Improve Police Public Relations or Fail


Improve Police Public Relations or Fail

As a new police officer, I responded to a fatal traffic accident where a fellow officer was in the process of saving the remaining family members. The smell of crushed metal and disembodied human flesh along with the screams of the survivors (including two children) was overwhelming.

The officers saved three lives that night; we were bloodied to the point that we had to go home and change uniforms.

The following day, I asked my superiors why we didn’t notify media of the heroic actions of my coworkers.

“We do this every day Leonard, it was nothing special.”

It’s Not Just Cops

But it’s not just cops who don’t tell their story. It’s correctional officers who keep the peace with people who have histories of extreme violence. It’s parole and probation agents who go the extra mile to assist offenders and their families, or to connect criminals to existing crimes.

This is the heart and soul of why I write about the criminal justice system. Yep, bad apples exist and they make life hell for the rest of us. I dislike them intensely.

But I have witnessed first-hand countless acts of heroism or exemplary service on the part of cops and other members of the justice system. We are mostly decent people doing extraordinary jobs. We care about the safety of our fellow citizens.

Critics will never understand because they have never been there or experienced what I saw. I defy anyone who witnesses an officer interrupting domestic violence or finding a lost child or those who run into a burning house to tell me that most cops are brutal thugs.

Critics simply don’t have the fortitude to be there.

New Report from the Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation offered a new report on crime and justice.

The third observation from the document, Policing In America: Lessons From the Past, Opportunities For The Future, Heritage Foundation, is improving public relations.

In an era of increased controversy regarding law enforcement and criminal justice topics, it’s amazing that public relations would find its way to the top three priorities.

But after reading the report, it becomes clearer that public and media relations are the driving force behind the document’s reflections.

Selected Observations

Identify the most effective means of communicating with the public and political leaders, building trust and improving police–community relations, and bringing the needs and concerns of police agencies to the attention of federal officials.

Some attendees felt that law enforcement agencies need to be more forthright and transparent about past injustices (real or perceived), and need to do a better job explaining to the public why they use the tactics they use.

Develop strategies around marketing, branding, and media relations that promote community trust and transparency in their organizations.

Craft their own message so that they have better control of the narrative. The typical law enforcement officer faces danger just as the average soldier does, yet the military vastly outspends the police in campaigns designed to enhance its reputation among the public and recruit personnel.

Refrain from relying on the mainstream media to relay information to the public. Police are not equipped to compete against mainstream media groups that engage in anti-police advocacy, but political leaders—including mayors, governors, and the President—can help to counteract that narrative.

So How Is This Done?

I have thirty-five years of representing national and state criminal justice agencies including police and corrections. I have over fifty national and regional awards for my work.

I trained agencies throughout the country on media relations and proactive media efforts including audio and video podcasting.

As a result, I wrote a book based on my experiences, Success With the Media.

Look, the criminal justice system is massively underfunded. Media relations is no exception. We need to hire additional people who know how to represent, create and promote.

Individual officers in every agency need to step up their public relations game.

Media relations is not the exclusive responsibility of the PIO or agency director; that task belongs to each and every one of us.

Agencies must embrace the notion that officers are ACTIVE partners in this effort. I understand that agencies want to control the message through professionals, but we seem to be struggling. Maybe it’s time to rethink our efforts.

We all have body cameras or personal smartphones that allow us to get video, audio or photos. I’m not suggesting that participants stop saving lives to get media, but every scene has personnel that can document what’s happening.

It all needs to be edited, filtered and distributed by professional’s, but I guarantee you that every shift has it’s meaningful moments.

Every agency needs to be represented by an increased number of media relations professionals who know what to do with photographs, audio and video. They need to know story-based publicity. They need to know what to do regarding privacy rights or have the editing skills to blur faces.

Every agency needs to create and distribute their own television show filled with stock footage and decent graphics.

Every agency needs to know how to produce and distribute audio recordings and interviews.

Every agency needs social media specialists who know how to get this information out to the media and public.

It’s not rocket science. A billion fourteen years old’s take and lift video to YouTube every day. Are you telling me that they can but you can’t?

Final Analysis

Who are we? Are we the people our critics make us out to be?

Or are we decent people doing an honorable job under immensely difficult circumstances?

We need transparency in every aspect of the justice system, and this includes corrections and parole and probation.

We need to embrace and understand our critics. We need to know their points of view.

Include critics in our outreach efforts. Interview them on your audio and video podcasts. Be inclusive. Be authentic. You will be surprised by the public’s and media’s reaction.

Stop looking at the media as your enemy. They are more like us then you know. If they feel hostility, they will return it. No fear-no resentment. They (like you) make mistakes. They (like us) have bad apples.

Promote the actions of fellow employees at every opportunity.

But like the report from the Heritage Foundation suggests, we need to control our own message. We need to distribute that message directly to the public.

We need to do it early and often, daily at a minimum. Preferably, several times a day.

We are not afraid of the dangers that come with the job. Why are we apprehensive of making sure that the public understands who we are, what we do, and how we contribute to their safety?

The technical parts are doable and affordable. Can you type? Then you can create. This responsibility cannot fall to one media rep consumed with daily reactive responsibilities.

We either learn to do this, or we suffer the consequences. It’s that simple.

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed numerous times by every national media outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.

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