“Owning your own narrative” is a common expression used in business, in politics, and in private life where personal reputation is at stake. Owning your narrative means ensuring that what is told about you matches the way you’d like it to be told, without distortions, mischaracterization, half-truths, or false perceptions.
If you are waging a battle in the arena of public opinion, and others succeed in owning your narrative, you have lost the battle.
If you are paying even the slightest attention to town politics, you are aware that there is a police crisis in Watertown, centered around alleged racist behavior regarding stops, citations, and arrests. In my opinion — and I believe in the opinion of the vast majority of residents — this is an invented crisis. And how we emerge from this invented crisis will depend on which side ends up owning the narrative.
The City of Minneapolis, which is engaged in a genuine police crisis, is a great example. Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis’ first Black police chief, is the central character on that stage.
Chief Arradondo testified for the prosecution at the trial of Derek Chauvin. As a witness for the prosecution, it was anticipated that he would make it clear that Chauvin’s actions could not be defended as having followed police department policy or police department training.
He did exactly that when he stated: “… but once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned-out, handcuffed behind their back – that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy, is not part of our training, and…”
Then his next eleven words to end the sentence, went above and beyond: “… is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Chief Arradondo has a narrative and the international stage provided by the Chauvin trial gave him the opportunity to broadcast it to the world. And he had more to say that is relevant to the current conversation.
In speaking about his department’s training curriculum, he went out of his way to use the term “procedural justice,” the substance of which directly connects to what he meant by ethics and values.
The principles of procedural justice can be applied to business, politics, and to areas of life where organizations hold power over individuals. And those principles are central to any discussion of 21st Century Policing.
The four founding principles of procedural justice as applied to 21st Century Policing are:
Respect: All individuals are treated with dignity and respect.
Voice: Individuals are given a chance to tell their side of the story.
Neutrality: Police decisions are unbiased and guided by transparent reasoning.
Trustworthiness: Police convey trustworthy motives about those impacted by their decisions.
Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, published in May of 2015 is a roadmap for modern-day police departments. Chief Arradondo was sending the world a message that he was an eager adopter of the principles advanced in that report. I will guarantee you that he can recite following paragraph, taken from the report, by heart: “Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian — rather than a warrior — mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public. Toward that end, law enforcement agencies should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices to guide their interactions with rank-and-file officers and with the citizens they serve.”
OK, enough about Chief Arradondo. What about Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn? What principles does he hold dear? When it comes to acceptance of 21st Century Policing, some chiefs were eager adopters, some were reluctant adopters, and others were and remain stubborn non-adopters.
At the Town Council’s Committee on Public Safety Meeting on March 12, the chief took center stage and, with the aid of slides, painted a picture of today’s Watertown Police Department. The presentation should have been a walk in the park. But it was not.
To understand why it was not, you should stop reading this letter and watch the Boston 25 News report that aired three days earlier on March 9th. It runs only 2 minutes and 5 seconds but if this piece of tabloid trash doesn’t make your blood boil, you are most likely a member of the Joint Police Reform Group — it is they who are battling for the right to “hold the chief accountable.”
“Black residents are 5 to 6 times more likely to be arrested in Watertown than the white population.” That is the bumper-sticker message, amplified by Boston 25 News that, if you are a Black resident, might cause you to give up your drivers’ license, and if you are a Black commuter, it might scare you into tacking an extra 30-minutes onto your morning drive by circling around this hot bed of predatory racism that we call home.
Did the Boston 25 reporter go the extra mile by investigating the number of complaints filed with the town or the state on behalf of Black residents, visitors, or commuters claiming harassment by Watertown police?
Of course not. There are none.
Did the Boston 25 reporter bother to do the simple research that would tell her that Chief Lawn’s policies continue to protect undocumented residents from ICE, allowing those residents to seek help from the police without revealing their immigration status?
Of course not. Even if she were aware it, that fact does not fit the scaremongering narrative.
