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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2015-07-22

Become a Better Journalist, Better Person
Building Good Relationships with Law Enforcement

By Nic Coury

Photo by Nic Coury

Photo by Nic Coury

Seaside Police Cmdr. Bruno Dias (center) talks to prepares the SWAT team during a suicide call with a shot fired on April 7, 2015.
I’m an Eagle Scout. Despite any feelings about the Boy Scouts’ politics, I am proud to call myself one.

During my Court of Review in 2002, I was asked what, in my opinion, was the most important point of the 12-point Scout Law. My answer then, and still today, is kindness. I try to live it every day to the best of my ability. I argue it’s the key to any good relationship as everything, from trust to loyalty, stems from being kind. It is also how I approach my role as a journalist when dealing with law enforcement.

We’ve all seen the headlines by now, from Occupy to Ferguson. There have been seemingly endless stories about photographers and reporters being detained or arrested while covering riots or other news events for unconstitutional and unjustified reasons by the police, infringing on our first amendment rights.

Many people have a problem with the cops, due to feeling bullied by authority. Covering spot news and dealing with crime matters are a regular occurrence in my job at the Monterey County Weekly newspaper. I interact with the police almost daily in Monterey County, Calif. and both write about and photograph gang and drug violence locally. My coverage and ability to do my job to the best of my ability would be very much hindered if I didn’t make a concerted effort to have positive relationships with the local law enforcement.

First off, I am always professional. This is not a question, nor something to be taken lightly. I’m always courteous with any law enforcement personnel I interact with and am often friendly. It’s a respectful relationship where both parties know the boundaries of what we can and can’t do.

Often, the sergeants and commanders take a few minutes, when they can, to come over and talk to me, because they see me when I arrive on scene. I know many of the officers by first name and it helps when I arrive to a crime scene and know whom I’m able to talk to. I joke to my law enforcement colleagues that hopefully I won’t see them because it means we’ll both be working.

Crime is a very gruesome, unpretty world, but it’s part of the world we live in and as a journalist, I argue that we need to be there to tell the story, despite the horror. I have had my fair share of emotional stories over the years, many of which still haunt me, but I feel the need to document and accurately report what happened, despite the trauma.

“Most police departments speak of the importance of transparency and service in law enforcement,” says Seaside Police Commander Bruno Dias. “Customer service is very important in law enforcement and in order to obtain community support, we need to be open and honest with the communities we serve.”

Dias heads up the Monterey Peninsula’s drug and gang unit. He's also the tactical commander of the local SWAT team. I highly respect him as a cop. He’s straightforward with me and I know that if I don’t keep my word he’ll never speak to me again. My word is all I have to base my credibility on, so I take that trust seriously.

Photo by Nic Coury

Photo by Nic Coury

Seaside Police Officer Joe Roggish helps secure a perimeter around a house on the corner of Amador Avenue and Contra Costa Street where a man shot himself in the head.
“Journalists have to be ethical and report stories based on known facts,” he says. “I trust you will report on fact and not on opinions.”

The media, he says, helps keep police accountable for their actions, as well as keeping the community they serve informed of what is happening in their neighborhoods. The key component to the relationship is fairness. That trust that I will do my job is, in part, built out of communication.

“Find out what your limitations are by talking to police agencies about what is acceptable before hot calls happen and seek feedback about your response after major incidents,” says Dias. “Trust is very important and once you have trust, the sharing of information flows freely.”

There is a phrase we used to use when I worked on staff at summer camp: When one of us looks good, we all look good, but when one of us looks bad, we all look bad. As news journalists, it is vitally important to always look good on the job. We must always be professionals, especially in high stress, potentially violent situations. With all the vitriol for the press, each one of us has to make a concerted effort to be the good guy.

For me, that good example comes with being a human first. On a few occasions when I have overstepped my boundaries, officers have yelled at me. In all instances, I went back to that officer later when the scene was less hot and apologized for my actions and tried to explain where I was coming from. One officer—a member of Dias’ team and another Seaside cop—told me no member of the media had ever done that before and he appreciated it.

Just because I have a job to do, one that I find important and will fight for my legal right to do, doesn’t mean I cannot do it respectfully.

Why would any law enforcement, or anyone for that matter, want to deal with someone who isn’t going to be respectful and kind?



Nic Coury is a staff photographer with the Monterey County Weekly newspaper. You can see samples of his work on his Sports Shooter member page:
http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=7571


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