Evidence 101

EVIDENCE 101...Wherever you go, there you are...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Snark Alert: Handling the Press

It is all about the press this week. Check out my new post on Uniform Stories here. Tell me what you think or rate, like, comment, or share. Pass me around like a Tuesday hooker. Every click helps. If you don't like it, comment that way as well. We are all about telling the truth.

As a companion piece...I came up with this. Now...a warning...this is just snark. I had great relationships with the press due to mutual respect. Some are even some dear friends. They might not, however, find my funny here. I find my funny most always, but not everyone is on the same page.

Gotta love George on a Great White Steed

How We Would Like To Handle The Media In Law Enforcement

Police officers do not hesitate to take on dangerous and dynamic situations. That is after all, what we are trained for once we don the uniform. We live, eat, and breathe those types of calls to action. We know how to act when faced with a deadly force situation and save life and property daily-all somewhat routine and regular. Although these types of summons are performed forthwith, we have our own kryptonite:  the television camera or microphone shoved in our face by the media.

In today’s realm, the mainstream media does not always paint a pretty picture for law enforcement. They often spin headlines to gain readers and shock the masses, but set aside most of the truth. The community papers and media might be less dramatic than national news, but are not without their conflicts with law enforcement.

My first rule of thumb as a rookie was to tell the press “I know nothing.” This was entirely true. Later on as a detective, rather than lie, I would tell them, “I cannot comment. Talk to the sergeant.” This was also true.  But geez, they keep coming back like bees on honey, those relentless bastards.

Both of those replies offend most reporters and you end up looking like an asshole. We still have to deal with them and no one wants bad press. Most of us may view journalists as “the plague” whose hearts bleed for the bad guys. Additionally, they are often seen as arrogant, strong minded individuals who proclaim to be experts in the law and the order. Those combinations sit about as well as an unglazed donut. I was lucky I had good journalists in my area. There were some loose cannons, but most of them were stand up people. 

Besides trying to get all the scoop by giving you Home Alone questions, reporters physically escape their containments because hearing a second hand story isn’t good enough. Maybe they squeak past your barrier tape or do a work around to get information. They are like pesky kids and their curiosity is worse than most feral cats.

If we told it like it is on some of our gruesome scenes, they would shudder and fold into mush. Pictures of a decapitation? I don’t know if they could handle it. Maybe it would be too un-freaking-believable for them to comprehend.

Perhaps what we need to do since the filter has been taken off of television, is take ours off as well.  What if we added a little of our own spin?

“What happened here, Officer?”

“A crash.”

“Yes, I see that. Could you tell me more?”

“Well, that red car there went that way and the black car here went this way. They collided. Most of the passengers are going to live, I believe.”

“But it’s just a fender bender.”

“Yes, ma’am, but people could have died. They were lucky.”

There were so many times I really wanted to be more of a smart ass. But we all know the press can be cop career makers or breakers and what comes out of our mouths we own. Somehow we must foster a working association or at least fake it. But there are some tricks to the trade in order to get to that point. So how do we really handle the media as police officers? There are many ways to show them the way, but here are 11 of them. Why 11? Because 10 is just too ordinary.

1.    Don’t let them near your scene. Whisper warnings to them in a dry Gunny Highway voice as you walk by. This pitch and tone is too low to be recorded or overheard. No one would believe it anyway.

2.       Put them in the back seat of your cruiser for their career making interview with a serial killer. Check in on them from time to time. Make sure you take their pencils away prior to placing them in your car.

3.       Rope off a nice 5’ x 5’ square press box about 4 blocks away from the scene of your homicide. They can all be happy in there together. If you want to keep them out of the wind, place your confinement next to a cement wall or building. Have a community service officer stand by to maintain the parameter, but make sure they receive no updates to disperse.

4.       Make them the chief’s problem at any hour of any day. If one is relentless with questions, wake up the chief to connect them via their cell phone. Put the chief’s number in their phone book for future reference. Once connected, leave.