And lastly, since one of the people being interviewed is a member of Uplift Watertown, who insists on having $2 million cut from the police department budget, was this reporter curious enough to learn that Uplift Watertown is a police abolitionist organization and not the reformist organization they pretend to be?
What’s your guess? Take all the time you need.
So now imagine that you are the police chief and you, your police officers, and the community you serve have been slandered by an influential media machine, days before the big committee meeting, knowing that the moment you finish your presentation, the assaults on your competence, your character, and your moral legitimacy will begin. You can watch or re-watch the meeting here.
Earlier I asked these questions about Chief Lawn: What principles does he hold dear? And was he an eager adopter of 21st Century Policing?
If you were at the Zoom meeting or if you watched the video, you know that he had a lot of slides and that he rushed through most of them, knowing that he had to leave ample time for the Joint Police Reform Group (JPRG) to begin attacking his data, his lack of transparency, and his supposedly bloated budget.
Of all his slides, there at least five that deserved a great deal more time, attention, and exploration. So, let’s take a look.
These are the slides that go to the heart of policing in the age of George Floyd. This is the information that fair minded residents needed to hear. But because of the environment that included the Boston 25 News report and because of the format that ended up giving more weight to the JPFG than to the chief, the narrative was lost.
At the end of the meeting, it was agreed by the members of the committee, that the conversation needed be continued in a future meeting.
The next committee meeting took place on April 22. It was a very different meeting. At this meeting, the community showed up and spoke up. At one point there were 188 people in virtual attendance. Since you are reading this article, the chances are pretty good that you were one of the 188. If not, you can watch the meeting here.
Members of the JPRG showed their slides and went over them in depth. They were not rushed. Uplift Watertown elected not to show their slides − probably because the slides they had prepared were bogus and everyone now knows that they were bogus. Just go to: Is it Really Time to Cancel the Police? And scroll down until you find their slides.
To state the obvious, the subject of policing in Watertown has become deeply personal on both sides. The emotion was on full display in the many comments made by residents supporting the police, by those supporting the JPFG, and by some trying to get their heads around supporting both.
I don’t think that, collectively, the pro-police comments, coming from members of the public, succeeded in advancing the narrative that the Watertown P.D. are honest and fair when it comes to their attitudes and dealings with the whole community.
But there was, in my view, a gamechanger – or should I say, a narrative changer? And that happened when Detective Kerilyn Amedio made her comment — or should I say, delivered her speech?
It was obvious from the very beginning, that she was intent on setting the record straight — a goal that she accomplished in tone and substance. She could have said that she was fed up with being disrespected by people who had no idea what she faces each and every day on the job, but she said it more eloquently: We are willing to have open honest dialogue.
“We want you to be heard, but we won’t allow it to be at the expense of our character or what you or the media believe what this job is.”
She could have said that people should stop buying-in to a false one-dimensional narrative and should come see the department with their own eyes. This is how she said it:
“Experience Watertown Police for what it is. Not for what you think it is or what you’ve heard it is. We are more than arrests and statistics. The people we deal with are more than arrests, numbers, and statistics.“
Both of these statements work better in the context they were written, so I will be ending this letter with her complete speech, which I transcribed from the Zoom video.
We later heard from two other officers — King Lam and Detective Catherine DelloRusso. All three officers extended the same invitation — Come in and see what we are about. Come in and have a conversation.
I have said repeatedly that the number of Black people claiming to be harassed by Watertown police officers is zero. The answer to that statement, coming from members of the JPRG, is that those invisible victims were either too afraid to come forward or they believed nothing would be done if they did come forward.
So now, after the Boston 25 News report, the two public meetings of the Committee for Public Safety, and the WGBH news story — which I haven’t yet mentioned, is it likely that those unknown victims are still too afraid or too cynical to accept the invitation from Detective Amedio, Detective DelloRusso, and Officer Lam to come in and have a conversation?
