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Posted 3/28/17 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Sometimes, you have to rethink old habits. I learned that lesson this past weekend.
For those of you who may not know me, in addition to photographing all kinds of news and sporting events, for the past 30-plus years that I’ve been the editor of the McKenzie County Farmer, I grab my camera and head out looking for cute feature photographs to run in the newspaper. And those cute photos usually center around area youngsters enjoying some type of outdoor activity.
I love children. And I love taking photos of children doing their thing. It may be at the pool, a park, fishing, walking, playing games, or whatever they are doing. Children are without a doubt photogenic. And what parent doesn’t love the surprise of opening an issue of the newspaper and seeing a photograph of their child.
So this past Saturday before my wife and I headed out to the Watford City Figure Skating Club’s Ice Show, I grabbed my camera and headed out to find some photos. The journey took me to the city’s Children’s Park where I snapped a couple of photos, talked to some parents and headed back home.
It was pretty much the same old routine that I have done for the last 30-plus years. Or so I thought until two Watford City police officers showed up at my front door and wondered if I had been taking photos at the Watford City Children’s Park.
Apparently, one of the parents at the park saw me hanging out there with a camera and became alarmed and called in to 911.
Needless to say, having two police officers show up at my door was embarrassing. But it definitely got me thinking. And it made me realize just how much Watford City has changed over the past few years.
At one time, not that many years ago, I would have probably known everyone I saw while I was scurrying about town. And likewise, if people didn’t know me personally, they at least knew that I was with the newspaper.
But as all of us old-timers know, Watford City isn’t the same as it once was. We’ve grown from a community of 1,450 people to a town of around 7,500. And we no longer know each other like we did.
The parent, who made the 911 call, may have overreacted. But if they felt uncomfortable seeing someone with a camera hanging out in the playground, then they responded correctly. Parents need to be vigilant as to what is happening around them and their children. If that means calling the police when they sense something doesn’t feel right, they are acting in the best interest of their children.
And I don’t think that the police who respond to calls such as this would feel any differently. Yes, the police may have known who I was when they responded to the call. But they have a duty to respond and to ask questions.
Was I embarrassed that the police came knocking at my door? Yes.
But, it got me thinking. How would I, as a parent of a young child, react to seeing someone wandering around with a camera taking photos of children? Would I assume that there is nothing to worry about? Or would I be concerned?
While I have no intention of discontinuing my weekend forays around the community trying to capture photos of our community’s youngsters at play, I will definitely be making people more aware of who I am and what my intentions are.
A valuable lesson was learned.