5.       Have that dancing cop entertain them while you unsuspectingly wheel the body past them.

6.       Duct tape the mouthy persistent ones and see if they can do that break and release trick.

7.       Assign the most friendly, but slow talking cop as your PIO (Public Information Officer).

8.       Bridge the gaps between the press and cops by putting them in a ride along program. Be sure to have them assigned to an officer who never arrives. Have dispatch call them off of every call just as they are about to land on scene.

9.       Send them a really spammy press release written in emoji mingled in with a few vague facts.

10.           Have them set their camera down and help you remove a liquefied body.

11.    Hug them long and hard. This is surely awkward and will deter further approaches.

In all seriousness, cops and journalists have to find a way to work together for mutual benefit. It is a give and take relationship which may endure some trust issues. Bad press is all but destroying the good we do.  I had a wise supervisor say to me as a detective, “Give them dogs some bones, but just the small ones. And be nice. Maybe they will come through for us someday.” This is all good and well, however, you have to be careful about the content and details you release. Don’t give them the custard filled donuts, just pass out the regular glazed. Make sure they are a little stale.

Journalists are valuable for alerting the public about dangerous suspects or missing persons. When you have an amicable working relationship, they can be advantageous to a police organization. In this day and age, good press can present departments to the public in a favorable light to help boost community partnerships.  It doesn’t mean you give up all the goods, but you give them enough to have a story without jeopardizing your investigation. Too often, they may still push and try to color outside the lines. It is the nature of their job. We can find a way to play in the sandbox together, but we still have to growl at them once in a while.


Cheryl said...

Despite the seriousness of the subject that was a fun read. I love your 11 tips. Hilarious...you really have a great sense of humor.

Back to the more serious side to this...I am even more disgruntled at the "tabloid" bend to our current media than I am at the "are you kidding me?" bend of American politics. AND that is saying a lot as to the level of my discontent.

It really appears that the press is going out of their way to vilify law enforcement while depicting law breakers as some sort of poor misunderstood, "never-had-a-chance" victim that we should somehow try to understand. I am so over giving excuses to people that misbehave. If I hear about someone's horrible childhood or their poor choice to be high on drugs as being the reason they shot up a room of people, I will implode.

Momma Fargo said...

Love your thoughts, Cheryl! I don't get it either and why are the criminals always misunderstood and the cops always in the wrong when just performing their duties. One bad incident does not make all alike. And how about that Ferguson? That was a false narrative that changed the country and law enforcement.

Bob G. said...

Momma Fargo:
I agree w/ you on the media...they run with the [phrase "If it NLEEDS, it LEADS".
To hell with doing some REAL journalism and finding the TURTH. That never makes good bedfellows with the L/E crowd.
Never had...never will.
In Ft. Wayne, the worst thing is NOT the reporters getting under that yellow tape - it's the LOOKIE-LOOS and "family members". Hard to get a real perimeter set up.
LOL - love your "points" as to dealing w/ the press (or anyone else)...brilliant.

Very good post.

Have a nice weekend & roll safe down there, dear.

Mad Jack said...

Police officers do not hesitate to take on dangerous and dynamic situations.
They don't, huh? Like hell they don't. Last time I had the cops back at my house (some years ago over a violent, drunken acquaintance), I pointed to the rear of the house and informed the officers that she'd taken off in that direction. None of the buffed up muscle heads would go back there, because as one put it, "It's dark back there!" There were three of them, all had the big cop style flashlights, all three were in buffed up physical shape, all three were armed, and none of them were brave enough to face the dark.

They [the news media] often spin headlines to gain readers and shock the masses, but set aside most of the truth.
So new? The commercial news media isn't in the game to impartially, accurately, and factually report the news. Their number one priority is to sell the story, no matter what it takes. If that means ruining a few careers or a few lives, that's a perfectly acceptable price for someone else to pay.

