*|MC_PREVIEW_TEXT|*Perils of raw video | Leadership playbook | Community engagement
December 29, 2020 | View as webpage

Pandemic. Coronavirus. Quarantine. Asymptomatic. Remote work. Social distancing. Self-isolation. Herd immunity. Vaccine. Civil unrest. Defund. Reform.

These are just some of the words and phrases that entered our daily lexicon during a year that delivered unprecedented (yes, add that to the word list) challenges for law enforcement leaders.

With just three days left in 2020, I invite you to join Police1 on a journey back over the past 12 months to collate lessons learned and identify how to apply them in 2021. Our Year-in-Review is a guide not only to the most important events of 2020, but also a roadmap for navigating the challenges ahead. Please take a few moments to: While there is much uncertainty about what 2021 will bring, there is one constant: The commitment of law enforcement officers to serve their communities and save lives. The Police1 team thanks you for your service and wishes you a safe and happy New Year!

Pay it forward. If you enjoy this newsletter, please forward a copy to your colleagues so they can sign up and stay current on the critical issues impacting police leaders.

Stay safe,

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1

Prioritizing community engagement in 2021
By Police1 Staff 

Police1 asked 21 law enforcement experts to outline solutions for the ongoing and emerging issues facing police leaders and officers in 2021. Following are a few excerpts from "21 on 2021: A police leadership playbook" that focus on improving community engagement in the New Year.  

Access the complete playbook here.

Community relations

I know this will sound backward but police leaders should stop talking about the trust gap, police transparency, police reform, or whichever trending term you want to use. Instead, leaders should just go out and continually show their communities they are doing these things ‒ if, in fact, you are doing them.

If you say you’re going to be transparent, then show you are. Even when things don’t make your agency look good.

For years we have told our communities we were going to do things and failed to show them. The frustration in some communities is warranted when we say we are doing something or going to do something, but community members fail to see the connection between our words and our actions.

2021 should be a year of demonstrated action for leaders. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” 

Read more: Policing needs alignment, not reform

Booker T. Hodges currently serves as assistant commissioner of law enforcement for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Police transparency

“It’s not what you say as much as what they absorb” – Red Auerbach

Dialog and deep conversations are the bedrock to true transparency. Telling your public "what" and "how" you do something does not equate to transparency. Instead, proactively foster and create opportunities to have a true dialog with your community stakeholders; from those who support you and those who don't.

It’s challenging in a COVID-19 environment, but it can be done virtually through town hall meetings, virtual community academies, or social media platforms.

Promote and grow a culture of this understanding throughout your organization.

Read more: The PIO is an invaluable part of police transparency

Chris Hsiung is the Police Chief of the Mountain View (California) Police Department and serves on IACP’s Police Professional Standards, Ethics, and Image committee.

Public perception

Right now, law enforcement leaders are living through a pivotal moment in our nation’s and profession’s history.

With public perception of law enforcement at an all-time low, we have one of two choices to make: give into the negative banter or embrace a much-needed change and establish new fundamental principles of law enforcement for generations to come.

My advice to change perception is simple:

  • Encourage empathy and understanding among the members of your department.
  • Embrace transparency and be willing to have difficult conversations with the community.
  • Remove the “us vs. them” mentality and promote unity.

I believe these three simple steps will allow your organization and community to move forward in unity.

Read more: Breaking the cycle of distrust

Ryan Tillman is a police officer for the Chino Police Department in California, CEO and founder of Breaking Barriers United LLC (BBU), and host of the #ITSNEEDED podcast.

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Critical incident videos improve police transparency, community engagement
By Laura Cole 

It was June 27, 2020. A cloud of scrutiny loomed over police departments across the country following the death of George Floyd. For the San Diego Police Department, an officer-involved shooting was immediately met by strong community reaction and an avalanche of social media “facts” about the incident.

According to social media, the man was unarmed and was trying to surrender. Both were untrue.

Shortly after the incident, a large protest was planned fueled by tweets spreading a false narrative.

No press release or press conference would have quelled the outrage felt by the community nor diminish the large protest expected on the streets of San Diego.

However, the release of a critical incident video less than 24 hours after the incident did both.

