June 14, 2018 | View as webpage
This briefing brought to you by Pursuit Response


There is one rule in media relations: It takes 10 good stories to combat one negative news report. Law enforcement agencies on top of media relations are prepared to respond positively to a journalist's request; offering the assistance of a PIO, statistics, graphics and visuals. Through these positive interactions, an agency builds connections that enable chiefs to get in front of any story, ensuring the PD narrative makes it on the nightly news.

In this week's Leadership Briefing, Chief Joel Shults, Ed.D., PoliceOne Editorial Advisory Board member and columnist, outlines the lessons law enforcement can take from Starbucks closing 8,000 stores for one afternoon. Matt Zavadsky, public safety leader and media expert, shares five ways to create a media partnership that educates the public and promotes your agency and its personnel.

How does your department handle crisis communications and media relations? Send me an email outlining best practices that have worked in your community or questions for PoliceOne experts to answer.

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, PoliceOne

In this issue:

By Chief Joel F. Shults

Remember the circus high-wire act where a daredevil rode a unicycle high above the ring as the spotlight glared and everyone's head turned to see whether the rider was going forward, backward, or down? Welcome to the Starbucks public relations department.

After a viral video showed Philadelphia police arresting two men based on a Starbucks' manager's complaint, the narrative spun toward accusations of racism. Philadelphia's Police Commissioner Richard Ross first stated via a Facebook live video that his officers did nothing wrong, then held a subsequent press conference and apologized to the men arrested. Fortunately for Philadelphia PD, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz kept the spotlight on the store and drew the media into the story.

Many police departments, including my own as chief, have or will face a controversy over race, use of force or tactics, or all three. When my officers engaged in a routine investigation of a disturbance, the suspects' resistance was witnessed (out of context, of course) by members of the public who rallied to the defense of the offenders. I immediately consulted with my civilian leaders asking if I should invite a diversity consultant to meet with my officers to mollify our vocal critics. The advice was not to act too hastily. It was good advice.

Starbucks’ response included shutting down all the company’s stores for an afternoon of employee racial-bias education. Let’s look at some of the ups and downs of the coffee giant’s response for lessons applicable to the scrutiny our departments receive from the media.

Take responsibility

Starbucks took both the blame and the responsibility. If somebody deserves an apology, I’m all for it. But taking responsibility doesn’t always mean accepting blame. My officers were completely correct in how they handled their call. We had regular anti-bias training (required in Colorado) and our statistics showed no evidence of disparate treatment by race.

Pay the price

Some estimates are that the Starbucks half-day training resulted in $12 million in lost revenue. In addition, the social media response and negative comments from employees may have resulted in a zero net benefit to the company, at least in the short term. If your agency decides to promise re-training, accept the reality that the public relations value may be neutral or negative. You may also be tacitly admitting you are doing badly in an area where you are in fact being quite proactive, effective and progressive.

Make it public

Starbucks’ training materials are on the company’s website. There were no secrets. The company executives, as well as outside experts, were involved. If you are in a position to say you were wrong, this is a good model to show remorse and correction. If you need to educate your public about why you were right, be transparent about your existing policy, training and activity.

Not my circus

The best defense to questions about your department’s integrity is ongoing commitment to the issues about which you are most likely going to be criticized. If integrity is embedded in policy, practice and training, you might avoid working in the spotlight on the high wire without a net.

Ensure your crisis communications plan works:

This guidebook helps educate police leaders on the benefits of integrated communications systems. Learn how technology is increasing situational awareness for the officer on the ground while providing immediate feedback for operational leaders in the command center.

Download the Free eBook

By Matt Zavadsky

Ever wonder how seemingly routine media messages seem to proliferate on broadcast and social media? Putting a public safety story into this orbit is not rocket science it just requires understanding the 24-hour news cycle. Matt Zavadsky, Chief Strategic Integration Officer at MedStar Mobile Healthcare, shares his top tips on getting positive PR for your agency.

The 24-hour news cycle is an unending stream of reporting on all-news radio stations, television channels and websites. Stories have to be told, re-told and re-packaged to be told again because of the continuous need to keep the cycle fed.

An important phenomena resulting from 24-hours news stations and online news is the speed at which news outlets want content to maintain a competitive advantage in the market. This means media outlets have three goals:

  1. Be the first to get information out to their audience;
  2. Have a unique angle for telling the story;
  3. Have a differentiating perspective to retell the story.

Here are some easy ways for a chief, as well as the public information officer, to create a media partnership that educates your community and promotes your agency and its personnel:

1. Be available.

This means 24/7/365. When you demonstrate reliability, you will become the first call for any busy reporter or assignment editor when they are on deadline (hint: they are always on deadline).

2. Be a story source.

Carry a list of story ideas for the media that you can pull from when they call and say, “We got nothing and we go on the air in two hours. What do ya got for us?” Always have an updated list of ideas and you will be their hero.

3. Be opportunistic.

It’s perfectly fine to tag onto events happening and pitch a public safety angle. There are many examples:

  • Police response to opioid overdoses;
  • School resource officer (SRO) training and deployment;
  • Summertime safety tips.

Also, if something big is happening on a national level, what is the local angle? Local media outlets often want to take viral trends or national stories, like active killer response, to the local level.

4. Be proud.

Subscribe to a broadcast news clipping services. When stories air about your agency you can download the stories and share on your web page, Facebook page and with the personnel involved. The clips also become a great training tool, as well as a library of your media involvement.

5. Be grateful.

Send your media partners handwritten notes to thank them for including your agency and personnel in the story. Also text them right after the story airs to tell them they did a good job. If the story didn't turn out the way you hoped, stay connected, provide feedback and keep supplying story ideas.

Three feel-good cop stories that made it into the headlines:

3 and out …

3. Identifying lessons from the YouTube HQ shooting: The LE response to an active shooter at YouTube’s HQ illustrates why all officers need tactical training, asserts PoliceOne columnist Ron LaPedis.

2. How evidence-based policing helps agencies perform better: The Policing Matters podcast hosts, Doug Wyllie and Jim Dudley, talk to Vallejo Police Lt. Jason Potts about how his agency is using research to direct crime prevention.

1. For your viewing: The Netflix documentary “Flint Town” portrays an embattled chief and his understaffed PD serving a struggling community. Watch Season 1 now.

Share this Briefing

You are welcome to share the PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. Forward this email to your command staff, supervisors and patrol officers; print and post in the roll call room; add a link to your department's website; or reprint in your organization or regional police association newsletter.

Got a leadership tip, management question, commercial use inquiry, or an article idea? Send me an email, nancy.perry@praetoriandigital.com.

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