LONDON — When you think of law enforcement, police media relations are probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However when a scandal breaks, knowledge and experience in media relations is crucial to addressing the issue.
“It’s important to handle the situation directly, quickly and effectively without becoming defensive or argumentative,” says Police Media Relations expert Chris Ryan. “Burying your head in the sand only works for ostridges,” he added.
London Metropolitan Police learned this lesson the hard way in 2005. Their lack of adequate response to the tragic police chase of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes caused international outrage and disdain.
Mr. de Menezes came out of a block of flats with a communal entrance that police had been watching. He was mistaken for London Bomber, Hussain Osman and pursued by officers into the Stockwell tube station. After running onto a train, Jean was shot dead by police in front of shocked passengers. Reports conducted by the police and news media contradicted each other. After a lengthy trial none of the officers were charged; though pressure was put on Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, to resign.
This is a classic example of how a police scandal can be handled incorrectly and the negative effects that follow. Faith in the Metropolitan police declined significantly after the incident. Had Sir Ian Blair been more forthcoming and not tried to cover up the police reports, this situation may have turned out much differently.
Overall the public look to the government and police to keep them safe. If a scandal occurs and police do not step up and address the issue, public concern becomes a problem. Effective handling of a scandal can potentially save lives, build confidence, educate the public and help build better understanding of the role police and news media play in society.