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J4410 Covering Police   Sept 17 2008
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J4410 Covering Police Sept 17 2008


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UNT Professor Neil Foote's lecture notes on covering cops.

UNT Professor Neil Foote's lecture notes on covering cops.

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  • 1. Covering Police JOUR 4410 - Reporting of Public Affairs Professor Neil Foote University of North Texas Sept. 17, 2009
  • 2. Today’s class
    • Writing style/tips
    • First Amendment quiz
    • Cop Reporting
    • Classic Crime
      • Dragnet:
      • Hawai Five-0 :
      • Hill Street Blues:
      • Law & Order:
  • 3. The “Bad News” Beat
    • Edna Buchanan, The Miami Herald
      • Edna Buchanan wrote of the phenomenon in a chapter of her memoir entitled "Nobody Loves a Police Reporter”:
      • "To be a police reporter is to be an unwelcome intruder. It can be lonesome and arduous. People blame you for the bad news. It's human nature: Somebody gets in trouble, you report it, and he turns on you like it's your fault, not his, that he is in this mess. The truth can get you in a lot of trouble.”
  • 4. The “Bad News” Beat
    • Edna Buchanan, The Miami Herald
      • "Police reporters deal with lives, reputations, and careers. So you keep on – ask one more question, knock on one more door, make one last phone call, and then another. It could be the one that counts."
  • 5. Crime Story Basics
    • Learn the personnel
      • Who is your primary contact
      • Who are the decision makers
    • Tour the facility
    • Ride with/Shadow a cop
    • Sit in on training
    • Get a copy of the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures)
      • Agency’s rules on collecting evidence
  • 6. Sample Police Department Org Chart
  • 7. Crime Story Basics
    • Get to know the cops
      • They’re human
      • Write about the bad – and the good
    • Always go to the scene
      • See it with your own eyes
    • Talk to everybody
      • Don’t be shy
      • Don’t assume cops, witnesses won’t talk
    Source: Stephen Buckley:
  • 8. Crime Story Basics
    • Look for trends, patterns
    • Know your neighborhoods
      • That’s why ride-alongs are essential
    • Read cop stories in other newspapers
    • Get to know the clerks
    Source: Stephen Buckley:
  • 9. Crime Story Basics
    • Find sources beyond the department
      • Does your agency or jurisdiction have a citizens review board, citizens training academy, auxiliary police unit, civilian patrol component or active police watchdog or advocacy group?
  • 10. Getting the Story
    • Knock on doors
      • Identify yourself
      • Be respectful
      • Be sincere
      • Be prepared
    • Talk to victims
      • Don’t badger
      • Be prepared for a wave of emotions
      • Have tissues ready
      • Be emphatic, but don’t lose your focus
  • 11. Crime Coverage
    • Fresno Bee
    • Dallas Morning News
    • The Advocate, Baton Rouge
    • Independent Blog:
  • 12. Crime Story Basics – Key Terms
    • The Arrest
    • The Booking
    • The Arraignment
  • 13. Crime Story Basics – Key Terms
    • The Arrest
      • “Probable cause”
    • The Miranda Warning
      • "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before you answer any questions."
  • 14. Crime Story Basics – Key Terms
    • Be careful of arrest terms.
    • Police do not "file" felony charges. Only prosecutors can bring felony charges.
    • Avoid writing that a suspect was arrested "for" a crime. That implies guilt. Substitute "on suspicion of," "in connection with" or, in news shorthand, simply "in."
    • For example: "A Memphis man was arrested today on suspicion of robbery in Sunday's church holdup downtown."
  • 15. Crime Story Basics – Key Terms
    • During booking, a police supervisor records in a registry (or book) the suspect's identifiers and the charges he faces.
    • Police remove and inventory the suspect's property. He is photographed and fingerprinted (with a digital scanner, not ink).
    • Some jurisdictions take saliva swabs for a DNA test . This "pedigree," photo and fingerprints are shared via computer links with state and national crime information centers.
    • Drug and alcohol tests can be given during the booking process.
  • 16. Crime Story Basics – Key Terms
    • BAIL
    • Bail can be "paid" with cash or with a bond and collateral personal property, such as the financial equity in a house.
    • A bond firm, which acts as intermediary between the court and accused, typically requires a 10 percent fee that will not be returned, regardless of the outcome of the case.
    • Any cash bail paid will be returned minus an administrative fee once the accused meets the bail conditions – to appear in court and stay away from a victim, for example.
  • 17. Crime Story Basics – Key Terms
    • The suspect's first appearance before a judge, justice or magistrate.
      • The accused is informed of the formal charges. (Arraignments likely will be covered by a court reporter, but crime reporters should understand the process.)
    • During the late 1980s, a legal mandate requiring arraignment within 72 hours of arrest became a national standard.
    • Judge can alter, grant or deny bail.
  • 18. Crime Data
    • ( )
    • Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:
    • The Crime Report:
    • Department of Justice:
  • 19. Crime Story Basics – Key Terms
