Some things never seem to change on assignment. For me it is life behind the crime scene tape. Six days after photographing a man who shot himself in a public suicide outside a rural fire station I stood on a side walk behind more crime scene tape photographing the investigation of a drive by shooting on Thanksgiving night. It always the same old scene-crime scene tape and evidence markers.
It's not that we had a particularly violent year, we really didn't. No murders that I can remember just lots of random crimes. An armed robbery at a Kragens store with a street blocked off, a SWAT callout for a parolee barricaded in his home, a drive by shooting that covers nearly 4 blocks- the violence just seemed to keep coming. We had people shot, robberies, home invasions-that seems to be the price for living in a town nearing the 90,000 population mark.
Throw in the occasional bank robbery, a grenade call or two and it was a year of chasing scanner calls. Sometimes the photos were fairly intense-a SWAT officer carrying a child from a house, guns drawn during a search for a suspect- but more often than not my photo was just a strip of yellow tape at night. I'm getting pretty good at capturing that.
Do I feel safe in Tracy? Sure, I guess so. One of my first assignments at the paper 14 years or so ago was covering a murder of a gas station clerk who shot in killed during a robbery. I have lost count of the number of crimes scenes I have covered since then. Contrary to what the web comments section would have you believe there has always been crime in this town, it is not a plague of shootings or a murder spree run rampant in town just recently. If you don't want to feel safe walking down the street or sitting in your house or if you want to know what it feels like to live in a real honest to god shooting gallery then move to Stockton. That cesspool stands at 58 homicides for the year with a few more days left for them to reach 60.
What bothers me about the crimes I have covered in Tracy is the level of violence in some of the crime scenes I have covered. It is not one bullet fired into a house but 14 rounds. It's not one shooting on Thanksgiving but three. I don't think it is a fault of the police not doing their job, they can't be everywhere nor would I want to live in a police state of someone on every corner watching my every move. It is a sign of the times. It's always easier to take what you want than earn it, to strike out when angry then build friendships and understanding.
What does the next year hold for my crime scene photography? I don't know. A change in the police force leadership could bring about some renewed crime deterrence. I'll wait and see what my life behind the line has in store for me in the coming year, and hopefully it will be nothing at all.