Effort aimed at getting information out as broadly as possible before comments on Facebook and Twitter form a narrative.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson says he and his officers are finally starting to get it: They no longer can hide, for the most part, behind a code of silence when there is an officer-involved shooting.
In St. Louis on Sunday, police shot a 14-year-old boy who they say fired first at cops. Fortunately, Tyron Edwards, an eighth-grader at Yeatman-Liddell Middle School, was only wounded and will survive. Another victory is that the St. Louis police immediately engaged the community to talk openly — face-to-face — about the shooting. You can chalk that one up to the power of social media.
Although the progress is painfully slow, some police are starting to learn they cannot simply close their mouths or talk only with selected reporters in the wake of an officer-involved shooting.
With the country on edge in the wake of so many black men being killed by cops, it is important for the police to speak directly to the community after an incident — in person and through social media. Also, those conversations should include real talk, and not just a bunch of community relations malarkey.
“We have realized how people get information from various sources, especially social media, and sometimes those sources are not helpful,” Dotson told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “So we realize we need to get them as much information as quickly as we can.”
“And good old-fashioned conversation can never be replaced by Twitter.”
Dotson did take a slight swipe at Twitter, but platforms like Twitter are the driving force behind transparency, and Dotson knows it. Because of pressure from postings on Twitter and Facebook, police departments that are trying to do the right thing are having to act more openly.
“There is this idea of a thin blue wall, and I hope they heard a sincere, honest, genuine conversation with someone who is trying to figure out all the facts just like they were,” Dotson said about his decision to personally meet with residents in the community where the boy was shot.
The Post-Dispatch reported that the police department hasn’t changed its policy when it comes to having officers talk to the public, but Dotson is acknowledging that a culture shift — no doubt impacted by social media — has subconsciously occurred within.
And that’s a good thing.
Dotson said police shot and wounded the teenager after he fired at officers as officers were in the neighborhood searching for a car taken in a carjacking. Dotson said police approached Edwards who was on foot, and the teen ran away and later fired a shot at officers.
According to the police report officers returned fire and Edwards fell to the ground, Tyron’s 16-year-old sister, Darrisha Barnes, challenged the police account, saying her brother fan from the cops because he was scared and had his hands up when he was shot.
“It was mistaken identity. He was just a little kid, why is the first thing you do is to fire shots?” Darrisha Barnes said.