This week's blog reflects a letter that I sent to a number of media outlets in response to a request for the photographs of officers who were recently involved in a shooting on May 2, 2014. It should be noted that one television station (Channel 15/WMTV), opted to not run the photographs as of this writing. My thanks go out to Channel 15 for this conscious decision to take the wellness of our officers to heart. My letter to the various outlets follows:
"Attached you will find photographs of my officers who were among a host of MPD first responders attempting to render assistance at last Friday's (5/2/14) tragic double homicide.
As I am sure that you are aware, by design, I did not immediately release the photographs of these officers simultaneously with the names provided earlier in the day. This breaks with the "tradition" of what has been done here in the past and may, at first blush, appear to be an attempt to be less transparent with the press. That is not the case. This is an issue that is very near and dear to my heart: the privacy interests of police officers who have been thrust into dire circumstances and compelled to stop a threat through deadly force.
While it is certainly the duty of the press to provide the public with important information relative to a major incident occurring in our City, I find it odd that there is little discussion about the attempts to provide an officer with sufficient time and resources to begin the arduous process of healing in the wake of having had to take the life of another. Is it truly fair (or relevant) that we see the face of an officer that was not a public figure at noon but then elevated to that status by 1pm after a shooting has occurred? How has the public been deprived (or served) by seeing a photo of the officer when the name has already been revealed? These officers have not yet even had the benefit of attending a critical incident debriefing and will not be getting one until the investigation conducted by DCI is over. Under the best of circumstances, an officer who has been involved in a shooting is going through a difficult journey. Imagine then (as has happened here in Madison), when you go out shopping and people point to you and say cruel things to you and/or members of your family? Couple this with the fact that there is compelling evidence that even those officers who have been ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing in a shooting retire in great numbers within five years of the event. That's a measure of how difficult it is to return to duty after a shooting. I was merely trying to cut down, in any way I can, those odds.
When I initially refused to release the pictures, I knew that I would be running counter to the grain of thinking on this topic. My Command Staff and others deemed it highly unlikely that I could prevail and I am grateful for their good counsel. However, one of my jobs is to force people in this community to have difficult discussions and it is highly unlikely that I am going to change my ways. Theoretically, one would think it easier to go along and get along, and enjoy the "honeymoon" effect of being new. That's not me. But now I have been informed by the City Attorney's Office that they are not likely to be able to withstand a legal challenge and it is best to release the photos (which I have done). It was never my intent to thwart the desires of the Fourth Estate; it was my intent to challenge the necessity of this practice."