As a part of the conversation online, there has been an unprecedented increase in press releases from the Culver City Police Department. Many people are left feeling that this equates to an increase in crime; it doesn’t. It is simply an increase in communication from the historically reticent CCPD.
What basis do we have for thinking it’s a change in information and and not a change in the actual quantity of crime? Two things, to begin.
Exhibit A – The Blotter.
For many years, the CCPD would send out a weekly info sheet called the Police Blotter. You will recognize how old this tradition is if you know the history of fountain pens and blotter paper. A ‘blotter’ is a sheet that soaks up the excess ink from a fountain pen. A blotter was the slang term given to the large desk-sized books that police departments used to note bookings, because they resembled blotter paper. In Culver City, The Blotter was a once-a-week press release that noted four or five local crimes, often purse snatching or mugging, pretty low level stuff. They were presented in a fashion that allowed the reader (and the press) to assume that was it for the week.
It was never true; but as a lie of omission, it also couldn’t really be challenged. But then knowing about car thefts, about burglaries, about rapes that have happened in the city, and never seeing anything of that ilk in the police blotter, it was easy to recognize that there was major editorial control happening in the department. As is obviously their option.
Culver City Crossroads stopped running the blotter in 2013. It just felt dishonest, and unworthy of our readers. The CCPD at the time held a very “take it or leave it” stance. That is the info, use it or don’t.
Exhibit B – That Data is Not Available
Last year, Culver City Crossroads was honored to be invited to work on a project with the USC/Annenberg School of Journalism. The topic was crime data in LA County; local online news sources such as The Eastsider, Larchmont Buzz and Neighborhood News were offered a package of info that the school and put together via the math and journalism students. The difficulty lay in the fact that Culver City was a hole in the map, an area for which crime data was not available. Despite multiple requests, it remained unavailable. Culver City Crossroads had to drop out of the project. Because info that was forthcoming in almost every other part of the county (Beverly Hills was the only other holdout) the LAPD, even the Sheriff was more open with their crime data than Culver City.
Notifications from Nixle became the next step beyond the Blotter; data direct to the phone or email of anyone who requested it, (but you had to sign up for it, so somehow you had to discover that it existed). It was a very efficient system that also allowed the police to reduce traffic in areas were there was an investigation happening, and send out a follow up “all clear” when the issue was resolved. It was another small spoonful of information allotted to the community. Very small. Crime investigation that did not impede traffic didn’t generally make the cut.
In the post-George Floyd American conversation about decreasing budgets and changing the structure of police departments all over the country, there is suddenly a press release from the CCPD every day, offering crime info at a level many locals seem to be truly surprised by. Attempted murder? Multiple arson? Well, that never happened here before!
Well, yes it did – you just never heard about it. Because it wasn’t in the Blotter, and when local press asks, that data is not available.
It is a standard of government work that if you don’t spend your budget, your budget will be cut. In any part of any government, there are expenditures in June that seem absurd; but if they don’t spend it before July, they will get less funding next year. The was true for the CCPD before George Floyd, and even more true now.
The surreal campaign to “Defend the Police” makes as much sense as “Defend Public Works” or “Defend Parks and Recreation.” The police are professionals who are there to do their job, and citizens getting involved are likely to be seen as citizens getting in the way. There is no truth to the rumor that people who do not support the “Defend Public Works” campaign will no longer have their trash picked up, or that certain streets will no longer be swept. Public Works does not care who you vote for, or how long you’ve lived here.
Sadly, we have a long and deeply documented history of the police in this city treating people of color badly. We are not alone on this – thousands of police departments across the nation are all being held accountable, and city governments from Minneapolis to New Mexico are being changed. What changes our city and our department come to are still in discussion. They are very likely to continue over the next several years.
The sudden flood of crime reports is not a sudden flood of crime. We have always had more crime than was ever officially recognized. We have always treated people of color badly. Now that it’s about cutting the budget, the department needs to make the case that they have crime they have to deal with every day. So we now have a press release, everyday.
Not more crime – just more information.