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Are You Ready For the Really Tough Questions?
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Prepping for a media firestorm

Law enforcement attorney and media consultant, Lance LoRusso, is a vehement proponent of hitting negative news reports, particularly those that spread inaccurate, skewed or flat out false information, head-on. As LoRusso sees it, sitting by and not taking prompt action while damaging information is proactively spreading, “not only makes it difficult to climb the curve when attempting to correct the negative images and opinions created by the negative stories, but the damage to individual officers may be irreversible.”

In his excellent book, Blue News, LoRusso, who has been the focus of numerous major national media interviews focused on police matters, goes on to explain that during a storm of negative press against an agency, an officer or law enforcement in general, journalists want to hear from you. “They will give you opportunities to respond, and you will not be forced to chase them down to get a sound bite on the air.”

A major key to successfully leveraging this opportunity for response is anticipation and preparation. “Think about how to respond, take the time to develop a strategy, and be prepared to answer tough questions,” LoRusso advises. “When the interview is over, release your own statement in the form of a press release, recorded statement, video or message via social media or your agency Web site. This will prevent any journalist from misquoting you, make the statement and information more readily available to the media and the public, and discourage journalists with an improper agenda from unfairly editing your words.”

Failing to anticipate negative press is “unforgivable” in LoRusso’s eyes. Thinking ahead and preparing your agency to publicly respond to every possible worst-case scenario can be one of the most critical elements of your media survival plan.

“I bet if we closed the doors and sat around a table, a dozen law enforcement officers and agency heads could create a list of 20 events that are likely or highly likely to bring negative media attention upon a law enforcement agency.”

To get the ball rolling, LoRusso goes beyond that and spells out 23 situations that can send the media hoards in your direction. As you read these, try to predict what kinds of questions reporters (and activists, community leaders and politicians for that matter) will ask.

Do you have solid answers? Who’s going to stand in front of the camera? What kind of tone do you want to set? Are you being appropriately transparent while explaining why you may not be able to reveal every detail? What are you going to say when you don’t have answers without sounding like you’re hiding something?

Look at the scenarios below as “when/then” situations. “When” this happens, “then” my agency is going to face these kinds of questions and they’re going to get answered in this general fashion.

— An officer-involved shooting.

— A law enforcement officer getting arrested for anything, especially a DUI or an assault.

— The death of a child, pregnant female, or elderly person during an encounter with a law enforcement officer.

— The use of force by a law enforcement officer that results in the death of a family pet.

— The execution of a search warrant that results in an officer-involved shooting or use of deadly force.

— An allegation of racial profiling.

— An allegation of misuse of public funds.

— A lawsuit filed against the law enforcement agency or the government entity alleging improper use of force, violation of any law, or discrimination against employees or citizens.

— A hostage situation wherein anyone is injured.

— A serious car crash involving a law enforcement officer on duty that results in an injury or a death—even if the decedent was attempting to elude the officer.

— A chase that results in a car crash involving an injury to anyone other than the driver of the fleeing vehicle.

— An allegation of excessive force.

— An investigation by federal authorities into the law enforcement agency or any law enforcement officer for any reason.

— Any civil disturbance that results in a clash between law enforcement officers and protestors or rioters.

— Any protest that is not completely peaceful.

— The escape of an inmate from custody.

— The inadvertent and improper release of an inmate.

— Any public clash between your law enforcement agency and another law enforcement agency, public safety entity, or government entity.

— Any allegation of false arrest.

— Any allegation of a delayed response that led to an injury or severe property damage.

— An allegation of a tactical entry into the wrong business or residence.

— The death of a prisoner in custody.

— A high-profile crime that captures widespread media attention due to the number of people killed, the types of injuries, the method(s) of death, or the motivation of the perpetrator.

Have others? Add them to the list. And be sure to get a copy of Blue News by Lance LoRusso.

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