Media coverage of GFPD HRU incident in Shelby

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The High-Risk Unit of the Great Falls Police Department was asked to assist with a shooting/hostage situation in Shelby a few days ago.

It was a very bad situation – a man named Richard Moench secluded himself and a woman inside a house in Shelby. He had apparently shot and killed a man earlier in the day in or near the community of Kevin, and was clearly a clear and present danger to everyone in the area.

The HRU from GFPD was able to negotiate the woman’s safe release, but the suspect refused to surrender, and eventually fired several shots at HRU members from inside the house. The male suspect was moving towards the front door of the home with a firearm, continuing his imminent threat to the HRU members, according to the Shelby Promoter.

Two officers were injured; their injuries thankfully were not serious, and they returned to their normal assigned duties within a couple of days.

Today, the GFPD posted a press release on Facebook stating that Officer Kevin Supalla is the officer who was “involved in the shooting.” That is a standard phrase used by law enforcement and by most news outlets when an officer shoots someone – an “officer-involved shooting.” It’s a bad phrase and should not be used – I don’t fault law enforcement agencies for using the phrase, but when news outlets parrot it – that’s not good, because it is (or can be) somewhat ambiguous. That’s a semantic peeve of mine, but I learned long ago that reporters cling to it like a lifeline.

So – after the GFPD released the information: KRTV reported that the GFPD says that Officer Kevin Supalla shot the suspect, who died at the scene.  And the Great Falls Tribune said the “police officer who fired the fatal shot during a reported hostage situation in Shelby two weeks ago has been identified as Senior Police Officer Kevin Supalla, according to the Great Falls Police Department.”

Both news outlets report that Supalla is on administrative leave as the investigation into the incident continues; placing an officer on leave is standard practice in such situations. I have no doubt that Supalla acted properly, and likely saved the lives of fellow officers and possibly civilians. Still, a very sad situation all around.

As far as I can tell, the names of the two officers who were injured have not been released; I don’t know if Supalla was one of the two.

KFBB, for some reason, asserts that Supalla WAS injured, but apparently doesn’t know anything about a second officer – and goes on to say that Supalla’s current medical condition is “not yet known at this time.” KFBB also makes no mention of Supalla being the officer who brought down the suspect.

My guess is that someone at KFBB read the GFPD press release and assumed it meant Supalla was the only officer who was shot, not realizing that it actually means that Supalla was the officer who shot the suspect.

Sloppy/lazy reporting by KFBB? Or did KRTV and the Trib read too much (or little) into the press release?

Knowing KFBB’s track record with facts and numbers (facts and facts and facts and facts and sensitivity and such), I’m almost certain it’s the former.

UPDATE: I confirmed with the GFPD that Officer Supalla was NOT injured in the incident. So – as expected – KFBB did indeed screw up yet again.

Look, I understand the challenge of reporting news in a relatively small community — in the world of media markets, Great Falls ranks way down near the bottom of the market-size ranking. There are 210 markets – with New York City being #1, Los Angeles #2, and so on down the line, with Great Falls coming in at #192. So of course we get fresh-out-of-school reporters with very little experience – it’s not a “fault” of Great Falls, nor is it a fault of the new reporters. Small markets like Great Falls are where reporters begin their careers and learn (hopefully).

But KFBB for years and years has apparently done little or nothing to train or mentor these young reporters, and never seems to hire a more senior, experienced news director or reporter to provide mentorship and training. The result, sadly, is stuff like this.

And I’ll even predict that KFBB’s current article – which states unequivocally that “The Great Falls Police Officer shot in the Shelby stand-off on Monday, April 22nd, has been identified as Senior Police Officer Kevin Supalla” (screenshot) – won’t be corrected, and KFBB won’t even acknowledge the mistake. Unless, of course, someone at KFBB happens to read this (posted at 10:24 p.m. on Saturday, May 4th).

Of course, I am biased based on my 10 years at KRTV, which went a long way in educating me about the news, the process, the reporters, the hiring, the fact-checking, etc. And here’s the difference: KRTV hires the same kind of young reporters who are newly-graduated – but also has several experienced reporters and managers who provide the training, mentorship, and oversight that these “kids” need.

Here is the GFPD press release:



1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Update on KFBB report of shooting

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