Richard Edelstein writes:
“I take issue with your decision to focus the (bank robbery/hostage/chase) article on the defense of actions by police and whether or not the police acted professionally, competently and with integrity. Of course we all want to believe and expect that the police made the right decisions and took the appropriate actions to deal with what was admittedly a tense, crisis situation with the life of a hostage and possibly others in balance.
“Your conclusion that the police acted correctly is simply premature. There are no facts presented to the reader upon which one could reasonably draw the same conclusion you do. Unless you have information not yet available to the public that provides sound evidence that the police acted properly and professionally, I see no reason you can credibly argue that the police hold no responsibility for the death of the hostage. If you do have such information it should have been included in the article. If there is an internal investigation, and I assume there is, we should await its results before either defending or accusing the police in this matter.
“I have no reason to question the motives of the police or their professionalism and competency. Nonetheless, due to the loss of a life of a member of our community, it seems especially important not to pre-judge what occurred in the press.
“To suggest that there may have been some mistakes or faults in judgement by the police should not necessarily suggest that they are culpable of gross incompetence or improper motives. This was, as you note, an extraordinarily difficult and complicated situation for which an obvious solution or action was unlikely. Still, it is reasonable to ask questions such as:
“—Which decisions were the most critical to the outcome? When did they occur? Who made the decisions? What were the criteria used? What were the alternative choices that were considered? (These are tough questions that may be difficult to reconstruct given the rapidity of events, but they are necessary and reasonable questions.)
“—What is considered “best practice” in a hostage taking crisis among experts and other professional police associations locally, in the state and nationally?
“—If “best practice” was not used in this case, why not? What were the unique characteristics of this crime that may have made “best practice” impractical?
“—What lessons can be drawn from this experience that might result in a more effective response in some future event?
“Finding answers to these questions will not be easy and the results may be uncertain or limited. Still, it is incumbent on all in our community to have the courage to ask these questions and seek answers. If our police have integrity, professionalism and the desire to improve, they should also want to seek answers to these questions.
“We should give the police force the benefit of any doubts and not seek to create a politicized process when the focus must be on the facts and professionalism. Your defense of the police was premature, not based on solid facts or information, and attempts to influence public opinion before the process of review and evaluation is complete.
“It was the right subject, but not the right opinion or content at this time.”
I take Edelstein’s points. But news is new. Readers subscribe for the paper’s mixture of immediacy and perspective on events. The answers Edelstein seeks will be months in coming. Preliminary judgements are necessary, given they are clearly preliminary.
I did, for the record, contact a national police organization to ask what options the police might have had to a rolling shootout. They did not respond. That was a disappointing hole in the column. But that’s deadine journalism.
Also for the record: Far from me being some complacent defender of police, my ignorance of all I should know in a novel tragedy such as this gnaws at me night and day. Edelstein is right that we must seek better understanding. That is why I left the posibility open that, as facts emerge and our understanding deepens, our judgment of the police’s actions may have to be revised.
My methods and judgments are as open to scrutiny as the police’s. Comments such as Edelstein’s help keep those methods smarter and more ethical than I could ever be alone.