I came here to interview as many people as I could to learn as best I could, what happened and how we can keep it from happening again. It is too early to draw any conclusion, but a lot has been learned so far here in Ferguson. For one thing, we know the robbery, shooting, demonstrations, looting and confrontations with police have created a public relations nightmare for law enforcement.
The sooner law enforcement can get in front of a controversial news story, the better chance it will have of affecting public reaction and the direction of the coverage it generates. I learned this in my previous life as a television news reporter for NBC, Fox and local affiliates. Today, my goal is to assist law enforcement in communicating effectively with the public and media in times of crisis and during their routine day to day operations.
Many of those who came here to protest tell me they felt local officials were not as open to the public as they should have been. That is often the perception when law enforcement is so busy responding to the event itself that it delays its public response. That’s why many public agencies appreciate that good Public Information Officers are worth their weight in gold. Ferguson police waited nearly 24 hours before making a public statement about the incident. While police are always cautious about saying too much too soon, because they don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of an investigation, there are things they can say that will help to reassure the public without hampering the case.
|Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Police addresses the media|
|Citizens protest in Ferguson|
I am teaching a media relations class to St. Louis area law enforcement officers next month. Even if the Ferguson event had not occurred, our message to police would be the same: “Always remain open and transparent with the public and the media on a daily basis, and when a major event happens, get out in front of the story as soon as possible.”