We still have to deal with them and no one wants bad press. Most of us may view journalists as “the plague” whose hearts bleed for the bad guys.
Which attitude I'm sure is a major asset in dealing with the commercial news media. Since the cops have rightfully concluded that giving 'the plague' a hickory shampoo won't help the situation, how about training them to deal with the media effectively? By that, I don't mean some B.S. two hour training session. I'm talking about serious training here, including acting lessons.
I think that it's very likely that what irritates police officers the most is that in any newsworthy situation where the cops are supposed to establish and maintain absolute control over everyone who is NOT a cop, they come nose to nose with a group that they have to walk softly around, and who, to a great degree, they cannot control.

Additionally, they are often seen as arrogant, strong minded individuals who proclaim to be experts in the law and the order.
When I first read this statement I thought you were talking about the way the police were perceived by the rest of us. I think the trigger word was 'arrogant'.

Mad Jack said...

I love this part.

“What happened here, Officer?”
“A crash.”
“Yes, I see that. Could you tell me more?”
et cetera. I'd rewrite this to something a little more realistic.

“What happened here, Officer?”

"Now if you were to guess, just by casually observing the scene, then utilizing your brilliant, deductive intellect and simultaneously leaping to conclusions, what would you think happened here?"

"A crash."

"Now you're getting it! I just knew you could do it."

“Could you tell me more?”

"Well, unlike most accidents involving an SUV and a Prius or other, Eco-friendly sub-compact automobile, combined with a failure to yield the right-of-way, this one did not involve fatalities. Although from the look of him, the passenger will probably wish he'd been killed instantly, and the driver of the Prius is going to have to learn to walk again. Her dancing days are over with - did you see her bumper sticker?"

"Ah... huh?"

"The sticker on the bumper of her car, next to the Obama for President sticker. It suggests that she's a proud member of the American Ballet, and judging by her figure she probably is. Or was, in this case."

"What about the guy? How is he?"

"He's had his skull cracked open, but he's still alive. I'd guess his I.Q. has been reduced to something along the lines of the average house plant. Maybe less, maybe more. Not much more, though. They'll patch him up and eventually he'll be warehoused. Intravenous feeding, diaper changed three times a day, that kind of thing. They run a TV for them from 7:00 in the morning until somebody shuts it off at night, just in case they're aware of what's going on around them. They aren't. At least I hope they aren't aware. That would be real hell, wouldn't it? Can't move, can't talk, and only the TV for entertainment for the rest of your life."

"My God."

"Yeah, mine too. The thing you'll want to remember here is that the driver of the SUV isn't at fault. The Prius turned in front of him, and he slammed into her. T-boned, as we say. He was probably doing 35 or 40. The speed limit here is 45."

"Is he dead?"

"Nope. That's him standing over there, talking to my partner. He was probably screwing around with his cell phone when he hit her, not that it really matters much. We've got witnesses that put her running the light."

Long silence as the news media tries to digest what she's seeing.

"The Prius weighs about three thousand pounds. That SUV weighs twice that, or about six thousand. One slams into the other, and it's all over for the little guy. You want another interview, talk to driver of the SUV. Ask him how he's feeling right now."

"Thank you, officer."

Or something. The phrase, "This is only a drill, and those are actors." also comes to mind, along with a few other variants. Something like, "Yeah, he's DRT, but that's okay. We were going to bust him for pedophilia anyway."

I think rule number twelve should involve vilifying a rival news source. Something on the order of giving the real story, unlike Channel Twelve, who is getting it wrong again.

Momma Fargo said...

Hey, Bob,

Thanks for your thoughts. Lookie lous...are a problem sometimes...er...a lot. I know curiosity kills the cat, but it is not always safe or moral to be a lookie lou. Just my humble opinion anyway.

Momma Fargo said...

Mad Jack,

As for your first comment thread...I guess I don't really know how to respond to that. I will rely on "no comment".

Now on the second string...I will take your suggestions under advisement.