When it comes to cops and the media, times have changed

·6 min read

Oct. 6—The night was growing late and I was growing desperate.

I had a hot news story just itching to go to print, but there were gaps in my information and I needed them filled sooner than later.

I was driving around downtown, just doing my usual nightly skulk, when I spotted a Lewiston police cruiser rolling by on Bates Street. I began the pursuit at once. Maneuvered this way and that way and got behind the cruiser just as it passed the intersection at Pine Street.

I flashed my lights. I honked my horn and then flashed my lights some more. Just before Ash Street, near what was then The Fellowship House, an alcohol detox center, the cop pulled over. The officer got out of his car, scowling a little as he approached. Then he recognized my craptastic Subaru Justy and shook his head.

"LaFlamme!" he spat. "Did you just pull me over, you nut?"

It was a cool moment. And what was cooler still was that the officer was more than happy to pass along the information I needed for that story. We chatted a bit, the cop and I. We laughed over some of the nonsense we both tended to see nightly as we patrolled our beats — he as a police officer, me as an enthusiastic reporter assigned to chase cops and robbers around all night.

Back then, I used to step out of the newsroom a lot to have smokes on Park Street in front of the building. Bored cops would come gliding up to the curb in their cruisers, usually to fling a few tame insults at me before the matter of gossip got underway again.

"Were you up on Pine Street when we arrested the naked guy with the umbrella?" the officer would ask.

"Yeah," I would say, "wasn't that the brother of the crack dealer you busted a few weeks ago on Bartlett?"

"Let's just say he was using that umbrella for more than keeping rain off his head. You'll read all about it when you check the booking sheets later."

Ah, the booking sheets. Back then they were a bunch of pink pages collected in a big blue binder and an eager reporter just never knew what he would find there. A local politician busted for something unseemly? A traveling celebrity who ran afoul of the law right here in The Lew? A pillar of the community charged with soliciting a prostitute?

So, I'd go strutting down to the cop shop just a block away and a bored watch commander would buzz me in at the door.

"Hey, lieutenant," I'd say before I was all the way through the door. "Do you have the driver info from that crash on Lisbon Street?"

"Sure," he'd say. "Come back to the office. I got that report on my desk."

So, I'd head to the back of the building, poking my head into Criminal Investigation Division to quiz a detective about one thing or another. We'd chat a little bit, the detectives and I. Exchange some gossip. More often than not, the detectives would give me a tip on something juicy I might want to look into down at 8th District Court.

"What's up with your hair?" a detective would say as I turned for the door.

"Hey, I like a good flattop."

The detectives would laugh. "Well, if you like a good flattop, you should think about getting one, because that ain't it."

Those were the days, all right. Just by stepping out onto Park Street for a smoke, I could top off three stories for the morning's paper and get leads on a couple others.

Not to mention the torrid gossip and hairstyle advice.

I still get along well with most cops, but do you know what would happen today if I tried to pull over a cop on Bates Street? If I sauntered into the police station and made for the detective offices uninvited?

It wouldn't be hot tips and comments on my hair, I'm pretty sure.

When it comes to police and media relations, times have changed. They've become tense and guarded on both ends, and you can't blame the police for this — the media hasn't been altogether kind to cops in recent years. They've changed, we've changed, the world changed and nothing is like it used to be.

The relationship is strained in all kinds of ways, and though I still do pretty much the same job I did on day one, I feel the effects in any number of ways. Call me collateral damage in a society where each individual group is required to distrust all others.

Today, all information coming out of a police department is funneled through a specific information officer or managed through news releases. By and large, it's like dealing with a corporation, and who can blame the Five-O for going that way? In a world where every other person believes police should be defunded, shut down and replaced, you can hardly fault them for taking a more cautious approach to public relations.

A bored officer on patrol might pull up to the curb to have words with a wistful and forlorn reporter, but very few of them are likely to pass on any tidbits of useful information. That's not how it works anymore, and what sane cop would put his neck out that way?

And at any rate, a good number of the Lewiston police officers on patrol these days are youngsters who weren't yet born when I started this beat, and what a depressing idea THAT is.

Those guys don't know me at all and probably wouldn't stop to talk to me if they did. The newer officers came along after the days of chummy relations with the press had ended. All they know is to be wary and to keep their heads down.

Every once in a while, though, I'll run into a former cop from the old days — in a restaurant or working security somewhere — and we'll whirl off into quaint reminiscence about the times we had. Remember this? Remember that? Remember that thing with the drunken lady, the poodle and the hula hoop?

Those conversations are fun and nostalgic, but they always end the same way.

"Boy, things are different now," either I'll say or the former cop will. "Nothing at all like it used to be."

And with that, I'll go shuffling off, more glum than ever about what once was and may never be again. Maybe on the drive home I'll attempt to pull over a cab driver or pizza delivery guy just for a small taste of the old days.

Not as cool as pulling over a cop, maybe, but hey. How many people can say they've done it?

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting