The recent story of LAPD Sergeant Deon Joseph triggered a flashback this week. For 17 years Sergeant Joseph has worked in the skid row of Los Angeles, a cluster of streets with over 3,500 homeless in a city of over 50,000 homeless. The YouTube "Stories from skid row" says it all.
My flashback was to a conference years ago in Vancouver. I was in the audience listening to a well known journalist describe stories about policing. It was one of those ah-ha moments, at least for the audience.
First he told stories about his personal experiences about officers he knew or came across on the street. They were positive stories about how those officers were conscientious and diligent. People needed help and the police showed up to help. It was all very glowing.
Then he told stories about rotten apples and police misconduct. They were stories from headlines in other parts of the city or from other cities. He had read those stories in the press and recounted them to us. His conclusion? There are two different sides of police work.
THE REAL STORY?
I pointed out to him that every positive story he told came from his life experience but every negative story came from the press. He knew his personal stories were true. So wasn’t he concerned that the press stories might be incomplete or biased? Nope! He seemed oblivious, probably because my point was more about the quality of journalism than the quality of policing.
There are plenty of negative stories about police. The federal investigation this week concluded racism is a part of the Ferguson police story. Also this week there was a tragic police shootings of a homeless man in Los Angeles. There are plenty of bad stories.
Yet occasionally the opposite shows up like the YouTube above or the NPR radio show that shines light on the complexities in Skid Row. No doubt those positive stories are forgotten in the bad press of the day. But the remarkable account of Sergeant Joseph and all his partners' exceptional work on Skid Row is important. That too is part of the real story.