Sunday, February 7, 2021

Part I : Media Literacy, or The Right Questions Matter

I don't run the biggest law enforcement FB page, but I do run one that's trusted by the people who follow it, because I'm careful about what gets posted there.
When I asked readers if they'd like to know more about media literacy, the (surprising) answer was an emphatic YES.

 Therefore, this will be an in-depth, two-part explainer: Part I will be about media literacy itself, Part II about what media is and how it works. Like the field of law enforcement, there are a lot of moving parts, and it's complicated.

                   *photo courtesy of Freepik*

"Media literacy" means understanding, analyzing and evaluating the information drowning you on the daily.
Until you can do that with confidence, and just enough skepticism, you're at risk of being steered instead of informed.

How do you know what that article is that you're reading, that podcast you're hearing?
You didn't ask for it. You didn't seek it out.
There you are, scrolling through your social media, and link after link bombards your feed-- suggested, sponsored, shared by friends and family, or just appearing from the Upside Down. Now what?

You see an 'Officer Down' headline, and your heart races. Don't touch that share button without looking to see when it happened.  News about critical incidents floats back to the top of news feeds because of increased search activity on anniversary dates, or when follow up articles get published.

Who is this writer or speaker?
How do they know the stuff they're telling me?
What do they want me to think about it? Why?
Who's paying for this?
Who is the target audience? (Who do they expect to be reading this article, or watching this video?) 

If your answer to any of the above is, "I don't know" then you have two choices. 
1.Find out OR
2.Skip the article and move along with your day. 
But in that case, don't share it. If you're going to find out more, here are your next steps.

Did it appear unsolicited on your social media? If so, it might be a promoted post, or ad. 

Is it a source you recognize? What do you know about it already? How do you know it? 
Did someone else share it on social media? 
What do you know about that person's judgment, personal biases and critical thinking? Someone can be a good friend and be an unreliable source of information. Don't enable that.

Is it even a real news source? Lots of articles posing as news on social media are from conspiracy, pseudoscience, and satire sites. Well-intentioned people are captured by the initial hook, and pass it on as if it's real.  

The saying 'Video or it didn't happen' is cute, but it isn't accurate. As technology evolves, it's as easy to manipulate video as it is to alter static photos. Beware the Deep Fake, and do some fact-checking if anything seems off. Fakes are engineered to provoke that "I knew it!!" reaction from viewers, so be suspicious when a video perfectly, conveniently makes a point you've always 'felt' was right.  You can't believe your eyes, actually.
In fact, according to the nonprofit journalist training site FirstDraftNews, many videos widely shared to "prove" election fraud during the 2020 campaign season originated from Russia, not Illinois, Pennsylvania, or Arizona. No investigation, criminal or journalistic, can benefit from contaminated or falsified evidence. 

Plug the source into a search engine and find out who owns it; association with or financial backing from a highly influential or political person or institution, or with a religious organization, will influence the way the news is reported.
 It doesn't mean the information is necessarily false. It does mean you should use that information in evaluating the reportage and deciding how much credibility to ascribe to it. 

News is like groceries: local is likely the best, and every news story starts out local. 
Once the national sources pick it up and syndicate it, the story is edited for time, losing depth, context and follow-up.  Therefore, if it's a national news story, search the topic or name in the incident and find a local news source about it. Think of the game 'Telephone' you played in kindergarten: information still works like that. The closer to the original story source, the better.  

What can you tell from the link?  The domain may show you whether it is a government office, a nonprofit, a business, or a school.

 Is it a press release straight from a government source? Again, the closer the news is to the original source, the fewer options for dilution, contamination and opinion to seep in.  
For law enforcement readers, this can be especially important when sharing news of a line-of-duty death. The accepted etiquette requires that the officer shall not be identified until the death is verified and the name released by an official source, to allow for next of kin to be informed. No one deserves a death notification by social media.

Cross reference the story. Search for coverage of the same event, and see how the story differs in other publications. What's being left out? Added? Why? 
If you cannot find the story elsewhere, hold off on passing it on.

I like a site called  for assessing a potential source. It is an independent outlet supported by donations and third party advertising, used by many large media companies and fact checkers. And, it's free.  
I can search for a source there and find out who owns it, what the site's evaluation of their bias is (ALL sources have bias, because humans), and the source's history of factual reporting. The site has a clearly explained method for evaluating bias, and I've found them to be reasonable. 
The more you know, the more value the information has. 

