Good Public Relations Cost Cops Little but Have Big Payoffs

Good Public Relations Cost Cops Little but Have Big Payoffs

By Steve Pomper 

Tuckwila, Washington Police Officers: One Last Dance at a Family Celebration (from TPD X Video)

Cops don’t refer to flowcharts when handling calls for service. You know, like, if A happens, then do B, but if C happens, then don’t do D. It just doesn’t work that way. Often, cops must wing it to a degree and do what makes sense for the particular circumstances. This is especially true on those occasions when supposed “bad guys” turn out to be good guys.

What do I mean? Let’s say a complainant called 911 for loud music at a neighbor’s party. If the officers arrive and find the noise level violates the law, it’s their duty to tell people turn down or shut off the noise to restore peace. Some officers might respond to a noise complaint, even with nice, cooperative folks and immediately order them to turn down the music.

Officers have that authority, but would that approach be the best way to handle the situation? If the revelers were disrespectful and uncooperative, you bet. But what if they weren’t those things. Should officers lighten up a bit?

Well, recently, two officers in Tukwila, Washington, faced this situation, and found that the “bad guys” (partiers) were actually good guys. Officer Anderson and Officer Hayes arrived at a large family party, featuring a live band whose music was apparently violating the noise ordinance. However, as I alluded to above, these cops remained flexible and rather than immediately ordering the revelers to shut down, they chose another option, which was caught on a now viral video.

According to FOX 12 News, “‘[T]he partygoers asked the officers for just one more song before shutting things down, to which they obliged and joined in for one last dance,’ the department said on social media. ‘Both officers are newer to our department and have wasted no time jumping or in this case ‘dancing’ into community engagement every chance they get.’”

This story reminds me of the theme of my first book, Is There a Problem, Officer? I noticed there were people talking themselves into traffic tickets by being rude or disrespectful to officers. These folks followed the book’s advice but, in their case, rather than avoiding an unnecessary traffic ticket, they didn’t talk the officers into issuing them a noise “ticket,” a $250 fine for a first offense.

Instead, according to KOMO 4 News, Officer Hayes said, “They [the family] were really kind and respectful. And that made it a real easy decision for my sergeant at the time to say, ‘Yeah, we can give y’all one more dance.’”

I’m not saying I would have danced because the way I dance, I could probably be charged with assault on people’s eyes, and that would leave me with zero moral authority to enforce a noise ordinance. But I can imagine some of my more graceful squad members might have joined in. Nevertheless, I also would have eagerly agreed to these people enjoying one more song.

And the band played on! (TPD X Video)

Regrettably, some media seemed to frame this positive police-community interaction as an anomaly. But after more than two decades as a police officer, rather than abnormal, this story reflects how a majority of cops, given similar circumstances, would have handled such a call. At least, allowing one more song, if not joining in the dancing.

Still, that news outlet I came across, after erroneously noting their view that this incident reflected a recent change in police tactics (from “police reform” laws), insinuated the kind gesture avoided a possible confrontation between the revelers and cops.

While I understand this point generally, it doesn’t apply to this situation. In fact, doesn’t this implication insult this family? From what I saw in the video, these folks would naturally have been disappointed if not allowed one more song, but violence against the police seemed entirely out of character for this happy clan.


  Tukwila PD Officer Anderson (from TPD X Video)

Another example was a 911 call on a holiday I remember where a neighbor complained about kids “fighting” in the street. When we arrived, we saw kids playing football. Now, technically, playing in the street is against the law, but this was a residential street with little traffic, and the kids moved over whenever a car approached.

Just like all of us cops did when we were kids. Did we break up the game? No. Instead, we joined in, tossing the ball around with the kids. I saw cops doing this type of thing all the time with basketball, soccer, and foot races. Forget putting some lefty label on it like, “community engagement.” We were simply being real.

Officers Anderson and Hayes (and other Tukwila P.D. officers seen on video in the background) didn’t demonstrate what’s unusual about how police officers handle law enforcement when dealing with decent, reasonable, and cooperative people. Rather, these officers validated what the vast majority of cops do daily to serve their communities in line with the circumstances.