Media relations: Putting a human face on the police
The first "Police and The Press" column for PoliceOne.com covered the concept of putting a face on the image in the mirror. This fourth column goes a step further in calling for that face to be a human one.
Perception is reality
It is helpful to try to look at how the police are perceived by the public. The reality is that most people view the police as stoic individuals who can be almost robotic in their mannerisms and thought processes. As those who have managed officers can attest, law enforcers are among the most passionate and emotional of workers. However, any public display of emotions has been viewed by police executives in the past as unprofessional.
With the advent of 24-hour news channels and Internet news outlets with lots of news material needed, the public has gotten a closer look at policing via the chiefs, sheriffs and spokespersons. Two recent examples have shown how a little emotion honestly displayed actually pulls the public in and helps them make a connection with the police.
In the famous Beltway Sniper case, ten people were killed and three others injured in October 2002. Though many agencies on the federal and local level were involved, the public drew strength from the public presence of then-Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief Charles A. Moose. Few could forget his emotional plea to the snipers concerning the danger to children.
The media and the public gravitated to this man who put a face on the largest manhunt in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Chief Moose allowed the public to see that the police truly did care and were doing everything they could to stop the snipers. He became such an ingrained presence to the public that his book and a USA Network made-for-cable TV movie, "DC Sniper: 23 Days of Fear" resulted in much attention and further opportunities to reach out to the community.
After convicted child molester John Evander Couey confessed in March 2005 to killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, Citrus County, Fla., Sheriff Jeff Dawsey held an emotional live press conference covered by Fox News Channel, CNN and other networks during the Friday night dinner hour.
Sheriff Dawsey didn't take a stance that triggers public frustration with the criminal justice system. Rather than be cold and impersonal in the "just the facts" style of policing, the two-term elected official was obvious in his frustration at not being able to give Jessica back to her family. He was resolute in his belief that he "had the right man."
The steely faced terse "no comment" in police media relations is dead. Modern policing demands public police officials that are able to how that they are in touch with the public while still maintaining a professional demeanor that does not compromise the investigation.