A police officer–turned-attorney examines the relationship between law enforcement and the media.
An officer-involved shooting almost guarantees a law enforcement agency will face intense media scrutiny, with today’s 24-hour news cycle only serving to inflame the often fractious relationship between the police and journalists. In this environment, as recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, illustrate, a police department that fails to deal effectively with the media after a shooting may end up with a public relations disaster. “The City of Ferguson Police Department was unprepared for the local, national, and international media attention,” writes LoRusso (When Cops Kill, 2012, etc.). “This was the beginning of a seemingly endless and perfect storm.” In his book, he offers a primer on how law enforcement officials can save themselves from a similar fate, arguing that mutual understanding must replace mutual distrust. “Conflicts between law enforcement and journalists often stem from a lack of understanding,” he observes. “My hope is to broaden the knowledge of both and thereby improve their relationships.” The author has something of a unique perspective, having served as a police officer in Georgia before becoming an attorney. In his practice, he has represented officers accused of misconduct related to shootings. “Although some agencies nail it and get it right every time, most are caught like a deer in the headlights when a critical incident puts them into the spotlight,” he writes. LoRusso’s prescriptions, expressed in clear, lucid prose, are pragmatic and sensible. Among other things, law enforcement agencies need to be proactive—“you cannot allow your agency’s response, or lack thereof, to become the news story”—and never miss an opportunity to educate the public about the work they do and the challenges they face. “Most journalists have no idea why a law enforcement officer would exchange their softball cap or campaign hat for a Kevlar helmet. Show them,” recommends LoRusso, who is also an enthusiastic advocate of police departments having a strong social media presence. The book may have somewhat limited appeal outside the law enforcement and media universes. But with attacks on police officers increasing sharply this year, the author provides a valuable contribution to fostering positive relationships with the media and the public after confrontations.
A perceptive work provides practical and timely suggestions for improving communication after critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings.