COMMUNITY CONFLICT RESOLUTION 12
There have been numerous police scandals both in the United Statesand across the world. Some of the scandals have attracted enormouspublic interest and media coverage while others have been lesspopular. The public and the media have different perceptions aboutthese scandals. The perception that the public and the media has islargely influenced by the communications and the strategies that thelaw enforcement agencies use to communicate the scandals (Smith,2012). Research has indicated that for the law enforcement agenciesto achieve their objectives, it is essential for the public and themedia to have a positive perception of the police. It is essential tonote that the law enforcement agencies must communicate with thepublic using simple language that is understandable (Council ofEurope. & Council of Europe, 2010). Research has indicated thatthe use of jargons while communicating to the public is likely tocause confusion and lack of trust.
Review of the incident
One of the most recent scandals is the one involving officer IanWalsh of Seattle, Washington police department. The officer isaccused of punching a 17 year old black woman whom she had stoppedfor jaywalking. The incident was recorded with a video camera by abystander. Ian Walsh was talking to a man who had jaywalked on 3100block of Martin Luther King, Jr. while he saw four girls jaywalkingon the same spot (Komo, 2010). After stopping the four girls, one 19year old girl attempted to walk away and the officer went after her.While trying to handcuff her, another 71 year old black girlassaulted the officer in a bid to rescue her friend. Initially, theofficer pushed the 17 year old away but she woke up and startedwrestling the officer again. This is the moment when Officer Ianpunched the young girl on the face.
This incident attracted tremendous media and public interest. It isargued that the scandal attracted media and public interest due tothe race of the girl and the reaction of the agency. Historyindicates that the American law enforcement officers have beenassociating crime and violence with the black community. As a result,the law enforcement officers are said to mainly be violent againstthe black community and also to use excessive force against theblacks in America. It was evident from the video that the 17 year oldgirl who was punched was black. The police agency reacted to thisincident in such a way that the public was not satisfied (Falcon,2010). It is clear from research that the black community fromSeattle demonstrated in solidarity with the young girl. It was theexpectation of the black community that the officer would have beendisciplined for his actions. On the contrary, the agency seemed tosupport and approve the actions of the officer involved. Thecommunication that the Seattle Police Officers Guild gave the publicregarding the scandal was confusing and misleading. Initially, thepolice agency was quick to assert that the officer involved in theincident was innocent and that whatever he did was within the law.However, the same department asserted that the issue was underinvestigation by the Office of Professional Accountability. This is aclear indication that the Seattle Police Officers Guild had apredetermined issue and forwarding the case to the office ofprofessional accountability would yield little fruits (Falcon, 2010).
The reaction of the agency was clearly to exonerate the policeofficer involved. It is evident that the agency hardly investigatedthe merits and the demerits of the case before arriving at thedecision that the officer was right. It is clear from this scandalthat the agency did a number of things wrong in its reaction andresponse to the issue. To start with, the agency should have takenits sufficient time to study the situation before concluding publiclythat the officer was on the right. The agency needed to carry outthorough investigations into the scandal and consider the variousaspects surrounding the scandal such as race. However, the agencyrushed to make conclusions and issue statements to the media housesand the general public that the officer was innocent. Despite theinformal handling of the scandal by the agency, it is abundantlyclear that it was plausible for the agency to forward the issue tothe Office of Professional Accountability (Komo, 2010). This officehad the responsibility of reviewing the scandal and finding outwhether the officer had done anything wrong or was on the right. Itis clear that the decision to forward the issue to this office cameas a relieve to numerous people, especially the black community whobelieved that the officer punched the girl because of her race.
There are various ways that the agency would have handled this issuein a better way that the way it did. Firstly, it would have beenextremely prudent for the agency to take no sides in the matter. Theagency needed not support the officer before the entire scandal iscritically looked into by a select committee and a decision made. Thecontradicting statements to the public were also inappropriate(Falcon, 2010). The agency must critically assess the informationthat gets to the public. For instance, it would have been prudent forO`Neill to avoid commenting on the issue when he was fully aware ofthe public interest in the scandal. It could have also been essentialfor the agency to consider the race of the girl before embarking onmaking certain statements on the defense of the officer involved.
Assessment of the agency’s response
Any time that there is a scandal involving a police officer,the agency or department under which such an officer works is quickto issue statements declaring the officer innocent. This is the sameway that the Seattle Police Officers Guild. The Guild issued astatement to the media and the public that the altercation involvingone of their officers was unnecessary and that Officer Ian was indeedin the right. The agency responded by arguing the issue of jaywalkinghas led to numerous loss of lives. Numerous people consider thisoffence as a small and a minor offence and therefore chose to ignorethe law enforcers (Newman, 2010). The agency argued that it issometimes necessary to use force to ensure that the citizens abide bythe law.
