For three weeks in a row, I either left this office Friday afternoon or came into work Monday morning having an idea of what your favorite weekly newspaper would feature on its front page that week.
For three weeks in a row, events conspired to blow my plans out the window.
Because it’s not a local event and because of our deadlines, I hadn’t planned on covering the Boston Marathon the week of the race April 15. But then came the finish-line bombing, and thanks to the technology of cellphones with built-in cameras and Internet access, we were able to cover the reactions of local participants.
One week later came the death of Richard Brockman, the publisher of The Platteville Journal for 31 years. I knew Dick was ill, so his death wasn’t a surprise; it was, in fact, perfectly timed for that week’s Journal. (I think Dick would appreciate that fact.)
Late last week some of my hometown, Madison, was locked down while police looked for a Chicago fugitive. I was asked on our Facebook page why we weren’t covering that, and I replied that it wasn’t, as far as we knew, a local story.
The writer apologized and said “all this violence the last week has me stressed out,” mentioning last week’s bottle bomb discovery and the triple homicide.
If bystanders are stressed out, imagine how, for instance, the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department and Lafayette County firefighters and EMTs feels. The sheriff’s department (along with the state Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation) investigated what started as a tragedy back in September and became a horrific crime. The county has spent significant resources housing Armin and Jeremy Wand in the jail (because they had to be kept separate from each other and from the rest of the jail population) and conducting the investigation and court proceedings, even though Armin Wand didn’t go to trial. And just as Wand was moved into the state prison system and the Jeremy Wand portion of things is progressing, three people are killed in the Town of Wayne.
This is why we need to respect the work of police, firefighters and EMTs. They end up seeing things no one should ever have to see as part of their regular work, whether paid or not.
This is also why it’s important to focus on what else is going on, not just obsess over the latest front-page outrage. I went to the district and state Solo & Ensemble festivals in April to see remarkable musical talent from this area and beyond. You read their names in this newspaper, but not just reporting what they musically do; they excel in other areas as well.
Here’s another instance of needed perspective: Our swnews4u.com question this week asks whether there is more crime in southwest Wisconsin. The poll results as of Wednesday morning:
I don’t know: 1.
The correct answer — at least in Platteville based on the 2012 Platteville Police Department report — is, believe it or not, no. Here are, from the PPD’s 2011 and 2012 annual reports, the number of calls police have responded to for crimes:
Other than 2009, those are pretty consistent numbers over the past half-decade. According to the U.S. Census, Platteville’s population has increased 11.5 percent between 2006 and 2011. By those numbers, there should be more crime, not less in Platteville.
How about violent crimes — murders, sexual assaults and aggravated assaults?
How about serious property crimes — robberies, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and arson?
There is more variation in those groups of numbers percentage-wise, but I’m not sure the swings represent an onslaught of violent or serious property crime in Platteville.
If crime isn’t actually on the rise, why do people think it is? One likely culprit is those of us in the news media, who perhaps report crime more often or more thoroughly than we used to. (I’ve discovered in the year I’ve been here that readers are keenly interested in crime reports and court news. Editors find out when those items aren’t in a particular week’s newspaper.) These numbers are abstractions as well until you happen to be a victim of a crime, even if it’s something as small on the scale of life events as having items taken from in front of your house.
Some may read this as an argument against the amount of police we have in this area. The counterargument is that perhaps the number of police we have in this area is the reason crime is not increasing even though population is increasing. Some may also read this as an argument against expanding Second Amendment rights, because (according to this line of opinion) people don’t really need to carry concealed weapons. My answer is that constitutional rights don’t require proof of need.
Perspective is sometimes hard to come by, but perspective is important now more than ever.