What We Do vs. What the Media Say We Do

The news media & social media too often seek to sell a narrative that's bad for police & the communities we serve

By Joseph Padilla   |   Dec 28, 2015
Photo Courtesy Georgetown (Texas) PD.

Recent media reporting on law enforcement has been fueling much of the anti-police frenzy sweeping the nation. Inaccurate information and over-dramatization of facts is creating an unhealthy environment for both police agencies and our communities.

A December 8, 2015 Washington Post headline read: “No charges for Chicago cop who shot black man.”  The article outlines how the officer shot and killed a black suspect armed with a gun and repeatedly focused on the fact the suspect was a minority. The article didn’t articulate how officers were placed in harm’s way by chasing an armed suspect or that the shooting was ruled justified by the Cook County state’s attorney. The article also referenced another Chicago police shooting in which a police officer was arrested for killing a black suspect. Focusing on the race of the suspects gives the readers the impression that Chicago police specifically shoot minorities, even though the officer himself was a minority.

Fatal Shootings & Media Response

My first fatal shooting in 1977 involved a black suspect holding two hostages. He pointed a gun at me when I shot and killed him. The August 19, 1977, Denver Post headlines read: “Store robbery suspect killed.” The article described the details of the crime and made no attempt to dramatize the facts or create dissent because of the suspect’s race. The hostages were unharmed and the shooting was also fully investigated and found to be justified. I realize this was over 30 years ago, but the absence of sensationalized reporting allowed the community to feel protection from the police. Likewise the police felt support from the community.

It seems as if public opinion is becoming increasingly negative about our nation’s law enforcement officers. Irresponsible media portrayal of police actions can lead American citizens to believe that we have a nation of rogue cops intent on victimizing citizens, especially those in the minority communities. Bottom line: If an officer commits a crime or engages in inappropriate behavior they should be held accountable and should not be in law enforcement. There’s no tolerance for those who disrespect the badge.

The video age is bringing the harsh realities of police work into our homes. I’ve seen videos involving police shootings and I have to admit that some of them do upset me. Some of these police shootings are entirely uncalled for and shouldn’t have risen to the level of force used. The officers using inappropriate force in these incidents will have internal and criminal charges to deal with. Many videos tragically show what cops face on the streets every day. A routine call or traffic stop can suddenly turn violent, forcing police officers to make split-second decisions in order to save lives.

Community Demographics

I’ve worked in both suburban and urban communities where cops deal with the demographic criminal element living within these areas. If an officer works in an area with a large ethnic minority, those are the people that cop will contact on a daily basis. What’s important to remember is that there are large numbers of minority victims living in these neighborhoods. They deserve the same protection and police assistance as those in more affluent communities, which was my goal when I worked the street. I don’t believe the police receive enough credit for the efforts they put into reducing crimes in many inner-city areas. Police agencies traditionally assign officers to those areas receiving more calls for service. So, a high crime area receives more police resources to combat crime and reduce victimization of the residents in those areas.

At the time of this writing, in this very week, here in Denver we had two courageous police officers shot and wounded. Fortunately both will survive. These officers were working in neighborhoods that have traditionally had a large minority community (Hispanic), although the demographics are changing. They were doing their jobs and put themselves at risk to protect the citizens of those areas. It didn’t matter what the ethnic make-up was. These officers represent the best in U.S. law enforcement. Their dedication to duty should not be forgotten. The public support for these officers has been exceptional.

Conclusion

I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate to do a news article every time a police officer does something for the community or for simply doing their job. Reporting on the actions of law enforcement should be fair, factual, and designed to inform the public on the details of the event and not to over-dramatize or instill paranoia to sell a story.