Like any controversial industry, big-city police departments like
Philadelphia’s must be willing to shed light on themselves and their
values. Show the public you care about the same things they care about,
and the public will give you a fair hearing. Where I live, Angelenos see
the LAPD as insular, almost an alien culture. Why? The LAPD does a poor
job explaining itself because, at heart, it doesn’t believe the public
will judge its members fairly. The solution: adopt a PR strategy based
on trusting the public. Neither the public nor media are knee-jerk
police antagonists; don’t treat them that way. Capitalize on public
interest in crime fighting.
Keep the pipeline filled with stories illuminating officers’ unique
Tell, in detail, the story of how the department corrects its own
It is doubtful the Philadelphia police department can ’patch up’ its
reputation in the short-term. But they should have been spending the
time before the GOP convention communicating exactly what they intend to
do in terms of patrols and street accessibility. Beyond that, PR
activities that flow from sound departmental policies and practices can
lessen the damage to the department’s credibility. The following
suggestions could apply to any police department with similar issues
First, get the facts.
Second, ensure the rights of all involved. Third, if action is taken
against any officer, communicate this and explain why. Above all,
communicate the facts honestly, consistently and regularly to community
leaders and organizations as well as the news media.
Such compelling video stoking an international media frenzy calls for
bold actions to help restore credibility. Step one: actively engage the
media, lest others fill the void at police expense. Step two: concede
the obvious - that while the video may not tell the whole story and an
investigation is under way, the tape appears disturbing. Step three:
enlist third parties to promote positive stories about police benefiting
the local community. Step four: hold a public forum with the local
community to listen to and address all concerns. And as a headline
grabber, step five: announce an independent review of overall police
practices by a respected national figure. Taken together, these actions
could help shift media focus away from the video to the future promise
of improved police/community relations.
On the eve of the Republican National Convention, videotape of a violent
police arrest has created an uninvited test for Philadelphia’s police
force. At stake are not only the professional reputations of the police
commissioner and mayor, but also the reputation of an entire city.
Fortunately, Philadelphia police commissioner John Timoney has gotten
out in front of the issue by acknowledging the troubling sights on the
video and promising to let a full investigation run its course. That’s
unlike Rudy Giuliani, who responded to recent police action by taking
the officers’ side before all facts were known. Employing PR has never
simply been a ’Band-Aid’ for commissioner Timoney. Over time, Timoney
has demonstrated a core value of reputation management by communicating
both openly and honestly with all stakeholders on all issues - not just
putting out written statements.