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Rackl: Lt. J. Paul Vance a ‘pro’ with the press

Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance speaks news conference shooting Sandy Hook Elementary school where gunman opened fire killing

Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance speaks at a news conference on the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, where a gunman opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/The Journal News, Frank Becerra Jr.) MANDATORY CREDIT, NYC OUT, NO SALES, TV OUT, NEWSDAY OUT; MAGS OUT

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:47AM



We’ve unfortunately witnessed enough tragedies like the one in Newtown, Conn., to know the drill by now.

There’s the initial rush of news reports, inevitably peppered with misinformation, followed by televised interviews with bystanders and experts.

Then there’s the press conference, where a police officer stands in front of a phalanx of microphones, often reading from a prepared statement filled with jargon and interagency plaudits before answering reporters’ questions with variations on “I’m not at liberty to say.”

That last part — the police’s public response — is where Friday’s tragedy has deviated from the script.

Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance delivered a master class in how to relay information and handle the media in the wake of a catastrophe. Composed yet compassionate, straightforward without being robotic or wooden, Vance comes across as a cop who views his relationship with reporters as cooperative rather than adversarial, more of a partnership than a necessary evil.

“We’ve been asked by the family members to ask the members of the press to respect their privacy and to please leave them alone at this time,” he told the media scrum. “I’m pleading with you, as you know this is an extremely heartbreaking, difficult thing for these folks to endure. Please abide by their request.”

His we’re-all-in-this-together tone is a marked departure from the defensiveness sometimes seen when police are put in the admittedly uncomfortable position of having to explain these kinds of events.

After this summer’s shooting spree at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards seemed to become increasingly combative during the initial press conference.

“I don’t have demographics. I don’t have numbers for you,” he said, as if reporters were out of line for wanting to know what happened. “I’m not going to get into any part of the criminal investigation.”

Vance, well versed in the demands of today’s 24-hour news cycle, has been forthcoming with details as he’s made the rounds on Fox News, “Today” and a host of other TV programs. He avoids speculation. He also avoids information lockdown.

“I’ve got some of the questions you posed,” he told reporters shortly after the mayhem, asking them to come back in an hour for another press conference update. “I’ll see if I can get more answers.”

A veteran state trooper who’s headed the Connecticut police’s public information office for 15 years, Vance clearly is comfortable in front of the camera. He’s a familiar face to Connecticut television viewers, taking to the airwaves to talk about winter road conditions and the occasional home invasion. Last year, the Hartford Courant reported that he almost let a couple of morning radio personalities talk him into trying out for the CBS reality show “Survivor.” He eventually decided not to do it.

Now, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary has landed Vance on the national stage. Despite the pressure, demands and what must be a mind-numbing lack of sleep, he’s more than risen to the occasion.

He’s an example of how to do this job — an unenviable job that inevitably will need to be done again, by some other officer in some other town, at some point in the future. Hopefully the distant future.



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