Not Shakespeare or Will I. Am, But Not Bad

The chase is on!
The chase is on!
When people do bother to think about the police, they usually do so in a negative light. Even the most benign references tend to be clouded by the very reasons the police exist in the first place. It’s not their fault that they are forced to deal with drug dealers, murderers and rapists, it’s just the nature of their job. In many ways it could be argued that it’s our fault. If we were not a society that produced drug dealers, murderers and rapists, we would have no need for police. Even so, there is a certain element of guilt by association in the general public opinion.

This is all further exacerbated by the fact that cops are cautious with their speech and conservative in their nature. I’m not speaking politically, it’s just that cops have to watch what they say and do so often that they can seem aloof or disinterested in the world immediately around them.

Unfair as all that is, it’s not a new phenomena. Back in 1387 when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, and took down the story of the Man of Law’s, it’s clear that those opinions, valid or not, were well known.

All of which makes today’s story all the better. As Dan Gorenstein from NPR reports, one former cop has turned the stodgy world of the police blotter into an exercise in poetry.

Police logs in the newspaper are often dull, usually just names, dates and a terse description of the crime committed. But as New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein reports, the Rochester Times police log is packed with poetry and puns.

(transcript of radio show)

SCOTT SIMON, host: Police logs in the newspaper are often kind of dull: names, dates and a terse description of the crime committed, usually about all you get. But the Rochester Times Police Log is packed with poetry and puns.

New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein reports.

DAN GORENSTEIN: Listen to this.

Mr. JOHN NOLAN (Editor, Rochester Times): At Halloween upon a street where youngsters go for Trick-or-Treat, a worried parent calls the cops. His kid has been handed Hall’s cough drops. A curiosity has gripped us – Cherry, Mint or Eucalyptus? Dad makes the point it’s medication not the stuff of celebration. Police check out this plot of terror and find it was a simple error.

GORENSTEIN: John Nolan writes the police log and edits the Rochester Times. He’s delivered tales of odd and scary behavior for some 22 years now – some of it with his signature puns, some of it in rhyme. But Nolan used to write it like everyone else.

Mr. NOLAN: Kind of tedious and dreadful.

GORENSTEIN: So one night he decided to try a little experiment

Mr. NOLAN: (Unintelligible)wrote: A dog barks on 10 Rod Road. And I added: Deep in a forest a berry drops, because I had been reading some Japanese haikus so that was in mind.

GORENSTEIN: Managing editor Rod Doherty says he’s a little surprised just how popular Nolan’s police log is.

Mr. ROD DOHERTY (Executive Editor, Rochester Times): If it doesn’t appear, I will start to hear from people: Where’s the Rochester Police Log? Of course(ph) I started thinking, hey, we put all this on the news and the paper all the time, and you’re calling up because the police log’s not in there.

Mr. NOLAN: On Winter Street, a lady pushes a gentleman through a window to air a grievance.

GORENSTEIN: Some readers point out: These are serious issues, not jokes. That line about airing a grievance makes you smile, until you think about what happened. Was that sexual assault? Was it a break-in? To a certain extent Nolan agrees with the sentiment.

After 17 years as a Glasgow, Scotland cop, he understands the ugliness of crime. But he says it’s that job that taught him how to cope.

Mr. NOLAN: You’d see the very worst of behavior. But it was always lightened a little bit or softened by sort of gallows humor. That’s how people get by.

GORENSTEIN: Nolan doesn’t just want people chuckle – he’s using crime to tell a story about how people live together.

Mr. NOLAN: 5:47 p.m., with only a crescent moon teens have to fight under a street light. 1:27 a.m., The people in the raucous Granite Street apartment are at it again, banging on walls and yelling louder than ever. 8:12 p.m., spring has arrived – a bike is stolen from a Charles Street driveway.

GORENSTEIN: Nolan thinks one reader nailed it when he said the log is gritty, with the self-confidence to poke fun at its own goings-on.

For NPR News, I’m Dan Gorenstein in Concorde, New Hampshire.

Mr. NOLAN: In a different part of town, there is another cause to frown. Trick-or-treaters all are shocked, for after a man’s door is knocked he answers it not how he should. He keeps appearing in the nude.

Maybe he thought that was the treat part of the night. He was wrong, but that may be what he thought.

The nice thing about Nolan’s efforts is that they personalize crimes and help people feel them a little more closely. Sure they’re whimsical, but it isn’t like Rochester is dealing with the highest crime rate in the nation. Given the fact that most crimes are so heinous that the general public just washes them out of their minds for fear they’d go mad, there might be some validity to using whimsy and rhyme to get folks to remember them.

Because, after all, if we forget them who will remember us?

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