice mentality.
After decades of relative silence, the police log is suddenly the topic of moral debate and yet another source of division that has come among us.
There are those who feel, and passionately, that the daily arrests listings unfairly punish folks who have little recourse for defending their reputations.
“There is no reason in the world, with the possible exception of if someone is a danger to the community and at large, that this information should be made public,” wrote one man, on a rather heated Facebook thread.
Some people feel that the arrest logs punish certain segments of society more than others.
“Classism it’s like a real kicker,” a woman wrote, “and definitely incites violence against people in our community.”
“This isn’t classism,” shot back another man, “Unless of course you are advocating that only certain subsets of the economy commit crime. Also, how does reporting what is public knowledge, of public record, and has been in every paper across the country for 100 plus years incite violence?”
He’s got a point, you know. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, the police log itself goes back to the early 1600s, when puritans in cool hats began publishing accounts of the various goings on in the colonies. When a certain colonist got tossed into the hoosegow for beating a mate over the head with a beer stein, his name went into the paper for all the other pilgrims to see and ruminate over.
Police logs aren’t the daily responsibility they used to be for me, but since I managed them for so long, you might wonder how I feel about this debate. And you might be disappointed when I tell you that ultimately, I don’t care. Publish them, don’t publish them, fill that space in the paper with funny pictures of cats, it makes no nevermind to me.
I have never had any sort of personal link to the logs, other than the philosophical demand that if you’re going to run the arrests, you have to do it fairly. Pillars of society get treated the same as guys who sleep on park benches, and all that.
I have no way of divining what will become of those daily logs now that they’ve come under the hard gaze of the social justice minded. All I know for sure is that newspapers across the country, the Sun Journal among them, have been reviewing their policies and mulling new ways of doing things that hopefully are as fair as possible and mindful of the creepy concept of the permanent record.
In the meantime, try conducting your life in such a way that you never have to worry about landing in the arrest sheets. It’s kind of a radical idea, but these are strange times.