We are just back from a 2-day News Media Relations Training class I conducted for St. Louis area Law Enforcement and Firefighters. We were fortunate in that several of the officers involved in the Ferguson officer-involved-shooting investigation and subsequent unrest attended our class.
The first and most important lesson a lot of people learned from the Ferguson incident involved perception and timing. Following a major incident such as the Ferguson shooting, the sooner you can hold a news conference, the better off everyone will be. The longer you delay distributing information about the shooting, the less control you exert over controlling the message and the outcome.
While you are delaying the release of information, others, who may know a lot less about the case are busily talking with the media to get their points across and shaping public opinion. The media has a responsibility to report. If you don’t give them the information to report, they must seek information from any source they can.
It’s all about perception. If the public feels you are holding back information, you loose credibility, people being to doubt you.
Generally, while most media coverage of the crisis was accurate, some media coverage was misleading and unfair. We will be presenting specific incidents of both cases in future posts.
Another major lesson we all learned from Ferguson was: It can happen anywhere. That’s why its imperative that police maintain a constant flow of information to the public about every incident, especially in cases involving the use of force.