Earlier this month, APComm hosted an event for new members, with a day's session dedicated to mutual aid during major incidents, investigations or operations. Mutual aid fosters a concerted, inter-force approach to comms, allowing individuals from constabularies to be deployed to other police forces during major incidents.
While the organisation had previously run preparedness training for major incidents, a number of terrorist attacks last year highlighted the strain put on police and local agencies.
As a result, APComm worked with the National Police Chiefs Council to develop four role profiles. All UK police forces were asked to register those communications staff who best meet requirements, spanning strategy, media relations, internal comms and digital.
The session explained to attendees how mutual aid works, what the roles entail, while providing case studies of how mutual aid was managed before the formal system was introduced, including learnings from the Manchester terrorism attack in 2017.
Poor comms and procedures between emergency services on the night of last year's Manchester Arena bombing were blamed for keeping firefighters away from the scene for two hours, in an official review published in March.
Later in the session, APComm split delegates into groups according to each of the four role profiles, explaining in greater depth various challenges such as working in different police cultures, and how to work with the expectations of senior police staff when coming in to advise on strategy.
The 'mutual aid' session was the culmination of a two-day learning and networking event held at New Scotland Yard.
Content around best practice and problem solving included a media law training session on the morning of 30 April fronted by Professor Amanda Ball. In the afternoon, Metropolitan Police's head of media Ed Stearns, who is leaving the force in the summer, ran a media relations event, while APComm vice-chair Claire Ingram talked to delegates about internal comms and Surrey Police's Andrew Fielding ran a digital session.
The topical and controversial issue of not naming or discussing with crime journalists individuals subject to investigation before they are charged was discussed in detail. This issue is particularly pertinent in light of singer Sir Cliff Richard recently being paid £400,000 in damages by South Yorkshire Police after the force tipped off the BBC about an investigation. Richard is currently in legal proceedings against the broadcaster over its damage to his reputation.
APComm said that feedback from attendees has been "overwhelmingly positive", with delegates expressing a commitment to "continue the learning and networking in between formal events" planned for the future.
Ruth Shulver, co vice-chair of APComm and head of corporate comms at Surrey Police, told PRWeek: "Over the past 12 months police comms have been significantly tested – both during terrorism investigations and major investigations.
"We have always had a strong learning culture in police communications and from these events we identified the need to create more formal processes to support forces facing unusual demands.
"[Two weeks ago marked] the culmination of the work that has gone into improving our collective resilience – ensuring that forces are better prepared to be deployed on communications mutual aid so that ultimately the public is better served and our communities and our own staff are kept informed."
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