Thursday, January 8, 2009

Unalaska police report

Unalaska is a fishing community of approximately 4,000 situated on one of the Aleutian islands. It's not a glamorous place, and it doesn't attract celebrities or socialites. However, thanks to the records of its police department, it's better known than it would be otherwise. Owing largely to Sgt. Jennifer Shockley's dry wit and keen sense of the absurd, the department's weekly report has become a favorite of bloggers in Alaska and beyond.

As the following excerpts from the current report illustrate, the reports provide a snapshot of life in a small town and the activities of its first responders.
12/29/08 Mon 1202 Assault – Complainant reported he had been threatened and assaulted several times by a man to whom he owes a substantial amount of money for cocaine. The caller simply wished for police to be aware of the situation.

12/29/08 Mon 1948 Disorderly Conduct – Dispatch received a report of a fight at a local processing facility. When officers arrived, they contacted seven men, none of whom indicated there had been any fighting, only good-natured birthday fun.

12/31/08 Wed 1320 MVA-Damage – An intoxicated driver fled after he lost control of his vehicle and struck a parked car. An officer located the suspect driver, N.T.*, a short while later. T., 25 yoa, of Washington, was arrested for Driving under the Influence, Reckless Driving, Failure to Report an Accident and Failure to Show Proof of Insurance.

12/31/08 Wed 1732 Drug Law Violation – An anonymous caller provided information about illegal drugs on board a local fishing vessel. Officers seized the vessel and secured a search warrant after finding some paraphernalia on the boat. N.T.* [the same guy who was arrested for DUI earlier that day!] and K.W.*, 45 yoa, of Sitka, were both arrested on charges of Misconduct Involving a Controlled Substance IV when additional drugs and paraphernalia were found in their staterooms.

01/01/09 Thu 1520 Traffic Roads – A manhole cover refused to continue covering its hole, even after being replaced repeatedly.

01/02/09 Fri 1018 Suspicious Person/Activity – Caller reported a driver traveling in the wrong lane of traffic. An officer located the suspect driver, who was not intoxicated and admitted he had been traveling near the center of the roadway. The officer cautioned him not to take his half of the road out of the middle in the future.
From an archivist's or records manager's point of view, one of the most interesting things about the weekly Unalaska police report is the set of circumstances that led the department to start issuing it. According to the local paper, the Dutch Harbor Fisherman:
Sgt. Matt Betzen said that it began after the department switched to an electronic records management system, and the director at the time couldn’t use the system. The staff began summarizing their calls and incident reports into one report so that he would know what was going on, then started releasing the reports to the public.
Of course, from a strict records management perspective, an administrator's lack of computer savvy is not a good reason to begin creating a new series of records. However, as Sgt. Shockley points out in an e-mail interview, the department has discovered that the weekly report has real value:
In the most basic sense, it’s a PR tool. It lets the public know that we do actually have calls for service, no matter how inane and trivial they might seem, year-round. Not that anyone has actually suggested this, but I get the sense that some people believe a police department is largely unnecessary here. People sometimes assume that because Unalaska is a fairly small community, there must not be much work for a police officer to do.

There are admittedly a few weeks each year where we don’t get many reports about crime per se, but we’re still asked to perform quite a few public services, whether it’s unlocking a car, checking smoke alarms or collecting dead animals off the road. During the busy seasons, we’re dealing with quite a bit of what most people would consider “typical” crime – assaults, domestic violence, thefts, etc. The press release lets the public know what kind of crime we have here and, I hope, keeps the public aware that the public safety department is a necessary part of the community.
Sadly, the Unalaska Advertiser, which doesn't provide access to older reports, sees to be the only online source for the Unalaska weekly police report. However, its easy to bookmark the Police Beat page and to copy and save particularly interesting entries or sets of entries.

I always tell people that government records can be and often are a lot more interesting than they expect, but this is the first time that I've added a local government records series to my weekly must-read list. And I'm sure that there are other treasures out there . . . .

*Although the full names of arrested individuals appear in the police reports posted on the Unalaska Advertiser site, I've opted to include only their initials. The police report is a public record and information within it can be disseminated widely, but the online version of the 4 January 2009 report will be taken down when the 11 January report is posted. This blog post will remain online and searchable long afterward, and the individuals in question are private people who haven't yet had their day in court. I see no point in including their full names in this post.

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