Irwin retired in 2010. Peter Hermann, now a reporter at The Washington Post, marked the occasion with a piece about Irwin’s popular police blotter feature, “which treated the theft of a tomato plant with as much reverence and importance as bank heist.” Irwin “might have been one of the last full-time night police reporters in the industry,” Hermann wrote. In Irwin’s 44-year career, he worked for The (Baltimore) News American, The Evening Sun, and The Baltimore Sun. He also, Hermann wrote, “patrolled the streets of North Baltimore for a year as a city police officer.”
In 1995, he stood at a window overlooking Centre Street and watched Pope John Paul II depart on a helicopter after a daylong, hectic visit to the city. “In another 10 minutes, he’ll be the Anne Arundel bureau’s problem,” he said in perfect deadpan, a quip that earned him a spot on “The Wall,” reserved for the best quotes heard around the newsroom.
“Whatever Dick decided to do, he did it seriously,” Poynter’s Butch Ward, a former Irwin colleague, writes in an email. “He took accuracy seriously. He took fairness seriously. He took context seriously. He even took our office softball games seriously — he was the only player wearing metal spikes.” Ward continues:
I got to know Dick at The News American, a blue-collar paper that took police reporting very seriously. And Dick, whether he was writing a full-length story on Baltimore County government or a one-inch police blotter item, set out with the same goal — get it right. As a result, he achieved what every reporter aspires to: he was trusted. Editors trusted him, police trusted him, readers trusted him. He got it right.
Reached by email, former Sun reporter David Simon said of Irwin: “I never saw him raise his voice, except to the odd, occasional desk sergeant who thought it wasn’t the public’s business what happened in a Maryland jursidiction on any given night.”
He respected good police work and he honored it with his reporting, but at the same time, I never knew him to go native. He was a journalist, first and foremost, and when we worked a story together I knew that any information we shared was secure and that what he brought back to the newsroom would be solid. DIck was an altogether admirable man.”
Dick always took it as a personal affront when police would refuse to divulge what he rightfully insisted was public information – people have a right to know details about the crimes committed in their communities, the names of people arrested (heaven help us all when police in this nation can make secret arrests), even the names of cops who, rightfully or not, shoot people. And he loves reporting on cops who perform their jobs especially well, solving crimes or helping a community, and rarely would get public credit anywhere else.
“Occasionally, there’ll be a cop who doesn’t recognize the name of Dick Irwin,” Ettlin wrote. “It’s a cop who will never make detective.”