Outreach over airwaves: Mountain View Police Department launches podcast

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mountain View Police Department Capt. Saul Jaeger and police spokeswoman Katie Nelson share a laugh while recording an episode of “The Body In the Dumpster,” their podcast.

The Town Crier recently sat down with Capt. Saul Jaeger and spokeswoman Katie Nelson of the Mountain View Police Department to discuss “Major Crimes,” an offshoot of the agency’s podcast series, “The Silicon Valley Beat.”

Over six episodes released weekly, “The Body in the Dumpster” – the project’s first season – tells the story of Saba Girmai, a 21-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia whose body was discovered in a local dumpster just days before Stanford Stadium hosted the 1985 Super Bowl. Her murder remained unsolved until decades later.

Q: Where did the idea of launching a podcast come from?

Jaeger: We started it many years ago in kind of going with the same effort of trying to reach out to the community and do different things and try out different ways of being transparent and connecting with our community. So the podcast was just one kind of piece of that many years ago.

Nelson: He says “many.” It was, like, four.

Jaeger: It seems like so much longer than four.

Nelson: It’s been a long four years, my friend.

Q: Which well-known podcasts served as inspiration for this project?

Nelson: “Serial,” by far, I think is the most influential podcast for anybody who wants – at least right now – to pursue talking about cold cases.

Jaeger: I’d say, for me, there really wasn’t one because I’m listening to “Serial” for content and pacing but “The Daily” and a whole bunch of other ones that have zero to do with police work that are just things that I listen to that are just interesting, for entertainment value and color.

Q: Tell me about the case profiled in “The Body in the Dumpster.”

Nelson: Saba and her family are originally from Ethiopia. They were part of the mass migration of Ethiopians during the famine and at the height of apartheid in Ethiopia that came over here. They settled in New York state, and on a trip to California with her sister, Saba decided to stay in the summer of 1984. She had been here, I think, less than seven months when she was killed. (The detectives) had nothing. This case, the way it was solved, was absolutely miraculous.

Q: Is there any special funding the department requires to produce this project?

Nelson: Coffee. You laugh, though people have asked us repeatedly, “How are we paying for this?” We’re not.

Jaeger: Probably 85% to 95% of this was done on our own time, after hours, at home, on the weekends. Because one, it’s really important for us to tell the story and tell it well and have a really strongly produced product that’s professional and that celebrates the lives of the victims and tells the story fairly. That’s really important. So it’s not like it’s a just-slapped-together kind of thing. But we do not have funders. There are no sponsors. We’re doing this ourselves.

Q: What has the audience feedback been like?

Nelson: We’ve only done promotional material to let people know this is coming, and it was like almost instantaneously we had people asking us, “What about this cold case? What about this incident that happened back in –.” We had somebody ask us about a case from back in the 1970s.

Q: Do you know of other police departments undertaking similar methods of outreach?

Nelson: I know other agencies have podcasts, like, just talking about police work, mental health, things like that. I don’t know how many are willing to be as gutsy as we are and give (serial narratives) a shot.

Jaeger: We do try to push the limits a little bit.

Q: Do you know what your next serial will be about?

Jaeger: Not yet. We have a couple of ideas.

Nelson: The goal is that if this is received well and the world doesn’t end and people like what they hear, we’d like to do two a year.

To listen to the podcast – or simply read the transcript – visit shows.acast.com/the-silicon-valley-beat/episodes/the-body-in-the-dumpster.

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