Improving Media Relations for Law Enforcement

I do not need to tell you that nationwide the police are in the spotlight. Everything we do or say is examined by the public and the media. Unfortunately, the media, in general, has not been on our side even going as far as pre-judging LEOs and even adding to the anti-LE hype. Needless to say, departments are experiencing the lowest level of police-media relations in recent history. So, as an administrator how do you improve this relationship?

Improving media relations is one of those issues that every administrator will eventually face- either as the result of a localized issue or, as is the current situation, a wider national trend. While many of us would like to ignore the media and wait for things to blow over we can no longer afford to do so. While this may appear to be a daunting, even near impossible task it does not need be. But you do need a plan.

1. Be fair and accurate in all dealings with media- you may not want to speak to the media, but there are times when it cannot be avoided. Furthermore, there are times when it should not be avoided-after all the public has a right to know what their police department is doing and why. So, the first step to building a positive relationship with the media is to always be fair and accurate. If you know the answer to a question, and releasing the information is permitted, answer the question. If you do not know the answer say so and offer to obtain the information, release it when possible etc. NEVER LIE TO THE MEDIA.

2. Pro-active v. Reactive – many departments have a “hands-off” media policy, avoiding contact at all cost, and only hold a press conference or release a statement after the fact-after the media has already release incorrect information or painted the department in a negative light. This does nothing to increase police media relations. Instead be pro-active. Release information prior to a need for correction or damage control. The goal is to become the source of accurate information rather than the one who only responds when necessary for your own good.

3. Maintain control – no, this does not mean controlling the media. Not only is this a violation of the basic tenants of the First Amendment, it is also next to impossible. By control, I mean controlling the flow of information. Let’s be honest, there is no way to completely control rumors and “unnamed sources” of the reporting of this information- it is usually sensational and that is what the media looks for. Part of this involves what is released but it also involves controlling how the department releases that information. Who is authorized to release information, how will that information be released and who is responsible for follow up when needed. Not only will this help decimate the information you want out there it will also increase the media’s willingness to rely on that information.

4. Always tell the truth – this was mentioned before, but it can never be said enough. YOU MUST NEVER LIE TO THE MEDIA. Not only will it further deteriorate you already suffering relationship, it will also destroy your credibility.

It is important to remember that the media is never going away and is sometimes a valuable resource, but one that can only be utilized is a positive relationship already exists. The time to build that relationship is PRIOR to the need arising so the time to work on improving this relationship is when there is nothing happening. Like today.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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