Police Brutality

It’s been my policy to restrict Media’s Masters and Disaters to video examples. But something came across my desk today that forced an exception.

It’s a three-line email written, apparently, by a spokesman for the Chief of Police in New Haven, CT. It also may be the work of a hacker or a police department prankster who hijacked the public information officer’s email account.

I almost hope that is the case.

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Excessive Use of Force

Sure, the media can be annoying, relentless, obnoxious. It goes with the territory. And if you are a public information officer, it goes with the job. I don’t know the context of this missive, but it is hard to envision a circumstance that would warrant it.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you (don’t) say it

A reporter is trained to pursue information persistently and aggressively (not all of them strive to beat the competition; only the ones who want to keep their jobs). They should perform their duties courteously, as should police spokespersons. Is it possible the media did something incredibly unprofessional in this case? Sure. But what was the goal of Officer Hartman’s tirade, and what will be the consequences?

Don’t get me wrong: You shouldn’t respond to the media a minute before you are ready to do so. Unfortunately, Hartman’s condescending email was a response in and of itself. And thanks to the digital media age (NewsBlues in this case), it has gone well beyond New Haven and landed on your screen.

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, can’t send them mean emails

The dynamic between police departments and the journalists who cover them is a delicate and symbiotic one. Local reporters depend on police communicators for details on crimes and other public safety issues. And police departments, even in the age of Twitter, need reporters to help them locate witnesses, catch criminals, and find missing children.
You likely have a similar relationship with the reporters who cover your industry.
They may not be your friends, but you cannot afford to make them your enemies.


Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.