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Police departments using PR techniques to justify their actions

Uploaded: May 18, 2021

I am concerned. Police departments around the country are circling their wagons because of recent public criticisms about their officers’ wrongdoings, most notably the George Floyd case. That circle includes PR people wo help departments tell their side of the story. It’s happening nationally, but also locally, including in Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

A 2019 state police transparency law requires departments to release information to the public about any officer-involved shootings. Great.

But police are pretty adroit and instead of just releasing the shooting information in a straightforward manner and post online the officer’s body cam, they took a different route: More than 100 California departments have entered contracts with a PR firm that creates “slick videos to justify police shootings – but critics say they twist the facts and undermine the transparency laws,” according to a headline and long article in Sunday’s Mercury News

The department videos all have the same format – a police chief or sheriff opens to inform the public about a critical case involving a shooting or unusual force by a police officer and explaining why it was justified. This is followed by 911 dispatches, a map, and finally with the chief saying how sorry he was for the family of the individual the police killed. And the result is always the same -- a justification of the officer’s actions.

And the slick videos, which are really police marketing devices, are really a big worry for me – if 100 California police departments in California and many others around the country are going to rely on PR-produced videos in order to protect and defend their departments and officers, America has a problem. We look to police to be fair, honest and open. But these videos often omit case information, distort what happened, only tell half the story, and contribute to having the public initially think that the police followed their rules and what they did (like shoot someone) was necessary and legal. Oftentimes, the policeman’s body camera footage is not released – or just briefly shown.

Just think of all the incidents involving police shooting a black person where the chief or DA said the police acted appropriately and would not be charged. It just happened in North Carolina where the three officers shot Andrew Brown, Jr. claiming he was trying to escape and his auto became his “weapon,” thus endangering the police. Brown was unarmed but killed. The DA declared the police actions were “justified,” and no charges were made against the officers.

What this means for Americans as that we can no longer fully trust our police, which is a scary thing. And the more they circle their wagons, the less we know about what’s happening in out towns and cities.

The big problem here is the chiefs are slanting the public’s view. In one video the chief said two police were firing tasers at a suspect, who continued to advance, so the police had to shoot him to protect themselves. But a few days later, according to the Mercury, a third officer not seen on the screen, was charged with manslaughter.

Menlo Park has a contract with the PR firm, Critical Incident Videos, LLC of Vacaville, who makes these videos which the police pay for.

Two years ago, after a Palo Alto police beating of a man outside Happy Donuts on El Camino, Lieut. James Reifschneider stood in front of a video camera to explain a violent arrest of Julio Arevaalo in 2019. The clean-cut, good-looking officer reminded me of a typical choir boy. Central casting could not have picked a better-g police representative. I don’t know if the above PRA firm was involved in the video, but the format was typical and the message was the police had done nothing wrong. The facial bones of the man being arrested were broken during the forceful encounter.

As I’ve previously said in a blog, Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen continues to encrypt all police radio transmissions, so the press and the public can no longer listen in on dispatch-to-officer conversations. A reporter must email a form to the department to ask a question, and reporters cannot directly talk to officers – a major change from just a few years ago. Sure, there are some news releases, but the police decide what police activities they want released to the public and which ones they don’t. From what I’ve seen, the recent news releases are on incidents where police did a good job. The police information officer job has been eliminated. So much for transparency, which upsets me.

Note: A story the Sunday, 5-16 edition of the NYT, also r reported that nationally, pathologists, coroners and police are working together to cover up police use of force on blacks. They found 47 cases in the past 25 years where the pathologist declared a black person died of sickle cell anemia, not a police beating, although many of the black bodies were bruised and had broken bones. In one incident, the police pursued a black man into the forest, and minutes later dragged him out. Neighbors saw that the officers’ trousers were splattered with blood. Cause of death: sickle cell anemia.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jeffrey Teague, a resident of Stanford,
on May 18, 2021 at 3:05 pm

Jeffrey Teague is a registered user.

As far as full disclosure of police-related incidents are concerned, let's not forget that the cops have the discretion of when to turn on or off the body cams and the law enforcement agencies are not required to release these videos (if any) to the media unless a judge orders them to do so.

As a result and with the assistance of police union pressures and cloud- covering by these PR agencies, the actual truth and details can easily be witheld from the public if it paints the police in a poor light.

If not for civilian cellphone video accounts, the police will continue to harass, brutalize, and kill people at will for this is their apparent passion and purpose in life.

