Edward Brown, M.S., of Core Edge Police Professional Development (A subsidiary of Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute) provides answers to questions about the necessity for law enforcement leaders to develop stellar crisis communication skills.
Q: How do you define crisis communication?
Brown: Businessdictionary.com defines Crisis Communication as, the effort taken by a company to communicate with the public and stockholders when an unexpected event occurs that could have a negative impact on the company's reputation. This can also refer to the efforts of business or governmental entities to inform employees or the public of a potential hazard such as an impending storm, which could have a catastrophic impact.
As it relates to law enforcement, it is the proper response to any event that can potentially demoralize a department like officer injuries, deaths, budget cuts or employee furloughs.
Q: Is it your contention that departmental spokespersons should not be left to handle crisis communications?
Brown: the chief of police should handle critical events that affect the morale and productivity of a police department. The basic ones I described earlier such as officer injuries and deaths are the worst events within a police department. These incidents keep chiefs up at night. When an officer goes down, no one but the chief should communicate to the department and the public about the impact, sorrow, and future direction of the department. Additionally, budget cuts and employee furloughs cut into quality of life concerns within a police department. Although these situations may be out of the control of a police chief, the chief should be the one to deliver the news, its impact, and the period of the condition.
Q: What trends have you observed that make crisis communication so important?
Brown: The world has changed drastically within the last twenty-five years. When I joined the Atlanta Police Department in 1988, we took orders without questions as long as they were lawful. The new breed of police officers is different. The Millennial Generation requires more answers and explanations. I have even heard of instances of a young officer being on a cell phone while talking with a citizen on an emergency call. This mindset requires a different level of inspiration and communication. In addition, departmental loyalty has diminished. The loyalty among law enforcement members, once held, is no longer the case. Individualism has become a cancer within police departments. Chiefs of police and command staffs have to step up and become better mouthpieces to these changes.
Q: The challenges that you outline do not seem unique. Aren’t all corporate and public sectors in society dealing with similar challenges?
Brown: Yes, but it’s more dire and extreme when the protectors of civilization shirk their responsibilities. If you get bad customer service at a restaurant or retail store, you merely go to another store. Where do you go when your police department does not provide you adequate service? How do you feel when you believe crime is rampant and no one cares? Your last recourse is uprooting your family and relocating somewhere else. When you feel your police department is inadequate, it shakes up your entire world.
Q: What would you say are the components of crisis communication?
Brown: The ability to articulate the frustrations of your employees and the public and provide tangible solutions. If there are no immediate remedies available, you need the ability to inspire hope. Have you seen the typical police interview or press conference? They are unemotional, full of facts, and robotic. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Police chiefs and command staffs have to become a cross between psychologists and ministers. They have to be able to dissect the emotional impact of a problem, speak to it, and resolve it. All in a way that provides the same reassurance parishioners receive when they go to church on Sunday. It’s a big challenge for police chiefs and command staffs, but one they can master.
Q: What advice would you give police chiefs and command staffs to improve their crisis communication skills?
Brown: First, embrace the notion that being an effective leader requires stellar communication skills in all situations. Second, become more adept at quickly establishing rapport with people, one-on-one and in groups. Third, control media messages by setting the stage to fit departmental needs; not the needs of the media. Finally, become a master at dissecting the psychological needs of constituents when advanced communication skills are necessary. Become an expert in human nature. Walk into the lion’s den and take a seat. When you know the motivations, pains, and fears of the people around you, you are in a better position to control outcomes.
For more information or to register for the workshop, “Officer Down: How to Develop Effective Crisis Communication Skills for Law Enforcement Leaders,” visit: http://policerecruitmentandselection.core-edge.com/events