Tom Dresner joined an online discussion in the comments section of a Missourian story this month.
The result was extraordinary.
Dresner is the interim chief of the Columbia Police Department. (He loses that designation Monday, when Kenneth Burton is sworn in as the new police chief.)
Police chiefs don’t make online comments to stories. It just isn’t done. Public officials don’t speak to the public that way. There’s no filter.
Yet Dresner wrote. And wrote some more.
He entered directly into conversations with regular Missourian commenters as well as critics and supporters of the use of Tasers by Columbia police. He explained some of the terms under debate — “excited delirium” was particularly contentious. Dresner and others offered citations, via links.
Dresner surprised himself. “I've gone on long enough,” he said in his first post on March 14, “and find myself in the rare position of commenting on a blog, in actuality, rather than just in my head.”
He would post another 10 times over nine days. Those responding were respectful even when they disagreed. (Two people saved their personal attacks for each other; you’ll see civility rise and fall in the series of posts.)
Dresner’s success, in my opinion, came from expertise as well as some humility. You could sense he was actually listening to people.
“I should state that this is merely one aspect of my personal quest to educate myself more about this device,” he wrote. “I hope no one reads into my comments that this is where I have landed, and that I am therefore immovable. I just want to learn more and never stop.
“It's so important, and yet I know that my words are watched more closely than most.”
I’m not expecting our other fine officials to pipe up in such a straightforward way. But wouldn’t it be refreshing?
They piled into Powell’s 2005 Chrysler Sebring and drove 1,500 miles to Boise, Idaho. They took a left turn; 1,000 miles later, Phoenix shone through the windshield. It’s another 1,500 miles to get back to Columbia again.
Along the way, they watched a little basketball.
Powell and Thompson are MU men’s basketball beat reporters. Roberts is a Missourian staff photographer. They filed stories and photos before, during and after each MU game. As the team advanced in the NCAA tournament, they advanced to the next story and the next town.
On Thursday, as MU prepared for its game against Memphis, Powell told me that along the road he had eaten at three Wendy’s, one Subway, a Quiznos and a Jack in the Box.
By the time they reach home, they will have spent 56 hours in the car.
I wanted to let you know about their dedication to follow the story wherever it went.