For decades, the only way for police to communicate with the public after an officer-involved shooting was through press conferences and news conferences. This is no longer the case. Now, departments are taking advantage of social media as well as video evidence when available in order to share information with the public right away, rather than waiting days or even weeks before releasing any statements.
The old way of doing things – After a shooting such as LAPD’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford in 2014, it was about 10 days before LAPD was able to interview the officers involved in the shooting. This amount of time led to conjecture for the public about the details of the incident.
The LAPD could have helped its image and reputation by being more transparent with the community. The delay in communicating investigations to the public led to multiple demonstrations and the family suing for 75 million dollars.
The new way of doing things – In recent years, departments have been more transparent with their communication with the public, too. On March 31, 2015, officers from Cleveland used lethal force to shoot and kill 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Within 48 hours of the incident, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams had met with reporters to explain that two officers had been placed on paid administrative leave while an investigation continued into the shooting. Williams also talked about how the incident unfolded and described how police deal with people who carry toy guns that look real.
A few days later, at a town hall meeting held in the community where Tamir lived and died in order for residents to ask questions about what happened and discuss ways police could do better in future situations like this one; Chief Williams made himself available alongside other officials including Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Director Michael McGrath so they could hear concerns directly from those living there rather than having those concerns filtered through media channels first (Note: this is not something done by all departments).
The new and improved way – In cases such as these where there is no video evidence like in Rice’s case or Walter Scott’s case (North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager shot and killed Scott after a traffic stop on April 4, 2015) where police arrive at a scene and find video evidence, departments are releasing video evidence when it exists to combat rumors that may be circulating about an incident and to show the public what happened.
In cases such as these, where there is no video evidence like in Rice’s case or Walter Scott’s case (North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager shot and killed Scott after a traffic stop on April 4, 2015) where police arrive at a scene and find video evidence, departments are releasing video evidence when it exists to combat rumors that may be circulating about an incident and to show the public what happened.
This is important because, in these situations, transparency is critical. The more transparent you are with your community and media partners, the more trust they will have in you as an agency. They will scrutinize what happened during this event which can lead them to believe that nothing was covered up by law enforcement officials.
Law enforcement agencies must communicate directly with their communities about their procedures for handling officer-involved shootings; this includes communicating promptly, which means within 24 hours of when something happens or shortly thereafter if it takes longer than 24 hours.
It is imperative that Public Informations Officers and their chain of command be honest and open about every detail available to the public after an Officer-Involved shooting has occurred. This could be done effectively by Tweeting out facts as you know them to be at that time. Inform the public immediately via Social Media that the shooting has occurred, and more information will follow. Alternatively, if you wait days or even hours to hold a press conference, it may be too late to save the reputation of the Agency.