(Originally published in my essay collection Lake Forest Moments)
I suspect that in most small towns, and large ones as well, the most thoroughly read section of the newspaper is the Police Blotter. I love the Police Blotter, probably because I have never been in it. When my children were teenagers I used to say, “I ask for nothing else in life, NOTHING, not even winning the lottery, if I knew that neither of you would ever be in the Police Blotter.” And I meant it.
The most common item in the Police Blotter is teenagers caught drinking. (See above paragraph.) Usually it is someone’s teenagers you know, and even though you know it is the teenagers who did something wrong, you always think about the parents. I always think, those poor parents. I’m sure they feel the same way we all do about avoiding, at all costs, a mention in the dreaded Police Blotter. How will they be able to go to Whole Foods or Starbucks and smile as though their entire family hasn’t been stigmatized? Oh, the shame of it all.
Of course, worse than your teenager being caught drinking (after all, what’s a little youthful indiscretion!), would be your own self in the Police Blotter, being picked up on a DUI. Especially now, in my esteemed position of Headmaster’s Wife. OMG. So, if you ask me out to dinner, and I ask you if you don’t mind driving, you’ll know why. The scandal of a DUI would be insurmountable.
Horrifyingly, the Blotter doesn’t just say Jane Doe was arrested for driving under the influence. Oh, no. The Police Blotter prints your age, and all the worst parts of the police report. As in, the suspect was first spotted driving on the wrong side of Green Bay Road. She was then observed swerving sharply and taking out a mailbox, driving up on the curb, and speeding at fifty miles per hour. When stopped and confronted, the suspect was belligerent toward the arresting officer, especially when he notified her that her Jaguar would be towed to the city pound.
A quiet arrest and a few years of jail time would be okay, if no one had to know – but the Police Blotter – I quake at the thought.
Next on the list of criminal activities in our idyllic communities by the lake is petty theft. Occasionally larger thefts are reported – golf clubs stolen out of cars, wallets stolen from a dorm room at Lake Forest College, bikes taken from in front of Sweet’s (who would do such a vile thing – lock ‘em up and throw away the key).
What catches my interest however, are the small-time thefts – reported as seriously as an armed robbery somewhere else. Last Thursday, two concrete geese were stolen from a front lawn on Woodland. The geese were dressed in yellow raincoats with matching yellow rain hats. My only thought on reading this was, could I call the police with a straight face and report that I actually dressed concrete geese in raincoats?
When I lived in southern California, the community Police Blotter was filled weekly with armed robbery, stalkers, carjackings, and vandalism. Living there you learned to walk in a parking lot half-looking over your shoulder, expecting the worst. At the ATM you always thought about the guy in back of you – what you would do if he came after you.
This is not to say that these things could never happen in Lake Forest or Lake Bluff. Some of the most horrendous crimes in America have happened in small towns. There is no place in the world we now know, no matter how bucolic, that is truly safe. Anything can happen anywhere, but if you regularly read the Police Blotter here, you at least have the illusion that things are okay. Sometimes illusions can be very livable.