The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership

Crisis Preparedness in Law Enforcement: A Candid Conversation with Julie Parker

September 12, 2023 Julie Parker Season 5 Episode 111
The CopDoc Podcast: Aiming for Excellence in Leadership
Crisis Preparedness in Law Enforcement: A Candid Conversation with Julie Parker
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Season 5 - TCD Podcast - Episode 111

In the current media landscape, managing media relations and crisis management for law enforcement agencies can be challenging. However, experts like Julie Parker, former ABC News reporter and current CEO of Julie Parker Communications, are helping to decode this complex terrain. 

In this podcast episode, Parker shared her journey from reporting the news to shaping narratives for police departments. Her experience has illuminated the power of proactive storytelling in shaping public perception of law enforcement and highlighted the importance of controlling narratives.

We delved into how law enforcement agencies can harness the power of social media to share their information, interact with the public, and shape public perception. Parker emphasized the importance of law enforcement agencies controlling their own narrative and the role of the media in disseminating their stories. 

Moreover, she provided insights on how agencies, even those with tighter budgets, can strategically use social media, considering the sensitivity of circumstances. She emphasized the importance of having a communications officer closely aligned with the head of the organization, suggesting that a shared resources model can work in smaller departments.

The podcast interview also underscored the significance of preparedness for crisis communications. Authenticity and genuineness in communication were also highlighted as key elements in building public trust. The power of community meetings was discussed as a valuable platform for practicing messaging and preparing for media interactions. 

The podcast served as a reminder that effective communication strategies are crucial for law enforcement agencies in an era of heightened media exposure. As the media landscape continues to evolve, so too must the strategies used by law enforcement agencies to engage with the public and manage crises. 

Mastering media relations and crisis management in law enforcement requires a deep understanding of the media landscape, a proactive approach to storytelling, strategic use of social media, and preparedness for crisis situations. With these tools, law enforcement agencies can effectively navigate the media landscape, manage crises, and foster a positive relationship with the public.

Contact us: copdoc.podcast@gmail.com

Website: www.copdocpodcast.com

If you'd like to arrange for facilitated training, or consulting, or talk about steps you might take to improve your leadership and help in your quest for promotion, contact Steve at stephen.morreale@gmail.com

Intro/Outro:

Welcome to T he Cop Doc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The cop doc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing communities, academia and other government agencies. And now please join Dr Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience.

Steve Morreale:

Well, hello everybody, it's Steve Morreale, welcome back to another episode of The Cop Doc Podcast, and today I am in Boston and I am down to Wilmington, north Carolina, getting ready to talk to Julie Parker. She is the owner and CEO of Julie Parker Communication. She is a former ABC Washington News reporter. Among other things, julie has been a media relations specialist for a couple of agencies and now does training relating to social media and crisis communication and PIO media relations and such. So good afternoon to you.

Julie Parker:

Julie. Hello doc, how are you? Thanks for having me. I'm fine.

Steve Morreale:

For us it's Steve, that's it's always fine. Listen, I am so glad to finally get with you. This is a unique topic that we don't always talk about, but I think it's extremely important, as I talked to you about before we jumped on. I am a PIO in history with the Drug Enforcement Administration and I know how important talking to the media is not ignoring the media, not saying no comment and I think what you have done from your experience as a news reporter and now fast-forwarding, trying to help as a consultant or as a practitioner in police media relations I want to talk about that because I think so many listeners need to hear this story and need to think about it a little bit differently. So tell us about your trajectory coming into the work you're doing now.

Julie Parker:

Steve, I started in reporting in the Washington DC TV market and that was the foundation for learning. I didn't know this at the time, but learning crisis communications because by being a reporter in Washington DC and being a general assignment reporter where you could be covering fire one minute a strike, the next it's hot in DC, it's cold in DC, there's traffic in DC. Covering all of those things and attending umpteen news conferences and seeing umpteen press releases and determining what worked and what didn't built the foundation for me as I transitioned from covering news in DC to covering news about two major police departments from within the police department, and that's how I looked at my career as a media relations director for the Prince George's County police in Maryland and for the Fairfax County police in Northern Virginia. There was no guidebook given to me. I started in 2011, which was relatively new at the time for former journalists to become, at least in the DC market, media relations directors, and I worked immediately and very diligently to try to turn around the reputation of our department, both with the media and with the public. Social media was a key tool that I used to accomplish that.

Steve Morreale:

And, of course, in 2011, versus today, social media is, in many cases, one of the only ways young people get their news.

Julie Parker:

I mean, I have two teenage daughters, one's 15 and the other is 20 years old, and when that recent congressional hearing about the UFOs came up and I mentioned it, and what I mentioned to them in passing was it's amazing that really nobody cares. We're talking about aliens and nobody cares and the kids were like, yeah, I heard something about that and I said, would you ever actually watch a news story about that? And they looked at me sideways as if I had to, as if I were some of the aliens. That's correct and and my girls are both straight A students of college junior, as is at UNC Chapel Hill. These are smart kids and this is just not going to be their reality. No, it isn't.

