Wick Communications

Let the dust settle

In Reporting on February 11, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 4.26.30 PM

There was a brazen daylight armed robbery in downtown Half Moon Bay earlier this week. It was a bit of a scare. We don’t get much of that around here.

So we did what reporters do when they find out about high-profile crimes in their coverage area. We went out there. A reporter and photographer sprinted down the street to the scene of the crime. It was all over but the shouting, so to speak. There were police cars out front of the jewelry store and crime-scene tape blocked the entrance.

Consequently, all our reporter could find out was that men with a gun held up the store. No one was injured. Police were investigating.

This led me to think anew about a truism of local journalism: You almost never learn anything interesting while cops are still working a crime scene. Which leads to another truth: You have to go back.

It has been my experience that there are two good windows in which to learn what happened at a crime scene: Before the cops get there and after they leave.

Sometimes you are just in the right spot. You see something go down, or it occurs while you are in the vicinity. (One time I was quarantined for anthrax because I got to the scene of a scare before the authorities. It was sorta great, and sorta terrible. Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you about it sometime.) When this happens, the eyewitnesses will be apparent. They likely will be only too happy to talk. We are social animals and when something extraordinary happens to us – even if it’s awful – we want to tell someone. If you are the first one there, chances are folks will be dying to tell you what happened.

More often, you will hear about the wreck on the highway on the scanner, or a regular call to the police will tip you off about a murder, etc. Usually, you arrive to see police doing their thing and crime scene tape doing its thing. Here’s what I advise, and I’m sure you have similar protocols: …

Identify yourself to one of the officers at the periphery. Be extraordinarily respectful and understanding. He has better things to do than to talk to you. Ask who is in charge and ask politely to get a message to that person so that he or she knows you are waiting for something official. Commence waiting.

If there are obvious witnesses, by all means, ask what they saw. Try to get contact information so that you can get in touch when emotions might be less raw.

Go back to the office. Do something else. Then come back to the scene once it’s all died down. Ring the doorbell. See what happens. Call on the next door neighbor. Canvas the scene.

That’s what our reporter did and it worked. A barista told her the coffee shop next door locked the door and customers huddled in place after a jewelry store employee ran in to tell them what was happening. And the jewelry store folks themselves were very gracious in telling us what went down once they had a while to get their bearings straight.

Sometimes you have to go back when the dust settles. Worked for us, anyway.

Clay

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