Media strategies following use-of-force incidents
Officer James Peters of Scottsdale (Ariz.) PD just had his sixth OIS — some reporters have decided there's something wrong with that on its face
Police officers should avoid press accounts of their justifiable use-of-force incidents, even if their public information officers are getting the facts to the news media in as quickly as possible. Investigators need to thoroughly investigate officer-involved shootings while police administrators need to shun the policy of appeasement and settlement in use-of-force cases. Why? Try to imagine the following newspaper article being written in 1945:
“A Record Far and Away...”
Times have changed. Officer James Peters of the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Police Department recently experienced his sixth officer-involved shooting and some members of the Phoenix area press have decided there is something wrong with that on its face.
Past Shootings Defensible
In the most recent incident an armed robbery suspect fled, jumped into a car, and drove it directly at Peters and another officer, who for obvious reasons feared for their lives. Both officers fired their weapons.
This incident is under investigation and no determinations have been released. Yet some members of the local media are couching their reports as doubts cast about Peters’ prior life-or-death encounters, based merely on the fact that this was his sixth officer-involved shooting.
It will be incredibly troubling just to hear the words such as “allege” and “claim” when a reporter says, “Police allege that the suspect was armed with a sawed-off shotgun and claim that he fired it at officers.”
A wounded officer will rub the pellet wounds in their leg and proclaim out loud to themselves, “Claimed? What are they talking about claimed?”
Police officers involved in shootings should neither listen to radio talk shows discussing the incident, nor read blogs and reader discussion forums about the incident. There will be many supporters of police actions, but the personal attacks — by callers and bloggers who ALWAYS criticize the police — will be brutal, ignorant, and insensitive. Sadly, the officer involved will be fixated on the negative, even while knowing those critics are drowning out the supportive voices that do exist out there.
Police officers need to not only physically survive these incidents, but they also must emotionally survive. These commentaries can be as dangerous to the future well-being of these officers as the suspect’s bullets, and sometimes even more damaging.
The attorney involved in this settlement will come after you again and again and again, recognizing that your jurisdiction is an easy pay day. In the long run, a policy of appeasement and settlement in use-of-force cases will cost more — not less — in litigation.
Proactive Media Liaison
Agencies can offer media courses on use of force, explaining things like “Intervention options,” and “Continuums.” You can even let them run through firearms training experiences like Prism and FATS so they can see how officers have to make decisions in an instant or they do not go home. Agencies that practice this proactive approach in advance have found the reporting to be more empathetic later.
The Public We Serve
On the other hand, there are also Americans who are defenseless bank tellers, estranged wives, children, convenience store clerks, and at times fellow officers They are sometimes in grave danger, who call out for assistance. They hope someone like Officer Peters answers their desperate pleas and are able to instantly make a difficult decision. Their lives depend on it.
A police officer’s family also waits for them at home as they cautiously manipulate their way through each call and each shift. For their sake officers can’t allow hyper-critical journalism and concerns about the possibility of unjust litigation cloud their minds when clarity is needed to decisively save their own lives.
To Every Street Officer ...Especially Officer Peters
“Thanks to God, my training, and my own decisive action I have made it to Monday morning.”
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