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Tactical Talk: Joe the Cop
For just over a year, Joe the Cop has been writing about Windy City crime for ChicagoNow, a blogging site affiliated with the Chicago Tribune. His blog Arresting Tales has had a fairly under-the-radar existence garnering a handful of comments per post. Well, that all changed earlier this week.
That’s when Frank Sennett, the editor-in-chief and president of TimeOut Chicago, called Joe’s most recent post a racist rant. Sennett tweeted 100 times about Joe’s post, which outlined a “ghetto shooting template.”
Before the finger-pointing firestorm, Joe took a few minutes away from his own blog to answer questions for ours. Little did he know just days later he would be lambasted by the head honcho of a local publication.
For now, the detective sergeant is taking a break from the keyboard. “If the pressure keeps up, I can see ChicagoNow dumping my blog,” he wrote to us via e-mail.
When did you start blogging?
My teenage kids encouraged me to start a personal blog in 2006. I’ve always been a talker, so I had fun with it. I really kind of miss it because I spend much more time now on Arresting Tales.
How did you get hooked up with ChicagoNow?
I met Bill Adee from the Chicago Tribune through a mutual friend, and he told me he was interested in having a police-related blog on ChicagoNow. I feel really lucky that I was one of the first 20 or 30 blogs on a site that now features more than 300.
Your blog isn’t anonymous, correct? Or is it somewhat anonymous?
I refer to myself half-jokingly as a “semi-anonymous” blogger. Chicago has an outstanding police blog called Second City Cop; they are anonymous, and it’s easy to see why.
I don’t think I need that kind of anonymity, since I’m not really writing about internal issues in my own department or some of truly sensitive topics that SCC addresses. My blog is aimed more at civilians than it is at other officers. I’ve been lucky enough to go on the air at WGN radio a few times, and I’m a pretty regular guest on ChicagoNow Radio on WGN Saturday mornings. There are plenty of people who know who I am, but I still like to preserve some privacy.
What steps did you have to go through to get clearance to blog?
Another reason I say I’m a semi-anonymous blogger is that my boss and my chief know I write Arresting Tales. Before I started, I sat down with them and explained what I was doing.
A lot of law enforcement administrators still equate the word “blog” with “anonymous forum for griping on the Internet.” I made sure to explain that I would have a disclaimer that my opinions were my own and most definitely not my department’s—just in case anyone did make the connection at some point.
My coworkers have been really supportive, too; they’re always giving me story ideas and emailing me links to weird crime stories.
Some people aren’t exactly friendly in the comments section—calling you a pothead among other things. What do you have to say to those folks?
I’d be in the wrong line of work if I didn’t have thick skin. I always respond to comments respectfully, and most people do keep it fairly civil. The pothead comment was absurd—it made me wonder if the commenter realized he was reading a cop blog. One of my regular readers pointed out that particular commenter seems to roam the Internets, commenting on dozens of marijuana stories.
Which brings me to one of the best things about blogging—the regular readers and commenters. There have been occasions when some troll tries to start up with me, and before I can respond, one of the regular readers pipes up with a reply better than I would’ve come up with. Most recently I got called a racist, and I’m kind of surprised it took more than a year for that to happen.
Surprisingly, I’ve only had to delete a half-dozen or so comments over the last year.
You have a feature called “Ask a Cop.” What’s the most ridiculous question you’ve encountered? Are there any questions that you won’t answer?
I’m a little embarrassed that I don’t do that feature nearly as often as I should. I’ve used a few of the e-mails I’ve gotten for posts; a lot of them are actually from people asking very specific questions about specific people or situations, and I don’t think those would translate well into blog posts. Or there are privacy issues. That’s happened too.
I get some snotty questions sometimes, asking things like why Chicago cops are “always shooting people in the back.” I won’t dignify those. Although, I did once do a post titled “Why we shoot people in the back.”
How does blogging about your profession help? What can other law officers learn from Arresting Tales?
I’ve always liked talking to non-cops about the job. I’ve been an instructor at our Citizen Police Academy since it started, and I’ve done presentations for community groups over the years. I view blogging as an extension of that.
The act of explaining issues to non-cops—things like why and how cops use force—makes me examine those things more seriously and think some of my own beliefs through more thoroughly than I used to. Hopefully, brother and sister officers might read a post and feel a little bit validated, like “oh, yeah, I’ve seen that, too”. They might see something I’ve written, and if it comes time to explain what they do to someone who’s not a cop, it might help.
I like telling stories, and I like entertaining people.
What do you think should happen to Arresting Tales? Should Joe the Cop continue to blog on ChicagoNow?