Reporter's Notebook: Hello digital, so long sheriff's log | Opinion

Scott Rasmussen - Journal file photo
Scott Rasmussen
— image credit: Journal file photo

Periodic trips to the Sheriff’s office had been one of my many tasks for the better part of the past 14 years. There, I would pull up a chair and hunker down in the back room and sift through the stack of so-called “incident reports.”

I would jot down relevant information of those that I determined to be “newsworthy” and head back to the Journal to piece together the next installment of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Log.

I got to chit-chat with many of our dispatchers and deputies, and gain a better understanding of the department’s inner-workings.

Readers may recall a Log entry would go something like this:

July 27: A San Juan Island man claims the driver of a Dodge Durango threatened him with a knife during a confrontation over an exit-only sign at a Friday Harbor home remodel center. The 33-year-old, working security outside the center’s parking lot at the time, claims the driver entered the parking lot via its exit, pulled out a knife, exited through the entrance, and then sped away.

From fender-benders to felony assault, that stack of reports worked as a window into some of the less attractive, more unsettling, sometimes bizarre, occurrences that take place in this paradise. It chronicled everything from dog bites, DUIs, shoplifting, runaways, welfare checks, trespassing, suspicious activity, discovery of human remains and a whole lot more.

It’s no surprise that the sheriff’s log, long before I inherited it, had been one of the newspaper’s most popular features. It proved to be so on Journal, Sounder (Orcas) and Weekly (Lopez) websites as well.

But there’s no real payoff in such trips to the sheriff’s office any longer.

The department is well on its way to going “paperless” with its incident reports. The electronic format does not convert into something decipherable for purpose of publication, even if a report were printed out, as much of the detail I relied upon has been lost in translation.

To its credit, the department does send out the occasional press release, the sheriff and undersheriff do field reporters' questions and provide answers within the boundaries they believe apply to any given case, and Undersheriff Bruce Distler has recently floated several suggestions in an attempt to make available the kind of information that had previously been right at one's fingertips.

Now, you might think that having one less task would be a relief. Not so.

Popularity notwithstanding, the sheriff's log also offered a unique, ground floor look at what our local law enforcement and public safety officials encounter day-in and day-out. It provided a sense of commonality, as well, as it cataloged incidents from all across the county. And, perhaps most importantly, it was a reminder that trouble can arise out of the blue, even in paradise, and that things don't always go as according to plan.

So, it would seem that the sheriff's log is now a relic of a bygone era, like the Pony Express, a casualty of progress, rendered obsolete, or, in this case, dislodged and displaced by the much sought-after efficiencies of the digital age.

That's a shame.



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