It is just a fact of the industry in national and mainstream media that only the most dynamic stories get any air time or make it to print. Unfortunately law enforcement has seen its share of press lately and most of it has not been favorable.
Unlike large corporations law enforcement does not do damage control very well. We see everyday the spins that companies will do to offset some bad press. We don’t do that in law enforcement because we don’t spin the truth. We are a profession based on ethics , honor and truth. Spinning is not in our nature nor should it be.
But we should be telling our story instead of letting the mainstream media do so. We can tell the truth and thus offset much of the bad press just telling the world what we already do day in and day out.
As an example, recently two particular stories caught my attention as I am very familiar with both agencies. One agency had the officers hand out on patrol bottles of cold water to those they thought would need it during the high temperature days recently. The other agency had a video of an officer rescuing a fawn trapped in a fence. Both of those stories were on Facebook and the local papers. Neither would rise to the attention of the major news organizations but to me are major news nonetheless. They are major not because of the individual deeds but because they are both examples of what law enforcement does everyday and has always done.
The lesson to be learned is that if we don’t tell our story no one else will. We as a profession need to embrace the technology of the day such as Facebook and Twitter. It’s how much of the world communicates today and seemingly is making the mainstream media obsolete. We can use it to our advantage while maintaining our ethical standards and high moral values by just telling the truth about the good work we do day in and day out and have been doing for a long time.
Several years ago I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Lagos, Nigeria to work with the Governor’s staff and evaluate their police academy training system. During that visit, I was fortunate to have a formal meeting and take part in a press conference with the Governor of Lagos. The Governor commented to me privately and made the public statement that he desired to raise the standards for the police as he wanted well paid, educated and “pensionable” employees as his police officers. He saw this as a path to eliminating the corruption that was in the police agencies by hiring and retaining better officers. I found it interesting that he saw that as the path, which I whole heartedly agree with, and unfortunately in the United States, we have cut pay and benefits and are now experiencing recruitment and retention problems.
I had one other interesting encounter that is very relevant in today’s environment of the hatred of police as portrayed in the media. On the 11 hour flight home, I sat next to a very pleasant Nigerian man who owned a cement business in Lagos. I shared with him what my work was in Lagos after which he responded that he was very glad that I was helping the Governor as the Lagos police were seen as very corrupt. After a moment’s pause, he shared with me the thought that although the Nigerian police needed help in eliminating the corruption, he did like a certain level of lawlessness. He continued that he had grown up partially in the United States and spent time in Washington, DC. He stated that he was always concerned in the States about having issues like expired license tabs or driver’s license and that in Lagos that was not a worry. My response to him was that I can see how a certain level of lawlessness would be attractive, but I asked him at what level of lawlessness would he accept. I continued that we as humans seem to always take it one step farther and using the example of speed limits, that no matter what speed is set, we as humans will go past it. Thus if we agree to a certain level of lawlessness, someone will take it to the next level. I pointed out to him that he was a fairly young, strong person who could take care of himself and his family, but that one day he would be of an age or possibly ill of health that he would not be as capable. Then who would protect him and those he cared about? He agreed citing that he had not thought about it in that manner.
Regardless of the number of people who want less police, which I believe are very few, that reality is not feasible and I believe even those that want it know that. Once the media lets go and this is not in our face everyday, we as the police and the community will work out the issues. Let’s be patient and continue to serve out communities to the highest manner possible.