Sensationalism and cliffhanger headlines indicate clickbait , not news. There's information being conveyed, for sure, but it's to make easy money off quick clicks, not to enlighten you. Here's a visual guide created by a Reddit user for his grandma:

Don't go down that rabbit hole. And don't share it. 
And I'm sorry to add, don't assume a source is reliable just because it has 'law enforcement', 'blue', 'police' or the like in its name. News sites and social media pages know that cops are suspicious of "mainstream media" and will take advantage of your (justifiable) suspicion to gather your eyeballs and your clicks. You deserve better than that. Find the ones that are neutral in tone, well-sourced and reliable. You may not always like what they have to say, but it's worth that once in a while to not be manipulated for better results in a search engine. 

Loaded language is another red flag, in the body of an article or especially in a headline. 
News reporting should tell you what happened. If it tries to steer the way you feel about what happened (outrage, anyone?) , it's no longer just 'news' and you need to turn on the skeptic filter.

Some examples of loaded language versus neutral language:
*Did the involved officer shoot the suspect, or "gun them down"?
*Is the suspect a...well, a suspect, or is he/she a "father of two" "a grandmother" "a teen" (at 18 or 19, rather than "a man")? A "graduate"?
*Did someone "say " something? Or did they "report"? "Admit"? "Concede"? 
*How about "died"? Or, "passed away"? "Was killed" or "was murdered"?

Each word may be technically accurate. Each word also carries its own positive or negative implication, influencing the reader's view of what happened. Loaded language does not necessarily make a report incorrect, but it may very well make it misleading. 

Practice being a literate news consumer. If you don't, you risk simply becoming an information sponge, or worse, a dupe being steered by others who want your vote, your influence, your money and your time. Lives have been ruined by social media mobs pushing social media inaccuracies. 
It's worth the time and effort, to preserve your own credibility and the integrity of the information you pass along. If you'd like to start teaching your kids to be wise news readers as well, try playing online games designed for students. Make it a competition, and talk about the results. 

The Golden Rule of Media Literacy (Especially Online) is verify, cross reference, and when in doubt, wait. 
Yes, I just made that up. 
It works anyway, I promise. I've been doing it for years now. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Superheroes, and You

Watched Civil War again last night, and got talking about our deep thoughts on the matter; yeah, we're a house full of nerds that way.

The themes of that film, Batman v. Superman and The Incredibles collided---
Fear by the public of the use of strength and authority, to defy and contain evil. Sound familiar?

I don't think it's coincidence that this theme keeps repeating itself, and that it is the the heroes who are doubted, second-guessed and criticized for fighting what needs to be fought, even when it's hard, when it's messy, when the outcome doesn't always seem clear.

And each film resolves the same way: the heroes are needed, but not loved.
Their consciences require action, to protect those who cannot defend themselves.
Their community, troubled by what they do not understand, is still better with them than without them---and that ultimately they are admired, and emulated, but never completely accepted.

Sound familiar? That's you. That's the ones you love.
Your Sunday comics came with a moral this week.
You're welcome.
*image by No Greater Love Art *

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Officers We're Leaving Behind on Peace Officers Memorial Day

*Fallen Officer Memorial, San Bernardino County*

Peace Officers Memorial Day was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.
Every year, officers killed in the line of duty are honored at the national memorial in grand and solemn ceremonies.
Their survivors are offered solace, closure and promises of support. Their heartbreak is seen and publicly acknowledged,surrounded and supported by a sea of blue.
This is as it should be.

The intent of President Kennedy's proclamation goes further, though.
We've ignored what he intended for this day, and thousands upon thousands of officers and their families pay the price for that omission.

Read that excerpt again: Peace Officers Memorial Day, Police Week, all of it, was intended from the beginning to honor both fallen officers, and the disabled who survive.

We aren't doing that, yet.
Too many officers are met at the hospital with assurances that "we've got you", that "we're with you" and that "no one fights alone", and then...they're left alone.

They're left alone with hospital bills, left alone with their pain, left alone to fight with work comp lawyers, or worse, with their own departments.
They're left alone with spouses who are now caregivers and breadwinners, with children they no longer can lift.
They're left alone with disappointment and loss of identity.

