Tell us a story

Posted: January 09, 2014

THIS COLUMN is for families and friends of Philly police officers.

We need your help. Or, rather, Vinny Vella needs your help.

Vinny - who has just joined the Daily News' dogged band of police reporters - writes today's story about Philly cops Brandon Bryant, David Quaintance and Tighe Wingrove. They saved the lives of two wounded men by using tourniquets to stop the victims from bleeding to death.

It's a feel-good piece about hot-damn police work. We want to tell more stories like this (which resulted from a fellow reporter's tip). But new-to-the-beat Vinny needs your help to find them.

Not just because the good stories deserve to be told. But because they remind everyone that misbehaving cops who grab our headlines (the names Nace and Dove are four-letter words at the Roundhouse these days) are not representative of all the men and women on the force.

That's what readers tell us. And that's what cops, beat and brass alike, say when they complain that the media is interested only in slamming the bad cops, not in praising the good ones.

It's not true. In 2013 alone, we wrote many glowing stories about the police - including tales of a lieutenant who talked a suicidal ex-Marine off a ledge; about the power of community policing in North Philly; in praise of undercover cops who nabbed bicycle thieves; and about an officer who single-handedly hauled another officer to the hospital when he was shot.

If readers don't remember these stories, well, the power of the press doesn't ( yet . . . ) include mind control.

Denise James, director of Philly PD strategic communications, tells me that the department sends umpteen notices of positive goings-on to our paper but that reporters rarely bite. She's right. I think it's because those stories appear to be of the institutional-news variety, not the on-the-street kind that make readers want to hug a cop.

Our police reporters take that desire to heart. But they say it can be impossible to get the Philly PD to share stories of great police work. Plus, the department's vetting process is so cumbersome, stories can lose their timeliness.

More frustrating, to me, are the police brass who promise to meet for off-the-record talks about the heroic work of the force - and then blow us off, repeatedly.

Maybe they mistrust us. FOP president John McNesby says that ever since the Daily News won a Pulitzer Prize for its "Tainted Justice" series on rogue cops, the force has soured on our paper.

"That left a bad taste in people's mouths," he says.

Maybe they're paranoid. Former Philly cop and current Upper Darby Police Chief Mike Chitwood says the Philly police have always had a counterproductive "us vs. them" relationship with the media.

"Leadership should sing the praises of cops to the press," says Chitwood, who commands a staff of 150.

Maybe they don't understand that they're in the sales business. Thomas Nestel, chief of SEPTA's 289-member police department and an avid tweeter, says commanders need to work closely with the press to "market their own product."

"That's what we've been doing at SEPTA, and the media has been great," says Nestel, a former inspector in the Philly PD. "I think social media is breaking down some of the old-school walls" that keep police from interacting easily and casually with both the press and the public.

Or, maybe, there's no problem because the media is not relevant in this case, at least according to a U.S. Department of Justice study of factors that influence public opinion of the police. So our work, therefore, is meaningless to anyone but cops who feel slighted.

"I disagree," Nestel says of the study. "If people are used to seeing positive press about us, and if something negative happens, the public is more likely to cut us some slack. The media will let us provide our side of the story."

You know what I think?

At the Daily News, our ranks are so thin, we no longer have reporters hanging out at Roundhouse or district offices, catching wind of stories that beg to be shared with a wider audience.

So we rely more than we should have to on the PPD's public-affairs staffers to alert us to such tales. Except, says James, those staffers are not journalists, so they don't necessarily know what "makes" a story a story.

Besides, for the captains, commanders and cops who, say, use a tourniquet to save a life, such acts are all in their day's work. So it doesn't occur to them to blow their horn to public affairs.

I have a hunch, though, that the family and friends of cops would, indeed, like to see their loved ones' positive deeds recounted in the Daily News.

So I invite them to cut out the middlemen of captain, commander and public-affairs officer and call us directly to tell us a tale that deserves to be shared.

My contact info is at the end of the column. But why not start with Vinny? He's the new kid on the beat. And he's all ears. Reach him at 215-854-2513 or vellav@phillynews.com.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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