by Bruce Felton
It’s a relationship played out in movies and TV shows over and over again: A cat and mouse game of hide and seek where police try to “protect” information from the media, while the media tries to catch the police hiding information. And yes, while there have been real-life instances of inappropriate behavior on both sides, is the relationship really that adversarial? And, more importantly, does it need to be?
I have been the Public Information Officer (PIO) off and on for about six years. During that time I have interacted with journalists, television news anchors and reporters, news radio personalities, assignment editors, and camera operators. What I have found to be the common denominator with the vast majority of these individuals is that they are very much like myself and the people I work with. Whether they are young and brimming with excited ambition about their new career, or a little older and hitting their stride in their profession; or even getting close to retirement and thinking about the time they will spend with their grandchildren, they have a job to do and are trying to do it the best they can. For the most part there is no evil agenda, or malicious intent, or even rude behavior. They’re just people attempting to complete tasks, meet deadlines, satisfy their bosses, and go home.
Police departments are great hoarders of information. We collect information about everything, and we keep it in the event it helps us in the future. That information may help us solve a crime, find a missing person, or provide valuable information about trends that affect crime and society. It must always be remembered that we are merely stewards of this information and that it belongs to the public, not the police. So while there may be some exceptions, we have a responsibility to make that information available. Largely it is the media, in all of its forms, that provides a vehicle to deliver that information to the public. This all works best when law enforcement and the media work in concert to communicate to the public that information which may enlighten, educate, inform and yes, at times, entertain them. An effective PIO for a police department works to establish and maintain relationships within the media so that this can effectively take place, thereby serving everyone’s interests.
Many are very critical of the style and delivery of the media today. I will address this issue and give my thoughts about it in a future article in Part 2 of this series.