In his weekly column in the Chronicle this past Sunday, my old boss, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Jr, drew some interesting contrasts in how local governments responded to the officer-involved shootings in Tulsa OK and Charlotte NC. In Tulsa, police released video of the shooting and charged the officer involved with manslaughter. In Charlotte, police have still not released any footage of the shooting, leading to assumptions by members of the public that the police are lying about the victim having a gun. The result was that Charlotte has seen nights of often violent protest while Tulsa has remained quiet. Brown’s recommendation is blunt:
Lesson one for police agencies throughout the nation: Release the video immediately after every incident. Eliminate the speculation that you’re hiding something. It’ll come out one way or the other, so you might as well be the one to do it.
I believe that we are seeing in Charlotte is one of the “four traps of decision making” I’ve written about previously: using the need for gathering more information as an excuse for inaction. One of the things you have to accept up front in any crisis is that you will not have all the information you need to make a good decision. There is a good chance that your initial decisions might turn out to have not been the best course of action or may be completely wrong. However, failing to take the risk of making a decision that may seem wrong in hindsight frequently allows the crisis to escalate, often to the point where you lose control. Acting decisively on the best information you have available at the time can be justified and explained; failing to act and allowing things to get of hand cannot.
Remember that Botterell’s Fourth Law of Emergency Management is, “Perception is reality.” If you give the appearance of concealing the truth, this is what the public will believe. You need to be seen to act decisively and quickly if you are to retain the public turst. One of the sayings attributed to General George Patton is, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” This applies as well in crisis management as it does in war.