The winner of the 2017 Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting is an investigative team at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. The team won for their multimedia series, "A Cry for Help," published June 1, 2016.
Reporters Jennifer Bjorhus and Kelly Smith will accept the award on behalf of the team at The Denver Press Club's 23rd-annual Damon Runyon Award dinner, to be held Friday, March 31, at the Denver Athletic Club.
The team wove together three personal stories to paint a narrative of police shootings involving citizens in the midst of mental health crises. In-depth interviews with an officer, the survivor of a police shooting and the mother of a man who was shot by an officer give context and depth to an issue that is often reduced to statistics.
Supporting the three narratives, the reporters added an interactive database that includes everyone in Minnesota who died after a physical confrontation with law enforcement since January 2000.
This year’s judges, Denver attorney and former journalist Al Youngs and University of Colorado Boulder journalism professors Jeff Browne and Paul Voakes, applauded the team’s combined efforts in investigative reporting, gripping storytelling, data journalism and multimedia production.
"We had a number of entries this year dealing with one of the most difficult aspects of police work—citizen-police confrontations when the citizen is mentally ill," the judges wrote.
"'A Cry for Help' represents a skillful blend of heart-wrenching human-interest reporting and rigorous data reporting, and an equally skillful blend of multimedia presentation (with video and interactive graphics) and compelling narrative."
Also contributing to "A Cry for Help" were Star Tribune photographer and videographer Richard Tsong-Taatarii, data editor Mary Jo Webster and interactive data journalist Jeff Hargarten.
Judges selected two runners-up for this year’s award: Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders, whose story "Busted" was published on July 7, 2016, and Glenn Smith and Andrew Knapp, whose story "Watched" was published on September 13, 2016.
The "Nak" award is named after the late Al Nakkula, a legendary police reporter who worked for 46 years at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. The award is co-sponsored by The Denver Press Club and the CU Boulder College of Media, Communication and Information (CMCI).