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Remarks Made by Memphis Police Chief in Aftermath of Tyre Nichols’ Death – A Master Class for Crisis Communications

By Bruce Hennes, Hennes Communications

In the aftermath of the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five police officers, the Memphis Police Chief chose not to stand behind the usual “This is a matter under investigation.”  Instead, she made remarks that were honest and, in my opinion, stunningly blunt.  Her outrage was evident and her message was clear.

The chief provided clear information about the situation without trying to hide or downplay the severity of the crisis – and by doing so, she built trust with the community and showed that the department was taking the situation seriously.  And by acknowledging the community’s concerns and outlining steps that the department would take to address them, she helped demonstrate the department was committed to finding solutions.

The chief’s remarks should be a model for other police chiefs and elected officials to follow in crisis communication situations.  I’m not suggesting there should be a rush to judgment with due process cast aside.  But by being transparent, providing accurate information, being responsive to the needs and concerns of stakeholders – and perhaps most important, speaking like a caring human being – Police Chief Cerelyn Davis shared her humanity, and in doing so, she showed the residents of Memphis true leadership.

Those of us that practice crisis communications, which is very much different than the traditional practice of public relations, know two things:

  1. As a leader, you will more often be judged not for what happened, but for what you did after it happened.
  1. Yes, do consult with legal counsel, but remember – The Court of Public Opinion is often more important than the Court of Law.

Memphis Police Chief Davis’ remarks offers a Master Class for crisis communications under extreme circumstances.  It deserves to be studied by anyone in any organization that might find themselves at the center of a controversy.

You can see a video of her remarks here.

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