14 March 2009

A Retired Cop Speaks Out!

I'm a retired captain from the Baltimore Police Department who is now an independent security management consultant, and the proprietor of Roland Park Security Consulting service. I also help people who are relocating to Baltimore find a reasonably safe rental property where they will be comfortable. You can visit my website at www.buzoncrime.com.

David Simon and the not-naming of the police who kill

Buz is still reeling from reading the David Simon piece, which is the cover story in this week's City paper concerning the new police department policy of not naming police officers who fatally use force on anyone--except at the Commissioner's Discretion. He also writes a piece on March 1st on Washingtonpost.com. It was quite embarrasing to read that he, once one of the few reporters who supported the police is now ostracizing this "once proud" department and calling the policy "cowardly". We have a number of thoughts about this situation, sometimes some of them in conflict. So, we'd like to share some random, iconoclastic thoughts with readers, and maybe some feedback will come:
  • I touched somewhat on bewilderment as to how or why this policy evolved in a previous post. All evidence points to the arrival of Anthony Guglielmi as the police department spokesperson. The policy was announced soon after he arrived in that position. If in fact he is the genesis, he has done the Commissioner a disservice. He apparently is tone deaf in the struggle the department has had in getting and holding public support.
  • Of course, part of the reason could simply be that this is an idea which has gotten into the heads of the rank and file, and is reacted to as wonderful by the Fraternal Order of Police. It's an "idea whose time has come." Ideas are powerful, and they don't necessarily have to have any rational logic. The are in effect, "a solution walking around to find a problem".
  • The Commissioner probably felt he had to throw the FOP a bone, since they are still pissed off at him for revoking their ability to work off-duty in bars and nightclubs, thereby curtailing some $$$ for them and their opportunity to look at pretty women and get paid for it.
  • I remember that a year or two ago I read that Baltimore County, in an agreement with its FOP, started a policy of only giving the first name of officers who in the line of duty fatalize somebody. It was not announced until after the first fatality occurred and got little notice and no hue and outcry. It's interesting, your humble consultant thinks, tht the city police arre scrutinized and everything and every fault is published or TVed. But in the counties, hardly any foible is ever reported on (of course now hardly any reporters are left to report on anything anywhere-especially in the counties, and the paper is named the Baltimore Sun).
  • Buz noted that the FBI, New York City Police, and Philadelphia Police, along with several others also have not naming policies, and he wonders how that affects reporting on those agencies, if at all.
  • We note that 911 call-takers do not use their names, and only give numbers; this has been in effect for many years. (But 311 operators give a name, supposedly their real name(?).)
  • Buz notes that Ravens cheerleaders also only give their first name to prevent harassment from weirdos. (Of course, they are not armed + with arrest authority+3,000 colleagues as David Simon points out for police.) [Of course, also, the most famous Ravens cheerleader did give her name as a (?) fitness/publicity/personal achievement thing--Molly Shattuck.]
  • From a policy making point of view, the Commissioner just could have implemented it quietly til the first fatality occurred. And he could have simply left the officers' names off of the face sheet of the report and written a followup with all the information including officers' names. They used to do this for bank tellers' names to give them some breathing room from aggressive reporters initially.
  • A better public policy would be to simply withhold an officer's name on a case-by-case basis should evidence of a threat surface. It's not clear at all what this policy is supposed to in reality accomplish. Surely, the people who were on the scene of the incident and witnessed it know who the officer is (though some may not know his/her name). And, in any case, if the incident makes it to court, opposing counsel have the right to know all of the witnesses against their client--and the name of a defendant officer if they decide to sue.
  • It is observed by your writer that many police have, at the very least, an antipathy towards reporters who second-guess policing. This has gone on for many years, and many reporters are viewed by police as "the enemy". I suppose this is the final revenge of the cops against the press. And it's a shame; as Rodney King said, Can't we all just get along. As an avid newspaper reader for more than 50 years, I feel it's important for a citizen to get the news about crime regularly and in depth.
  • I think TV news are the big culprits here, though. When we worked in Police Communications many years ago, often a call would go out on the air for an assist or a shooting. Not less than a minute would pass when young TV reporters would burn up the phone lines asking what is going on. Um, we don't have any units on the scene yet. It's easy to imagine them calling an officer's wife for comment after hubby shoots someone. (Of course, it then would be the department's fault for giving his name out so soon.)
Whew. I could go on and on, about different aspects of this, but I am sure some past Public Information Officers of the department are not in agreement with this policy. Their role should be a cooperative, reasonably friendly, and understanding working relationship with the press. Mike Bass and Regina Averalla come to mind.



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