Yesterday's big events in Lincoln--the City's first murder of 2015, and an officer involved shooting--were a reminder of just how quickly news spreads. Before I even got notified by the chief of the unfolding events, Twitter was already lighting up with live reports for the scene. Reporters were providing a blow-by-blow from their vantage point.
By the time I made it to police headquarters, the phone was ringing steadily in the duty commander's office. The captain decided to prioritize the 402 area code, and at least temporarily ignored the inbound calls from the 212 area code--those could wait. That's right, reporters from the east coast were already calling, before any of us any clear idea of what had transpired.
I recently overheard a reporter asking for details about an injury traffic crash to which no one had yet arrived! It's not all bad, though. I was getting some useful updates from those same tweets last night. Reassuring phone calls to and from spouses were speeded along, good wishes and prayers were being expressed with equal alacrity from all over the country, and even Larry the Cable Guy was tweeting positive thoughts within the hour.
A major incident like this is reminiscent of the story of the blind men and the elephant: many officers have a piece of the puzzle from their own perspective, but no one really has the complete picture. It has to be pieced together over time. More than 40 officers were involved in their own piece: collecting evidence, staffing a secure perimeter, transporting a subject, interviewing a witness, and so forth. A fair amount of the clock ticks off before all these minutia can be assembled into a coherent account of the events.
I've seen this happen so many times that it barely registers now. I have simply learned that the early reports will be fragmentary, and often wrong in some significant details. I was reflecting on this today during the regular daily police briefing, while the reporter sitting to my right Periscoped the proceedings live.
Patience is a virtue, as dynamic events eventually come into focus. But in the age of already-peeled orange segments, prepackaged peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and paper towels dampened in advance, it is still remarkable to sit back and think about how our culture has changed, and how much we expect things in an instant.
It is also remarkable to observe how unsupported assumptions, wild speculation, fantastical theories, naked conjecture, and scurrilous innuendo by amateur (and often anonymous) commentators compete for attention with the work of professional journalists--an endangered species these days.