Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Police and the media shouldn’t be Us vs.Them

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm with 15 Comments »
June 7, 2011 6:45 pm

Friday’s Trib (6-3) contained a letter to the editor in defense of Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell. I knew the author, Mike Hanagan, as an articulate and outspoken officer and co-worker in the ’90s, before he earned his law degree and moved into a new career. At the risk of re-stirring the pot, his remarks about the controversial events surrounding Zina Linnik’s homicide raise a corollary topic worthy of discussion.

To paraphrase, Mike states that the information withheld from the public–the delay in initiating an Amber Alert already mentioned ad nauseum–was never for public consumption. He argues that internal police issues are best handled outside the public forum, a rationale consistent with Chief Ramsdell’s actions following the July 2007 incident.

Maybe he’s right, but this is not about handling internal issues. Rather, it is about a department’s choice of the substance and amount of truth it willingly discloses to the public.

To play devil’s advocate, let’s consider the viewpoint of the many vocal individuals who recently clamored for the chief to be disciplined following this mess. Their collective claim was that the public has a right to know how well its police department is handling such troubling and sensational crimes. Fail in that, they claimed, and you have breached the public trust.

But there’s a reason why police departments don’t put all of their paperwork on the front porch every morning like a newspaper. It is because the police and the press are usually not on the same page.

On one side there is a police agency whose job is to conduct sensitive investigations involving cases easily tainted by overt attention and prying eyes. In one extreme example, the King County Sheriff’s Department felt they had an excellent opportunity to catch the Green River Killer early on in the investigation. At a remote site where the killer had recently dumped several of his victims’ bodies, the department conducted an expensive and involved stakeout. Cops hiding in the brush proved too good a visual for a local news crew to pass up, so they sent their helicopter to film live for a watching public. The blown stakeout became fodder for angry cops who loudly speculated that the media’s irresponsible action cost the lives of subsequent victims.

But sometimes the cops don’t get it right, and that’s when the dogged work of the fifth estate is so important. Police agencies can be inconsistent in sharing information, such as police reports and comments on internal controversy. However, there are is local example of how the lack of oversight can be costly: former Chief David Brame. His heinous crime shocked the media as well as the community. It’s no wonder that the lack of a light being shone on that police administration has put a high beam on the current one.

It’s going to be tough to change the attitude. When I was a young cop on the beat a reporter stuck his microphone in my face and asked my opinion about some police controversy du jour. I made the mistake of attempting a sincere answer but instead got to watch the 2D version of myself eat a foot sandwich. I have since realized my error, both in opening my mouth and in short-changing journalists.

In the final analysis, both police officers and journalists have an important job to do, and it would be easier and more effective if their begrudging relationship was based on more cooperation and trust.

And trust is a two way street.

 

Leave a comment Comments → 15
  1. LibertyBell says:

    Its a two way street, all right, and the Fundamental Reason for the 1st Amendment, including some of Americas most corrupt police agencies in the Nation.
    http://www.discovery.org/a/3880

    How many years did the Pierce County Model of corrupt policing spend in a Federal Penal institution?

    It’s always a bit difficult, fact’s from a Pierce County Jury, meet Sheriff George Janovich, and they still can’t figure out how Brame got a job in the local perfect democracy, shown best with that Klan of Imbeciles, top to bottom, in the land of Queen Christine, shown best defending the state criminals as Attorney General.

    A little republican law always confuses a democrat, working for your local police and press.

    “Our citizens may be decieved for awhile, & have been decieved; but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light.”
    Thomas Jefferson(R), 1799

    Walk softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.”
    Teddy Roosevelt(R), N.Y. City police commissioner, noted for sneaking around in the dark, investigating the corrupt model matching our local classics.

    Dark and Light, two confusing words and the 1st, where “make no law” is the Queens Dream, and her confused constitutional “DUTIES…and to see that the laws are faithfully executed.”
    Queens Translation, “Defend the Criminal State Employee” at all costs, no matter how many Jury Awards for the most confused Democrats ever seen since Franklin Pierce was in office.

  2. LibertyBell says:

    THE THIN BLUE LINE, IT’S THE WIDEST LINE, EVER BEFORE SEEN.

    Take for instance, “accessory to murder” shown best in Clemmons and Associates, being charged with the same old accessory that our Governor defends, as long as the murder accessory works for the state, murder is perfectly legal, vote Queen Christine(SD) and the Klansmen on parade…

    http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-court-of-appeals/1419319.html

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    LB-

    I honestly don’t know whether you’re going for high-brow insults or something else, because you’ve got me confused. I would suggest you try to be more coherent.

    Also, consider whether you really want to back up anyone involved in the killings of four people who were fathers, sons, daughters, mothers and, incidentally, police officers. Keep your hate to yourself or find somewhere else to vent it. Don’t bother sending any more references or links to the KKK.

  4. BlaineCGarver says:

    You’re spot on, Brian..But….(you knew there was going to be a but in there) It’s easier to leave a dept on their own when you trust them. It’s gone from Protect and Serve to Cover your Ass and Serve a plate of Cover-Up. Sorry.

