POLICE Magazine

MAY 2019

Magazine for police and law enforcement

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O n any given day, a member of an agency's com- mand staff—whether it's an individual specif- ically assigned the role of public information officer or someone who takes on that role by necessity—might have to speak with one or two members of the local media. But every law enforcement agency in America is just one critical incident away from having to deal with doz- ens—if not hundreds—of hungry media members looking for answers to some potentially uncomfortable questions. e speed with which the national mainstream media can deploy to an incident in your community can be shocking. In the event of a mass killing or a controversial officer-involved shooting, the satellite vans seem to materialize out of thin air, creating a small city of these vehicles camped out near the scene or in front of the agency's headquarters. A podium is put up and a massive bouquet of microphones mushrooms into place. Just like that, it's "go time." e key to successfully navigating such a stressful situation is a confluence of prior planning and purposeful execution of the plan. Here are some "pro tips" from a PIO who routine- ly "gets it right" with her local press on a day-to-day basis as well as the big national and international media members when something really big cooks off. Prior Planning Officer Johnna Watson is the public information officer for the Oakland (CA) Police Department. Watson says that while her OPD team is unique, there are several elements to her media relations playbook that can be applied to an agency of just about any size. e first item on the list is to have a media rela- tions team consisting of more than one person, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each. ere needs to be at least one qualified spokesper- son, as well as a person who manages the messaging on social media. Someone in a support role is also helpful. Watson says that the team also needs backup members for when the PIO and social media man- ager are unavailable for some reason—vacation, illness, etc.—and that every member of the team should have received some formal training in their specified role. "We did some training with the FBI," Watson says. "ey put on a critical-incident training and they invited a lot of other agencies." Watson says also that it's wise to pick the brains of PIOs at nearby agencies for their best practices. "Know your other city or town PIOs and have their contact information," she says. Over the years Watson has developed friendships with oth- er media relations teams and says that everyone benefits from the sharing of ideas. Further, there may one day be a critical incident during which more than one PIO will be taking the podium, so it's good to know your counterparts in nearby jurisdictions. e other relationships that are absolutely vital are with the local news media—television, radio, print, and influential local bloggers. "Do not forget your local media partners. National media will come and go—your local media will always be with you," Watson says. She suggests setting up a day of scenario training—perhaps with your SWAT team or other special units—and inviting those media members to attend, observe, and better under- stand what might be unfolding behind the police tape when a real-world critical incident happens. 4 | SP E C I A L R E P O RT | C R I T ICA L I NC I D E N T R E S P O N S E The experiences of a veteran PIO can help any officer assigned to providing information to media when something big cooks off. (Above) Oakland Police PIO Officer Johnna Watson is surrounded by media after the 2012 Oiko University shooting. Working with the Media After a Critical Incident Doug Wyllie PHOTO: OAKLAND (CA) POLICE DEPARTMENT

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