In a clear, simple, and matter-of-fact presentation, the video provided background leading up to the incident, the moment the man reached into his waistband, the discharge of the officers’ service weapons and a clear photo of the revolver the man attempted to use on the officers. It laid out the events with minimal edits to the video, leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions. It was clear the video didn’t fit the narrative trending on Facebook and Twitter. Despite the maelstrom of misinformation, the conclusion was self-explanatory based on the video.

Social media soon went silent. The large protest withered once the visual facts were known.

The perils of raw video without context

My company, Critical Incident Videos, has produced around 70 videos for law enforcement agencies since June 2019. The idea was born from a change in California law that required, in some cases, the release of raw body-worn camera video to the media and public. My firm was already representing law enforcement agencies with external communications and transparency engagement when we saw an immediate concern for our clients under this new law.

As former journalists with a combined 40 years of experience, we saw the perils of releasing raw video without context:

  • How would different media organizations interpret the raw video?
  • How might different members of the community, without any description of the circumstances around a body-worn camera video, draw a reliable conclusion about the incident?
  • Would well-intentioned law enforcement agencies attempt to provide the context in a manner that raised new media questions, effectively prolonging the story?

The role of context

For many agencies, the production of a video may seem like a daunting task considering the editing equipment and time involved. In truth, that is the easy part and something any video production company could be hired to accomplish. The missing element is the role of context when it comes to transparency and how the media and community will receive your message. These videos are and should be structurally simple in their presentation with complex thought given to the potential communication outcome.

Our goal in producing these videos is to provide the media and community with a view of as many relevant facts as possible. We want any media that ultimately find any raw video to realize everything worth reporting was found in the contextual video already released by the agency. We do not want them to generate a story because important information was left on the cutting room floor.

The value of an outside perspective

Producing a critical incident video in-house or by hiring a video production company can be problematic. There may be aspects from a law enforcement perspective that seem obvious to most people, but not to others. This puts clarity at risk. A video production company will “do as the agency says.” However, pushback on editorial decisions made in these videos is the best way to protect an agency.

It is important to have an outside perspective. Allow people who are not in law enforcement to view your video and see what questions they may ask. Are there acronyms or procedures that escape them? Do they feel the video is highly edited or are missing something important?

Early in the endeavor, we ran across an example of a law enforcement agency that strongly desired transparency but was on the cusp of making a potentially media-generating decision – and not in a good way. The unnamed police department was set to release a body-worn camera video of an officer-involved shooting. Their team believed that the video showed the suspect going for his gun. However, when we reviewed the video, it was clear that to a reasonable observer the suspect was reaching for his seatbelt. It was a potential mistake born not out of an attempt to deceive, but rather viewing an incident from one’s own insider perspective.

Things to avoid

Critical incident videos should be dry. When there is a need to release a critical incident video, it almost always deals with a loss of life or a very serious situation for the agency.

Avoid anything that appears to be of a high production value. This is not a movie or a TV show; it is a statement of facts.

Avoid multiple speakers. If the situation is of great community concern, having the sheriff or police chief do an on-camera introduction and conclusion is appropriate. Be wary of voice narration as it is more difficult to avoid bias in vocal inflection than in an on-camera presentation. Narration is a skill not suited for amateurs.

Avoid justification of an officer or deputy’s actions. Leave that for the investigations and reviews that follow. Simply state what the viewer will see and what the viewer cannot see in the body-worn camera video.

Serving the community

Context is key and it goes beyond an explanation of just a few seconds of a body-worn camera video. In our videos, we often use maps, a narrative of what led to the incident, 911 calls, dispatch calls to officers, civilian cell phone video, business security camera video and more depending on the situation. You do not want the viewer to simply see a tragic or gruesome video. You want them to follow the story and become vested in the narrative. You want them to have an idea of what brought your officers to the event. You want them to be analytical by giving them a narrative approach to an uncomfortable moment.

That is not spin. Critical incident videos serve the community by giving them the context and backstory they need to understand, as best as possible, a gut-wrenching moment only law enforcement can experience.

NEXT: A police advocate’s simple suggestion: Walk a simulated mile in a cop’s shoes

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1. 50 states, 50 police heroes: Law enforcement stepped up through acts of heroism – big and small – to create some good in a year that desperately needed it.
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