Police & Public Relations

2020-11-06 by Julio Juarez

Many are concerned about the police and public relations. We asked some PR pros what police can do to improve their reputations.  Many organizations, including the National Police Association are fixated on improving the lives – and reputations – of police departments nationwide.

Andrew Blum, a crisis PR pro with AJB Communications, said “First, given all the bad press the police have gotten, they need to have a seasoned in-house PR person for their departments, and their budget can afford it, they should consider having a crisis PR agency on retainer. Without these, by the time a shooting or protests happen, as they have in the past several months, the police have lost the PR battle.

But on a more systematic level, they need better training and retraining. Why do the police always seem like they shoot to kill someone in one of these high-profile shootings or incidents? Can’t they shoot to wound and not to kill if the circumstances allow for it? Also, after the fact — although I know there are lots of legal issues for police to deal with — they need to present a better look and sound that they are sorry for what happened. And they need to promise to do better in the future. And to follow through. The police use community policing as a way to talk to the public. A PR program to help the image of police needs to have a similar community element to it.

Meanwhile, anew Saint Leo University poll shows a higher percentage of people expressing trust in police officers compared to two years ago. The university last polled on confidence and trust in police matters in 2018. The percentage of people reporting trust in police departments—rather than individual officers—remains about the same as in 2018.  

While nearly 60 percent of respondents say they have trust in police officers, just over half say they trust the department. Dr. Phillip Neely, chair of Saint Leo’s undergraduate criminal justice program said from his collaboration with others in the law enforcement field, they think that trust has decreased. Because the university criminal justice faculty members are current or prior practitioners in the field, they are working with their students to increase that trust.  

“We stress being a part of the community, being fair, and being just,” Neely said. “De-escalation is the first step to solving problem in the community as a law enforcement official.”

Meanwhile, Ashley Patrick, a master coach who has been featured in the media extensively and was a police officer for ten years said, “Police departments have to build back trust within their communities but they also need to release information sooner when they have a major event. In my experience, they never want to release any information which allows false narratives to spread first unchecked. 

If police departments will release information sooner this will help build trust and control conspiracy and false information.  It’s also important for police officers to be active in their community when not enforcing. They need the community to know that they are there for help and are approachable. I think appearances help with this. 

For example, we had one chief that would only allow us to wear our class A uniforms, no “military” style BDUs and things like that. When police officers look unapproachable, they are.”