One of the more difficult jobs at times is handing the police department’s public information job.
It’s not always easy trying to pronounce tough words like my favorite, “perpetrator,” which take four syllables but means the same as the one-syllable word “scum.” Or the two-syllable word “double-scum,” or the equivalent four-syllable word “freaking scumbag,” the popular choice of many New York Police PIO’s. (Jersey cops sub out a variety of words for “freaking.”)
Those of you who are PIO’s know that being a PIO, especially in a busy police department, becomes your first job — even if it’s listed as an add-on to your other jobs. For instance, I’m in a community affairs division, which includes crime prevention, volunteers, reserves, explorers, multicultural and geographical liaison and whiney-citizen liaison.
I’m the guy who tells the young parent’s kids: “No, Cindy, I won’t take you to jail if you don’t eat your vegetables. Your parents are just sick and demented when they tell you that. Here’s the phone number for family services — believe me, your revenge will be sweeeeettt!!”
You can reschedule a meeting, but breaking news — and everything is now breaking news — will not wait for anyone.
I have a regular crew of reporters and assignment-desk folks who I correspond with daily. Each day I get e-mails from reporters who are on the way to staff meetings and hunting a story. Sometimes they’re under quite a lot of pressure. Those e-mails read: “I’ll take anything!! Really!! I’m serious!!! Anything!! ”
OK: “This just in: People in Europe often put an “e” at the end of the word “point” and make the word “pointe.” Tomorrow, the word “centre.”
The PIO is the PIO at a moment’s notice and a good PIO needs to be ready to go. (I replenish my supply of mousse in my ready-kit every month.)
Recently, something has emerged to such a degree that it threatens to put many PIO’s in dire straits. Most of you know what I’m talking about and those of you who don’t, better listen and listen well — not listen like you do in staff meeting where you chew on your pencil some and then nod every 15 to 20 seconds all the while wondering how much more your bladder can take.
No, really listen this time. This threat is something none of us can ignore.
Is it the fear of the wind blowing across your head against the part, making you look like a rooster during a live TV shot? No.
Fear of saying “perpetrators” and snickering, thinking that you’ve fallen into RPL (Robot Police Language) — you know, the PIO who, instead of saying “dead,” says “expired” or “cease to live” or “was once with us but no more” or “I’m glad I’m not that guy right now” or “ex-live dude?”
Worse — it’s the fear of HD television cameras.
HD cameras are systematically destroying what testosterone is left in us old crusty vets, fighting double chins, receding hairlines, and bags under our eyes the size of small tangerines.
“Wow, I saw you on the news last night and you look really tired and perhaps physically abused. Is everything okay at home? Maybe you need to take a vacation — or see a priest.”
Normally I’m not available to watch one of my interviews on the news, mostly because while it’s on, I’m stuck in traffic trying to get home.
I prefer to use the DVR so I can fast-forward it when I start to sound or look goofy (about 85% of the time) or screw up simple phrases, turning a short line like “The victim was admitted to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg” into “Man! I got the worst wedgie!! Whoa! Is the camera still on?”
Now, thanks to HD technology, I’m not worrying about getting hurt on the street anymore, but rather if or not I need a foundation to cover these horrible blemishes or a light blush to emphasize my cheekbones.
“Oh my God! Look at my T-Zone! Not down there, you idiot — on my forehead! Look how oily it is! Quick, someone gently blot my face with a soft cotton pad and then apply a light dusting of translucent powder to eliminate the oily shine — preferably with a translucent powder that is hypoallergenic.
“By the way, does this gun belt make me look fat?”