The WGBH news story was published and aired on May 6. It is less sensationalized than the Boston 25 News report, but almost as one-sided and superficial. It is the lack of depth that makes this story, coming from a respectable news source, just corrosive enough to feed the one-dimensional false narrative that Watertown police target Black people.
The next meeting of the Committee on Public Safety will take place in July. It is expected that after hearing more public comment, the committee will determine how to proceed.
The Watertown Police Department is currently a work-in-progress. All police departments that have accepted police reform, consistent with the principles of 21st Century Policing and practice the four founding principles of procedural justice are now — and will forever be — works-in-progress.
Perfection in policing has to be the goal of the Watertown Police Department, and to paraphrase Vince Lombardi: Perfection is not attainable, but if they chase perfection, they can catch excellence.
Excellence is what most of us want.
I believe Chief Lawn has been trying to tell us, in these meetings, that his time and attention are consumed with jumping through hoops — necessary hoops — at the same time that he is trying to assure us that he is not complaining, just explaining.
Mandates coming down from the state will guarantee more and more hoops arriving on his doorstep, demanding a constant shifting of priorities. And now, the Joint Police Reform Group — a well-intentioned (except for the police abolitionists) group of concerned citizens are demanding that their hoops get jumped through first. I think that if they get their way, their interference will demoralize the department and make us all less safe.
The chief and the department have a great narrative that is not getting the vote of confidence from our elected representatives that it deserves. The counter-narrative is being allowed to drown it out.
That has to change.
As promised, here is my transcript of Kerilyn Amedio’s speech, which should be used to recruit our police officers of the future:
“Hi, my name is Kerilyn Amedio, a resident of Watertown and proudly a member of the Watertown Police Department. I’ve been on the Police Department for seven years, and I’m currently assigned to the detective division. I hold a bachelors’ degree in criminal justice and sociology from the University of Massachusetts and am a graduate of the Massachusetts State Police Academy.
I have extensive training given to me by the Watertown Police Department notably to include crisis intervention, assisting individuals in crisis, group crisis intervention, and critical incident stress management.
I can only speak for myself and my own experiences but many if not all of my fellow brother and sister officers would agree with my following statement. In seven years, I’ve stopped cars, made arrests when necessary, responded to calls for domestic violence, larcenies, shoplifters, sexual assaults, neighborhood complaints, barking dogs, alarm calls, medical calls, overdoses and that is just to name a few. I’ve been punched in the face, spit on, kicked, bitten, had my hair pulled, had a knife pulled on me, had cars almost strike me, feared for my safety, and been called every name in the book. I’ve held strangers, hugged children that are not mine, saved lives through the distribution of Narcan and performance of CPR. I’ve promised someone that I care and would continue to care and would help them. I’ve told families that their loved ones were not coming home.
I’ve seen unimaginable despair, empathized and sympathized with people from all walks of life. And with all of that I would not change one single day of this career.
You are all speaking of accountability and transparency and we want that too. Not only just for the Watertown Police Department but for all facets of Watertown and we want it from these groups as well. We are willing to have open honest dialogue. We want you to be heard, but we won’t allow it to be at the expense of our character or what you or the media believe what this job is.
I welcome you to come share a day or multiple days at the Watertown Police Department. Come see it from my perspective or from the perspective of another officer. Come volunteer with us. Come do a ride along. Come participate in all of our community policing efforts. Experience Watertown Police for what it is. Not for what you think it is or what you’ve heard it is. We are more than arrests and statistics. The people we deal with are more than arrests, numbers, and statistics. We want the conversation to continue, but we refuse to be called uneducated, white supremacists, or say that we come from bad families.
I love this job and I love this town. I will continue to show up, be held accountable and I will continue to do what is right, just, and fair, because that is what Chief Lawn and the Watertown Police Department have trained me to do. And that is what the community of Watertown has trusted me to do. Thank you for your time and please reach out to me to continue these conversations.”
Marion Road, Watertown