Monday, June 1, 2009

As if crossing the crime scene tape makes me a criminal

There are several things I'm afraid of as a news reporter: young men (we've already gone over that) , funerals and crime scenes. I had an experience in Portland that scarred me when I was a cub reporter, and now when I see crime tape, I want to wrap myself into a huge yellow bundle and hide, hoping cops won't see me as I peek between the lines.

I had to cover a standoff in Southeast Portland many years ago, since standoffs are typical fodder for a slow news day, or for a news station that only cares about crime. I circled the scene looking for the media staging area, which is a safe place to park our news trucks, and where we talk with the PIO (public information officer.) Reporters hover like puppy dogs in these designated lots, where we stand begging for tidbits. We'd eye cops in uniform huddling and whispering in hushed tones, and salivate for a variety of reasons.

Anyway, this time, I couldn't find the media staging area, so I kept driving, around and around and around. Apparently, a dude had barricaded himself inside an apartment with a gun, and police had several streets blocked off around the crime scene. I drove into a parking lot, and then found a small alley, and began driving slowly toward the commotion. I thought I'd spot the PIO, and could ask a few questions for my liveshot.

And I found the cops, all right. I knew something was wrong when I saw SWAT officers hiding behind cars right next to me, and on balconies in front of me. I suddently felt danger as a big burly man walked viciously to my car.

"What the hell do you think you're doing!!" He shouted, several feet away.

"I'm,,...uh....trying to find the PIO." I stuttered and my heart pounded. I just knew this guy was going to arrest me from impeding an investigation.

"Get out of here...NOW. And don't EVER come into a crime scene. Do you understand me?!!!"

He was seething, staring at this dumb blond reporter like I was the bubble gum he'd wipe off the bottom of his cop boot. Like I was a spit ball pounded deep into the crevices of sidewalks. Or a piece of corn that already passed. Yes, it was that bad.

I backed up as fast as I could without causing another reason for my arrest and sped out of there. I was scared beyond belief. I could have been shot! I could have been tackled! I could have gone to jail!

These are the thoughts that assault me every time I go to a crime scene. Today, I dangled around the edges of a crime scene in Everett until I got up the guts to walk past the orange cones, past two cop cars, and right up to the trooper on the offramp of Highway 2. I'd like to pretend its because I'm brave, it's because I've gotten over my crime scene fear. But it was really because I saw a guy from a television station, setting up his camera. It was the media staging area. I'd finally found it.


McRiguez said...

Oh gosh, how scary! I still find it amazing the things you do each day. I'd collapse! Aaaaand that's why I'm stuck behind a desk for 8 hours a day, haa haa!

Lisa said...

Oh, Kristin, I have so been there! I was covering a standoff at Seattle's then-scummy Yessler Terrace Apartments in, like 1984 and I walked right into the crime scene as the guy was holed up inside with a shotgun.

The cop reprimanded me so severely that I left the area and drove home. Where I cried. And cried.

That stuff stays with you. But, I've also done exactly what you did, following other reporters into areas that appear to be off limits.

Part of the job is taking chances, but not so many chances that you endanger yourself. It's a very fine line sometimes.

Lisa said...

Oh wow; here's a link to part of that stand off TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO! OMG! (actually the article references the Baldwin standoff to discuss another one)

Paula said...

I will comment that this is an excellent description of a slice of your job. I love your vivid writing style, which recreates the scene in our minds. Sounds like there is a lot of testosterone/aggression behind the yellow tape!

Sue said...

Oh Kristin--sorry about your scarring experience. But that was my secret to finding the 'right place' near yellow police tape too---look for the TV cameras! BTW, I didn't know you were freaked out by young men. Whenever I did MOS I just asked whoever came along to get it over with!

Colleen said...

I feel the same way when I'm at "scenes." I feel out of sorts and out of place. Trying to find the right spot to stand is scary!