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Working With the Media in Times of Crisis: Key Principles for Law Enforcement

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 76 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2007 Pages: 1-6
James D. Sewell Ph.D.
Date Published
March 2007
6 pages
This article presents key principles that guide law enforcement officials in interacting with the media in a time of crisis when the agency's performance is under scrutiny.
First, the department should take control of the issue by having a consistent voice and message. In most cases, departments should have only one person, either the chief executive or a designated spokesperson, speaking on the issue. Controlling the issue also means providing accurate information as quickly as possible, in order to preclude media personnel from conducting their own investigation and offering facts the department has failed to uncover or share in a timely manner. Second, the department's leaders must accept responsibility for actions that occur under their supervision. The focus of their actions and public comments should address the correction of improper behavior. Third, information provided by the agency spokesperson must be limited to what is known based on strict criteria for reliability and accuracy. If some information cannot be released, the agency should explain why. When information is incomplete or is in the process of being collected, this should be acknowledged. Fourth, the key players should be known. The primary agency person who deals with media personnel must maintain ongoing interaction with strategic media personnel in order to inform them of key public-safety issues related to crime prevention and police procedures for responding to various types of public-safety crises. Fifth, before a press conference is scheduled for briefing on a crisis, an agency must be sure that it has given itself enough time to be prepared with accurate information on key issues in the crisis. Sixth, all official statements should be reviewed with a legal advisor in order to ensure that all statements comply with laws pertinent to the case at issue. 4 notes