Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Los Angeles radio reporter Steve Gregory (iHeartMedia/KFI AM 640) got his first tips of a possible shooting at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center about 10 minutes after the shooting occurred. He started to drive toward the area, making calls and texting to verify that an incident was happening.
His calls to the San Bernardino police were unanswered. In the meantime people were calling into the talk show at his station and the social media was a buzz. He arrived north of the Center and got out looking for the staging area for reporters. As he stood there with other journalists, behind a California State Police line, people started walking by toward buses. "Don't talk to reporters," they were told by police escorts.
In the meantime, Jarrod Burguan, chief of the San Bernardino police department, and every available police officer were at the conference rooms of the Inland Regional Center. What they saw was a scene of carnage with 14 dead and 22 wounded county government employees who had been attending a training and early Christmas party. The perpetrators, two hooded people, had fired 100 rounds from two guns in three minutes.
At about 11 a.m. 9-1-1 calls started coming into the police dispatch center saying people had been shot. Because of the absence of the regular PIO, Chief Burguan assigned the deputy PIO, a traffic sergeant to handle the press. They established a staging area for reporters south of the Inland Regional Center.
The sergeant starting taking reporter questions, most of which she couldn't answer. As she got radio reports and phone calls, she was able to provide sketchy details of the incident. More details about the incident were made available at a press conference held about 1 p.m., attended by Chief Burguan, the county sheriff, and representatives of the FBI and ATF. Burguan patiently answered reporter questions, repeating details several times as new reporters arrived on the scene. Regular press conferences were held throughout the day.
When Steve Gregory discovered he had gone to the wrong end of the crime scene, he worked his way around the area arriving just in time for the first press conference.
In the first hours of the shooting, police dispatchers received 300 calls an hour. Two were answering phone calls and two others were handling the police radio. One of the calls led to the identification of the suspects car, a dark SUV rental with Utah plates.
Thirty to 40 police had responded to the scene. In cooperation with other agencies, they searched the buildings associated with the center and helped vacate some 200 county employees who worked there. Firefighters and paramedics and other health care treated and transported the wounded.
Buses were called and employees were moved to a central location for questioning and family reunion.
The suspects were soon identified. One was Syed Farook was a county employee who had attended the training, but left at about 10:30 a.m. A SWAT team went to his home in Redlands, using cell phones so that their movements couldn't be traced on police radios.
|LA Times photo of journalists inside the home of Syed Farook|
The invasion was seen on live television. And was soon criticized.
"You have a contaminated crime scene now," CNN legal analyst Paul Callan told host Wolf Blitzer. "They've turned a crime scene in a terrorist mass murder into a garage sale." In a suitably weird twist, states Collins, at the moment of the criticism CNN was airing a split screen with footage from inside the home, showing laundry baskets, documents, toys and other personal effects.
Questions for study: As the police department PIO, what would you do in this situation? How can you provide journalists coverage while protecting the integrity of the crime scene?
Source: Collins, Scott. (2015, December 4). Media criticized for live TV coverage from home of San Bernardino shooters. Los Angeles Times online. Retrieved from