Due to the inappropriate methods applied by the agency tocommunicate both to the media and to the public, the information thatthey give through press statements are received with criticism. It isclear in this incident, the public relied more on the media than theagency to get the truth and the facts regarding the scandal. It isevident from research that the media houses such as the Seattletelevision networks and other media websites. Numerous people rely onthe media to get the information that the agency fail to provide.Research has indicated that the media has a warped perception of thecriminal justice system and therefore try to find reportingmethodologies that would portray the criminal justice systemnegatively (Komo, 2010). This is the case that happened during thisincident. The media broadcast the video several times and ridiculedthe criminal justice system in Seattle for failing to arrest andprosecute the officer involved. Such calls and the bias broadcast ofthe video attract public interest and criticism of such as event.
After this incident, the agency blamed the training system that theyoffer to their patrol officers. Officers are supposed to be trainedon various aspects such as de-escalation and others. The response ofthe agency was to call for the enhancement of the training programfor the officers. It was apparently clear to the agency that theofficer involved was not fully trained on de-escalation techniquesand the way he handled the young girl was called for. The agency alsodemoted the officer back to training on the various techniques tohandle suspects in the streets. This is a step that angered thepublic immensely. This is because the public expected a more harshpunishment for officer. Whereas the agency claimed that the officerwas on the right, it went ahead to demote the officer to training.This is a clear indication of the poor communication strategies thatthe agency applied to resolve this scandal (Newman, 2010). Theagency’s communication strategies to the media and public wereinappropriate. It is clear that the agency left the media and thepublic to speculate on the behavior of the officer.
The failure by the agency to provide critical and timely informationto the media and to the public caused more damage than good. Themedia had the opportunity to broadcast the video and this created thewrong perception with regard to the law enforcement officers. Themedia associated the incident with the race of the young girl andtherefore creating suspense within the black community (Miletich,2010). The communication strategy by the criminal justice systemseemed to be reactive. The law enforcers waited for the media and thepublic to comment on the scandal and they would later issuestatements about the same (Newman, 2010). This was acounterproductive method since there were not results shown. Thepublic got even more assertive over the scandal and wanted to knowthe truth. It was evident that the agency seemed to withholdinformation regarding the scandal.
The communication strategy that the agency applied seemedunsatisfactory and it is abundantly clear that the agency would haveapplied a different strategy to communicate the information regardingthe scandal. When such an incident occur, it is critically essentialto have a special committee that can deal with matter (Mcnerthney,2010). The committee should be responsible for answering questionsfrom the public, as well as from the media. The statements issuedshould be issued just for the sake of making a statement theinformation relayed by the agency must be well-thought out. It isalso essential to ensure that the agency is the only single source ofcredible information. In this scandal, it is evident that some seniorofficers would go ahead and make statements that were deemed asdefending the officer even after the Seattle Police Officers Guildhad made its statement (Komo, 2010). In other words, the source ofinformation and the communication center for the police agency mustappear to be one or from a central point. This would boost the trustbetween the police and the public, as well as the media.
The issue of race was at the epicenter of the scandal. As statedearlier, the girl who was punched was a 17 year old black girl.Numerous people especially the black Americans argued that theofficer used excessive force against the girl since she was black.The race of the girl made the scandal to attract enormous publicinterest and media coverage (Pulkkinen, 2010). Since the lawenforcement officers are said to use excessive force against theblack Americans, this was an opportune scandal for the public and themedia to call for agency to punish the officer severely. It isessential to note that the officer was a white and the two girlsinvolved in the incident were blacks. Additionally, the gender of thevictim was also another major issue that made the scandal to attractpublic interest and media coverage. The girl who was punched was only17 years old (Mcnerthney, 2010). Some people viewed the punching as ameans of violence against women. It is clear that the lady wouldindeed not have managed to wrestle the officer. Many activistssuggested that this happened simply because the victim was a woman.
