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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

A Cop's Dilemma: Speak No Evil

It's important for officers to show pride their jurisdictions, but should that prevent them from telling the truth?

July 15, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Some stories seem tailor made for national reportage. A conversation that had apparently taken place last month between Officer Ted Crisco and Bob Esposito—a St. Petersburg, Fla., father—certainly appeared to be one of them.

As reported in the media, the officer had the temerity to warn the man against allowing his daughter to hang around the Northshore Pool at night. Esposito then contacted various civic leaders within the community and bent the ear of at least one enterprising reporter who took the ball and ran with it. Before long, national newswires were running editorials on how some pissed off councilmen wanted a piece of the officer's ass. The department had even initiatited an investigation into the officer's having made "disparaging comments against the city."

My first response was, How chickenshit.

I was damn near salivating when I dialed the St. Petersburg Police Department. A PIO with the department was kind enough to get back to me. He clarified the matter for me, letting me know that the officer had never been subject to an investigation, but that an inquiry had been made to determine what had actually been communicated to Esposito given the hornet's nest that been stirred up among the local politicos. He also said that there'd been some confusion over a pursuit and the reasons for its cancellation that'd preceded the conversation.

By the end of our conversation I was, at one level, disappointed: My pious outrage had quickly dissipated and whatever witticisms I'd planned around Crisco being in the frying pan were shot.

On the other, I was heartened to hear that things were not as they'd been reported. Nor was I particularly surprised that the local news reporter who'd put the ball into play had never even contacted the St. Pete PD to see if any of the information being fed him was accurate.

Still, the incident prompts me to wonder at just what point does one bite the hand that feeds them.

If an officer theoretically knows the nuances of his jurisdiction given his professional exposure to it, is he best served by not saying anything about threats to those who may otherwise frequent it? Or is he jeopardizing the business owners who likewise contribute to his salary?

It's a fair question.

On the one hand, if I was genuinely intent on acting in the best interests of a concerned citizen, I would tell him of any prospective dangers associated with the location that he intends to live or do business in.

Beyond that, I couldn't help but be reminded of a period in the early '90s when St. Petersburg's home state had to deal with another ongoing problem: Tourists were getting robbed and killed in the area around Miami International Airport.

Eventually, law enforcement authorities and civic officials effected a number of changes designed to stem the tide of violence, including improved highway lighting, signage warning motorists from entering dangerous areas, a change in the way rental cars are tagged, and a task force that vigorously attacked the problem.

No agency wants its personnel speaking ill of the city that funds its department. But to say that all areas of a city are equally safe is patently absurd. That being the case, if an officer knows that a citizen runs the risk of becoming victimized in some capacity, should he articulate the fact?

I'd love to hear your opinions on this.

Tags: St. Petersburg (Fla.) PD, Media Misconduct


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

John @ 7/18/2011 6:02 PM

Damned right the officer should tell the citizen the truth about the dangers that are evident in his jurisdiction. As a retired law enforcement officer, I seek out the area police to ask questions about places I or my family may be interested in living or visiting. If city politicians don't like that, they are the idiots that should be thrown out of office for not taking steps to solve situations that may be hazardous. Of course, I am from the old school of law and order, not the PR bs political crap that our fine officers have to contend with these days.

Tom @ 7/18/2011 6:55 PM

It doesn't sound like the officer's opinion of the area was wrong only that he shouldn't have given an opinion. If the officer is disciplined, I would hope that he could sue the city over a violation of his constitutional rights. Some people believe falsely that officers have no rights. The person who was given the opinion can take it or leave it. In this case, he would have been wise to take it if he valued his daughter's welfare.

DaveSAM25G @ 7/18/2011 9:53 PM

The media is always complaining about police powers etc…Yet when you catch the media with the (BS) flag, or hands in the cookie jar and try to post the true story it goes into the moderator hole never to be seen again. I know I have attempted on numerous occasions to ask them to verify their source and statements in articles. You can tell from the tone of their reporting that they’re going for blood, and enjoying every minute of it with an agenda that’s why may PIO’s provide a written statement vice a verbal statement. It kills me that the media people, who seem so intent on holding everyone else’s feet to the fire when it comes to obeying the rules, don’t mind breaking the law themselves when it comes to fulfilling their agenda…

A quote here I like and solid advice!

"By holding myself accountable, I prevent mistakes from becoming habits. By holding others accountable, I treat them in the same manner as I do myself; therefore I remain both a student and a teacher! (Phil Messina, Sgt, NYPD, Ret.)."

Deadman @ 7/19/2011 2:15 AM

The media is so blatantly(on the surface)politically correct,any good investigative reporters worth their salt,are either retired or long since dead,you really can't trust them,so you can't be face to face with them,they'll turn on you,like snakes.Some reporters want a story so bad,they'll spew innuendo that has no basis in fact,they'll jeopardize a murder trial and its outcome just to seem in the know.I told citizens to not bother with calling in an attaboy,because i asisted a citizen across the street from my jurisdiction and it wasn't worth the hassle.I always advised citizens to stay out of harms way because it was easier to do that then write a crime report later.I hated taking rape reports when all you had to do was advise citizens to stay out of area and be aware of their environment and who is around them.Politicians come and go but the citizens in your patch are like family,you have regard for them,you have no regard for politicians.

Chuck @ 7/19/2011 4:56 AM

I believe that Fla. is rather famous for its 'sunshine law' requiring the release of nearly all police information in the pursuit of the 'peoples right to know'. If the officer relayed information which could be substantiated with fact from their records then he was releasing nothing the citizen couldn't find out for himself. If anything, the press should have picked up on the amount of trouble at the location and spotlighted it for the community and the politicians to deal with. Why should it be assumed that commenting about a problem area in the community is a comment against the city? Don't all cities have problem areas to deal with? It seems that this was a poor job reporting, but maybe indicates why St Petersburg is having such a time dealing with violence and problems in the city. Maybe a little support for the police department is in order if they want things to improve. The officer should be commended for protecting his citizens.

Tom @ 7/19/2011 8:22 AM

I agree with all that has been said, the officer is there to serve an protect, that include all that live there an those that visit there.

Tim @ 7/19/2011 10:33 AM

I know officers that have been subject to discipline for answering this type of question. A citizen stops you in the street and says they are thinking of buying or renting a residence in the area. What do you say? These days I simply tell them where to find crime maps of the area. The fear discipline has stifled my ability to tell the truth or give opinions in this matter.

SSGDave @ 7/19/2011 3:29 PM

In our county, we tell citizens the facts, not opinions, and if some councilman/woman isn't pleased, that's thier issue, because facts speak for themselves. Safety of the citizens is our priority, not smooth talking or PC behavior. We've had too many councilmen and women play games with our office, trying to make the sheriff look bad over things when in fact it was thier wrongdoing being pointed out like rose wilcox doing business and showing favoritisms to La Raza on Official Business duties that she was upset about, or sinema playing games to make other pols look bad while using the Sheriff's office as a scapegoat. We simply do our jobs, and if it brings to light the council's problems they're trying to hide, maybe they shouldn't be doing illegal things or trying to help illegals stay here in the US.

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