Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Did you hear about the Federal Way police officer whose Taser shocked a Mirror reporter to death?

Did you hear about the Federal Way police officer whose Taser shocked a Mirror reporter to death?

Neither did we. The sad part is that such reports, when true, are often what it takes to catch your attention about police.

Taxpayers expect police to uphold the law and keep the public safe.

However, police face an eternal struggle with stereotypes and TV portrayals that color the public’s perception of law enforcement. A single act of police brutality or incompetence could shake confidence in law enforcement nationwide.

Those who assume police are corrupt will find satisfaction in a report that backs such a notion. Any report that paints police in a positive light is met with skepticism by some readers who, in turn, question the capabilities of the news outlet for not digging deep enough.

The media cherish their role as watchdogs of government, but also strive to educate the public on how government and related agencies work.

This month, The Mirror has chronicled the Citizens Academy, a program that shows the public how Federal Way police operate. So far, the series has covered traffic enforcement, criminal investigations and hiring new officers.

Federal Way taxpayers foot the bill for these efforts. Rather than expose shortcomings, the series examines the department’s approach to preparing police for public duty. The series swaps controversy for an opportunity to learn.

A reader commented that this recent series amounts to little more than a public relations piece for the Federal Way Police Department. The reader would like to see “reporting on some difficult subjects and challenges that the police officers struggle with, such as ethical conduct.”

For a look at the department’s ethical challenges, consider a few recent Mirror reports:

• “Weapons of mass discussion” (Sept. 24): This report explored the Federal Way Police Department’s history with Tasers, including an ongoing legal battle involving two officers and their use of the controversial stun gun on a suspect in 2004.

• “Look-alike weapons flirt with disaster” (Sept. 17): A Federal Way police officer fired at a suspect who brandished an Airsoft pistol, which is similar to a BB gun. The department wants the state Legislature to amend the second-degree assault statute, calling for harsher punishment when suspects use look-alike weapons.

• “Family doubts police over death” (July 2): Federal Way police came under scrutiny by the family of Baerbel Roznowski, whose then-boyfriend, Paul Kim, is accused of killing her. Roznowski’s family questioned the procedure in which an officer delivered an anti-harassment order to Kim on May 3, the morning Roznowski was found stabbed to death. The family seeks answers, but no legal ramifications have surfaced.

Police departments draw more criticism than praise. Police get paid to risk their lives daily in a job where perfection is expected and errors are unacceptable. Most public interaction with police comes in our worst moments, whether it’s a ticket, property crime, arrest or death.

Holding police accountable requires a look at all sides of the department to better understand how your tax dollars go to work. The more information The Mirror includes in the framework of covering law enforcement, the more readers will grasp the bigger picture.

Mirror editor Andy Hobbs: editor@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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