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Alert: Police Blotter: What We Don’t Report

In this final installment of APB for 2007, we thought it might be instructive to let our readers know something about all of the things that Santa Monica police officers do that never make it into this feature. We wouldn’t want you to think that Santa Monica’s Finest spend all their time dealing with the important and exciting kinds of events that are reported in this space each week.

In other words, the events reported here are not representative of an officer’s daily life. We try to select incidents that are entertaining and/or informative, with varying degrees of success.

The SMPD dispatch reports from which we select incidents list 300 to 400 calls per day, including citizen calls to dispatch that result in officers being sent to the scene, and calls from officers reporting on their activities in the field. Among the information supplied for each one-line entry are the “incident type” and the “disposition” of each call.

As to disposition, we only report on incidents that result in an arrest, or at least the preparation of a written report from which SMPD Public Information Officer Lt. Alex Padilla can relate the events to us. However, the vast majority of the calls on the dispatch reports list neither of these dispositions. They may be “advisal,” indicating the officers advised persons at the scene and resolved the matter; “gone on arrival,” indicating the subjects were no longer at the scene; “citation/other enforcement,” indicating enforcement action short of an arrest; “field interview,” indicating that information was taken to be used in the event of a recurrence, for example; “checks okay,” indicating that all seems to be well; or “unfounded,” indicating that the reported danger or complaint was unfounded. This is not an exhaustive list of dispositions.

As to the incident type, this information is based upon what the incident initially appears to be, although it may turn out to be different upon investigation. For example, a “person down” could turn out to be strong-arm robbery or assault and battery or public intoxication.

In selecting incidents, we avoid the common incident descriptions “traffic/vehicle stop” and “pedestrian stop” because it could turn out to be anything and will probably be boring. We also avoid “theft suspect in custody,” generally a shoplifting in which store security has detained the suspect and then called police. Then there are “public intoxication,” “disturbance of the peace,” “periodic check,” “family disturbance,” and a variety of traffic-related incident types that we also steer clear of in the belief that they are not likely to be entertaining and/or informative.

We also avoid the many incidents in which police are called upon to go to a scene to take a report on a crime committed at an earlier time. Thus, we skip over an incident type of “burglary report,” but we may request further information on an incident type of “burglary in progress,” even though both incidents show the same “report” disposition.

Our favorite incidents are calls (whether reported by a citizen or by an officer on patrol about to investigate) described by the incident type “suspicious person” or “suspicious circumstances” that result in a disposition of “arrest.” Perhaps it is the civil libertarian in us, but we have found that such calls often produce interesting stories. (Of course, such calls also produce duds like public intoxication.)

The point of all this is that readers should know that the incidents reported here are certainly not a representative sample of what the police do day in and day out. Much of their work is very pedestrian (even though it may involve vehicles) and tedious. Which is not to say that it is not important or that the potential for physical danger is not lurking in every routine traffic stop.

As we enter the new year, APB offers thanks for all of the work of the Santa Monica Police Department, whether we have reported it in this space or not.

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