News media police reporters should take the time to understand the lives of the people you they cover to help overcome a “natural distrust” between police officers and journalists, Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle tells Poynter.org, a training institute for journalists. “Be visible,” Ovalle says. “Put the time in, constantly be there, show that you actually care, go on ride-alongs, go through reports.” Cultivating sources is crucial to any beat, particularly so on the police beat, where good relationships are necessary for circumventing bureaucracy, discovering trends and telling a fuller story.
It’s often the hardest part of the job, said David Heinzmann, police reporter at the Chicago Tribune. “You have to understand and respect the culture of a police department, which can be a really complicated culture,” he said. “You have to really know how to talk to police.” Other advice fom journalists: “Learn the terminology. Understand what happens from the time a person is arrested to the time he or she goes to trial. Pay attention to nuance. Spend a few shifts on a ride-along. Get to know the clerks and the detectives — in every unit of the department.” At The Wichita Eagle, L. Kelly, the paper’s crime and safety team leader, said it’s humility, above all, that makes for a good police reporter — and it’s an essential quality for pinch-hitting on the beat. “Don’t be afraid to let people know that you’re new to this and you might have a stupid question,” she says.