Thursday, Jan. 1
A man believing himself to be God appeared in the lobby of the Lewis and Clark Motel at 7:40 p.m. and refused to leave. He was later identified to be a 26-year-old man from Butte.
They’re the kind of thing that might have been part of a script on the old “Andy Griffith Show”:
Sunday, Feb. 9
A scarecrow was found on South Fourth Avenue.
Mayberryesque they may be, but these are not the work of a scriptwriter; they are actual reports received by law enforcement in Bozeman, Mont., reported in the town’s newspaper, the Daily Chronicle, and lovingly collected by Bozeman native Heidi Ross.
“Sometimes they’re funny because of the way they’re written,” Ross said. “Sometimes they’re funny because you think who thought ‘Call the cops!’ when they saw a kitten wandering across down the road. That’s in here!”
Saturday, May 8
A cannibalistic chicken was caught eating eggs in a parking lot in the 200 block of East Mendenhall. The chicken was “taken to shelter pending charges,” according to police reports.
Ross lives in New Orleans now – she followed friends there after graduating from Montana State University and ended up finding work in advertising – but still faithfully reads the Chronicle’s online edition each day, paying special attention to the “Police Reports” section.
Last fall, Ross decided to comb through the hundreds of police items she’s saved over the years, do a bit of light editing for grammar and sentence structure, then package her favorites into a unique Christmas gift. What emerged was “Best of the Bozeman Police Reports” – a tear-off daily desk calendar with one item for each day of the year. Initially, the calendars were intended only for family and close friends; they were such a hit that demand for them began escalating almost immediately.
“I was surprised that other people found them as funny as I did,” Ross said. “I have friends who just started crying, tears running down their faces. And that’s the best.”
Soon, Ross was getting enough requests – and printing enough calendars – that she decided to copyright her work. Next, she began selling the calendars in Bozeman and online via the www.mistersmartiepants.com Web site.
“There was a woman who called and wanted to order one and had to stop several times because she was laughing too hard,” said Ross.
Saturday, July 31
Someone on Brackett Creek Road reported at 8 p.m. Friday that a bear had been found in the kitchen twice that day.
Ross’ product also began getting noticed in media and journalism circles, where anything involving access to police records tends to get at least a glance. In December, the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a story about Ross that then was picked up by other media across the country.
Remarkably, one place where the calendars hadn’t penetrated until recently was the Bozeman Law Enforcement and Justice Center.
“This is the first I’ve heard about it, but I’m impressed by the calendar” said Deputy Police Chief Mark LaChapelle, as he flipped through a copy of the calendar one morning in February, smiling at some of the entries, chuckling aloud at others. “I think it’s good to find some humor in everything that we encounter. People do some crazy things.
“I would love to see more of this out there,” said Ross, “because it’s good for people to know there’s some news that makes it to the papers that’s different than the horrible crimes that we hear about every day.”
Although Ross’ motivation was inspired more by entertainment and nostalgia than advocacy for FOI, it nonetheless is somewhat appropriate that Bozeman should be the subject of a product based on the public reporting of public records of police activity. During a 2003 public records audit of Montana’s cities, counties and large school districts, Bozeman and Gallatin County received the equivalent of “A+” grades. (The auditor received every document requested immediately, without question. Only two other counties among Montana’s 56 performed as well.)
Law enforcement received special kudos from the Bozeman/Gallatin auditor, who noted the justice center’s extra effort to make police and sheriff’s incident reports available and convenient. In the lobby, outside the glass windows of the reception desk, visitors can walk in, sit down and peruse the previous day’s calls and complaints to their heart’s content.
Monday, Nov. 22
A man wanted to press charges against a local stereo store at 12:49 p.m. Saturday after the store reportedly broke its “no-hassle installation” promise.
While Ross is pleased with the attention her calendar has received – and flattered by the requests that she create other calendars from other places – she doesn’t want to make it a second career
“Somebody could do it, and I hope they do,” she said. “For me, this was fun because it was a personal connection and it was my town. So they were funny to me in a completely different way than they may be for someone else.”
The more LaChapelle looks at the calendar, the more he seems to like it. “It would have made a great fund-raiser for our police protective association,” he muses. “I wish I’d thought of it.”
Ian Marquand is special projects coordinator for the Montana Television Network, the Montana Sunshine Chair for SPJ and president of SPJ’s Montana Pro Chapter.