The world of news media is fluid. How news is reported and shared is constantly changing, and the incidents in South Carolina and San Bernardino can be seen by millions within hours. Twitter and Facebook have created real-time news at a speed that was never thought possible. Reading the morning newspaper to rehash yesterday’s news is out, and following reporters on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit is in. Hashtags are statements. What one person tweets right now has the possibility to be retweeted a million times within a matter of minutes.
Camera phones capture police interactions every day. The majority of those interactions are never seen by the public, because nothing out of the ordinary happens. Officers do their jobs with care and integrity through difficult situations, proud to serve and protect.
Anyone who chooses the law enforcement field knows that the incidents that receive media coverage are the exception, not the rule. PORAC’s more than 67,000 members interact with members of their communities thousands of times each day. The great majority of those instances end without fanfare, and both officer and citizen are able to quickly and safely go about their business.
But as we have seen in recent days and months, when a bystander armed with a camera phone catches an officer using force, odds are that the footage will be shared with the local news, and if it proves to be provocative enough, national media will be quick to pick it up. The blogosphere will also go wild.
In this time of digital sharing culture, it is critical to remember our training and our commitment to our communities. There will be stories, some bad and some open to interpretation, but none of it changes our belief in service.
While Twitter hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #icantbreathe went viral within hours of the news of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths, becoming combative will only create tension within the community that will be very difficult to resolve responsibly.
Everyone who has lost a family member understands the anguish that runs parallel to the emptiness created in death. When that loss of life is caught on film and shared far and wide, it is obvious that that loss can only be harder to come to terms with. As we saw with the young officer gunned down in Arizona whose body-camera footage was released and viewed by millions of strangers, such public display of a person’s final moments can be devastating.
PORAC as an organization has been a leader in bridging the gap that exists between law enforcement and those we serve. There has never been a more important time to focus on that aim. The work that PORAC members do on a regular basis is critically important. It is unfortunate that a strain has been created, but you must continue to be understanding of the concerns of your neighbors, while striving to provide the best service possible.
Media outreach on behalf of PORAC’s membership continues to change with the times. PORAC leadership has been a key stakeholder in discussions among policymakers regarding law enforcement involvement in the community, interactions with those suffering from mental illness, the use of body-worn cameras and a plethora of other issues. While many of these topics stir up intense emotions among all parties, you should be proud of your leadership for being at the table for this important dialogue. Our team will continue to support the efforts of PORAC leadership and members at large as we regain ground that has been lost due to a very few incidents overshadowing the work done by California law enforcement officers.