ANALYSIS: Client Profile - NYPD works 24-7 to keep hungry mediainformed

Mayor Giuliani and Gov. Pataki have received constant praise from

the media and public since September 11. The NYPD shares that praise

(and honor for those it lost), but it hasn't all been smooth sailing.

Jim Edwards reports.



The New York Police Department's PR arm has trained its staff to handle

disasters of all kinds, including train wrecks, poison gas attacks,

riots, and weather-related mayhem. But there was nothing in the book for

an incident the size of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade

Center, says deputy commissioner for public information Thomas

Antenen.



"There's no training drill for something of this magnitude. It's

unimaginable," says Antenen. Like everyone else in the city, the

double-suicide hijackings caught his people off-guard. "We've been doing

it by the seat of our pants."



The NYPD's immediate problem was that the collapse of the twin towers

knocked out almost all their phone lines at One Police Plaza, the

block-sized office complex about half a mile from the crash site. "There

was a lot of temporary rigging that had to get done for the phones, and

cell phone traffic was difficult because the tower used to be on top of

the World Trade Center," Antenen says.



"We moved our emergency command center up to the Police Academy, which

is on 23rd Street." The move, which took place in the immediate

aftermath, presented problems of its own - the first of which was

gathering the city's press and letting them know how they could contact

the department. "It was hard to get a hold of the media in a timely

fashion," so coordination took a couple of days, by Antenen's

estimation.



By that time, the entire world's media had descended upon lower

Manhattan, screaming for access. Normally, the NYPD hands out about

12,000 sets of press credentials a year, which allow reporters and

photographers to attend crime scenes and press conferences. In the four

days after the crashes, Antenen's staff handed out another 4,000.



The rumor mill



The NYPD was further handicapped by rumors that spread in the

information gap. "After the 92nd rumor proved to be bogus, we just said,

'Look, this one's going to be as bogus as the last one. We're not going

to get back to you with an answer. That is your answer. I don't care if

you have three sources telling you that an all-points bulletin has been

issued; I'm telling you its erroneous,'" explains Antenen.



There were also bomb scares. "We had to try and calm the city down. I

think we did that," Antenen says. "Some of it was just plain cruel," he

adds. "A lot of reporting early on was that bodies were being uncovered,

and families' hopes rise. They hear it on the radio. They call in to the

fire department, police department, or the families' assistance center."

The truth is that very few bodies have been recovered.



One of the sillier rumors surrounded a missing Verizon truck that had

supposedly been taken by terrorists. As it turned out, the Verizon

worker had parked his truck at the entrance of a building he was working

in, but had left the building through a different door without realizing

it.



When he couldn't see his truck, he reported it stolen. "For the most

part, we were able to fight back a lot of that. The media was

cooperative. There was a lot of that early on. There's a lot less now,"

Antenen says.



NYPD communications



The NYPD has a sizable communications staff. The main PR unit - the

Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI) - has 35

officers who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most of their work

is answering media calls, but they have a daunting task even without an

emergency: DCPI gets between 600 to 1,000 calls a day.



DCPI releases every felony and newsworthy non-felony to the media on

"action sheets." About 10,000 action sheets are logged every year

(that's about 27 a day). The details on these sheets are sent out as a

mass fax and a mass e-mail at least once a day. In addition, DCPI

organizes between one and four press conferences a day. These events can

be full-court conferences with the mayor and the police commissioner, or

they can be smaller affairs at precincts and crime scenes. DCPI also

provides arresting officers to the media for interviews, and writes and

reviews all written material intended for the public.



"They all want to talk to the guy who delivered the baby in the Lincoln

Tunnel," Antenen says as an example.



Although the world currently regards the NYPD as a band of heroes, it

was not always this way. Several cases of police brutality and

allegations of racial profiling have plagued the department in the last

three years.



Ill feeling generated by the shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo and

Patrick Dorismond, as well as the torture of Abner Louima, have hampered

the force's recruitment goals (particularly among minorities) despite an

advertising campaign that at times cost $10 million a year.



The job of soothing community relations falls to the office of the

deputy commissioner for community affairs (DCCA), Yolanda Jimenez. The

DCCA runs the bulk of the NYPD's non-media PR programs, which include

school visits, anti-drug program DARE, meetings between precincts and

the community, meetings with clergy, and civilian ride-alongs.



The media relationship



Overall, the NYPD maintains a close but contentious relationship with

the media and the outside world. The NYPD maintains a press office

inside its headquarters called "The Shack" (it used to be a trailer),

and DCPI officers generally get to know reporters on the crime beat

quite well.



But the media likes bad news as well as good, and the DCPI has a legal

duty under the Freedom of Information Act to release even the most

unpleasant facts about itself.



Antenen, who started his career as a consultant at PR agency Arthur

Domingo Communications in New York, says DCPI officers receive little

training other than supervision from more experienced officers. New

recruits to the office (who may have several years on the beat) answer

phones from day one. "It's not about book work; it's about instincts,"

Antenen says.



Nor does Antenen use any method to assess his officers' performance as

communicators. "The nature of this function is very unusual," he

says.



"It's not like our sales went up by 10%. We don't have readily

identifiable measurements of success like some other corporate

organizations."



Nonetheless, the World Trade Center disaster will spur some

self-examination.



The NYPD is lacking an emergency communications plan for war with

terrorists, and it needs one, Antenen says. "The book hasn't been

written yet."



NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT



Police commissioner: Bernard Kerik



Deputy commissioner for public information: Thomas Antenen



Deputy commissioner for community affairs: Yolanda Jimenez



Outside agencies: none



Budget: Undisclosed, but at least $10 million is spent on

recruitment advertising through community affairs each year.



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