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That good old police diary


It’s a St. Helena Star reader’s worst nightmare. You unfold your paper and turn to page A2, the usual home of the St. Helena Police diary, to find — dun dun dunnnn! – he disappeared.

And then you notice it’s just on A3. Phew!

The police log migrated a bit last week, but it was still working in all its glory – not truncated to free up space, as happened a few weeks ago when I was facing a flood of election letters. For many loyal Star readers, that’s all that matters.

Here’s how the police log looks: Twice a day, at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., dispatchers email me raw logs from the previous 12-hour shift.

I don’t copy these logs verbatim, otherwise your eyes would be on dozens of entries like this: “07:06 Patrol Check or Information 2210280032 Officer initiates activity at Sylvaner Av, St Helena. Disposition: checks OK. »

People also read…

Exciting, huh? I filter out these entries and rewrite the ones where something noticeable is happening, converting sentences from passive voice to active voice, paraphrasing redundant information, and removing jargon like “R/P” (declaring part), “R /O” (registered owner), and “10-21” (phone call).

I also redact the names of those arrested – for example, I will refer to “a 39-year-old man from Saint Helena” instead of “Jesse Duarte”.

These names are public information, but the Star has a long-standing policy of not printing these names in the newspaper. If the offense is serious enough, me or someone from the Napa Valley Register will interview an officer and write a news report describing what happened and naming the suspect.

The St. Helena Police Journal is a Napa Valley institution and probably the most read article in the newspaper. Heck, he even has his own podcast. (Thanks to Tony and Hillary at Nine One Wine!)

A friend told me that appearing in the police diary as a tween, after she and her friends engaged in harmless shenanigans, had seemed like a rite of passage. She wasn’t named in the newspaper, but she was proud to point to the entrance and tell people, “Look, that was me!”

The call from the police log amuses me, but it also makes me uncomfortable. Of course, it’s fun to read about the mischievous little bells and stray chickens and goats. But is there anything less wholesome behind the police journal’s broad appeal?

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a savvy newcomer to Saint Helena who helped me understand why I feel so ambivalent. He said the police diary — especially its sillier entries — reinforces the heartwarming notion that Saint Helena is Mayberry, a quiet, semi-rural idyll that endures in a time of economic instability, political division and insoluble social problems.

The problem with this mindset is that Saint Helena is actually not Mayberry. It’s a small town with modern problems: crumbling infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing, and the existential threat of wildfires, to name a few.

UpValley Family Centers staff don’t sit around twiddling their thumbs. They help families struggling with financial difficulties, domestic issues, mental health issues, and all kinds of challenges that were never featured on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Our officers aren’t Andy and Barney either, and imagining they are does them a disservice. They are professionals who risk their lives every time they stop a strange car and strike up a conversation with the driver, who for all they know could be an armed drug dealer or a felon addicted to fentanyl who doesn’t will stop at nothing to avoid another. prison sentence.

What is strange is that all of this comes out of the police diary. It’s not a sanitized portrait of small town life. It contains tales of domestic violence, child custody disputes, scams targeting the elderly, road rage, alcohol and drug abuse, and unspecified but disturbing “juvenile issues.”

But that’s not what people cherish about the newspaper. They love the sheep that escaped in July and evaded capture all over town until a PG&E worker lassoed them. They love the vague and comedic reports of a “possible fight club” and a “suspicious shovel”.

I like that stuff too, and I’ll happily continue to publish the journal while I’m here, if for no other reason it brings joy to readers – and educates us on what the police.

I’m going to relish folk pieces, like when I asked cartoonist Joan Martens to depict wayward cows in April.

But I won’t let the lighter entries sentimentalize my image of Saint Helena or soften my perception of the city’s sharp edges.

Saint Helena is not Mayberry, and pretending it is won’t help us solve our all-too-real problems.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at (707) 967-6803 or [email protected]

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