The $470,000 mistake


Here’s how to screw-up a police story: Bury the lede. Wanna do better? Bury the facts, too.

The Cedar Rapids paper published this story today about the police department’s purchase of 10 new squad cars. The only thing wrong? They missed the news.

Here is their lede:

“A Chevrolet bearing a former model name, the Caprice, will begin later this year to replace the Police Department’s much beloved Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars.”

But here is the news – in the last two grafs:

“The total cost for 10 Caprices purchased through a state of Iowa bid from Karl Chevrolet, Ankeny, Iowa, is $272,168. The cars are expected to arrive in four to five months, Hogan said.

O’Konek [a police captain] said it costs the department an additional $20,000 or more to outfit a squad car with lights, computer, video camera, radar, cages and other items.”

If you do the math, that comes out to be around $470,000 — at least that’s how I understand the story, as it is written.

The real lede, then, should have been (something) like this:

“The Cedar Rapids Police Department will spend more than $470,000 on new cop cars this year.”

OK, so not the best lede, either. But, my lede casts the story as a NEWS piece, not a feature about how the cops are excited to “modernize our fleet as soon as possible.”

Further, the story could have easily investigated the cost of what was going on in this graf, too:

“…a city team, which included police commanders and police officers, spent time studying the three options for police vehicles — the Caprice PPV, the Dodge Charger and Ford’s new Police Interceptor. Hogan and representatives of the Police Department each attended a trade show to look at the options, though O’Konek noted that the new Ford vehicle was not available to drive.”

What of city money did the team spend in time and travel in looking for cars? What about at the trade shows? Where were they?

Why do local media continue to miss the mark on covering cops and courts? How do these stories get past editors? And why does the public put up with it? Thoughts?