Steve Morreale:

Think about what has changed. Here you are and as I've grown up, I played in the radio world for a little while and I remember my TV's having an antenna and there wasn't cable. And now we've come through that transition and cable was so important to us and now many people cut the cord with cable and so they're relying on our SS feeds and those kinds of things. And so I think agencies and this is an important discussion point for for chiefs and those people who are leaders to say we can't stand on the sideline and hope that the reporter will come and throw the microphone on our face. We need to play a role and be proactive in getting our story out. So some of the things I see you talk about is marketing. I think police do a piss poor effort in marketing the good things they do, and you also have to worry about being in front of a crisis or in front of a critical incident and provide as much information as you can, and that's where you come in and help. In some ways, you have been working with the IECP my goodness, I took a list of the people that you have worked with the FBI, the National Policing Institute, park Police, capitol Police, iacp, perf, omaha, pg and Montgomery County, the Naval Postgraduate School and all of the trainings that you do. As you travel, your story, your message is becoming clearer and people are listening. But talk about what I just said in terms of using social media to be proactive.

Julie Parker:

A couple of things. You touched on a lot of points and one point I wrote down that I have to make sure we discuss when I left news and I went into a police department and I got to know everyone from the chiefs down to the recruits, and I wandered around the headquarters and the various stations and I did ride-alongs and I worked very hard to pull out the stories, because that is how you get people to know you, even when A they don't think they want to know you, they don't think they need to know you or they have an opinion of you and we need to change it. And what I kept finding over and over again and it changed my understanding of law enforcement is how many officers and even in some cases they're supervisors, but generally among the officers would say to me it's no big deal. I would slam my head into the concrete walls of headquarters too often, which is I was so frustrated that they were doing things like not just helping the little old lady across the road but taking money out of their pockets to go help someone, with no intention ever of winding up with an award or being on social media or any of that. But the challenge in law enforcement public information in 2023 is that we have to get those stories out there. We have to remind the public that they are not the enemy, that law enforcement is not the enemy and, like any single profession you name the profession there are always people who are great and there are people who suck, and it doesn't matter what profession you're in Now in law enforcement, you obviously hold a tremendous amount of authority and power, and I understand and I'm not saying that to diminish from people who are rightfully so upset about bad policing, but every single profession has people who are not good at their jobs. We can't allow a narrative to go unanswered, to go unchecked, and so it's very important that the communicators and the leaders and organizations say it is a big deal, what you just did does matter, and we do need to share that. That's one point I wanted to make about.

Steve Morreale:

All the good things that go on that are never reported about.

Julie Parker:

That's right, and hopefully the law enforcement PIOs of the world can pull those stories out and then hopefully they take off on social media and hopefully the media also covers it, because they do still have a powerful voice. It's not the voice that they had of yesteryear, but they have a powerful voice still. Another point I wanted to make about what you said is it isn't just about the media. What we still see there are 18,000 law enforcement agencies in this country and you will see nearly that many ways that people handle a crisis and there is still this tremendous reliance upon the media, where law enforcement ironically gives up its control and turns it over to the media. Here's a news release. Go do with it. What you will, other than streaming live their own news conference only telling the media, for example, the names of the victims of a shooting. Why would you not share all of your information with your public on social media? That is a tremendous gap that exists to this day, that we see not only in the calls that we get for help in a crisis, but, as we do trainings all over the place big agencies, law agencies, federal, state, county, local we see this everywhere. Is that there's this awakening that? Yep, we need to work with the media. That happened. That happened very well maybe 20 years ago. Law enforcement communicates much better with the media today, but now it's like we need another. We need another wave of recognition that social media is actually as, if not more, important For law enforcement to use. Then the media to get the message out.

Steve Morreale:

Well, that's interesting that you're talking about that, because it's it's somewhat Ironic. I mean, I've seen police agencies say you know, you've just pissed me off. You come into my office, you ask me questions and then you write this negative stuff. I'll tell you what. I am not talking to you anymore. Oh, my goodness, what a big mistake. You know whether it's a newspaper or it's or it's an. You know Somebody who is constantly badgering when really what you're trying to do is to get at the truth. Right, tell me the facts, give me what you can. I'll. I may slant it one way or the other, but you've got to give me the facts. And if you don't give me the facts, guess what? I'm gonna go and talk to Johnny and Susie and she's gonna say whatever she thinks, and that's what's gonna slant whatever, whatever just happens. So so I think you're right. I've seen agencies do that and it's troubling when they do. But I also see there's a couple things that you know we could talk about. Well, we're gonna talk a lot about this, but I think what police begin should begin to understand is you can control the narrative and very often, what happens when you start doing that, that instead of the media coming to you. They're coming to you after you have released information to get more information. So you have sort of controlled, controlled the message and Then they're coming to you because they listen, they're all on deadline, they're all competing. You know they want a piece of the story and so, if you are an example, I guess what I was hearing you say is hey, today, everybody you know we need to report that something just happened. We're still on the scene. This is what's occurred. We were shutting these streets down. This is what's going on. We're investigating this and this. So far, two people have been injured there at the hospital. I cannot release the names at this point. We will do it as soon as possible. However, we're looking for this, this, this and this and would ask for your help to try to protect others. Or we have one person and under arrest, and this is just a. It seems to be a one-off, but we will continue to keep you posted. That is simple to do. We could actually create a template for that, but we don't do that routinely.