They're left alone by the people who swore they'd follow them into the fire.
That promise rings hollow when their real concern is health insurance, a vehicle they can drive, a doorway they can navigate, loss of income, loss of independence.
It rings hollow when the people who would take a bullet for them stop calling because it's hard to visit a reminder of what can happen, so fast.

The single biggest myth about policing is that some "system" magically kicks in when they get hurt.
The truth is isolating, expensive and painful: there is no system.
Every wounded officer is left to struggle on his own.
Every agency, every city and county, township, parish and state, is making this up as they go along, and it is the wounded officers who pay the price for their shortcomings.
Hollywood perpetuates the myth, depicting injured officers returning to duty by the next scene, the next episode, with an emotional sprinkle of folded flags and bagpipes.

A disabled officer told me once, "If I had died, I wouldn't be a burden."

Until no officer feels that way again, something remains missing from Police Week.
Remember the fallen.
Comfort the bereaved.
Walk alongside your wounded and disabled.

This in how you honor them all, this Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Note to Crowds: GO HOME. Sincerely, Parks and Wildlife Refuges

The screenshot above is from a conversation I had with a veterinarian friend three weeks ago. It was part of a group discussion about whether the advisories surrounding COVID-19 were exaggerated.
His response: No.
"When we get diseases like this in veterinary medicine, we start culling entire herds."

The key takeaway from the experience of the 1918 influenza pandemic by the world's leading historian on the topic is simple: Tell the Truth.
The truth is that park rangers and conservation officers across the nation, local, state and federal need you to GO HOME.

As a journalist who grew up in rural Idaho and now writes from Montana put it, This Pandemic is Not Your Vacation.
It also won't last forever, but for now: go home.
Then, stay there.

The game wardens, park rangers and conservation officers responsible for protecting you, wildlife and the land are getting mixed messages from their bosses, higher government officials, and the public.
They're being told they are not to approach visitors within 6 feet without complete PPE (N95 mask, gloves, and eye pro), both for their safety and for yours.
The catch is they haven't been issued that gear.
Gloves and a pair of aviators won't cut it, and everyone knows they're not going to just stand by and watch while crimes are committed or visitors get hurt.

The public is getting mixed messages from officials too--go outside! Stay 6 feet apart! We've waived entry fees!
We're open! We're closed!

What's really going on?
Some of the biggest, most glamorous parks are closed- Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the like.
At state and federal levels,most of the rest are "open".
What's the catch?
The catch is what's really not open: visitor centers.
Parking lots. Bathrooms. Restaurants.
The catch is that 'non-essential' staff has been furloughed, or are teleworking.
The catch is that where bathrooms are open, they're being cleaned by the rangers and officers without appropriate PPE, or worse, by volunteers.
The few bathrooms available are often primitive vault toilets without handwashing facilities, and the truth of a novel virus is that no one has yet ruled out a fecal-oral transmission route (ew).
The catch is that crowds converging on parks and refuges without visitor centers are parking on beaches, hiking off trail in sensitive environments during breeding seasons, and overcrowding trails too narrow to allow for safe social distancing.
The catch is that visitors in parks without bathrooms are pooping in the woods like bears, only leaving behind blooms of toilet paper laden with microbes capable of transmitting disease to humans.

That's not love of the Great Outdoors.

Buy your park passes. Get the sunscreen, camera and boots ready.
Familiarize yourself with the Big 6 of our wild places.

And stay home till this passes.
I never intended to become Radio Free America for rural cops, but here I am one more time saying what they can't without getting fired: their hands are tied.
They're frustrated, their working conditions are growing less safe by the day, and they can't keep you safe this way either.
Go home.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Just in Time

A police wife I've known for a long time asked me to pass along this story.
She said, "Right now, we need to be reminded of hopeful things", and she was right.
You need this.

She said,
"My husband left law enforcement after an officer-involved shooting with some really nasty small-town fallout.
He went back to school.
I went back to work.
My parents helped us keep our house, and keep our toddler son safe and loved while we were in a messy transition. Faith helped us keep our sanity.
Eventually we settled in to a self-employed life, running an investigations business from our home. Once he built a full time caseload we made a nice living, and it felt like we'd started over,finally.

Then 9/11 happened.

