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How the LAPD Media Relations Division would approach the O.J. Simpson case today

Media and public communications are vastly different in today’s digital age

O.J. Simpson

Former NFL star O.J. Simpson, is besieged by media as he leaves Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., June 13, 1994, after undergoing questioning in connection with the apparent murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in the woman’s Los Angeles area condominium. (AP Photo/Michael Caulfield)

Michael Caulfield/AP

By Robert Tornabene

On April 10, 2024, Orenthal James Simpson, commonly known as O.J. Simpson, passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. His death marks the conclusion of a tumultuous public life that was thrust into the limelight following his acquittal in the criminal trial for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman in 1994. The trial, often called the “Trial of the Century,” underscored profound issues of race, celebrity and justice within American society.

Reflecting on the past, we recall the morning after the murders in June 1994, when the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) issued a press release and news stringers rushed to the Brentwood scene. The media frenzy that ensued was unprecedented, with overnight news desks mobilizing to cover the story.

Fast forward to 2024, and we find ourselves in an era where social media dominates the landscape of news dissemination. The LAPD, equipped with a robust communications team and active social media presence, would handle such a high-profile incident quite differently today. The West Los Angeles Community Police Station, overseeing the Brentwood neighborhood, would likely issue a prompt notification on platforms like Twitter, alerting the public to the ongoing homicide investigation.

In the immediate aftermath, neighbors would take to Facebook Live, TikTok and other platforms, broadcasting the police activity, potentially even before the arrival of the first news stringer. The LAPD’s Media Relations Division (MRD) would be inundated with requests for information as emails, phone calls, and social media inquiries poured in.

The MRD’s approach in 2024 would be characterized by the following strategies:

  • Timely updates: Ensuring the public receives regular, accurate updates on the investigation’s progress, the MRD would designate official social media accounts as the primary source of information.
  • 24/7 availability: An officer or their assistant would be on call around the clock to respond to significant incidents, providing leadership and support at the scene.
  • Engagement and misinformation management: Active engagement on social media would be crucial for addressing public concerns, offering official statements, and combating misinformation.
  • Privacy and integrity: Balancing transparency with respect for the victims’ families and the integrity of the investigation would remain a priority for the MRD.

The first press conference, led by an LAPD Commander, would offer detailed insights into the case, setting the tone for the department’s communication strategy. In 2024, the MRD’s involvement in managing the narrative around a high-profile victim and suspect would be pivotal, emphasizing cooperation and respect between the LAPD and the media.

Considering the legacy of the O.J. Simpson case and the evolution of media relations, it becomes clear that the LAPD’s modern communication tactics reflect a commitment to transparency, accountability and public engagement. It is important to note that the standard for transparency with the media in the 1990s was different than present times. The contrast between 1994 and 2024 is a testament to the department’s growth and adaptation in an ever-changing media environment.

About the author

Robert Tornabene retired as bureau chief with over 27 years of law enforcement experience. He has worked for the Niles (Illinois) Police Department and Forest Park (Illinois) Police Department. His law enforcement experience includes public information, community policing, school resource officer and training. Robert retired in May 2020. Robert has worked as a civilian Public Information Officer with the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Elgin Police Department (IL).

Robert holds a bachelor’s in science degree in criminal justice and is a graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command.

Robert is the creator of the PIO Podcast, a podcast about public information and public affairs officers with police, fire, EMS and local governments. Robert is currently working on his master’s degree.