Julie Parker:

And I'm not sure why that is. I will say that I'm gonna push back on you a little bit about controlling the narrative and Say law enforcement agencies can help guide it much better help shape. Help shape it, yes, but so often law enforcement agencies are in a reactive position that the thing has gone boom, something has happened. They're responding. So someone else has already likely Recorded this, shared this, tweeted about this, x about it, whatever the heck you call it now. Yeah, the new recorders are aware of it. So in many cases, even for the best agencies, you can't always be first, and that would make me, that would make me stress out when and someone else found out first about, say, one of our homicides. I always wanted to beat the media simply because of your point. We want to Own our news. What we always say to these groups that we train across the country is it's our news. We should be breaking our news, not that number one TV station, not the radio station, not the newspaper, not the blogger. We should. It's ours to investigate and we'll work with the media by all means. But we're also going to work with social media and we're gonna share information there, we're gonna interact there. We're potentially going to get Information to help us solve the cases from social media if we're using it properly.

Steve Morreale:

You know, I don't mind being pushed back On, don't you worry about that? And listen. This is a part of learning and sometimes you know, when you speak a thousand words, there may be a word that is is not right. And the idea of creating or controlling, as opposed to guiding, the narrative. I'm satisfied with that, I have no trouble. But my point would be that police need to start doing that, and if you're going to start Walking down the road to provide information, both current and good stories, when you start down that road, you can't just start and stop, and that's what I see a lot of agencies do. Nobody keeps it up to date. I'll give an example. So when I start a course law enforcement, a society or even Introduction to criminal justice one of the first things I ask students to do is go and they like this go to your local Polices website and take a look at it and look at what information is there. Is it satisfying to you? Does it mean everything you want to know? I also, if they're doing a Facebook or it used to be Twitter, if you're who are at X, if they're doing some or Instagram, is it current or is it three months old? Because you know the, the. The expectation of younger people is that the information is there at my fingertips. Don't make me search for it or I'm not coming back. And so what I asked them to do is look at their local, go to a big, a big town in the state. Go to a big town out of state. Go to a big city or or police department out of the country, english speaking, and compare those things. And I know that when you go into the UK, they're way more open than we are. I'm seeing your head shake. I have that opportunity, so I know you're writing too, just like me. So what do you think in there? Julie Parker and, by the way, we're talking to Julie Parker, who's in Wilmington and she is the president, ceo of Julie Parker communications and focuses on crisis and social media and Media relations for, especially for policing organizations- Steve, this is why we have challenges with recruiting.

Julie Parker:

Because of what you just said. We are at a At a crisis when it comes to law enforcement recruitment. One of the reasons. There are many more and some of them quite obvious, but one of the reasons is that if you put today's 21 year olds and Give them the path to apply for a job and you put 20 clicks between them and Finally applying, guess what they're likely not going to do. I give up the patient. They have the patience of fleas. They're used to everything like this instant gratification. Yeah, keep doing the what we used to do in the 90s. That is not working. So an easy thing law enforcement agencies could do right now, if you've got leadership or anybody listening to your podcast is do an analysis of what it takes to apply to become a police officer with your agency and If you have found it's taking you 10, 12, 15, 20 clicks To finally submit that application, figure out a better way.

Steve Morreale:

That's great and certainly recruiting is a problem. So you're traveling all over the country and You're talking to police leadership and you're bringing the message and, from what I can see following you on LinkedIn, there is a receptivity and that's very good for you and but very, very important. So, as you make the rounds and Assuming that you have become knighted as a Police professional because they're doing yes will night you. Why not, you know? Maybe we'll give you yes, maybe we'll give you a. Maybe you can be a duchess or something. We'll do something. We'll do something, maybe something royal for Julie Parker. But what do you see? I mean, if you want to take your pen for a moment and say you know what are the top three challenges Police are facing at this point in time? You already covered one recruiting and retention. What jumps to your mind besides that?

Julie Parker:

it's the preexisting judgments about law enforcement and because that's what we're up against one we have to know that in advance. What does the public feel about us? And that's gonna change from Texas to Vermont, that's gonna be different to different jurisdictions, but what will matter whether you're in Texas or Vermont when this thing whatever the thing is that happens. If it becomes a national incident or an international incident, suddenly you may have lots of support at home, but when this thing grows and expands to the national or international level, then it's more important than ever that you're more communicative. It's almost impossible to over communicate in a crisis. I can't give you an example of an organization that over communicates in a crisis. What we see in this profession, as you're well aware, is a lack of communication, insufficient communication. We did a recent training, couldn't tell you what state we were in and we were talking about.

Steve Morreale:

Wait a minute, because you forget where you were.

Julie Parker:

Because I forget where I am. I'm doing that thing, Steve. I'm in an airport and I legit look around for when am I? As to where am I, it's, I understand, I've been there and picture waking up in the hotel bed at 3 am and just having no clue what state you're in. But what we're seeing is that there's an extended amount of time for the agencies who are using social media. And good on you if you're doing so, but then we encourage you now analyze your social media output. And let's say that there is an active shooting in your jurisdiction and you're responding and you're getting the bad guy or girl and you're taking care of that. Look at, do an after-action, just on your communications alone, certainly on the operational piece, but look at the crisis comms and if you see that, when the first bit of news from your agency came out, if it announced a shooting, that was an active shooter incident 60 minutes ago, ask yourself if that is the appropriate amount of time. And then if you're like, yep, that wasn't too bad, think about if the people who are involved in that incident they're your mom, they're your child, they're a member of your family, they're your best friend, and now they wait 60 minutes to hear anything from you, how are you doing your job? And I think too often, because comms in some organizations they may not be an afterthought, but they don't always get to sit at the big boys and big girls table and if that's allowed to happen, if you're a media relations director, your PIO is allowed to sit with the chief, with the sheriff, to hear the information that everyone's getting in that scrum at the beginning of an incident, your comms folks will not immediately start spewing out all the information. If they're good at what they do, they're gonna take in the information and they're gonna strategize about what they need to do. And we still do hear cases where the head PIO is too far removed from the head of the organization. That can't happen. They have to be tied at the hip. I was on those command buses with the chiefs, the executive command staff, to hear the latest and to figure out we're going live at this time. We're putting this on social. You're telling me I can't put this out now. Let me understand why got it? Okay, you've got to bring in your comms folks. And because I think it's a newer concept in the grand scheme of policing to have journalists, former journalists, in that role, there's a natural hesitancy to get them too close until they've proven they're safe and they're not here to burn any of these.

