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Police Commissioner Right to Wait Before Releasing Shooting Information

Rob Weinhold – Principal, Fallston Group

*Former Chief Spokesperson for Baltimore Police Department

Some have criticized Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealfeld for not releasing information about the controversial police-involved shooting this past weekend in a timely manner. The early morning incident, which resulted in an off-duty plain clothes police officer being shot and killed by responding on-duty officers, has many ramifications for everyone involved. By rushing to judgment or prematurely releasing information to the public, the BPD would be risking their most central and important asset – integrity. The nature of crises such as this creates an immediate information vacuum and chief executives often make the mistake of trying to fill it with turning what little they know at the time into something more substantive or speculating. And, even though many leaders try to lend perspective along the way, the spirit of an executive’s comments are often distorted and taken out of context over time as new information emerges.

The nature of crises such as this creates an immediate information vacuum

While providing immediate information has very legitimate value and is often the advice rightly given in many circumstances, in this situation the Commissioner has done the right thing in waiting until skilled investigators can establish the physical evidence, witness credibility and officer statements in accordance with the pattern and sequencing of events before presenting more facts publically. In virtually every crisis-oriented event, new facts emerge, more witnesses come forward and physical evidence materializes – all changing the immediate complexion of an incident. Tragically, according to the Washington Post, both CNN and NPR reported Congresswoman Gifford was fatally wounded not long after she had been shot. This was obviously not true as news outlets, at times, will also act on limited information. Let’s step back, give the BPD an opportunity to do its job then offer an opinion about the facts and circumstances from that evening once revealed. None of us were walking in the shoes of all involved that horrible evening; let the BPD conduct its search for the truth before condemning the Commissioner’s or anyone else’s decisions.

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