Building Relationships with Police & Fire PIO’s Vital to Companies’ PR Programs

by Dean S. Goldman, president, Goldman & Associates Public Relations

Many executives don’t realize it, but the police and fire departments include public information officers. Among their primary duties is getting to the scene of emergencies fast to handle the inevitable swarm of reporters. Time and again, these officers, known as PIO’s, provide excellent media relations service to businesses suddenly and sadly finding themselves facing catastrophes.

“It’s our responsibility to get to the scene of the crime and take measures to control access to the crime scene,” said Corporal Jimmie Wideman, public information officer for the Hampton Police Division in Hampton, Virginia. “At the same time, we work to quickly establish the facts of what has happened to determine what can be released to the media, and then we provide that information to reporters. When something of a serious nature happens, the media wants information and they want it now.”

When responding crimes and other emergencies at businesses, PIOs seek out the managers in charge to explain that they will handle controlling the news media and issuing statements about what has happened. This is an invaluable service, because “the managers are facing so many internal issues,” said Cpl. Wideman. “They have to deal with personnel, with the wellbeing and safety of their employees, with notifying people of what is going on. Our assistance with the news media on the scene allows them to focus on the company issues that are of paramount importance.”

Of course, the news media will want to hear from the company about what has happened, but with the PIO providing immediate information at the scene, the business can take time to think through what it wants to say and provide an interview or statement later, rather than during the pressure of the emergency.

These public information officers truly are experts. They have both strong experience in law enforcement and specialized training in public relations. Cpl. Wideman, for example, joined the Hampton Police Division in 1994 and worked as a detective before being named to the public information office five years ago. He has graduated from numerous sessions of “public information officer school,” receiving training on communicating with the media, media interview methods, press release techniques, public speaking, and much more.

If you’re not familiar with your police and fire departments’ public information offices, and you would be responsible for your company in an emergency, we suggest you take some time to contact them, introduce yourself, and learn more about how they work. Cpl. Wideman also recommends getting in touch with your local police department’s community policing office. Those offices provide excellent resources for businesses, such as workshops on identity theft, workplace violence, and loss prevention. Besides providing you and your staff with important skills, these classes serve an excellent public relations purpose.

“Many times after a major crime or other kind of emergency at a company, executives are asked what they have done to try to prevent or deal with the problem,” Cpl. Wideman says. “If a company can explain that it has proactively worked with its local police department to receive specialized training, it goes a long way toward reinforcing the company’s positive, proactive image.”

All of these services, from the public information officer’s assistance at your company during an emergency to the specialized training from the community policing department, are free to your business.

Our recommendation: invest some time in learning everything your local police department has to offer your company, and expect outstanding public relations return on that investment.