Today’s guest post comes from Sergeant Dave Norris who has been with the San Mateo, California, Police Department since 1993. After serving in a variety of positions including Field Training Officer, Narcotics and Vice, and Investigations, he is currently assigned to Community and Media Relations. The position oversees SMPD’s Police Activities League, Civilian Volunteers, Neighborhood Watch, Plan Review for CPTED, School Resource Officer Programs, and “other projects as directed by the Chief.” He also handles Public Information and Social Media, having expanded SMPD’s Community Alert outreach from an email list of about 300 to over 13,000 direct subscribers across a number of social media platforms.
The recent events in Boston have us all doing a “What worked? … What could we all do better?” evaluation of messaging and social media. Although Boston Police put out a great first message, news agencies provided fast and furious updates that were often inaccurate. What if we had a formula ready to apply to any event to help us get critical and accurate information out first, and get the public engaged right away?
I have the distinct opportunity of working for a police chief who worked in the media as a radio news reporter before her career in law enforcement. To someone who, like many assuming this role, came into the PIO position "cold," with no media relations or communications experience, this put me in the advantageous position of working with a built-in media relations mentor who has the perspective of the top of the organization in mind with every release. The constant question from Chief Susan Manheimer to me is "What are your key messages?"
Involvement in social media, which has happened for us over just the last few years as it has for many of you, presents us with a double edged sword in public engagement. We can put information out more frequently and faster, but the public also demands it more. What does that mean for us? It means that today's PIO has to be more succinct in messaging, more willing to message, and more proactive than ever before. In addition, it presents the critical opportunity to get our account out first, accurately, and before the media with the messages WE want carried to the public.
I use my chief's four-point guide to the key messages as a formula that I find suits darn near every media situation, no matter how complex...
1. What is happening?
Cover the basics (5w's) as best you can - who, what, when, where, and why.
2. What are the police doing?
Is this active? Have we taken some critical action (pursuit, use of force)? Do we have a crime scene/perimeter? Is there a lockdown?
3. What do we want the public to do? Empower the public…
Do we need the public's help? Do we need the public to evacuate or shelter in place? Should we seize the opportunity to remind the public they are “our eyes and ears” - "See something, Say something?" We need to always find a way to instill confidence in them as our public safety partners.
4. What's our public safety message?
You have your community's attention - seize it, and provide critical safety information and/or tips here. "Always wear your safety belts." "Talk to your children about drugs/alcohol/internet safety."
I hope this has been as helpful to you as it has to me - I know every situation we encounter is different, but in some way, this formula helps me nearly every time.