Off Beat: Undercover officer, reporter fool vigilant volunteers




Most police and fire officials at a crime scene or house fire can quickly scan the crowd of bystanders and spot the press.

(The note pads and cameras usually give us away).

But on occasion, we do blend in — which can be interesting.

Two volunteers with Neighbors on Watch were looking for stolen vehicles and car prowlers in east Vancouver last month.

Volunteers noticed a vehicle sitting in the back of an almost vacant parking lot. Two people were sitting in the front seat, and the engine was running.

The volunteers radioed police to let the officers know there was a suspicious vehicle with two “kids” in it.

They’re OK, Vancouver police Sgt. Steve Dobbs replied over the radio.

Dobbs, who was in plainclothes, was sitting in the driver’s seat of that suspicious vehicle — an undercover police car.

And the second “kid” in the car?

It was a Columbian reporter writing a story on that night’s Neighborhood Response Team operation.

Reporter in the court

We can become part of the court proceedings, too.

Attorneys often ask prospective jurors if they read about the case in the paper.

But our newsroom staffers do more than report on courts. Sometimes we’re asked to determine guilt or innocence when we’re part of that jury pool.

A recent newsroom discussion of a case brought back memories of the late Dave Fielder, a veteran of the sports staff and copy desk who reported for jury duty a few years ago.

Like the other prospective jurors, he was asked if he’d read about the crime in the paper. This reply got Dave thumbed from the jury.

“Read it? I wrote the headline.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.