On June 30, 2014, the Baltimore City Police Department released a video to celebrate surpassing 50,000 followers on the social media site Twitter. Holding signs reading “50,000,” officers from many of the department’s sections danced and lipsynced the words to Pharrell William’s “Happy.” Police Commissioner Anthony Batts thanked the department’s followers for “helping Baltimore to be safer.”
While it is as yet unclear how the department’s impressive Twitter presence makes the city safer, it is increasingly clear that the department’s media section, which produced the video, seeks to render competing media outlets irrelevant—at least in terms of news that affects the police department. This is apparently why the department iced out Baltimore Sun police reporter Justin Fenton for more than six months, refusing at times even to answer his direct questions at public news conferences.
City Paper appreciates the work and spirit that went into the “Happy” video. But we would remind the department that, like catching criminals, media and image management is work for experienced professionals. The media landscape is figuratively littered with the corpses of once-mighty organizations whose branding efforts were heisted and turned against them—often by adversaries who were, comparatively speaking, unarmed.
As all Baltimoreans know, members of the Baltimore Police Department have a long and substantial record of literally shooting the unarmed, fellow officers, and even, on occasion, themselves in the quest for paid time off. And while everyone knows that those officers are aberrant and do not fairly reflect the values of the department, it is notable that in many cases they have been repeat offenders over many years, receiving little discipline—and often several promotions—before committing an act that outside media play as scandal.
We hope the Baltimore Police Department is improving its internal discipline, psychological counseling, and use-of-force policies with as much vigor and spirit as it has applied to its media strategy. With that in mind, we hope City Paper’s 30,000 or so Twitter followers (and our quarter million-odd readers) will enjoy this rejoinder video depicting another side of the BPD story. We call it “Trigger Happy.”