Sell The Story!

Having been in police work for more then 10 years and in security prior to that for more then 6 years, I think I've been around the block of few times.  I never had an opinion about media until I actually started my police profession.  And just when I thought I've seen it all, something new happens.

First, let me back up a bit so we're on the same page here.  When police officers first start police jobs (and I'm referring to higher crime areas where the police have to actually deal with real criminals, i.e. murderers, shootings, drugs, guns, etc.) on a daily business, they get introduced to media fairly quick.  It typically starts out with the officer at home with his family and watching the news.  He or she sees a story that they were on, and the news is talking about it.  However, the officer hears the story and its not "exactly" as the officer knows it to be.  The officer simply corrects the news by telling their family "Well, actually the guy swung on his girlfriend before all that happened."  But no big deal; could have been the news just didn't get all the information.

As the officer gets more years on the department, he/she starts finding themselves in more situations where the media hasn't represented the whole truth, and/or has worded the story in a way to create drama, making the police look bad.  Now the officer finds them self on the defensive, trying to "explain" to others.  And the process begins...

Then comes the big one.  The SINKER!  Its the one deal that takes a huge bite out of the officer.  It changes their attitude for life, and no matter what, it always remains in the back of the officer's mind when performing his job.  And what is the SINKER?  Its the one story that media has sold out the police and worded the story to sound as if the police has done something totally wrong.  It gets the public mad, it causes drama and is on the front page of every newspaper.  This is all day 1 of the incident, prior to any investigation that is conducted.

Take for example a police shooting that occurred in Flint, Michigan on 04-20-07.  According to public  reports, a woman refused to drop a knife and continued to advance toward officers.  She was eventually shot and killed by the police who repeatedly ordered her to drop it.  But how did the news explain that story?  "A Flint woman was dead Friday night after she was shot multiple times outside her home. The shooters were two Flint police officers."  Wow.  If I didn't know any better, and if I didn't listen to the whole story, I'd think two off-duty police officers got into a bad situation.  Why couldn't the line for the story say "A woman with a knife is shot by police after being ordered to drop it."  The reason is simple: If media doesn't cause drama and get people mad, they don't sell the story, they don't get paid, ratings go down, newspapers don't sell, etc.

Take another incident on this same shooting.  A Flint City Council Vice Chairperson "Carolyn Sims" stated in a public hearing 04-23-07 that the officers involved in this shooting were murderers and were acting like "Cho" who had committed the Virginia Tech shootings.  The public had reportedly cheered and clapped to her statements.  Mind you, this is while an on-going investigation was still going on, and Carolyn Sims was never present at this shooting, nor the scene.

So what is the impact and result?

It is virtually guaranteed that the officer will do everything in his or her power to not put themselves in situations like this again.  Why?  Because they don't want to be sued, they don't want the drama and they want to keep their jobs.  Some people may think this is great by taming the officers down, keeping them inline, etc.  But here lies the problem:  Those officers will no longer "run hot" to priority calls that they are truly needed, they will no longer get out of their vehicles and check suspected drug dealers, they will no longer take that extra effort in jumping a fence to catch the bad guy, they will hesitate if ever put into a situation where they have to use lethal force and might be killed or someone else will.  But instead the citizens will now have a police officer that is afraid to do his job, and is simply "responding" to calls.  This officer is now in preservation mode and only thinking about his own protection, when the public used to have someone that would have literally given his life in situations where we can guarantee he won't now.

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