When you’re doing a general police check, what questions should you ask to make the story more than a brief? –Covering Police in California
This “Ask the Coach” question is being answered by Greg Sowinski, a reporter at The Lima (Ohio) News. Greg has covered police and crime along one of the Midwest’s major drug-smuggling arteries. His answer:
Besides the standard who, what, where, when, why and how, I always ask about the victim and his or her background. The more information I can get on the victim, the more I have to go on and to get more information with.
Look for the human element that people can latch on to, and look at why the victim is special, which often requires asking a family member.
To lift the story out of the routine, a reporter has to be a good listener and ask a lot of questions. One of the biggest things reporters have to keep in mind: What is special about this crime? For example, is it a crime that usually never happens? Or is it a crime so shocking it makes a hardened detective cringe?
The question that police usually try to dodge is the “why.” Sometimes they don’t know, and if they do, they don’t want to release the information for fear it might hurt their case.
Police officers are a tough group to crack. They fear their case will be harmed or destroyed by released information. It often takes time to develop rapport and trust with police. It’s important to get to know as many police officers as possible — and also to get to know other departmental employees. A good group to get to know is municipal court employees. They work with police every day and hear all the gossip. I can’t tell you how many stories I got from asking municipal court employees, “Anything happening?”
Greg Sowinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.