Some years ago, it was a journalistic cliché to liken America's most dangerous urban zones to the war-ravaged capital of Lebanon, as in "Welcome to East Such-and-So, known to local police as Beirut." Fair comparison? We can, in a few months, ask Peter Hermann. After almost seven years as The Sun's lead police writer, Hermann is relocating to Israel to run the paper's Jerusalem Bureau, replacing Mark Matthews. Hermann's new beat includes Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and, yes, Lebanon.
On May 10, his last day on the police beat, Hermann was feted by colleagues as one of The Sun's most prolific writers. By his own count--based on a straight search of the paper's digital archives--Hermann has had 1,868 bylines in 2,512 days (including weekends) at the paper, an average of .74 stories a day. In a conversation May 13, the now-erstwhile cops reporter expressed chagrin that these unvarnished statistics, which were read aloud at the good-bye party by colleague Marego Athans, had been leaked to City Paper. He hastened to note that the computer search double-counted some stories (as when reports appeared in both metro and zoned editions) and missed unsigned dispatches. To put the numbers in further context, Hermann volunteered another statistic: In the 2,512 days that he served on the crime beat, 2,125 homicides were committed in Baltimore. "It's not a quiet beat," he said. "We're never struggling to find stories."
Hermann applied for his new, distinctly unquiet post after beginning to feel at risk of "getting stuck" in a position that had become comfortable, if not exactly easy. Noting that his reportage has been slammed by City Paper as too friendly to Fayette Street brass (he was named Best Unofficial Flack in CP's 1998 Best of Baltimore issue), Hermann declined to offer any valedictory remarks about law enforcement in Baltimore, but said, "I think the City Paper would be ecstatic that I'm leaving the beat." His voice-mail message at The Sun refers police-related calls to reporter Del Quentin Wilber.
Between now and July, when Hermann will move to Israel, he is taking crash courses in Hebrew and Mideast politics. As to the inevitable smirking question about moving from one war zone to another, he noted that several colleagues have assured him that he'll be much safer in Jerusalem than on the streets of Baltimore. (In raw per-capita terms, that might be the case, but it would seem that an American journalist in the Middle East is a likelier target for murder than a Baltimore police reporter.) The real challenge, he said, is being the new kid on a beat with thousands of years worth of background.