One of the things that keep police chiefs up at night is the fear that their officers may become injured or worst, killed in the line of duty. When an officer goes down, it is not only a blow to the police department, but also a blow to the public at large. During these dark hours, police chiefs can become saviors to their departments. The ability for a chief to not only express the outrage of the tragedy, but to decrease the pain of loss to survivors is an indispensable skill set. Police chiefs are like any other CEO of a company. They are rarely seen and most of the challenges they face are unknown to employees. Nevertheless, imagine the impact a chief can make on a police department, when he or she has the correct words at the darkest hour.
When giving a press conference, speech, or eulogy, when an officer has been injured or killed, there are a few tips police chiefs may use for crisis management during these times. A chief can:
1. Research the personal characteristics of the injured or killed officer. All too often, chiefs do not personally know the officers that are injured or killed. It is expected that chiefs will say the perfunctory, “nice” things about the officer. However, what would be the impact if the chief told a story about the officer that close friends shared with the chief? Would it add humor to a painful experience? Would it humanize the officer, as well as, the chief? Would it create a sense of calm and peace as police personnel reflect on the tragedy in the future? An officer’s injury or death is the biggest stage a police chief will ever occupy. By exercising effective leadership through deep empathy and introspection, a chief can become immortal.
2. Exhibit poise and a relaxed, conversational style of presenting. Police chiefs, who strictly read from written statements or robotically give telegraphed responses, do more harm than good. When an officer is injured or killed, there is fear among the department, as well as, throughout the general public. Officers are aware of the dangers of policing, but seeing their fellow brother or sister lying in a pool of blood, creates a new reality few can imagine. The general public becomes alarmed because if society’s protectors are maimed or killed, who will protect them? More importantly, will they be next? Chiefs, who are able to step inside the inner sanctum of police personnel and the public to bring to the surface what is lying deep inside them, are master communicators. By specifically describing these emotions to these audiences and providing direction, chiefs become master teachers.
3. Use tragedy to inspire progress. It is often quoted that “Time heals all pain.” Although police chiefs cannot erase the pain of an officer’s injury or death, they can create an environment that suggests “We take care of our own.” Unfortunately, taking care of one’s own is best reflected by not only what a chief does during a crisis, but also what a chief does after it. What lessons learned about the tragedy are being implemented? Has the department moved on as business as usual? Do the chief’s actions follow the stated brand of the department? A chief’s presentation during an officer’s injury or death should be looked at from a 360-degree angle. In other words, every implication of the tragedy has to be identified and expressed during and after the crisis. To fall short in this area, could be dire to a police department.
In a rapidly expanding, competitive, and often dangerous society, police chiefs have to be agile in their crisis management skills. Unfortunately, after an officer’s injury or death, other priorities move in to replace this crisis. However, if police chiefs master effective leadership and communication skill sets during the darkest hours of their watch, these same skill sets transfer into less severe crisis. Although officer injury and death are inevitable, the ability to manage this level of crisis is commensurate with a chief’s willingness to expand the scope of his or her knowledge base.
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