6 considerations for PIOs ahead of the release of the Tyre Nichols bodycam video
Being the voice of your agency is an incredible challenge but one that you can use to build trust even through difficult times
Today, the Memphis Police Department is set to release the body-worn camera footage of the death of Tyre Nichols in police custody. There's no way to sugarcoat it, it appears to be devastating. It will likely be a punch in the gut for cops and the community alike.
If you're a Public Information Officer or executive in a U.S. police department, here are a few things to keep in mind as you communicate through this crisis:
- Just because it happened in a different city doesn't mean anger won't be directed at your agency and officers. For better or worse, the public views all officers as representatives of the same system, even if they are spread across roughly 18,000 different agencies.
- Be prepared to communicate through protests, peaceful and non-peaceful alike. Remember to share traffic information, street closures, arrest warnings (if necessary) and any other information that can help people gather peacefully, as well as navigate their way around. If you are out marching as well please post that, but be cautious not to make this about you. It's the community's moment, and we are joining hands with them.
- Don't feel compelled to release a statement, but it can't hurt to prepare a few words if you feel like your community is looking to you for one. You can speak from the heart about how you felt watching the footage, and about the standards to which you hold your own agency. Again, this is not necessary if there's no *local* public interest. Your local audience is what matters, not what's on CNN or FOX.
- Monitor social media. Turn on notifications, look to see if the media and elected officials are mentioning you. Do they have questions? Are they sharing a rumor? Things will move fast. Maybe this weekend is not the one to disconnect and leave your phone at home.
- Be careful with your ongoing social media content and especially your scheduled posts. Something lighthearted or even mundane can take on a whole new meaning in times of crisis.
- As always, pause before posting. Read the post. Read again after hitting send. Don't just check for typos, check for tone and subtext. Don't tweet in all caps.
Most importantly, be safe, whether you're out on the streets or tweeting from your iPhone, or in the case of many of you – both. Being the voice of your agency is an incredible challenge but also an immense privilege, and one that you can use to build trust even through difficult times.