    • An assistant prosecutor normally handles arraignments, and a public defender acts on behalf of felony suspects who have not hired a lawyer.
      • In rural courts that lack staff public defenders, the arraignment judge will appoint a local lawyer to represent an indigent suspect who may face jail time if convicted.
      • (The appointment of a lawyer or public defender does not absolve the suspect of financial responsibility. If he is solvent, he may have to pay.)
  • 20. When is a ‘crime’ a story?
    • Is the crime part of a trend or an aberration? (In either case, tell your readers or viewers.)
    • Why should people care about the story?
    • Does it leave readers or viewers with a false impression about crime or raise a safety issue that can be answered?
    • Do you have access to the sources you need to tell the story?
  • 21. Crime Story Basics - Writing
    • Never lead with date and time
      • Unless it has a direct bearing on the story
    • Write in the active voice
    • Attribute
      • police said/authorities said … is fine
      • Review types of leads : Direct, Delayed, Summary, Announcement
    • Avoid cliches, code words
      • “ inner city”, “tragic death”, “untimely death”
    • Go beyond the “what happened”, but get to the “so what”
    SOURCE: Al Tompkins:
  • 22. Crime Story Details
    • Crime suspects
      • Any tattoos? Birth marks? Scars? Distinct clothing? Mannerisms? Gestures? Figure of speech?
      • Try to get as many specifics as possible:
        • What’s better?
          • Police were looking for a 6-foot-2, 225 white man with buzz-cut blond hair, an equine nose and thin chin hair. He was wearing Green Bay Packers jacket, blue jeans and white sneakers.
          • OR
          • Police were looking for a Hispanic looking man with dark hair and a T-shirt.
  • 23. Crime Story Details
    • The “bloody” details
      • Be sensitive to your readers – “the breakfast table” rule?
      • Will it offend?
      • Are they necessary?
      • Will reader learn anything?
  • 24. Crime Story Basics - Writing
    • Sexual Assault victims
      • Most news organizations do not report the names of sexual assault victims unless the victims are willing to be publicly identified.
      • Sexual assaults warrant careful consideration in the use of details . Be careful not to identify a victim with oblique details – for example, "a 31-year-old woman who lives in the 1900 block of South Oak Street.”
      • Family sexual assaults can be confounding since naming the perpetrator identifies the victims. Even when the name of the accused offender is withheld, the reporting of the ages of young victims can lead to identification.
      • Err on the side of caution.
  • 25. Crime Story Basics - Writing
    • Suspect descriptions
      • Be as specific as possible
      • Push your sources to give you complete descriptions
      • Avoid generalities, e.g. black male, bald, t-shirt and jeans
      • Any tattoos? Birth marks? Scars? Distinct clothing? Mannerisms? Gestures? Figure of speech?
      • "Police were looking for a 6-foot-2, 225-pound white man with buzz-cut blond hair, an equine nose and thin chin hair. He was wearing a Green Bay Packers jacket, blue jeans and white sneakers."
  • 26. Crime Stories - Ideas
    • Spot crime story
    • Crime trends
    • Ride alongs
    • Security in labs, dorms on campus?
    • Domestic violence
    • Pedophiles
    • Traffic accidents/ fatalities
    • New technology
    • Gun violence
    • Public school crime
    • Drugs
    • “ Hot spot” neighborhoods
    • Juvenile crime
    • Unusual crimes
  • 27. Crime Stories
    • Edna Buchanan
    • Fact sheets
  • 28.
    • Tell me the news
      • Miami Shores
      • North Miami
      • Kenner, LA
  • 29. Crime stories – Miami Shores
    • A burglar stole a check book, a credit card, a Social Security card, a 27-inch television and two jars with $600 in coins after breaking into a residence in the 400 block of Northwest 111th Street between 12:30 and 4:45 p.m. Aug. 15.
  • 30. Crime Brief – Purse Snatching
    • •  NORTH MIAMI
    • A robber snatched a woman's purse as she was walking to her car in the 1300 block of Northwest 128th Street at 5:45 p.m. Aug. 28. The woman said as she was walking, she noticed a white car next to her car before feeling a man grab her purse. She then saw the man run into the white car, which had two other men, and sped away.
  • 31. Crime Story – Kenner – 5 Year Old Shot
    • Kenner boy, 5, dies in shooting
    • Cops: He found mom's loaded gun in closet
    • Sunday, September 14, 2008 By Leslie Williams
    • A 5-year-old boy died Saturday from an accidental shooting in Kenner, according to preliminary findings of an investigation.
    • The boy apparently found a loaded Taurus 9 mm handgun on the floor of a bedroom closet, said Detective Shaun Watson of the Kenner Police Department.
    • The boy was shot in the abdomen Friday night while his grandmother and great-grandmother were moving boxes from a U-Haul truck into an apartment, Watson said.
    • Police found the child in an upstairs bedroom bleeding from the wound.
    • The mother, according to the preliminary investigation, was not in the apartment when the shooting occurred.
    • She arrived in time to ride with the child in an ambulance to a local hospital, said Watson, who was among officers who arrived Friday about 10:45 p.m. at 2132 Idaho Ave., Apt. C.
    • The apartment is about 4 1/2 blocks from the intersection of West Metairie Avenue and Williams Boulevard.
    • The boy died Saturday about 12:40 p.m., Watson said.
  • 32.