By 2003, the recession it sparked caught up with us.
The contract work that paid our bills dried up like a creek during drought- slowly and then all at once, leaving nothing behind but cracked mud, and want.

After working in the family business for years, I found an outside job to fill the gap but it wasn't enough. Small towns are hard job markets.
His job search dragged out for months, and the savings we'd built so carefully dwindled, nibbled away by rats in the mailbox named Mortgage, Car Repair and Power.
It was frightening.
The options were daunting, and few.
It turns out that criminal investigations is a pretty particular skill set, no matter what side of the bar you're standing on.
Finally he decided the only realistic option was to renew his POST certificate (which required attending an academy two hundred miles away, at our expense), and look for work as a cop once more.

Before he left,a card arrived in the mail.
It was from his brother, with whom we weren't terribly close, and there was a note inside with some gift cards.
There were cards for groceries and for gas, and for Walmart, where you can buy anything.

The note said, 'We have been praying for you, and God told us to send these. We love you.'

We were grateful and we were embarrassed.
My husband's pride was stung. We were still paying our bills.
"We don't need those," he said.
"Let's keep them for now. When we know we're back on our feet, we can give them to someone who does need them," I said.
I put them in my wallet and forgot about them.

He finished the re-certification academy and found a small department in the mountains where the boss was willing to take a chance on a guy who'd been out of the game for years. I stayed behind to keep working while our house was on the market.
Houses sell slowly in the winter.

He grew familiar with the weekend commute over a 5000-foot pass; my son and I finally figured out how to achieve detente.
Dad had always been the buffer. I was the one who lost my temper with 11 year old sass and shenanigans.

He thrived at the new department; he had a good boss, and police work was like riding a bicycle. He was good at it before, and he was good at it still. It felt good to have hope, and set down the burden of anxiety we'd been carrying for more than a year.

Five months in, I got a phone call at 12:33 a.m. from an emergency medicine doctor at a tiny hospital. My healthy, strong husband was suddenly, critically ill.
He was 100 miles away and it was snowing. The helicopters were grounded by weather, so they would keep him stable and transport him to the Big Hospital by ground ambulance in the morning.

I spent the rest of the night awake, packing and suppressing panic. When the sun rose, I woke my sixth-grader and we made the icy drive over interstate, through the canyons into the wide valley where my husband spent the next ten days in the hospital.

Illness and injury are nightmares when you're self-employed. That fear still dogged my mind.
This new job was too new for any usable number of sick days. In fact, he was still on probation and I understood that the department could let him go for any reason or none. Being the new guy and not working for ...I don't know, the foreseeable future, seemed like a pretty big reason.

I shoved those thoughts aside, and stuffed worries about loss of income- his, and mine. The Family Medical Leave Act protected my position, but it doesn't pay anything.
He was alive. If he recovered, we'd worry about it later.
If he recovered, I wouldn't care.

I had no power, but in that situation who does?
I couldn't make him well.
No one has a budget category for Loved One Suddenly Ill a Hundred Miles from Home.

I did have a key though,to my parents' house in the same city where my husband was hospitalized. They were traveling out of state, but there were warm safe beds for my son and me, a stocked kitchen and a washer and dryer.

And soon I had a phone call from his new boss, letting me know that every employee in his tiny county-- all 19 of them-- had donated time to a catastrophic leave bank for the New Guy. He promised me that there would be a light duty position ready for my husband when he was discharged, even if he had to invent one.

And in my wallet were gift cards, for gas and for groceries and for WalMart, where you can buy anything.

I had forgotten about them, those cards we didn't need- but the God Who Provides had not. He sees the end from the beginning, and the word He spoke to a brother we rarely see was perfectly timely.
We just didn't know it, then.

My husband did recover, and return to work. He grew in skill and wisdom, and supported that great boss through his own fatal illness just a few years later.
Then he led the little department himself and made it safely to a healthy retirement.
It was a path we could not have foreseen and maybe we wouldn't have chosen but then, we weren't in charge.

If you have no power to fix the problem before you, then it's not your problem.
It's too big for you.
Give it over to The One Who Is Bigger Than Yourself and let go of it, even if you have to keep doing it again every ten minutes.
You can't add a single minute to your life by worrying, and He never intended you to try."
******************** ******************** *********************
That isn't the end of her story, but it's the end for today.
For tonight, I wish you rest.
Wear your vest. Look after each other.
---Charlie Pitt

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thoughts on Law Enforcement Appreciation Day

Your news feed is filled with ideas for showing appreciation for law enforcement officers. Saying thank you, paying for their coffee and waving with all your fingers are kind gestures.
There's no downside to kindness.

