In this day of social media, with everything police officers do at risk of being observed and recorded by the public, it’s more important than ever that law enforcement engage in effective communication techniques. The actions of officers in dealing with the public, with government officials, and even with each other can inadvertently escalate situations in which effective communication would alleviate the problem.
The first step in having effective communications in a police department is to have an established process for communications when an incident takes place. This process should lay out step by step the actions officers should take if they find themselves in a situation where communication with superiors or the public is necessary beyond normal daily interaction.
For example, if you have an officer at an incident who has gathered information that is vital to other officers responding to the situation, they should know who their immediate superior is in order to report the information. That superior, in turn, should have clear instructions about whether to contact the department chief, or the public information officer, or commanders of specialized units.
The policy should be taught to every member of a department and also maintained in some kind of software version that records the acknowledgement of officers that they have seen and read the process.
The second step is for leadership to be proactive in its development of communication plans and revision of them as community situations change. In many cases, it would be of benefit to a department to have a crisis communications team in place for major situations.
This crisis communications team would have members with clearly defined roles that would be aimed to streamline communication of vital information during incidents such as mass shootings or natural disasters. The team should have a designated communications point person for internal communications as well as a single spokesperson who would be the only one authorized to deal with the public and media. That would allow your officers to know they can focus on the situation at hand without having to be pestered by reporters or nosy onlookers.
It’s also essential to have a plan to set up press conferences and regular information releases so media outlets will back off from pressuring rank-and-file officers for more information. If the media know they will receive regular updates from your designated spokesperson, it’s likely that that individual will be the only one who has to deal with the media.
Finally, make effective communication drills a part of your regular training process. When you’re working through situations to prepare for the worst, include a focus on the communications between officers and command centers in your post-training debrief. If officers know during training sessions that they are also going to be scored on their effectiveness in implementing your established communications plans, they are more likely to pay close attention to the details.
These are just a few suggestions toward making your department’s communication stronger and more effective, especially in times of high stress or community disruption. Putting these items into practice can help you anticipate the unexpected and give you a solid base for future operations.
KOVA Corp. is dedicated to helping you establish solid communications between officers and departments. KOVA’s KEANS service could be invaluable in helping you in times of crisis. Contact your KOVA representative today to find out how you can use KEANS to work with these suggestions and make your department’s communications shine.