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Just doing our jobs

POSTED August 21, 2009 10:50 p.m.
Local law enforcement agencies — namely, the California Highway Patrol and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department — should take a lesson from the Turlock Police Department in media relations.
Recently, the TPD invited representatives from all local media outlets to be part of a discussion on updating the department’s media relations policy. I commend the Turlock Police for not only making sure that their policy is up to date, but also for seeking out the point of view of those outside the department. A lot of organizations get so caught up in their internal cultures that they forget how they look to outsiders.
This tirade against the CHP and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department is in response to the way a colleague of mine was treated at a recent crime scene in Denair. Jeff Benziger, the editor of the Ceres Courier, was covering the Thursday crash near the intersection of Barnhart Road and Santa Fe Avenue when he was almost arrested by the CHP for taking pictures.
This is ridiculous. The press has the right to stand on public property and take pictures of anything they want, as long as they are not interfering with an investigation or rescue.
Jeff is a seasoned reporter. He has been the editor of the Ceres Courier for decades. He has the utmost respect for law enforcement and he thinks public safety is a priority. Jeff would never compromise someone’s safety to get a picture.
Emergency personnel have a very important job to do, and so do we. The media is the public’s eyes and ears in the community. We are here to keep the public informed and to serve as watchdogs for the public’s interests. When people hear sirens wail and see fire trucks racing across town, they want to know what is going on. If residents of the community could not count on newspapers reporting on what is happening in their town then dozens of curious onlookers would descend upon every crime scene. Calls to police departments from nosy neighbors wanting the scoop would double.
Allowing the media to do their job is a way to get pertinent information out to the public through a few, rather than having to deal with the many.
The behavior of the officers and deputies at the Denair crash scene was not entirely due to their lack of professionalism. Every law enforcement department needs a clear media relations policy that is distributed to each and every officer.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies are required to complete hours of in-service training every year. While they are learning about new laws and arrest procedures, they should also be learning how to deal with the media appropriately.
I am hoping that the officers of the California Highway Patrol and deputies of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department take my words as a friendly reminder of the media’s role in the community. But just in case I stepped on some toes, I want you to know that I drive a 2009 black H2 and definitely not a red Dodge pick-up truck or blue Jetta.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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