I recently listened to Lisa Cox share her experiences working as a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for Springfield Police Department. Her job, in short, is to tell the story of the Police Department. As you might imagine, this is quite a task. In fact, she uses many different platforms, methods, and resources to share their story. Their story is not always “happy go lucky”. Much of Lisa’s role is to respond to tragedies all across the city and handle media inquires and press conferences. Lisa shared the Hailey Owens story, a multi-day homicide capturing the hearts of citizens across the country and her role in responding to crises.
In an age where law enforcement agencies are scrutinized for their every action (or lack of action), departments across the country are seeking communication professionals to promote their story. This serves two purposes; additional officers are able to serve on the streets, and professional communication teams are able to frame stories, promote departments, respond to crises, while managing department reputations along the way. A civilian is more often able to remove themselves from the tense, high pressure situations and focus on all aspects of new media. Who will be tweeting and what will they be saying? What news outlets will be attempting to contact the department? Who will the news stations interview on scene? Who will plan the press conference and ensure that the victim’s loved ones are respected? The civilian communication professional is able to do all of these things while allowing the officers to focus on their role – protecting the community and responding to emergencies.
Government communications is becoming an increasingly important department within cities across the country. Whether it is the Chamber of Commerce promoting events or partnerships, non-profits working within the city realm, city developments, or parks and recreation, there is a huge niche for communication professionals in government agencies. An interesting factor in these strategic communication plans is the vast audience you are striving to reach. Your team might be trying to reach three or four generations to share the same message. Most grandparents aren’t going to see your tweets and most grandchildren aren’t going to read your monthly newsletter. Therefore, innovation and creativity are critically important in government communication. As your audience is constantly evolving, you must find ways to reach those that matter.
Lastly, your job is available because of the taxpayers which you are working for. If you don’t do your job correctly (or somebody in the community doesn’t like the way you are doing your job) then you will become scrutinized for “wasting taxpayer’s money”. This poses an interesting dilemma that those working outside of government agencies don’t always experience.
As a student looking into a variety of tracks in communication, I find real value and excitement in crisis communication, specifically within law enforcement. I think it would be a great way to get involved. Most police departments have an incredible story to tell and it would be awesome to help share those messages.
Do you think it is valuable for agencies to move toward this civilian communication model? Why or why not? Give me a follow on Twitter & share your thoughts: @blake_shepheard.