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From studio to streets: How a police department podcast is connecting cops with their community

The Newport News PD’s “Running Code” podcast has become a valuable tool for community engagement and recruitment

By Matt Michalec

If you had told 20-year-old Morgen Tietjens that he would soon embark on a 30-plus-year career as a police officer, he wouldn’t have believed you.

“My contacts with police in both Italy and the United States, including on military installations, were not always favorable,” said the self-proclaimed former military brat. “It probably had a little to do with my attitude, and I also had long hair, which wasn’t looked upon favorably on military installations.”

But a traffic stop one day after getting off work from his job at a Newport News, Virginia distribution center changed all that.

“I forget what I was doing, probably weaving in and out of traffic, and I got pulled over,” Tietjens said. “And this officer completely blew away every misconception I had about law enforcement. He was kind as could be, super professional, squared away in his appearance. This guy could have been on the recruiting poster. He gave me a warning and then the last thing he said was, ‘We’re hiring.’ I thought to myself ‘Yeah, sure.’ Then six months later, I was sitting in the police academy.”

Thirty-five years later, he hasn’t looked back. Tietjens is now a captain with the Newport News (Virginia) Police Department (NNPD), where he currently serves as the commander of the city’s Emergency Communications (911 dispatch) Center.

Capt. Tietjens is joined by Lt. Melissa Morgan, an 18-year NNPD veteran, as co-hosts of the department’s new YouTube podcast, Running Code. NNPD’s public information office helps produce the show with a big assist from the staff at Newport News Television (NNTV), the city’s government access channel, which lends its studio and TV production knowledge to help create the episodes.

There are many benefits to creating such a podcast. One is to assist in recruiting, and showing prospective officers what NNPD has to offer. But the main objective is simpler: show the citizens of Newport News the kind of people who serve the community.

“Our goal is to show the human element of the person inside the uniform,” Capt. Tietjens said. “We’re not robots. We’re cut from the same mold as everyone else.”

The show’s nine episodes to date have displayed a wide range of interesting individuals who comprise NNPD. They include Capt. Alison Funaiock, who joined law enforcement despite being told that her childhood rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis would make her chosen career impractical. She went on to become the first female to command a SWAT Team in Southeastern Virginia.

Other guests have also included Sgt. James and Aaron Huling, the fourth and fifth generation of officers from their family who became the first father-son to achieve the rank of sergeant with NNPD at the same time; former star college baseball pitcher and now assistant Chief Brandon Creswell; and K-9 P.J. and his handler, MPO Nick Stewart.

Shows are produced 1-2 times per month. Guests are chosen by some combination of the PIO office, command staff and the show’s hosts. Some department members have even volunteered.

The budget expense to producing the podcast has been minimal. A neon sign to decorate the set cost a few hundred dollars. The staff of NNTV, who are also city employees, volunteer their equipment, studio and time to record and edit the shows. The PIO posts the shows to the department’s YouTube page and also leverages other social media outlets to drive traffic to the show.

The response so far has been positive. Lt. Morgan and Capt. Tietjens have both been stopped in public by citizens who recognized them from the show. They, and the show’s guests, have seemingly enjoyed the time to sit back, out of uniform and tell stories — be it how they got into the profession, what they enjoy most about the job, or sharing their most memorable calls for service.

Most guests so far, incidentally, have stories involving Capt. Tietjens hijinks. “My wife will sometimes remind me that I have the coordination of a baby giraffe,” he says. Both “Morgen and Morgan” are not shy about showing their sense of humor in the show.

“We see Running Code as an excellent way to introduce the citizens of Newport News to our officers,” said NNPD Chief of Police Steve Drew. “Learning about the person behind the badge helps the public to see that our officers are everyday people just like them, which goes hand-in-hand with community policing.”

The biggest takeaway so far for other departments thinking of starting a similar show: encourage your officers to participate and let them be themselves. Everyone has a story and being vulnerable enough to show a humorous or softer side helps humanize your officers to the communities they serve.

For more on “Running Code,” visit NNPD’s YouTube page at www.YouTube.com/NNPDMedia. An audio-only version is also available on popular podcast platforms such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Subscribe to the RSS feed here.

About the author
Matt Michalec is the Senior Communications Specialist for the Newport News Police Department.


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