Steve Morreale:

I will step in just to say that that's exactly the same thing that happens and I know, you know this when they bring in clinicians, that you're for it, and I liken it this way police officers who are SROs are introduced to schools and the next thing you know they're inside or outsiders, and you wait a minute, you're in my lunch room or you're in my faculty lounge and I'm not gonna be the same with you because I can't trust you. And you're right, you have to earn that trust and so do clinicians. So I hear that and it sounds to me and I really enjoy talking about this because it's so important what you just said about comms, I think part of it and then you could become a mag or you can become an asset to the organization by saying, okay, I can't say that they're looking for something, what can we say? What do we put out? We don't wanna leave a gap, we wanna try to fill in the blanks. You know, as you were talking, I'm thinking, for God's sakes, now what's happening is and you know cause. You experienced it, julie, you're going on the top of the hour, okay, so be ready at 12.01 for the opening for the news report. Right? So you have to hold. You've been there since nine o'clock, you've got a shitload of information, but you have to wait till 12.01 to release it. But now what you're seeing is even some of the organizations that you just came from are tweeting from that spot right, tweeting exing, I guess. So who knows what we're gonna call those things later, but we see us following those kinds of things. There's a bad accident. What's happening? What are they finding? What are they seeing from the chopper? Whatever it is, why can't I get to work or why am I in lockdown? So you know, speak to that and speak to how important this is to. How does a small department with not a lot of budget have a comms officer if they can't afford it? Can they share one? Can it be regional?

Julie Parker:

One piece of guidance that I would share is right now. If you're that agency and let's say you're an agency of 15, which these small agencies are very common across the country so let's say you're an agency of 15 and your part-time PAO also handles robberies whatever when a crisis hits, odds are good they're being pulled to go into operations mode. So you've now just lost your communicator, but the problem is, especially if it's a controversial, critical incident that you're responding to, what if it's an officer involved shooting of an unarmed teen, for example and you lose your PAO? There's got to be redundancy in your PAO office. Even if your office is a half a surgeon who does robberies part of the time and PAO the rest of the time. Is there someone at the city level, the mayor's office, the communications guy at the library? Anyone who's a good communicator who can serve as your backup needs to be identified in advance also potentially needs the keys to the castle. Do they have permission to have the username and password for the social media platforms? Because if I'm the robbery guy who's been sent out to an active shooting, I'm probably not tweeting, I'm probably not talking about what's going on at the scene, but someone needs to, someone needs to inform the public that's becoming less and less looked upon as a that would be nice to have. This is a must have, because what the messages that your communicators push out have the ability to potentially save lives. That's where we are in this country with the amount of mass violence that everyone is experiencing small places, large places and if you haven't identified a backup, that's an easy process to start. Right now. Everyone's got to have a backup, whether it's on the agency or not.

Steve Morreale:

I like that and I talk an awful lot. I have never mentioned it this way. You got to go, go ahead. What's the matter? What's the matter? You okay.

Julie Parker:

Door, the door, the door. We're good.

Steve Morreale:

You want to go back or you want to get that.

Julie Parker:

No, she closed it. I think I finished my thought.

Steve Morreale:

You did so what I was going to say, so let me stop. We're talking Julie Parker. She is in Wilmington, North Carolina, right now, and Julie is a professional in communications crisis communications, social media and such and a trainer Now all over the country, especially dealing with police communications. And one of the things you just said is something I have said over and over again, but not in this domain. I always suggest to people who are in leadership positions you've got to create bench depth and what you just said is create bench depth. You know what happens in small police departments. You may or may not know if, if Mrs Jones, who was the executive assistant for the chief, is on vacation, nobody knows how to order paper Nobody knows how to open the safe. Nobody knows Exactly and there's nobody else, and Mrs Jones doesn't want to give that up, and so nobody else knows and the shit hits the fan when she's away for two weeks. So I think this is extremely important. That's a message that's so important. Develop bench depth, identify people who can help and don't wait. No, look, relationships are so important. Policing is all about relationships and I think you will agree, and certainly in my day the day, the time that I need to establish a relationship with the print media or with the local stations is not in the midst of a crisis, it is well before. So it's it's it's shaking hands and knowing what you need and knowing what I can say, knowing what your deadline is and providing you with stories outside of the crisis, because you all have, we all have down days, like I would love to go to Quantico to talk about how the FBI is trained. Could we do that Right? Or can I follow the SRO? Can I go to a training for how the how a dog is trained, a canine is trained? Those kinds of stories are amazing and it humanizes policing, where I think police become dehumanized, and so I think there are so many great stories. I see them all of the time. In fact, I just saw something yesterday on LinkedIn. It's where I find a lot of of people who I might want to talk to, people who are willing to sort of put themselves out there to tell their story, and I remember seeing some Ohio chief just yesterday that says said we are so understaffed, I am sick and tired of ordering people to work 16, 18 hour days. They need a break. It's not good for mental health, and so I went back in the car and I was so glad it was a slow day, but it also helped me understand and get me out of the ivory tower and know what the people are facing, and it what a great story, what a great experience to step back into the race, if you will.

