By now, you may have seen the photo
of Officer Lawrence DePrimo of the NYPD after he coughed up 75 bucks of his own money to buy a pair of boots for a cold, barefooted homeless guy. The photo went viral after it was posted to the NYPD’s Facebook page, even landing Officer DePrimo on the Today show
It’s a great story. Made me a little verklempt, even. But at the same time, the whole thing left me asking a bunch of conflicting questions:
Why did this photo cause such a sensation? Are people reacting out of surprise or affirmation or both? Was the pic a hit because it’s a side of police work we so rarely see? If so, why don’t we see more Boots DePrimos?
For me, the photo seemed to illustrate what is both wrong and right with the image of police and our role in shaping that image. This kind of stuff – these random acts of kindness by officers– happen in our communities every single day. They far outnumber deeds of police misconduct or even heroism. So the question is, how to we find and promote more stories like this? How do we advance a more informed understanding of what police really DO day in and day out?
It’s a delicate balance – what to post via social media, what mix of investigative, informative, and feel-good info do you put out there, and how you source it, internally or externally.
It’s worth noting here that the Boots picture was taken by a tourist (coincidentally a police PIO in Arizona) and submitted to NYPD, which in turn posted it to Facebook. So I have more questions: How and to what extent are citizens encouraged to share and submit officer commendations? Many agencies have online submission forms or dedicated emails, but what about through social media? Could the distribution of “police good news” be more of a two-way street? Can we encourage citizens to celebrate their public servants for doing their jobs well and invite them to share those stories and images on Facebook? Or does this open up a can of worms… the flip side of commendations are complaints. But is that a problem?
I don’t have a lot of answers here, only questions. Feel free to weigh in via the comments.
Promoting an accurate and positive view of policing is a large part of the IACP’s Discover Policing initiative. With an initial focus on recruitment, the broader vision is to promote a greater understanding of and respect for police work. We are in the process of revamping our Facebook page to find and promote more of those positive police stories. Join us and share yours today!