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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

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Yael Bar-tur is a social media consultant who previously served as the director of social media and digital strategy for the New York City Police Department where she developed her own strategy and training guide for social media and policing. She has trained hundreds of members of service on the use of social media, both in the NYPD and in other agencies. She is also responsible for exploring new channels for the NYPD and creating viral videos with millions of views.

Born and raised in Israel, Yael served in the Israeli Army as a foreign press liaison in the height of two wars and was also a reserve duty soldier in the Israeli mission to Haiti immediately following the 2010 earthquake. She holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she wrote her thesis on police use of social media. In 2016, she was named one of the International Association of Chiefs of Police “40 under 40,” recognizing 40 law enforcement professionals under the age of 40 from around the world that demonstrate leadership and exemplify a commitment to their profession. In 2018, Yael was awarded the Hemmerdinger Award for Excellence for distinguished public service by the New York City Police Foundation.

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