Julie Parker:

I hope that was shared on social media safely during his or her shift, because how compelling is that to essentially be along for the ride, as the chief is not doing the ride along but actually working working a shift in that capacity. A couple of other points I want to make. Steve, we're noticing an interesting phenomenon where some law enforcement agencies are starting to do what the corporate world has done for a long, long time. We now have clients who are on crisis communications retainer. They recognize they don't have bench depth and, for whatever reason, they don't feel like they can get it where they are, whether it's not available at the jurisdiction level, whether they don't love the options either in their agency or beyond, and so we are on call 24 seven, if and when these law enforcement agencies need backup, and that, I find, is very unique and they're taking a page out of the playbook of, I'm sure, coke and Pepsi and Nike and Adidas and all these major companies.

Steve Morreale:

Maybe even Bud Light. Maybe even Bud Light, maybe.

Julie Parker:

so in their six figure PR budgets. They have that undoubtedly Well. Isn't it interesting that we're finding that law enforcement agencies are doing the same thing? Another point I want to make for you is that in a crisis, what we've seen is that in some cases, agencies wait too long, ironically, to call for backup when it comes to crisis communications backup. And the longer a crisis sits and isn't getting better with age, the worse it is, because the myths and the disinformation grows and spreads like tumbleweeds. And if the agency involved is either quiet or doesn't understand how to message with whatever the set of circumstances they're dealing with, the longer they wait to get help on the crisis communications front, potentially the worst that incident becomes. So I would encourage everyone to identify in advance who your crisis communications firm is going to be. It doesn't need to be me, but find someone now, because when it happens you can't vet anyone. You're going to be desperately calling everyone and their mother to see if anyone knows someone. And what if you get that firm that you don't agree with the way they think? You don't like their head person, you don't like the junior person they've assigned you or they don't understand policing, that's really important. It's very niche. It is very niche, I know that and yeah, I didn't know that as a reporter, come in and I was like oh, let me just start talking about homicides. Well, you learn very quickly what you can say and how, if you say that you could ruin a homicide investigation. So you're right. It's a niche profession Crisis communications, work for law enforcement and for better.

Steve Morreale:

Okay, but I want to ask this question and the but probably implies that I'm not on your side with this, I am. The question that I have is and the experience you might have had is where do they get the money for this? I mean, think about that, think about where do I put that in my budget? Because I don't have such a line for my budget, but if the shit hits the fan, I wish I could draw on it, because the budgets are so so you know, when you're getting dragged in for training, you know there's only so much money that they can pay you. So, because this is a public organization, go ahead.

Julie Parker:

Well, here you're making excellent points and there's something that I find fascinating we have. We have talked to people about the importance of crisis communications, training, learning it in advance, and many times, just as you said, the agency said we'd love to, we don't have the money. But I can almost guarantee you that if that jurisdiction experiences a crisis, they always find the money for the crisis communications because they are panic.

Steve Morreale:

They're ill prepared. They're ill prepared, that's right.

Julie Parker:

They're either ill prepared they decided not to do training, and now the crisis has landed and they'll do anything to make the crisis stop or they were trained, they tried to say the appropriate things and, for whatever reason, it didn't work.

Steve Morreale:

Julie, let me ask you this. Here's what I'm beginning to hear. Not that I haven't heard everything you've said so far, but I guess what you want to say is stay in your lane. If you're a police chief, you've got specific skills. You understand how to marshal the troops, how to check on what's happening, how to shut the street down Maybe not you, but asking these questions, but know your strengths and I know that outside consultants myself coming as outside consultant to yourself that there are questions that we will pose that sometimes seem like they're obtuse, they're from left field, but it's because of the way we think and we're thinking without the hindrance of the day to day pressure that's on me during this crisis. I've got to do this, I've got to do that. This guy's calling for me, the governor's calling me Boom Bang, and I'm going to ask you, if you're a consultant, if you will can stand back and say when the time is right. All right, jim chief, let's talk about what we can do. Here's what I'm thinking. What are you thinking? What do you want to say? Leading the crisis through questions so that we can come up with a strategy.

Julie Parker:

The chiefs are dealing with the five of war. There, you go, and there are police chiefs across this country who are exceptional communicators. They don't need outside help and they know it, they know this is one of their strengths, and any agency that has a communicator like that at the top is in far better shape, obviously, than an agency that is in the spotlight with someone who doesn't know how to communicate or can, or it's just not their thing. To your point, know your strengths and know your weaknesses, and if you know right now that we are just an agency that does not have communications capacity, we don't have those capabilities what can you do to identify them today elsewhere?

Steve Morreale:

That's great. So tell me what you're doing in training. Tell me, when you're walking into an organization, what you're finding, what kind of feedback you're getting, what kind of concerns they have.

