How well informed are you about the world in which you police? I’ve been a “news junky” since I was a kid, so between cable television, books, magazines and the Internet, I’m relatively well-informed about current events primarily because I enjoy it. (I’m chagrined to admit that I also know exactly how many hours Kim Kardashian was married before she filed for divorce) However, I’m often a little surprised when I ask someone’s opinion about the news of the day and I get a blank stare in return. I know it’s more fun to watch Snookie and J-Wow’s latest acts of drunken stupidity than it is to read why the Secretary of State just visited the Philippines, but your knowledge of current events can be critical to protecting your community and it may even be essential to keeping yourself and your fellow officers safe.
Local news is a good way to find what your community is concerned about. Make sure you read the newspaper(s) that cover the community you work in, especially if you don’t live in the immediate area. Politics, events, school concerns, even crime trends and policy issues show up in the local news. Area television news is also a good way to stay connected, although there’s a caveat. Accept that all news outlets have bias, and your local television station is no different. A TV newscast has a very short amount of time to tell a limited number of stories, and their primary goal is to make advertizing revenue. Lots of cops have stopped watching the local news because it tends to be salacious, trivial or sometimes anti-police, but staying in touch with events in your own jurisdiction will at the very least give you something to chat with you citizens about, and it may help you in ways you’ve never imagined. I know a veteran detective who was watching the ten o’clock news one night and saw a story about a string of armed robberies in a jurisdiction about an hour away from him. He had worked a group of similar robberies a decade before, and had eventually put the offender in prison. The next day he did some checking and found out that “his” robbery offender had recently been paroled. He contacted the other agency, filled them in, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What about national news? Are events in New York really going to affect Oakland, California? Ask any police agency dealing with “Occupy Wall Street” about that. Can the drug wars in Mexico impact more than just our border states? As I learned recently from crime analyst and author Sylvia Longmire, the cartels have been bringing their brutality (and their drugs) well north of the border for some time now, including the horrific cartel-related torture and murder of four men in Shelby County, AL in August of 2008. Are you aware that the FBI has added the Sovereign Citizens movement to their “top three” list of domestic terror threats? Any American law enforcement employee is likely to encounter a “Sovereign,” and not only officers and investigators need to be informed, but dispatchers, records clerks, and call takers also must understand the threat that this movement poses. National happenings affect all of us.
In a post 9/11 world where we are involved in two (or more) wars, we tend to be a bit more aware of global happenings, but we need to know more than the just basics about Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or whatever country is the media’s foreign policy “flavor of the day.” For example, as I write this Al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants continue to brutalize the people in southern Somalia and the rape and murder of children there is on the rise. If you’re a cop in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, you probably deal with Somali’s on a regular basis; but in other areas of this country we don’t always pay much attention to international events outside of network news sound bites. We have many recent immigrants from so many tiny, war-torn nations living in our communities. No matter where you work, take a look at the “international” communities in your own jurisdiction. Understanding their concerns “back home” may help you deal more effectively with them on the street and beyond.