by Alex Pareene
Let’s talk about “officer-involved shootings.” That is the formal term, used by seemingly all American local news broadcasts, for when a cop shoots someone. Instead of saying “‘Cops’ crew member killed by police officer,” the headline is, “‘Cops’ crew-member killed after officer-involved shooting.” (It just sort of happened, after that shooting.) There is also “police involved shooting,” a term I first noticed being used by the local New York evening news team last May.
These terms are terrible and journalists should not use them. They are cop-speak. Local news reporters love nothing more than adopting cop-speak, because local news is built on manufacturing fear of crime and venerating of police officers, but both of these terms fail the crucial test of actually being coherent explanations of what happened. Of course police would invent an obfuscatory euphemism for when they shoot people – they would be fools not to try to come up with a nice way of saying “we killed someone” – but the press’ job is supposed to be to translate those euphemisms into plain English.
“Officer-involved shooting” absolves the person who actually pulled the trigger of responsibility, turning the shooting into an apparently inevitable act. The officer was just involved! As Natasha Lennard at Vice News puts it:
The phrase “police-involved shooting” is a careful construction, which, like the criminal justice system more broadly, tends to point blame away from cops. It is code for “the cops shot someone.”
To a reporter, “officer-involved shooting” should sound as grating to the ear as “bear-involved large mammal attack.”