Crimes & Misdemeanors

In Oregon, No Silly Call Is Too Small for Papers’ Police Blotters

On the mean streets outside Portland, it’s wealthy suburbanites vs. crickets, teenagers, a dead beaver, and the moon. Check out one of America’s most absurd newspaper police blotters.

01.11.14 10:45 AM ET

12/11 11:29 p.m. A caller was frightened by a “round, bright, white light shining through the trees.” It was the moon.

Each week, in the wealthy adjacent Portland suburbs of Lake Oswego and West Linn, battles rage. On one side: concerned, alert residents who wish to keep their idyllic Oregon communities safe. On the other side is a whole host of (possible) evildoers. Bored teenagers that amble into streets. Decaying beavers who mar the beauty of city parks. The moon, being way too moon-like. Into this fray step the small-town policemen, who respond in person to nearly every call they receive.

All of these spats are lovingly chronicled by the police blotters of the Lake Oswego Review  and West Linn Tidings, each of which print the majority of calls to police. No one knows quite when, but at some point, the blotters themselves became a piece of art, a high, fine comedy, bits of which appear on the dedicated Twitter, @nocalltoosmall.

1/25/13 5:36 a.m. A woman who lives on Oak Street became suspicious when she discovered a wet footprint on her front porch. Upon further investigation, she discovered that the footprint was her own.

Some of them are tantalizingly short, and raise so many more questions than answers:

3/22 7:58 p.m. A hanger found in a driveway in the 1500 block of Sixth Street caused suspicion.

(Follow-ups: What kind of hanger? From the dry cleaners? The nice wooden kind that costs $4.99? What was it about this particular hanger that caused enough suspicion that it seemed a call to the police was in order?)

While others start with a troubling premise and end with a simple explanation:

4/12 4:45 p.m. A neighbor seen hitting his or her head against a porch was just frustrated.

4/12 9:26 p.m. Twenty teens seen running up and down the 2900 block of Winkel Way were just playing flashlight tag.

6/6/13 7:36 a.m. What was at first thought to be a snack bar burglar at Old Waluga Park turned out to be the sound of an ice maker on its last legs.

“It’s just frustration,” “it’s just flashlight tag,” and “it’s just an icemaker on its last legs” are perfect explanations for nearly anything that can happen in this life.

Full disclosure: I went to high school in Lake Oswego, and have been reading the blotter since the late ‘90s. Back then, it was a huge accomplishment if your adolescent assholery was enough to make the paper (and EVERYONE knew who had done it, even though the Review is too delicate to name names). This has not changed.

7/24 10:58 p.m. A subject wearing an Angry Bird suit came to a door in the 1100 block of Blankenship Road and declared, “I am the original angry bird.”

Lori Hall, the editor of the West Linn Tidings and writer of that town’s blotter, said that after the Angry Bird item above ran, she saw the culprit bragging about it on Twitter:

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She said she wasn’t quite sure when the blotters took on the silly tone, but it’s reserved, she said, entirely for the sillier police calls—they don’t make fun of actual crime or its victims.

“These are small towns with not a lot of crime, and half the time the reason there’s not a lot of crime is that people are very diligent about calling the police,” she said, “and will call the police about every single suspicious thing they see, including, say, the newspaper delivery man or a pizza delivery guy that got lost.”

6/6 12:35 p.m. A dead beaver was spotted near Edgewater Court near the water. Police opted to let nature take its course.

6/7 4:26 p.m. The beaver is still near the water on Edgewater Court. Nature is still taking its course.

Hall said they print maybe 60 percent of the daily reports that come in from the police department—they leave out potentially sensitive stuff, like domestic violence, and don’t put the names of the arrested online, on the chance that they’ll get cleared of charges.

So how do the police feel about the blotter?

“It depends on who you talk to,” she said, adding that the veterans are used to the blotter, while sometimes new officers feel like it’s making light of what they do. She emphasized that the newsroom itself truly appreciates the police department, and their dedication to answering all calls.

3/10/13 9:49 p.m. After getting into a verbal fight with his parents, a 13-year-old boy was found hiding in the yard next door. He was wearing a ghillie suit.

5/13/13 5:43 a.m. A man had such a bad dream that police were called.

Sgt. Tom Hamann of the Lake Oswego Police Department said the blotter has been this way as long as he’s been on the force— 15 1/2 years. He said the paper tends to take a little bit of “artistic license,” but yes, the police or community service officers do respond in person to nearly every call they get. 

7/23/13 12:57 p.m. A mother is worried because her adult children are threatening to move back home.

10/8/13 12:12 a.m. A woman called in to say that she had smoked marijuana and now felt like she was going to die. Rest was recommended.

So what is Hall’s favorite blotter item of the year?

“It really has to be the moon one,” she said. “But one of the other ones was the alarm going off—the caller thought it might be a car alarm—that turned out to be crickets.”

9/8 11:45 p.m. A suspected alarm in a neighborhood turned out to be crickets.