Volume 5, Issue 5
August-September 1999
Police-Press Street Relations Seminar
On August 30, 1999 a Police-Press Street Relations Seminar was conducted at the Police Academy. The Seminar was sponsored by the Police Department and co-sponsored by the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association, Lodge #1 of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Chicano Police Officers’ Association and the National Press Photographers Association.
The seminar was designed for first line supervisors and members of the media who cover police activities in order that both officers and media representatives attempt to learn and understand each other’s unique roles in society. About 20 journalists, reporters, videographers and photographers who are assigned to a police beat, or who regularly cover police activity and about 20 officers, mostly recently promoted sergeants met in a day long session.
The precept for the training started with the concept that the Bill of Rights guarantees both a Free Press and a suspect’s right to a fair trial. The public has a right to know what police do and how they act. However, police not only have a duty to allow the public to know, but to also provide suspects with an untainted trial.
Because the right of a free press and the right to a fair trial often are in conflict police and press relations sometimes become strained.
Media access to crime, accident, emergency and disaster scenes sometimes are restricted, to varying degrees to protect the public from actual danger and/or to allow officials a clear area to work. How, why and when such restrictions occur may cause misunderstandings or tension.
Chief of Police Gerry Galvin and Captain Ray Schultz of Training and Selection Section welcomed the participants.
Federal Magistrate Don Svet (former Albuquerque Police Sergeant who left the Department to go to law school, then became an Assistant United States Attorney for years then President George Bush appointed him United States Attorney for the New Mexico District) spoke on the Sixth Amendment, right to a fair trial.
Civil Rights and Media Attorney Jim Dines spoke on the First Amendment right of a Free Press.

Former Independent Counsel Patrick V. Apodaca, spoke about the Albuquerque Police Department's "Onlooker's Policy.

President Manny Sotelo, National Press Photographers Association, of KUSA TV News 9, in Denver gave the News view of "What is the News?"
Lieutenant Francisco Roque Nogales presented the Law Enforcement view, "Crime Scene: Containment, Interference, Efficiency and Safety."
Assistant Albuquerque City Attorney William Winter lectured on the Inspection of Public Records Act.

Lunch was provided by the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association and allowed the participants to get to know each other a little better personally.

Sgt. , Officer Beth Bayland, NPPA President Manny Sotelo and KOAT-TV Crime Reporter Jeff Zevley, share lunch and conversation.

The afternoon was broken into dual track break out sessions and practical exercises to have participants "Walk a mile in the other guy's shoes."

The Media Track was, "Use of Force briefing and the deadly force decision" taught by Sergeant Robert Johnston and assisted by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit Sergeant Steve Rodriguez. The media’s practical exercise was a run through the interactive video simulator, for a use of force exercise review and discussion.

Several members of the press entered the simulator, were placed in deadly situations and were shot quickly. They came away with a new sense of the difficulty that officers find themselves in during deadly force encounters.

The Law Enforcement Track Law Enforcement Track: "Command Staff and first-line supervisor's role in public statements," was instructed by Detective John Walsh Public Information Officer, which continued into a practical exercise on "sound bites: How to give a successful public statement to the press."

Detective Walsh, Lt. Nogales and Sotelo conducted mock television interviews with the assistance of four local television reporter/photographer crews who put the statements on video tape for each officers’ later review. Performances were then critiqued and pointers given on how to make the most effective public statement.
The final hour was dedicated to an open discussion.
Clearly the best part of the discussion surrounded an incident that happened the preceding morning. Jeff Zevley, crime reporter for KOAT-TV brought with him a piece of videotape taken at the scene of a police operation.
A group of young men had been terrorizing a neighborhood overnight with a drunken party punctuated by sporadic gunfire. Officers were called and arrived while it was still dark. The men retreated into a house leaving several spent shotgun shell husks in the street. They refused to peacefully come out when ordered to do so by officers. A barricade situation ensued and a SWAT operation commenced.
Two television news photographers from different local stations set up their cameras in what would become a very dangerous situation.
As the incident started to unfold the suspects left the house, where they had been holed up, it became apparent that the television news photographers were in the direct line of fire. The incident commander ordered the photographers moved by a field officer.
Just as the arrests were being made the field police officer approached the Photojournalists. On the audio portion of the videotape one could hear the officer state that the incident commander had instructed him to move the media members.
The Photojournalists protested that the events that were unfolding were crucial and newsworthy. It was compelling video.
The television news photographers asserted their right to continue taping the suspects coming into custody. The officer insisted they move stating that if the Photojournalists did not move themselves then they were subject to possible arrest. The Photojournalists protested again and the video shook and went off. The officer had moved the camera or photographer.
The next video shot was from a different angle showing the suspects in handcuffs being placed into a police car.
Present at the seminar were Sergeant Mark Garcia, the original first line supervisor and SWAT Sergeant Steve Rodriguez who was the Incident Commander, to explain what they saw happening.
The Photojournalists had been in a spot that was originally OK, but when the suspects came out of the house they went to an area that placed the Photojournalists at risk.
The suspects were in bright sunlight and the SWAT officers were in a deep shadow. The Photojournalists with their eye in the viewfinder were apparently unable to observe that the SWAT officers’ high powered weapons were pointed directly at them because guns’ profile were minimized by the straight on view.
The officer who had been ordered to move the camera people probably did not even realize that he too was in the direct line of fire. If he had he probably would have told them in more forceful terms that they were at great risk of being shot, rather than just that they had to move under threat of arrest.

As the participants viewed the tape after the explanation they saw what the Incident Commander had seen and the idea that the cops were pushing the press around evaporated. An audible sigh of relief fell over the group in the realization that maybe the cops actually were trying to protect the camera operators lives. It was a unique moment. With their minds’ changed about what was happening the seminar participants were glad to have had an opportunity to discuss the incident.

Public Information Officer John Walsh announced at a Chief's staff meeting that the seminar was such a success that it would be done again in January.

Tentatively the seminar will become a part of the initial training for all officers on the list of and for newly promoted sergeants.