In a modern world where every phone has a camera, almost anyone can end up being an agent of the press. No longer are the times of having a press pass to identify the media. In this ever-changing world, how does a law enforcement officer work with the media? Here are some tips and guidelines to navigate the tricky world of the press.
Come Up With A Plan
If you haven’t learned already, having a plan for the various encounters you will have during your career will help prepare you to handle that specific situation in the field. While no plan goes perfect and you can’t plan for every situation, it never hurts to prepare yourself for what you can. In your mind come up with a plan to handle situations where the media might get involved in an incident you are assigned to.
When coming up with your plan the number one aspect you want to focus on is professionalism. If the press catches you on a camera you want to appear as if you are the most professional of cops out there. You also want to factor in your department's public relations policies into any plan you come up with.
What Not To Say
When speaking with the press it is crucial that you remain diplomatic. You don’t want to appear as if you are violating anyone’s first amendment rights, and as frustrating as it can be, you don’t want to either. Here are some key sentences that you should AVOID saying to anyone with a camera or any member of the press.
“You can’t film here”
“Put the camera away”
“That is illegal”
While those four sentences seem fairly straight forward, you want to avoid them simply for the fact that they tend to trigger bad press. The best way to handle media if they are asking for a comment is to direct them to a person who is authorized to answer that question in a kind way. If the media is filming somewhere they legally shouldn’t be, directly them politely to where they can film and ask them to politely film from that location.
Know The Law
Every state, county, and municipality has different laws governing filming, audio recording, and the like. Make sure that you know every law for your area(s) by heart. This helps you to know what the media is and isn’t allowed to do. You don’t want to be that police officer who ends up on YouTube shoving someone’s legally filming camera away.
At the academy, you learned the first amendment, along with the rest of the constitution. Make sure that you memorize it and what it means. Go over it regularly so it is always fresh in your mind.
Try To Make Contacts
One of the things you should do when you start working in a new area is getting to know all of the media personnel that work there. Start by looking them up online and then make it a point to introduce yourself if you see them. The simple act of a positive interaction can help set the mood for future meetings. It doesn’t guarantee the future will be full of perfect police-media relations but it is a step in the right direction.
Remember to Breathe
Chances are your defensive tactics and shooting instructors at the academy told you the importance of remembering to breathe. Those aren't the only times it is important. When you are dealing with the media chances are they may pressure you to get their way. Remembering to breathe can help you keep a cool head, even when you are being hounded. One of the biggest reasons that people yell at the media is that they lose their cool.
Remember That They Have A Job Too
Lastly, it is important to remember that the media has a job to do too. They aren’t just bothering you to be a nuisance. The press is trying to capture the news as it is happening so they can inform the public. If you can work out a solution with the media that allows them to do their jobs while you do yours, it will help to foster good relations. It will also look good for your department.
About the author:
Ian graduated Seattle University with a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice. He has held positions as an Auxiliary Department of Public Safety Officer, a Security Patrol Supervisor, and as an in-house security officer for a major medical center. Through all of this he has picked up a wealth of experience, training, and education that he is happy to pass on to others. Ian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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