Julie Parker:

If I were to summarize it, they're afraid of the cameras, without question. Even sometimes strong communicators, naturally, are afraid of the cameras because you are vulnerable, especially for police officers. You're not accustomed to being vulnerable. That's really not Well. I shouldn't say that because there are certainly situations that are terrifying and where they're in immediate danger. But generally speaking, on a day to day, all is calm, blue skies, kind of day. They're in charge. But when there's a microphone shoved in your face with potentially a very opinionated question being thrown at you where a judgment perhaps is already made as the question is asked, you've got to rely upon, hopefully, your training, communication skills, realizing you're not going to be on the defensive. You're going to share the facts but you're also going to share a message. There's so much that goes into being camera ready that I think, generally speaking, it's safe to say people who we train know that they should be doing more to get ready. But everything in life, if our to-do list is 30 points long for the morning, it's really hard to say you know what We've been meaning to do this. Let's go to our conference room and do a dry run of a news conference that could happen in our jurisdiction.

Steve Morreale:

What questions might come our way?

Julie Parker:

Yeah, people want to do that. They know that would be helpful. But who does that realistically?

Intro/Outro:

Very few people.

Julie Parker:

One, it's knowing that you are perhaps not as ready as you could be for the cameras. We hear that very often. Two as long as social media has been around for law enforcement and this is a while now we've been using it. We're using X, whatever. Now agencies are on TikTok or, if they're allowed to in their jurisdiction, they're getting on threads and not sure what they should do on threads. They're not sure if they're getting traction on threads. Everything is new on social media all the time, mr encrypted, please be. Two agencies are not using social media enough up to its full capability in the midst of a crisis, because your communicators are overwhelmed with the crisis. And I think there's the going back to our earlier part of the conversation that bench depth perhaps isn't identified in advance. But then there's a third piece that more so we see when we respond to the crisis as compared to when we go across the country to do training, and that is a failure to show up Meaning. For example, something happens in your jurisdiction and your news conference is too little, too late. You do a news conference, air quotes and you don't take reporter questions. That's not a news conference. You don't share information on social media but perhaps let's say a post or two. In some ways it almost looks like a checking of the boxes. It may or may not be that, but for the public, who sees just a little bit but not a whole full response to a crisis, that is something that does stand out. On the crisis response side of things is a failure to show up.

Steve Morreale:

You know it's interesting. First of all, you can tell that done this you're invested in it, your experience A couple. I look at myself and this I guess it's not about me, but I am an educator now, but I was a practitioner and so I call myself a pracademic. I say you wear the same thing in a lot of ways that you were on the other side and now you have sort of bought in. The only reason you bought in is because you played in the sandbox. You got to know firsthand how it was, and then you take this information and pass it forward to other agencies that absolutely need it. I remember doing a training for DEA, PIO and we were setting people up. I'll never forget this and we had written sort of the scenario okay, you're on the street, there's a couple of cameras, so we've got a couple of cameras, video cams that are pointed at somebody, and somebody's got a microphone and I'm the guy with the microphone putting it in the face of someone who was a resident agent charge out of the Midwest, and I asked questions and I knew something that had happened there. So they were out there on arrest. It was supposed to be this and this is the curve ball people. So it happens that when the president is out there all of the time, you're here to talk about the meeting I just had with the prime minister of England and you say, but what about Hunter Biden, whatever it might be Like. What the hell does this have to do? So I had said hey, we know that one of your agents was arrested and is on administrative leave. And the guy looked at me like you son of a bitch, I can't believe you. Threw it at me and his legs were so long. He actually tried to reach up and kick me towards my hootsies right and I was. He kind of caught me there and I was pissed off, but I knew I had gotten to him and my point is this sometimes those role plays can be very valuable. By the way, we're talking Julie Parker, the president and CEO of Julie Parker Communication, down in North Carolina and travels all over the country. I'll never forget about. Three months later, the guy who had tried to kick me called me back and said Steve, it happened and I was ready. So here he was pissed at me, but because we had put him through those paces your head is shaking it got him ready. It was almost like getting ready for a raid and knowing where to hide or so that you don't get shot. It's the same idea, right, julie?

Julie Parker:

That's what you do. That's what we do in our trainings. When we get the time where we can record a news conference, let the group who did it discuss strengths and weaknesses. We share what we feel with the strengths and weaknesses and then watch it back. One of the most eye-opening things takeaways for people is I didn't know I blinked so much. I didn't know I was gripping the lectern like within an inch of its life. I didn't know I kept tapping my pen and you don't know until you do it. And that's why I said earlier we all know that we probably should be doing what you just described and what I'm describing. In the day to day, it's just easy to overlook those things. But because there can be something in your jurisdiction at any moment, we're just in an age where there's no more. Oh, I never thought it could happen to me. You're nuts if you think it can't happen to you, because that's what it's happening everywhere. And so if you don't practice this piece, you can perform the operation flawlessly, you can save the day, you can be heroes in blue and save the day operationally and you can fall hard when it comes to your crisis communications. And if you think the public is gonna give you a pass because you were a hero one minute but then your comms bombed. They don't they remember it. The PR piece is very real and it does matter.

Steve Morreale:

And once it's recorded, it can be played over and over and over and over and over again on a loop which drives me crazy, but it can Interesting. You say that because one of the one of, again, my pet peeves. When I watch it I'm pretty critical and the more I do podcasts, I realize how important audio is and how important the Oz and the Ooms and the Oos and the double words and and and, and I catch myself. Certainly I'm not perfect at this, but very much troubles me when an agency will allow somebody who was just involved in an incident to speak on camera. I think that's an extra. Oh well, it doesn't matter.

