I once got put in jail for “spamming” the Do Not Call registry. Which was actually just a misunderstanding about the nature of the registry. I thought—and this is mostly based on the name—that the registry was a list of contacts you don’t want calling you. Being the type of person who avoids conflict, responsibility, awkward situations I have to endure without the benefit of inebriation, and all forms of human contact (except, you know), I tried to add my boss, my roommate, and that guy who insists I call him “Dad.” Oh, and my judgmental goldfish—just in case he ever acquired a phone plan. It’s just so hard to predict where technology will take us in the next few years or so.
Of course, besides being put in jail, I was also fired, kicked out of my house, and disowned. If there’s a lesson here, I guess it’s that life forces you to interact with people you don’t want to interact with, and when you avoid certain responsibilities you discredit yourself, your employer, your community, and the people you’re expected to serve. And when your particular role involves taking the reins of a police department that’s seen more than its fair share of scrutiny and scandal—some of it justified, some of it crazier than my cellmate Mustang Stabby—the community in question (Paso Robles) probably doesn’t want to be forced to consult a Ouija board to figure out what your plans are for the department.
So, Chief Robert Burton—can I call you Richard?—here’s a little PR tip from one communication-shy so-and-so to another:
The best time to talk to the press is when you’re brand, spanking new and can issue all sorts of glorious promises and predictions about the wonderful things you’ll accomplish without anyone rubbing your nose in the puddles of stupid you’ve already dribbled all over the freshly washed carpet. I’m looking at you, Goldie! And there’s nothing like transparency for establishing that you want a positive relationship with the community.
When Ralph Martin stepped in as chief of police in Santa Maria, he was facing a PR nightmare the likes of which you—who tried to get out of an interview on the grounds that you had your hands full with the Mid-State Fair—can’t possibly imagine. A police officer was dead—shot by other officers. Worse still, the deceased officer had been accused of raping an underage police explorer. Kinda makes chasing after carnies look like small potatoes, doesn’t it?
And you want to know how Martin handled the situation? (I know you don’t want to know, Burton, but I’m going to say it anyway.) He talked candidly with reporters about his goals for the department. He said that first responders would be allowed—nay, encouraged!—to talk with the press. He flung open the department’s scandal-plagued doors to the prying eyes of the press and public.
If you want to know why, I think he said it best: “There are two areas that police are usually gauged by: How well they handle crime and public trust.”
It’s difficult to say how Burton is overcoming the first of those challenges, but a chief of police who chooses to ignore the media can’t be said to succeeding at the latter. New Times has been trying to schedule an interview with Burton since June. After initially pleading that he had his hands full with the fair—which has long since packed up and departed—he just stopped responding to requests for an interview. Given that we haven’t even had the chance to properly introduce ourselves by printing copies of his Dear Diary excerpts online, this seems a little preemptively cowardly.
People—the honorable Chief Burton included—seem to be laboring under the delusion that playing hard to get is the best method of “dealing with” the media. What these people forget is that the media isn’t just a clown car filled with Hunter S. Thompson wannabes who get their jollies messing with the people in power. OK, we mostly are, right down to the sunglasses and requisite bottle of Wild Turkey. But we’re also the people the community looks to for information. We’re the all-important portal between the people in power and the people who put them there. And when you ignore us—or try to fob us off with pitiful excuses about how you were just too busy choking down deep-fried Ho Hos at the Mid-State Fair to take the time to communicate your intentions to the community you serve—you exhibit a level of hubris that belies the notion that you think of yourself as a public servant.
Shredder’s a public nuisance. Send Do Not Call requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.