Police and the Media: Part 2

by Bruce Felton

I have heard it said by those in the media that they offer a service; providing crucial information, exposing unfairness and abuses, providing educational programming.  This is true.  Yet it must be understood that modern media, in today’s forms, is still a business and driven by profit.  To be more accurate, it is about selling space that advertisers will want to buy.

That is not to say this is a bad thing; it is largely how our economy works.  Business looks to fill a demand by selling a service or commodity.  If the consumer displays a desire for a particular type of product or service, then a competent business will anticipate and look to fill that particular demand.  So if a demand arises for pink, purple polka-dotted widgets, then an astute business monitoring such trends will be ready to rise to the occasion by manufacturing and selling pink, purple polka-dotted widgets.

The news that we see and hear every day works much the same.  Many times I have heard others – and truth be told, listened to myself – complain about the content or delivery of the news.  Yet we still watch it.  We still tune in to that channel, that radio station, that website or blog.  We are the consumers creating the demand.  But instead of pink, purple polka-dotted widgets, we are creating a demand for news of a particular content and format.  We are largely creating the demand for the same news that we are complaining about.

Often the complaint about “the news” is followed by the resignation that nothing can be done about it, that we can’t control it.  But of course we can control it: We created it.  Maybe not overnight, maybe not definitively, but we can control it with our remotes, our keyboards, our radio dials, the papers and magazines we read.  We are all the consumers of the news, and it is ultimately we who control the demand.  If we want to change the “if it bleeds, it leads” atmosphere, we have to curb our appetite for the sensational and replace it with a desire for quality journalism.  There are certainly many talented journalists who sincerely wish to provide content that is useful, educational, and embodies the integrity that the SPJ Code of Ethics hopes to foster.  Let’s all work to create the environment that allows this to happen.

House Watches

by Jay Bender

One of the many services the Solon Police Department offers to our residents is the House Watch Program. Through the program, homeowners can fill out a form and turn it in at our station when they know they’ll be out of town or their house will be vacant.

Once the address is added to the list, our officers will periodically check the home and make sure it is secure. We try to get to each home at least once per shift, and we purposely keep the times random so anybody “casing” the house will have no idea when we might show up. It occasionally surprises neighbors when they see an officer getting out their patrol car, walking around a house and checking doors and windows. Some seem genuinely caught off guard to see that we actually “rattle the doorknobs.”

It’s not unusual for officers to find unsecured doors, left unlocked by homeowners eager to start their vacations, or even petsitters or neighbors. If there is access to the home, officers will contact the keyholder and enter to check the house for criminal activity. We’ve also found flooding, water line breaks and tree damage while doing these checks. While not criminal in nature, they are certainly important to the homeowner.

Again, it’s not the kind of service that gets headlines, but it’s still part of the job we do.

You can download the form from http://www.solonpolice.org, under Forms. Once completed, turn the form in at the Solon Police Department, 33000 Solon Road.

 

Preventable crime

by Jay Bender

In police work, not every task is exciting or even interesting. Still, every job has a chance to help you look at things in new ways.

For example, I was recently tasked with reviewing and scanning tickets and test forms into the computer from out BAC Datamaster. The Datamaster is commonly referred to as a “breathalyzer,” which, as you know, is used to the determine the percentage of alcohol in a person’s system after they have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

As I went through the records, I started to think about how a drunk driving arrest can completely derail a life, any life. One of the aspects I noticed is that there was really no common denominator among the suspects. Ages ranged from the early 20s to the late 70s. Some suspects came from very affluent neighborhoods, and some did not. Some offenders registered blood alcohol contents just above the legal limit of .08, and many blew two or event three times that limit. Some were so intoxicated you might wonder how they could walk, let alone drive.

And even if that OVI offense injured nobody, the impact on the suspect will be immediate and costly. They will have to post bond to be released from jail, and they will have to appear in court, which will likely be only the first of many court appearances. For some, the court costs and fines are insignificant. For some, they will be insurmountable. For still others, it will be the embarrassment that hurts the most. Regardless, an arrest will affect you, and be assured that it can happen to you…it is not always somebody else from somewhere else!

What these arrests do have in common is that the crime in question is completely preventable with a simple formula: Don’t drink and drive. Even in extreme moderation, you are taking an unnecessary risk. In 24 years of police work, I’ve never met anybody who regretted NOT drinking.

Suiting up

by Jay Bender

What is all that stuff you carry? Doesn’t it get heavy?