Julie Parker:

When does that happen, Steve? That doesn't happen.

Steve Morreale:

It absolutely happens. I know I'll tell you afterwards, but it happens all of the time. So you just wrestled with somebody and they're on the scene and you're still revved up, you've got adrenaline and you're getting a microphone pushed in your face. That's one where you say no comment, I'd like you to talk with my press officer or my media relations officer, please, and that's what happens. I think that's a big mistake, no different than what we watched even. I mean, think about the things that happened January 6th. We heard from people after the fact, after things had calmed down. I know you work with the Capitol Police. I mean that troubles me. I'll tell you one more thing, one thing that I caught. I pay attention to people who testify and such, and I think experience can be the difference. Not everybody can do what it is that you're suggesting to stand in front of a camera and to manage effectively communications. So it has to be the right person I think you would agree Somebody who's got some training and who is ready. But I was watching the ATF testimony, if you remember. It was the two ATF agents who were talking about the investigation. It happened to be about Hunter Biden and how they felt it had been closed down. I was listening to, having been a manager myself with TEA and having the senior special agent speak and the person who was two ranks above you could tell the difference in terms of the maturity, the ability to pull together a thought. It's practice what you're saying. So I wanna ask this question Could it be a sworn officer? Except when it is, it could be that that sworn officer gets taken off because he or she is a sworn officer and that must be on the scene and cannot pay attention to the comms. To civilianize this position may be a little bit uncomfortable to some, but I'd like you to address that.

Julie Parker:

I like a hybrid media relations office, public affairs office, pio office, whatever you call it. I worked in two hybrid shops and for me, I learned from the sworn. The sworn officers learned from me. There were certain instances where it made absolute sense for only a sworn to go on camera. In some cases I could handle it and I think there's tremendous value in that. If the agency has the resources to do both and I'm biased, but I truly think hiring a media professional to do a media job makes perfect sense. That person will need to be trained. They may not get the training and they may be shoved in front of the cameras and that may be how you learn. But an important point to make is that as you determine who your messenger is for whatever we're talking about a series of burglaries or a mass casualty incident I think on the police side there's a tendency to think it's got to be the chief or it's got to be the major of CID, or it's got to be Remember to the public. They just want to hear from someone who can message well, who's going to give information that matters, relevant information, who they find credible and the public is less concerned with. Is it a major? Is it a capital?

Steve Morreale:

How many stars do they have on their shoulders?

Julie Parker:

No, no no, no, Some cases it really truly should be. It's obvious it should be the sheriff, it's obvious it should be the police chief. But I think agencies should give themselves a little bit of slack when it comes to we must, we must, we must, and think about who are our strong messengers and create a deep bench of those people to call upon as needed.

Steve Morreale:

So I'm sure when you were in the field and I'm talking about in the news field that you created a number of relationships long before you needed them. You were reaching out to people who could give you some information, could kind of give you some backstory so that you could put together a good story. How did that translate when you walked from the news operation to the police operation?

Julie Parker:

It translated in that I knew that we would have leaks from within our department, because I used to have people within the department.

Steve Morreale:

You were one of the ones using the looking for the leaks. I got you.

Julie Parker:

And you, just you have to understand that. That is just human nature, that information is power and people want to control the power. And when stories get out, very often you'll hear leadership say why does that get? we've got to find out how that got out and I'd be less concerned about how it got out and how we're going to manage the fact that it got out If it got out before we were ready for it to get out. Well, okay, it got out. What are we going to do about this? So it is important to know. This is interesting. I've got a network on right now and I'm looking at their crawl, their graphic, and they've misspelled leaders while talking about it in South Korea this is a state of the media point that I'm making. Sorry that distracted me.

Steve Morreale:

That's okay, that's okay. I pay attention to this. I've well listen. They don't even know how to spell that. I know I understand that. Remember, it's probably an intern who wrote that and didn't have spell check on it. Yeah, on the cry. I truly I've lost track of it, no, so we, while we were talking about leaks and I would say informants or people in the know, to get some background information or an unnamed source, those kinds of things, and so it becomes important. But let me say this once the leak happened, I think in my mind you have to say all right, this information, we don't know where it came from. It is only partially true. Let us fill in the blanks. This is what's going on, this is what we know, this is what we're trying to determine. We will be back to you, but this is what we know so far.

Julie Parker:

In some cases, you're just going to have to be reactive. It's ideal to be proactive when messaging, but in so many instances you're going to have to be reactive. Think about right now whoever's in charge of your communications. One are they monitoring? So you know whatever's out there, whether it's media or social media. Something else you've got to be aware that the leak has occurred. The information is out. How quickly can you operate internally to spin yourself up, to be able to get out a message? Urgency is key, and that is one thing we do see. It goes hand in hand with show up. When there's a crisis, when it's time to talk to the public, show up. And if you're too slow and if you diminish the power of social media which happens far too often and I think that it happens truly out of a lack of understanding social media, understanding how rapidly it can take off on you, can you get activated as you need to to be able to respond to something when it comes to comms? So a lack of urgency can really hurt you. And another point that I think, going back to who your key messenger is for whatever the incident, law enforcement leaders right now can use community meetings as a way to rehearse. And I'm not saying that to diminish a community meeting. I'm saying when you get up on a stage or a panel or whatever your community meetings look like, and you've got, let's say, anywhere from five to 55 people looking at you and probably needing something from you, wanting information from you in some way, shape or form, it's a great venue to practice messaging and to see how you come across. Do I appear defensive? Am I rambling wildly and I had too much coffee? I need to know to cut myself off before I do a news conference. It's a good training ground to get ready for the media. However, don't diminish the power of a community meeting. Ideally, you're practicing before you get there, but it's just another avenue to help yourself improve.

