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?”
“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.