These are probably two of the most common questions police officers are asked when we get the opportunity to participate in a community relations event. Usually, it’s the kids who want to know what is in all those mysterious pouches on our belts or vests. The grownups want to know about the weight.

In Solon, each patrol officer is required to wear body armor, pepper spray, an expandable baton, a radio, at least one pair of handcuffs, (most officers carry two,) and our duty sidearm, a Glock 22, .40 caliber with two spare magazines.

The rest of our loadout is optional, but some items are so ubiquitous they may as well be required. For example, no officer I know would even consider going on patrol without at least one pair of latex or nitrile gloves. Protective gloves can help us preserve evidence without contamination, and more importantly can help protect officers from bloodborne pathogens and dangerous illegal drugs that can be absorbed through the skin.

Most officers also carry some type of trauma packet that includes clotting sponge and tourniquet. A flashlight and a multi-tool or utility knife are also a good idea. My gear weighs in at approximately 17 pounds, which is probably about the average for our officers.

How often do we use what we carry? Like anybody who carries tools at work, we certainly don’t use every tool on every day. Many of these items will rest quietly in their pouch for weeks, months or even years before they are needed. But we carry them with us because when we need them, we need them RIGHT NOW! If we are very fortunate, there are some we will never need.

And yes, it gets heavy!

 

 

 

 

The Asphalt Scam

by Steve Wagner

Over the years, the City of Solon has encountered many types of scams. The most recent involves a work crew posing as a legitimate asphalt business. The scam has targeted businesses in Solon and the surrounding area as well as some residences.

Here is how the scam is run: A person posing as a “manager” or “supervisor” of an asphalt company will approach a business or residence and claim that they have leftover materials from a previous job and that they need to use up those materials. The “supervisor” claims that they will give a good deal to the business or residence should they use them. If the customer agrees to some work, the asphalt company will complete the work and will often do more than was agreed upon. When the work is complete they will then approach the customer and demand more money. The approach is often done with several males as an “intimidation factor.” A business recently paid out over $2,000 for unauthorized work done.

As with any company in the city, anyone doing any work or soliciting for business should have a valid City of Solon permit on hand. As a rule of thumb, one should also be suspicious of a company that solicits without a permit. I also personally never give my business to any company that I am not aware of and have not researched thoroughly. In addition, you should never give any personal information to someone who calls you or comes directly to your door.

Traditions

By Jay Bender

I spent a few minutes on Monday morning searching for something in my locker.

It’s one of those small items that seems perpetually lost. It’s nothing special, really. Just a black elastic band with a thin blue line through the middle. It would be insignificant if its symbolism did not carry so much weight.

History is unclear as to when police officers began to cover their badges with a black band when we lose a fellow officer. Some believe it was a carryover from a time when people wore a black armband to signify they were in mourning. Other sources state it is based in heraldry, when a coat-of-arms would be draped in black to signify a family death. Regardless of the roots, we know what it means today: A police officer has died in the line of duty. I was once asked why my badge number was covered, and the person literally asked me what I was hiding. I patiently explained that we had lost a fellow police officer. I don’t remember who we had lost at that time, but I remember the encounter.

At Solon, the decision to cover our badges is made at the command staff level. The decision is made largely based on geography. If we covered our badges for every officer killed in the line of duty, everywhere in the United States, we would be in a perpetual state of mourning, and our badges would never be uncovered.

On October 21, 2017, Girard Police Officer Justin Leo was murdered while responding to a domestic disturbance. Leo’s partner returned fire, killing the suspect. As a profession, we will mourn him. We will send our volunteer honor guard to attend his funeral, and we will try to learn something, anything, from this tragedy.

By tradition, we will cover our badges until Officer Leo is laid to rest. And may that rest be peaceful.

Transitions

By Jay Bender

When the people think of “police,” they will probably envision a patrol officer, a detective or some type of tactical operator. That’s understandable, since these are the most visible representatives of a police department. I have joked in the past that we are sort of like fighter pilots, not because we are some super-cool Hollywood  caricature, but because we are a relative handful of professionals doing things that attract attention supported by many dedicated individuals doing the behind-the-scenes work that matters every bit as much.

They may be the multi-tasking dispatchers taking calls and dispatching first responders, or the ever watchful, infinitely patient corrections officers watching prisoners, or the meticulous records clerks who manage the volumes of paperwork generated by law enforcement.