  5. fuqutribune says:

    The police and the media need to be Us versus Them as the police have proven over and over to need oversight for thier continued misdeeds. The police wield too much power and don’t answer nearly for their actions as they should. Be poor or young before you chime in on how great these people are, because they aren’t.

  6. olympicmtn says:

    Brame 2003:

    City of Tacoma – Accountability ZERO
    Tacoma Police Department. – Accountability ZERO
    News Tribune – Accountability ZERO

    2011:
    City of Tacoma – Accountability ZERO
    Tacoma Police Department – Accountability ZERO
    News Tribune – Accountability Null

    If the Tribune wants to gain respect I suggest it work on investigative journalism and stop hiding behind the cloak of darkness while protecting its friends, non-profit centers, local non-profit MLK church/housng affiliations, “so called” non-profits in the name of the poor, minority…and its American League brothers.

  7. Brian-you could certainly grow into this role, appreciate your 180 degree turn on your opinion of this matter, and others. You could become a positive link between law enforcement and the public, with your current understanding of the need to establish trust between the public and law enforcement; and that it is in fact a 2 way street.

    Once the unions and the guilds have their stranglehold taken off, and chiefs and administrators are able to fire corrupt police officers, the overall trust factor will slowly be rebuilt. And I think a lot of good cops are getting disgusted with their own Guild’s protection of corrupt officers….

  8. Dear Brian,

    There has been much written on the Brady decision. Below is alink to such an article.

    Police Officers who lie and the Brady Decision.

    http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=118&issue_id=102003

    “Both honesty and the reputation for honesty in law enforcement are absolutely essential. Those who are not able to meet these expectations simply are not able to fulfill the essential job requirements of a peace officer.”

    How much more so when the one who was untruthful is the Chief of Police.

    The fact is Chief Ramsdell was untruthful to the public. The public can understand that Mark Fulgham made a mistake and fell asleep which caused the delayed Amber Alert, the public cannot understand or tolerate the Chief lying about it. It’s a clear example of the “code of silence” at TPD.

    “The officers [including the Chief] should be disciplined for their deceptive misconduct as well as the underlying conduct. If management [Eric Anderson, the Mayor and City Council] did anything else they would be engaging in intentional deceptive misconduct on a greater level than the officer [Fulgham]. In the above examples, the officers’ statements were spontaneous, where management’s actions to discipline for only the underlying misconduct were thoughtfully chosen to hide the officer’s deceit.”

    There’s your coverup. And, the reason for termination of employment.

  9. Dear Brian,

    Their collective claim was that the public has a right to know how well its police department is handling such troubling and sensational crimes. Fail in that, they claimed, and you have breached the public trust.

    This has never been a collective claim of the public.

    The collective claim is: The Chief was untruthful and Fulgham was untruthful to the public when asked by a reporter, why the Amber Alert was delayed for so long?

    There’s your breach of trust.

  10. LibertyBell says:

    Yea Brian,

    American News always has confused “any person” in Pierce County.

    Just like Chief Brames 42 USC 1983, for officers of some so called local invention; law like 18 USC 241 and 242, confusin em in Tacoma, confusin em in Olympia too!

    Didn’t Justice Douglas explain the Ku Klux Act of 1871, Brian, or did you miss Monroe v. Pape, after attendance to a local version of a so called police academy, the hollywoood version shown best at a donut shopp in Pierce County.

    Life Liberty and Property, and the Act to enforce it, for the local confused policeman, who specializes in donut shopp investigations?

    Isn’t it great Brian with those Federal Officers, in Seattle snooping around the donut shopp?

    Next Stop, the Pierce County Records Hall, or was it the Prosecuting Attorney’s Klansmen on Parade that confusing the Press

  11. LibertyBell says:

    Us v. Them, where policing yourself, confuses Brian too!

    It’s a two way street all right, straight from the press!

    http://www.kgw.com/news/Yakima-deputy-expected-to-plead-guilty-to-rape-117827939.html

    “The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property, & in their management.”
    Thomas Jefferson

  12. Pecksbadboy says:

    Sorry Brian, are you actually saying it is OK to lie?

    This is not the Green River murder case, this is un-truths and cover up at the highest ranks of the police and city management.

    The case is at trial and there is no need for you to defend the law enforcement actions, only to condem them for thier deciet to the public.

  13. Brian,

    Why wasn’t the delayed Amber alert mentioned in the post-incident report?

  14. Brian O'Neill says:

    Yid- I do not work at Tacoma PD and so am not privy to the post-incident report. Much of the info on police reports is blacked out anyway, so the press usually gets a very watered down version. It was all likely written in the report on that date, but redacted for the media. Again, that’s just my opinion based on common practice.

    Peck- Truthfulness is at the core of my profession. The column you are currently commenting on has no bearing on the Chief’s truthfulness, rather it is about the distrust between my profession and the media. My opinion is that we often have common goals and could probably work together better than we do at present. If you want my opinion on the actual controversy you’ll have to go to past blogs. I’m done with it.

  15. Thanks, Brian.

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