11/18/11 498 W, 1 I - + 13 - 2 What We See is What We Think

My wife will occasionally ask of an incident, do they really need that many fire trucks? Hers is an interesting question, because she's an insider in the fire service. She knows quite a bit more than the average citizen about their motus operandi. Yet she still has that question from time to time, in those odd moments when the response strikes her as disproportional to the perceived need. Key word, perceived.

Now let's look at this picture from the News & Observer last week. Police tactical squad in action in Chapel Hill. Katelyn Ferral snapped the shot. From the photojournalism perspective, it's a great photo. It conveys action. It's not a static shot. There's "happening" happening in the picture. (Alas, I am not versed enough in the language of the craft to fully articulate all the reasons. My gut is helping to feed my head here.)

Katelyn Ferral/News & Observer photo

And it's a photo taken on the streets of Chapel Hill. That's the college town that's just up the road, for anyone unfamiliar with the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area. Would we call it a sleepy college town? Probably not, but the place is still small enough to add hefty contextual weight to the image.

Thus it shouldn't surprise anyone that the picture has caused heartburn. Even before the first news cycle finished, the outcome of that front-page photo-- reactions to the specific picture, as well as the incident itself-- was preordained. Many questions would be asked of the police department and along familiar lines: did the really need that many guns / that much force / those particular tactics?

This posting, however, is not an invitation to debate and discuss tactics. That's being done elsewhere and in varying flavors. There are probably even law enforcement forums where the thing is being examined as well. (Do officers quarterback the way firefighters do, do you suppose?) And let's be frank even if our name isn't: police protection is a pretty big apple to the oranges of fire protection.

Law enforcement (and the legal authority behind it) is the one system in our daily lives designed to, well, police ourselves. Thus there's a whole component of rights, power, authority, and such. So it's going to color both our perceptions and realities. (Uh oh, Jack Nicholson's speech from A Few Good Men is bubbling as my brain ponder the phrase "use of force." Better stop before we start doing celebrity impersonations.)

Where now with this posting? Do we discuss reputation management, which is a favorite topic of my friend Dave Statter and his blog? Should we pontificate on the power of imagery? Maybe repeat the refrain about cameras being even more everywhere? Eh, none of the above probably needs to be said. It's an awesomely strong image. And it reminds that the actions (and operating procedures) of emergency services are powerful. Both for those they serve and those who observe.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes. However, it very rarely tells the whole story in those thousand words. With the advent of social media, an outlet has been given for the speculation on what was happening in any given photo and for outrage to ensue because those that weren’t there only see what they’re shown. Kind of like how the news media only shows us and tells us what they want us to hear and see, vis a vis Rodney King.
Duda (Email) - 11/18/11 - 10:00

Careful on the generalizations, D. For example, I only post to this blog what interests me to post.
Legeros - 11/18/11 - 18:11

Was it over the top for the LEO’s to draw down on these folks? You could make that argument. One could also make the argument that these people, despite their signs and (perhaps) lofty intentions, still broke into a building. LEO’s do not know what’s going on inside that structure (lofty goals aside) and have to be prepared for anything. To not be prepared could mean lots of bad things could happen. On both sides.
J.A.F.O. - 11/21/11 - 08:33

Sorry, Mike. I don’t really consider you “the media”, so I can see how that might have come off wrong. Further on J.A.F.O.‘s comment: It’s easy for someone who doesn’t know to Monday-morning quarterback what was done in an incident, and what was shown in a photo. I see a lot of comments on different sites with text like “the dispatcher told the officer…” and “the suspect was found not to have…”. What these posters don’t seem to get is, it doesn’t matter what a responding officer is told, and most of the time what they see on arrival isn’t the root of the occurrence. Folks don’t get the whole picture when they sit in front of their computer or TV and take in what the media tells them. Just like in the fire and EMS realms, LEOs have to take the information they get, process it, then take what they see when they arrive and add it to the processing. THEN they get to make contact with people on scene and that’s when things change. How many times have we been sent to a vehicle fire because a passing motorist saw a car overheating? Ho many times has EMS responded to an unconscious person and found that someone was taking a nap? Then how many times has law enforcement been sent to a noise complaint and found a domestic dispute in progress?

And Mike, I’m not trying to be insulting at all.
Duda (Email) - 11/24/11 - 14:43

No offense taken, Mike. I am rather calling attention to generalizations, and the perils therein. The “media” delivers a perspective of events, and of varying degrees of objectivity and bias. But that is also true of any type of relating or reporting or information sharing.
Legeros - 11/24/11 - 14:52

Yeah, but I like you, man.
Duda (Email) - 11/24/11 - 22:48

Remember personal info?

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