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
"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
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
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,"
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
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
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,"
Nor does Antenen use any method to assess his officers' performance as
communicators. "The nature of this function is very unusual," he
"It's not like our sales went up by 10%. We don't have readily
identifiable measurements of success like some other corporate
Nonetheless, the World Trade Center disaster will spur some
The NYPD is lacking an emergency communications plan for war with
terrorists, and it needs one, Antenen says. "The book hasn't been
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.