Steve Morreale:

You know one of the things that I spent so much time in the classroom and both classroom and in leadership, presentations and facilitations that I do there's times when you have to say, put a period on it, answer the question, and then put a period on it and wait for the next question Exactly Because sometimes you have to listen as opposed to be the only one speaking. I think of Charlie Moose and what ended up happening in the shootings, the sniper shootings that were going on down there, and how we were all waiting we didn't have the benefit of social media how we were waiting for him to come out and tell the story. We began to command that story Over time was a horrible story and people were petrified, as you know, but we've seen that We've lived through this. One thing, too, I will say for those who were listening, who may or may not know, that if you do not have a Google alert created for your police department or something like that, I think it's crazy. The way that social media is going to notify you is if you follow certain things and follow the stations that you want to hear from, so that you're getting a little ding to say, oh, they already know this is happening. We've got those kinds of things. We have to be proactive in that way, creating a Google alert that says I have a Google alert for Steve Morreale. What are people saying about me in the media, in case?

Julie Parker:

What are they saying, Steve?

Steve Morreale:

Hopefully they're saying good things, but I really don't know. But I think that's so important. So, listen, I don't want to take a whole bunch more of your time, but I do want to give you the opportunity to sort of do a wrap up and give you the last word If you are standing and I know you do this regularly in front of a group of chiefs. You just finished with the North Carolina chiefs, among others, in a couple of sentences. What's your message to those who are in positions of leadership that are dealing with any number of things about communication?

Julie Parker:

One urgency You've got to get out there as soon as possible because social media moves so quickly. Two, I want them to be the chiefs that I know. I want them to be the real people that they are when they're up there. It makes such a difference if you hear from a chief who, let's say, is up there talking about a homicide involving a child and that chief comes across with normal emotions that would be associated with something as horrific as that. I don't want them to be robotic and the reason is in part because you can't take the reporter out of the reporter. That will always be sort of what I draw upon. I want to hear something that makes me feel something from a reporter standpoint. But the reason why reporters want that is because the public relates to it, and if you stand up there and you read a script and you talk with military time and a bunch of police jargon and you come across as robotic, you're missing an opportunity to truly communicate.

Steve Morreale:

To humanize that police department.

Julie Parker:

Yeah, you're conveying information, but communicating. I want you to make the public feel something, because many times the police need something from the public. We need you to call, we need you to look at your video, we need you to do something. And in order to make people do something, they need to feel like they know you, in some cases, feel like they like you, but convey that information in such a way that you're going to grab their attention. And because everyone's attention is so divided, now it's more important than ever that you get to the point quickly. We can't keep writing news releases that read like police reports. We've got to communicate in a way that people can absorb it in no time flat, while I'm on the phone, while I'm making dinner, while the dog's barking, and now I hear something from the police chief saying call 1-800-STOP-CRIME or whatever. I can absorb that quickly and it can't be these long, rambling police report like news releases and news conferences.

Steve Morreale:

Well, I'm hearing a couple of things that the spokesman has to be genuine, they have to be transparent, they have to be humanistic and humanized and realize that when a serious accident happened, when there's a loss of life at a fire, when there's a loss of life in any way, and especially if it's a child, that we all and I think there's the common denominator We've all got kids, we've all got grandkids, we all have neighbors that age, and why did we sign up? To protect and to serve, but to serve, which is important, to serve. Otherwise, we've been talking to Julie Parker and I certainly appreciate finally finding the time to chat with you. How do people get in touch with you, julie?

Julie Parker:

You can certainly follow me on LinkedIn, very active there it's under Julie Parker. I'm on Twitter X, you know.

Steve Morreale:

I don't know what the hell they're calling it.

Julie Parker:

At Julie Parker. COM. Our website is JulieParkerCommunications. com, where you can find out more about what we do and how to get a quote for what you might need, and I think those are probably the top three ways to reach me. That's great.

Steve Morreale:

Well, I appreciate it. We've been talking about communications, about media relations, about using social media, and I hope that audience gained as much as I did from our conversation, so I thank you very, very much for being Julie.

Julie Parker:

Thanks, Steve, I appreciate it.

Steve Morreale:

I wish you the best of luck. Stand by for more episodes. We have another one in the can. If you have somebody who is a thought leader, who is innovative, who can bring ideas to our industry, please reach out for me at copdocpodcast. com. I'm Steve Morreale in Boston. You've been listening to The Cop Doc Podcast. Have a good day.

Intro/Outro:

Thanks for listening to The Cop Doc Podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager, turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into The Cop Doc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.

Social Media for Police Media Relations
Law Enforcement and Media Relations
The Importance of Effective Police Communications
Training and Preparedness for Crisis Communications
The Importance of Effective PR Communication
Effective Communication Strategies in Crisis Situations

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