One of those people, Solon PD’s facility manager Dennis Simecek, is retiring today. His job title sounds simple, but from what I’ve seen over the years, it was anything but simple. Our building is much more complex than most, with HVAC and plumbing serving a multi-bed jail as well as evidence storage and processing, an armory, security garages, sallyport and office areas, each and every section requiring unique efforts due the mix of restricted or secured areas. Dennis handled or coordinated them all. He is a person who never seems to stop moving.

All of that, of course,  is in a job description. What has meant so much to so many of use is the way he pitched in, with enthusiasm, in so many other ways. I’ve been involved in many training exercises and community relations events over the years, and Dennis was always there, ready to do the countless little things we trainers are always forgetting. If we were training offsite, we knew the van would be loaded with fans, extension cords, signs, and coolers with bottled water and ice. When something needed fixing, Dennis got it fixed, or at least told you how to do it.

Beyond all that, we have valued his friendship and upbeat attitude. No matter how busy he was, Dennis has found time to share a joke or talk some sports. He always seems to remember what’s going on with our families and ask how they are. A quick hello to Dennis has always been one of my favorite ways to start or end a shift. If you know Dennis, you know he is a father who is rightfully proud of his daughters yet can talk about them without sounding boastful. He has a clever, kindhearted sense of humor, and I have to say he inspires that in others.

If you are fortunate in life, you will get along with your coworkers. If you are very lucky, you will find friends. And if you are very, very lucky, you will get to work alongside a Dennis.

Good fishing, my friend.

Dangerous jobs

by Jay Bender

When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries list for 2015, I immediately wanted to see where my profession landed on the list. Being a police officer is an inherently dangerous job, so it was certain to be in the Top 10, right? Wrong.

Now, being anywhere on the list of deadliest occupations is not a reassuring proposition, but I was surprised to see that law enforcement actually ranked 18th for workplace fatalities. In 2015, there were 85 deaths in our profession, averaging to 11.7 deaths per 100,000 workers. Those statistics included all work-related fatalities, including traffic crashes and homicides. Law enforcement ranked well down on list, after mechanics, maintenance workers, taxi drivers, construction laborers, electricians and roofers. The sad distinction of most dangerous occupations goes to the fishing industry and loggers.

If you consider the working conditions of these occupations, those awful numbers seem all too logical. Nearly all of them involve using heavy equipment, heights, electricity or unpredictable weather conditions. Some involve all of those factors. And yet, when they die, it rarely makes the news. When a police officer dies, whether from an accident or violence, it is a noteworthy event.

The difference? Approximately half of law enforcement deaths were purposely caused by other people, and that kind of murderous intent is difficult for many people to understand. We can accept that a rogue wave or rotten tree can randomly cause a death because we can write that off as fate. It can be harder to comprehend human nature.

A different kind of courage, for a different kind of danger.

 

 

Police and the Media: Part 1

o-MEDIA-facebookby Bruce Felton

It’s a relationship played out in movies and TV shows over and over again:  A cat and mouse game of hide and seek where police try to “protect” information from the media, while the media tries to catch the police hiding information.  And yes, while there have been real-life instances of inappropriate behavior on both sides, is the relationship really that adversarial?  And, more importantly, does it need to be?

I have been the Public Information Officer (PIO) off and on for about six years.  During that time I have interacted with journalists, television news anchors and reporters, news radio personalities, assignment editors, and camera operators.  What I have found to be the common denominator with the vast majority of these individuals is that they are very much like myself and the people I work with.  Whether they are young and brimming with excited ambition about their new career, or a little older and hitting their stride in their profession; or even getting close to retirement and thinking about the time they will spend with their grandchildren, they have a job to do and are trying to do it the best they can.  For the most part there is no evil agenda, or malicious intent, or even rude behavior.  They’re just people attempting to complete tasks, meet deadlines, satisfy their bosses, and go home.

Police departments are great hoarders of information.  We collect information about everything, and we keep it in the event it helps us in the future.  That information may help us solve a crime, find a missing person, or provide valuable information about trends that affect crime and society.  It must always be remembered that we are merely stewards of this information and that it belongs to the public, not the police.  So while there may be some exceptions, we have a responsibility to make that information available.  Largely it is the media, in all of its forms, that provides a vehicle to deliver that information to the public.  This all works best when law enforcement and the media work in concert to communicate to the public that information which may enlighten, educate, inform and yes, at times, entertain them.  An effective PIO for a police department works to establish and maintain relationships within the media so that this can effectively take place, thereby serving everyone’s interests.

 

Many are very critical of the style and delivery of the media today.  I will address this issue and give my thoughts about it in a future article in Part 2 of this series.

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