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Hidden in plain sight

April 28, 2010 - Deb Gau
At last night’s city council meeting, my interest was piqued by part of the discussion of an accident where one city pickup backed into another, causing about $1,300 in damage. Councilman Mike Boedigheimer said that it seemed like accidents that happen in a private parking lot end up in the newspaper, but accidents involving city vehicles never do. I’m not calling him out on that comment — the criticism was directed more at the city than at the Independent. But after doing some quick research, I’d say city accidents *are* published when they happen. It’s just that, depending on how they are reported, they can still manage to slip by unnoticed.

I'm afraid I don't have the time needed to go through every accident report the Independent receives to check for city-vehicle connections. There are times when four or five incidents could be reported in a single day, from fender benders to highway crashes. But I did compare the police blotter report included in last night’s council packet with the incident summaries that city and county law enforcement fax to the Independent every day. (Those summaries provide some of the information that turns into our paper’s crime/accident briefs.) At about 4:30 p.m. March 23, the summaries reported a property damage accident — the same date and time as in the blotter report. The responding officer ID number matched for both reports as well, so I’m fairly certain we were informed of the accident and it was written into the accident briefs for the day.

But here’s where things get complicated. The summary we received, and upon which we based the accident brief, didn’t mention whether there were city trucks involved, how much damage was done, or even the specific location of the accident. Literally, all I had to go on was that an incident described as a property damage accident was reported, that it was reported at 4:33 p.m. March 23, in Marshall, and that drivers involved exchanged information. Nothing there would suggest to me that the incident was worth digging into further.

After reading the blotter report, I know why that is. The report said the accident actually happened the day before, March 22. The trucks had been moved, and one was already being fixed, by the time police were called. Officers couldn’t document the scene, and there just wasn’t much the incident summary could say at that stage. All this drives home the same point that some of the council members made Tuesday night: for better city accountability, accidents should be reported right away.


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