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Adapting to Change in Law Enforcement Public Information

NCJ Number
THE POLICE CHIEF Volume: 74 Issue: 12 Dated: December 2007 Pages: 42,44,46,48,50,53
Susan Braunstein
Date Published
December 2007
6 pages
This article discusses how police public-information strategies and tactics can adapt to the following changes in law enforcement and the mass media: community policing, the evolving economics of the media industry, and the explosion of communications and information technology.
The increasing demand for transparency in policing policies and practices and the philosophical shift to community policing has given added significance to the role of the media in law enforcement efforts to increase communications with and from the community. Accrediting agencies for law enforcement, such as the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies require that police agencies involve the news media in developing public-information policies. The specific media standard emphasizes the importance of effective, ethical communications with the media and, through them, with the public. Changing media economics has changed the ways in which news media are managed, however. Many independent, locally owned media outlets were swallowed by multinational conglomerates. Corporate ownership in distant places is making both business and editorial decisions that have affected local news coverage. Fewer slots are available for locally bound features, because conglomerate ownership and profit-driven management made recycled content among outlets desirable. News now is often driven by surveys of what topics the audience would like covered. This means that local police agencies have less influence on priorities for what is communicated to local communities. Changes in information technology, notably the rise and increased use of the Internet and citizen ownership of cell phones and video cameras, have placed the tools of communication in the hands of citizens and local nonmedia organizations. Through e-mail and agency Web sites, police agencies can have direct communication with the public, and the public can provide information and video to the police and news media.