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How to…Cope with the Press

By Charles Gary for Police Mag

Less than a month into her job as director of public information, Capt. Nancy Demme of the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department was looking forward to attending a media training program in neighboring Arlington. Demme never got to attend a single session. Instead, a deadly shooting spree began, and—ready or not—she was thrust into a real-life media tornado that schooled her better than any seminar could.

In retrospect, last year’s sniper crisis is as much an anomaly as it is a brilliant case study, holding surprises that would have rattled the most veteran of public information officers PIOs. But while it is impossible to anticipate every media situation, a few guidelines do exist.

Planning Ahead

Fortunately, a PIO’s life is not one long crisis, although at times it may seem that way. Down time is valuable for implementing a rapid response system for your department.

“It’s so important for PIOs to constantly ask themselves, ‘What if that were us?’” says Bob Stoneman, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department PIO. “I think all departments should have some sort of standard media plan ready for big cases.”

For Stoneman’s department, that meant a coordinated beat system. In the event of breaking news, the public information office would call the spokesperson nearest to the scene. The result: ‘round-the-clock accessibility.

“That immediate response was so crucial because, with all the news competition and the 24-hour cable news cycle, no one goes to bed at eleven o’clock anymore,” he says.

The Baltimore City Police Department has recently eliminated a layer in its media strategy, giving district commanders, lead investigators, and arresting officers latitude to speak directly to the press at a crime scene. BCPD public affairs director Matt Jablow, a former journalist, says the new policy is good for officers as well as reporters.

“It’s nice for the officers who are doing a good job because they can be recognized for it, and the media likes it because they’re talking directly to the person in charge,” Jablow says. “Of course we give them guidelines on how to talk to the press, but beyond that, we find that officers on the street know more about their cases than we do.”

For more, click here.

Photo by Terje Sollie:

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