Usually, police logs are pretty dull. Names, dates and a terse description of the crime committed are about all you get. But the Rochester Times Police Log is packed with poetry and puns. NHPR’s Dan Gorenstein reports readers of the log have even been known to laugh out loud.
Listen to this.
” At Halloween upon a street where youngsters go for Trick-or Treat, a worried parent calls the cops. His kid has been handed Hall’s cough drops. A curiosity has gripped us- Cherry, Mint or Eucalyptus? Dad makes the point its medication not the stuff of celebration. Police check out this plot of terror and find it was a simple error.”
John Nolan writes the police log and edits the Rochester Times.
He’s delivered tales of odd and scary behavior for 22 years now- some of it with his signature puns, some of it in rhyme.
“There is a din on Barker Court, it sounds like dropping couches, or demolition or a fight, replete with oohhs and ouches.”
Nolan hasn’t always written the police log like this.
He used to play it straight- reporting crime news that chronicled what happened in around the city.
“It was tedious and dreadful. And the editor were on vacation one time, and I was left to my own devices. It was about 2 o’clock in the morning. And I had written a dog barks on 10 Rod Rd. and I added, deep in a forest a berry drops. Because I had been reading some Japanese haikus so that was in mind. And there was all kinds of phone calls after the paper came out. religiously. They thought it was code for a drug drop or something. So I thought, ‘ok, we’ll give you some more of that stuff.’”
Generally people like Nolan’s work.
People say it’s so funny they actually read the log out loud to co-workers, or family members.
Like a long-standing comic, Nolan’s got his old gags.
“People are always trying to steal ladders in Rochester for one reason or another. And every time a ladder is stolen police take steps to find it. So that’s one of the old classics.”
Another is how the police ‘bag’ shoplifters.
Nolan makes sure to pump up his vocabulary...windows are smashed, not broken.
Music isn’t turned up, it’s cranked.
And he loves puns.
“On Winter Street a lady pushes a gentleman through a window to air a grievance.”
The line makes you smile until you think about what actually happened.
Was it sexual assault? Was it a break-in?
Here’s an entry from earlier this month-
2:27 p.m. Someone has gone bananas in a waiting room at Frisbie Hospital.
Nolan works with rough material.
And not everyone thinks he should make light of it.
One reader writes these are serious issues of concern and shouldn’t be a vehicle for entertainment.
To a certain extent, Nolan agrees with the sentiment.
After 17 years as a Glasgow, Scotland cop, he understands the ugliness of crime.
But he says it’s that job that taught him to laugh.
“You’d see the very worst of behavior. But it was always softened by gallows humor. That’s how people get by, they laugh at things.”
He points out the ‘humorous’ bits play a minor role.
Nolan doesn’t just want to make people chuckle.
In his own way, he’s using crime to tell a larger story about the people who live in the city.
“I think you almost have to take a sympathetic view and soar up above it a little bit and look down at the whole human condition and make it a bit more sympathetic.”
Nolan expresses that with powerful sentences that capture moment in still life.
5:47 p.m. With only a crescent moon, teens have to fight under a street light.
1:27 a.m. The people in the raucous Granite Street apartment are at it again, banging on walls and yelling louder than ever.
8:12 p.m. Spring has arrived- a bike is stolen from a Charles Street driveway.
Nolan thinks one reader nailed it when he described the log as gritty and no-nonsense, but with the self-confidence to poke fun at its own goings-on.