The issues of race and gender affected significantly how the agencycommunicated to the public and the media. The agency made sure thatit did not touch on the issue of race or gender in their statements.This was informed by the fact that the police service serves all thepeople without discrimination in regard to race or gender. The agencywas extremely careful not to mention the issue of race and genderdespite the public pressure. The media and public carried a differentversion of the scandal and believed that the girl was punched on theface due to her race and gender
The agency applied a conflict management at the individual level.Research has indicated that the agency allowed the 17 year old girlwho was punched to apologize to the officer. The agency ensured thatthe two met and the girl handed in her apology to the officer. Theofficer accepted the apology and forgave the young girl. This wasclearly a perfect example a conflict resolution strategy whereapologies were used to resolve a conflict. It can be argued that thestrategy was partially effective (Komo, 2010). This is due to thereason that the issue was not only between the two individuals, butthe community was already involved in the issue. Therefore, a totallyeffective strategy would have been the one that would have ensuredthat the entire community is involved.
The way in which the agency handled the scandal created a negativeperception to the media and to the public. The agency seemed to leanon one side of the officer and sought to assert that he was right touse excessive force against the young girl. The incident is making awrong precedence for future scandals where there will be no trustbetween the police and the public (Mcnerthney, 2010). The media andthe public will always take the information from the agency withutmost doubt and suspicion.
Communication is an extremely essential element of anyorganization. For any police department to achieve its objectives, itmust communicate effectively with the media and the public. If I wasin Seattle Police Officers Guild, I would have proposed a number ofcommunication strategies that would ensure that the agency meets itsobjectives. Firstly, it is essential to have interactive form ofcommunication. In other words, the agency must be in a position tolisten to the media and the members of the public and respond tothem. The communication strategy must not be forceful where theagency seems to exert pressure and authority in its statements to thepublic. This is likely to cause animosity between the law enforcementofficers and the public. Secondly, the Seattle Police Officers Guildmust have a timely system of communication. The public must beinformed frequently on the progress of such an incident. A centralcommunication unit would be extremely essential in ensuring that thepublic receives standard and correct information.
The easiest way to communicate to both the media and public is tocommunicate to the media and request the media to communicate to thepublic. However, it is essential to caution the media not to distortthe information but rely it to the public just as it is. In order toensure that the media and the public as well as the agency is servedby the communication strategy, it is essential to dialogue with thepubic and the media over what is true regarding the scandal. It isessential to avail the principles under which law enforcementofficers operate and the measures that the officer would have takenconsidering what he was facing (Ingels, 2012). It is evident thatpeople judge the officers mainly because they are not aware of theconditions that some officers such as Ian find themselves through.This would ensure that there is future cooperation between the threeinterested parties.
In conclusion, it is clear from the above research thatcommunication is an essential element in the criminal justice system.The information that the agency provides to the media and the publicdetermines the level of trust and cooperation between the agency andthese interest groups. It has also become apparent that the mediaseeks to create a bad impression of the criminal justice system tothe public. The police agency must be extremely careful about theinformation that it gives to the media. The punching scandal of the17 year old black girl is an incident that attracted tremendous mediaand public interest. Whereas some people argued that the officer usedexcessive force, others argued that the officer was justified.However, the agency failed to provide systematic and consistentinformation about the scandal and this reduced the level of trustbetween the agency and the public. The response of the agency alsoseemed inadequate. The officer involved was hardly punished and wasonly taken back to training. This was contrary to the expectations ofmost of the members of the public who expected a severe punishmentfor the officer.
Council of Europe. & Council of Europe. (2010). Themanagement of criminal justice: Recommendation no.R(95)12, and report. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
Falcon, G. (2010). Police: Officer under review after punchingincident caught on camera. Retrieved from:http://edition.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/06/16/police.jaywalker/
Ingels, M. (2012). Legal English communication skills:Introduction to writing skills and vocabularyacquisition for the legal profession. Leuven: Acco.
Komo, (2010). Seattle officer punches girl in face during jaywalkingstop. Retrieved from: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/96353934.html
Mcnerthney, C. (2010). Police guild: Officer did nothing wrong invideotaped punch. Retrieved from:http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Police-guild-Officer-did-nothing-wrong-in- 885514.php
Miletich, S. (2010). Auditors have cited concerns with Seattle policejaywalking stops. Retrieved from:http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2012136804_coppunch17m.html
Newman, J. (2010). Seattle Police Officer Punches Woman In Face ForJaywalking. Retrieved from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4r1o5WE-Go&noredirect=1
Pulkkinen, L. (2010). City attorney on jaywalking punch: `Our PoliceDepartment is capable of far better`. Retrieved from:http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/City-attorney-on- jaywalking-punch-Our-Police-888317.php#page-2
Smith, L. J. (2012). Coordinating the criminal justice system: Aguide to improve the effective administration of justice.Lanham: University Press of America.