Memorial Season

Last week, here in the United States, was National Police Week. In a world where police weren’t the enemy, it might be the occasion for public events celebrating the service and courage of the men and women in blue, brown, and green.

In the real world, regrettably, it’s the occasion for a lot of memorial ceremonies honoring officers who’ve died in the line of duty. This year, in Minnesota, this was underscored by the murder of Maplewood Sergeant Joe Bergeron only a week prior.

I attended the Saint Paul Police Department’s memorial ceremony last Wednesday. It’s not a fun occasion, by any stretch of the imagination. Think a funeral for thirty people – the number of SPPD officers who’ve died in the line of duty over the years – complete with eulogy and bagpipes. It’s depressing, actually, but it highlights the seriousness with which law enforcement takes the motto “never forget”.

The most chilling part? The Chief reads aloud the name of all thirty officers who’ve died in the line of duty, one at a time. As he reads each name, an officer in the room announces “Absent!”, and a bell is tolled. If that doesn’t leave you depressed, you’re probably over-medicated.

Last Friday, I also attended the vigil and ceremony at the Peace Officer Memorial near the state Capitol. This was equally impressive, and equally moving, but not nearly as depressing.

As much as it highlighted the reverence that law enforcement has for its fallen brethren, I couldn’t help but notice that it also highlighted the way that modern law enforcement doesn’t really get along with today’s media.

Once upon a time in this country, police and the media had a very close – some would say “incestuous” – relationship, which at least occasionally included an unspoken gentleman’s agreement that the media got special access, and in return overlooked officers and activities that maybe weren’t 100% politically correct.

And then at some point the media decided that journalistic integrity was a nice thing to have, and they started publishing the various skeletons in the closet, and then you got the prevailing status quo, where the media kind of need the police to do their job, and the police want nothing to do with the media, because three millions time bitten, three million and one times shy.

Fifty years ago, the media showed up at a crime scene, and it was all “Hi, Chuck” and “Make me look good, okay?”. Now the media show up and it’s “Great, the jackals are here to screw things up and make life difficult. Rock-paper-scissors for who gets stuck telling them ‘no comment’?”

I’d never been to one of these memorial services before Friday. I assume some of the actual reporters there had been, but it didn’t seem to matter much because they were all pretty much as lost as I was.

See, there was apparently a schedule of when things were going to happen – the changing of the guard, various speeches, the presentation of wreaths for Sergeant Bergeron and others, and things like that. Stuff the media has a certain vested interest in covering.

Stuff that, because this is a public memorial ceremony honoring their fallen brethren, you’d think the police would have a certain vested interest in having covered well.

Nobody told the media, or the other bystanders, what was happening, or what was going to happen. So, every time something unusual did happen, it was promptly greeted with a rush of photographers and videographers running to catch it, because they had no idea what “it” was and it might be important.

The media might be a nuisance, but they’re at least occasionally a useful nuisance. I know nobody wants to be seen to be “colluding” with the media, because old habits and attitudes die hard, but sticking some rookies with the temporary task of being “media liasons” would have been a win-win for everyone that night.

Who knows? Set aside grudges for one day a year and maybe in a century or two media-law enforcement relations will thaw to something a little healthier…

Published in: General, History | on May 20th, 2010| No Comments »

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