But, do you really want to show them you appreciate them?
Then take it a little further.

Contact your legislators when I share a bill that ensures wounded officers have access to the care they need.
Donating to a GoFundMe is a kind gesture, but a charity fund is a bandaid on an arterial bleed.
No officer should have to beg for help paying the bills while recovering from traumatically-acquired holes they weren't born with.
No cop's wife should get a bill for her husband's mediflight from a crime scene, while he's still in ICU. It happens.
It shouldn't.

Help get laws changed in states that allow cities to put officers on the street before they've even gone to academy. It's not safe, and it's not fair, to the officer or to their community.

If communities want to show they appreciate their law enforcement officers, they won't wait till after they get killed or hurt, and then call them heroes, and name things after them, so mayors or selectmen can have a photo op by a road sign, or a building.

They'll buy them vests.
Buy them tourniquets.
Send them to training.
Fix the brakes, and replace the tires.
Find them help after critical incidents.

That's how lives are honored.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Decide What You Want

*Photo credit Mercury News*

It's time to decide what we want from law enforcement.

Social workers?

Do we want the cheapest cops possible?
Or, do we want well trained and well screened cops?
Well equipped cops, with every tool needed for every possible eventuality?
Or the beat cop from grandaddy's hometown, with nothing but a smile, a wheelgun, and one set of cuffs?

Really, we want it all.
Admit it, we do- and we want it all, without paying for any of it.

Every officer needs to be an empathetic, well-spoken, SEAL-trained ninja, with double majors in psychology and social work, who considers the job a calling, and has no bills to pay, no nerves to fray, and enforces the law completely objectively while also using discretion at all times, unless it's going to result in arresting--or not arresting--the wrong person at the wrong time, for the wrong thing, in the opinion of every member of the public.

If that person existed, he wouldn't work for you.
So we've got to deal with what exists, and what exists are humans.

Humans are fallible, and their bodies are frail. Their brains play tricks on them when they're under stress, and then keep them from sleeping by replaying the stressor on an endless loop later, trying to find ways to 'fix' whatever went wrong.

Humans come in varieties, not exactly like dog breeds, but close enough that the analogy works:
If you need a bite dog, you don't start with a Golden Retriever.
Possibly, you can teach the Golden to bite on command, if you're persistent enough, and mean enough,but in the process, you'll ruin everything that made him a Golden to begin with.
*Photo Franklin County Sheriff's Office*

Now translate that back to people.
Warriors, soldiers, great war generals like Patton, may live for the fight but they don't always play well with others after the battle.
They can be harsh.
They can use bad language in settings where you wish they were polite.
They find humor in ugly, dark places that just frighten the rest of society.
They're not always...nice.

If you want only a cuddly, soft, empathetic officer whose first response is always a soft answer and compassion, you can have that.
She'll never embarrass her chief at Coffee with a Cop.
He'll present well on camera, every time, and remind you of someone's grandfather.
He'll be the perfect SRO, until there's an active shooter at your kid's school.

Suddenly, society insists on the warrior.
They want the crack-driven demon Malinois, 55 pounds of rawhide, springsteel and gator teeth, driving into the gunfire and doing anything it takes -- anything -- to keep the children safe.
And once the threat is gone, society wants the Malinois to morph back into the therapy dog.
They want the warrior gone, the counselor returned, the off-switch thrown.

That's not how it works.
And it's not fair.

I tell you now: the unicorn doesn't exist.
You can't have it.
What you can have is a human.
If you recruit well, background thoroughly, and train constantly, you can have a human with a kind heart, and good ethics, who is willing to fight hard, be uncomfortable, even get hurt, for you.
You can have a human who tries. You can have someone who struggles, who sometimes fails, who gets better with time and experience, and who has setbacks.
You can't have perfection.
In fact, you can break perfectly good humans by insisting they be something they can't be-- things no one can be.

Decide now that, as long as cops get recruited from the human race, they're going to be exactly human, with everything that means.
The rest of society is also human, after all.
Maybe it's time we decide what we want from the rest of us, too.