And unfortunately, if no one is there to actually record these unlawful incidents, the matter will simply be swept under the rug by various police chiefs who strive to maintain 'morale' among their officers by looking the other way.

The majority of security guards and police officers choose these professions so they can bully and intimidate the public, make unwarranted sexual gestures towards woman, and execute black people.

Sociopaths and racists should not be wearing a badge and carrying a gun.

Posted by Lorraine Gentry, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 19, 2021 at 8:18 am

Lorraine Gentry is a registered user.

PR firms are hired to promote products and people.

Thus, 'truth in advertising' considerations come into play.

The police often need to fabricate the truth in order to avoid further public scrutiny and outcry over controversial and unwarranted incidents.

Many police departments have public information officers to handle these matters but in most cases, these individuals are stooges.

Hiring a public relations firm to promote law enforcement is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

If the police were better behaved they would not need advertisements and the same applies to products whose quality and workmanship speak for themselves.

The PR firms are being enlisted to promote a bad product.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 19, 2021 at 11:12 am

Bystander is a registered user.

The New York Pride Parade organizers have decided that NYPD will not be allowed to take part or even police the area around the parade. Instead they are going to hire security companies to do the security.

This is laughable. Most security guards are ex cops or military. We have no idea of the oversight in how these security guards are trained or monitored. But, since they aren't cops they are a safer option. This sounds like pure PR and marketing, as well as publicity for its cause, if you ask me.

Of course there are rotten apples in every police department. Of course many people join the police departments for reasons such as being power hungry or similar. However, shunning a police department across the board and preferring to use a private company sounds like asking for trouble and opens a very large can of worms.

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 19, 2021 at 11:55 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

It is laughable that New York Pride organizers have made their decision against NYPD. In all honesty, NYPD probably doesn't want to be there anyway. New York has "real" crime to fight, and it takes officers away from crime fighting. Parades are peaceful -- for the most part. I'm pro-police, but I understand why the gay community doesn't want the police there. They're trying to avoid being discriminated against.

Posted by Myrtle McKensie, a resident of another community,
on May 19, 2021 at 12:09 pm

Myrtle McKensie is a registered user.

*I understand why the gay community doesn't want the police there. They're trying to avoid being discriminated against.

The LGBTQ police officers who personally identify as such should be marching alongside their brothers and sisters in the parade, waving their badges proudly in the sun.

Time for full disclosures as 10% of any given population is LGBTQ and given the size of the NYPD, this is a perfect opportunity for their respective adherents to show their true rainbow colors in public.

Why hold back, especially when you want to come out and scream it?

Posted by Barron Park Denizen, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 19, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Barron Park Denizen is a registered user.

1. The article noted that a DA in North Carolina concluded that charges would not be brought, the implication being that the DA was covering up. This is a dangerous idea to convey. The DA's Office in this County will make a thorough investigation and clearly state their conclusion and reasons. The DA's serve as the independent investigators of police use of lethal force, and their integrity should be supported, not denigrated.
2. Another unfortunate statement was that police body cam videos should be promptly released. These videos are one source of information in a DA's investigation, but there are many others, including cell phone video and audio, surveillance cameras, identifying and mapping evidence, and winess statements. Simply releasing video without the context of a complete investigation turns the public into judge and, with social media, executioner.
3. It would be interesting to have you report on the number of complaints against the PAPD versus the annual number of 911 calls. I'll guess fewer than five complaints filed versus 60,000+ emergency calls.

Posted by Junior, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on May 19, 2021 at 2:21 pm

Junior is a registered user.

• If not for civilian cellphone video accounts, the police will continue to harass, brutalize, and kill people at will

• The police often need to fabricate the truth in order to avoid further public scrutiny and outcry over controversial and unwarranted incidents.

• Simply releasing video without the context of a complete investigation turns the public into judge and, with social media, executioner.

^ If the PD will not release their body cam videos pertaining to an illegal action on their part, it is the responsibility and duty of any witness who recorded the incident to release it on social media and/or to the news media.

If the cops can play judge and executioner, so can the viewers of these wrongful shootings and beatings.

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on May 19, 2021 at 2:22 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

The LGBTQ officers DO want to march with them in solidarity, and they're saying the gay community is going against their own message of tolerance and inclusivity. The gay officers are "disheartened."

I learned a long time ago that the far left and the far right are dangerous to America. They're destroying democracy. I'm not sure why people become extremists, but my guess would be misery. Misery loves company. How sad for them, and aggravating to the rest of us.

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