Two officers with the Fort Worth (TX) Police Department recently rescued a suicidal woman who was standing precariously atop the safety barrier on a very high highway bridge. The department wisely held a press event to tell their story.

Two officers with the Fort Worth (TX) Police Department recently rescued a suicidal woman who was standing precariously atop the safety barrier on a very high highway bridge. The department wisely held a press event to tell their story.

Earlier this week it was reported that two officers with the Fort Worth (TX) Police Department rescued a suicidal woman who was standing precariously atop the safety barrier on a very high highway bridge — an event that was captured on dramatic body-worn and dash-camera footage.

Officers Trae Cierzan and Justin Henry slowly approached the woman as she said, "Everybody wants me dead."

"Nobody wants that," one officer replied. "Please get down," he said.

"You don't want to do this," the other officer added. "You want to come talk to us," he pleaded.

Then — in a flash — the two officers closed the remaining distance, grabbed the woman, and brought her to safety.

In less than one second, those two cops ensured that the distraught woman would awake the next day, rather than the alternative.

"We're going to get you some help, okay?" one of the officers said as they put the woman in handcuffs.

Raw, pure human compassion.

I was delighted not only at the outcome of the incident, but that the newspapers and television stations across the Lone Star State — it was reported by the Star-Telegram, the Dallas Morning News, FOX4News, and a host of others — gave the two officers their due praise.

It is praise these guys rightfully earned, but probably didn't want or need.

They're probably like most cops, who after an extraordinary event humbly say, "I was just doing my job."

Perhaps that's true — doing the extraordinary is just an ordinary day's work for police officers — but the general public doesn't know that.

In today's climate, it's a good idea to allow the limelight shining on some positive news coverage to linger, and to counteract how often — literally, on a daily basis — police officers perform acts of heroism and valor that go entirely unnoticed by everyone except the individuals immediately affected.

Here's why police agencies should take a page from Fort Worth's playbook and highlight police officers' stories of service to the community that are typically unheralded.

Not Crisis Communications

For the longest time, law enforcement agencies have been their own worst enemy in the area of public relations — and by that, I do not mean relating with the public.

I'm talking about PR.

Police communication with the media has historically been almost exclusively in response to a critical incident — and what's worse, in many cases, the statements made to the press were a jumble of stiffly spoken sentences revelatory of nothing more than basic facts.

That, or the chief and the PIO fell back on the dreaded default: "No comment."

Not good.

Back when television screens were black and white and the remote control "clicker" was your nine-year-old son or daughter, I was a public relations guy.

Okay, it wasn't quite that long ago, but it sure feels that way.

Anyway, I worked in a big ornate office with more than a hundred other expert spin doctors, and the absolute last thing in the world any of us wanted to do was "crisis communications" — which is precisely what most police press conferences are all about.

Something bad happens. A gaggle of satellite trucks suddenly appears on the street where the bad thing happened. And the chief and the PIO are peppered with questions from a hostile crowd of reporters.

Not fun — and not easy to control.

Importantly, also not what a PR guy would call "strategic communications."

The Five Cs

The mainstream news media generally cover events that contain one or more of the following elements: conflict, controversy, change, comedy, and cash (when the dollar amount is big enough). I have a whole PowerPoint presentation on this thesis called The Five Cs, but that's another matter for another time.

Every so often, however, the press will latch onto an incident that highlights humanity's courage and / or compassion — two more Cs that have subsequently been added to the abovementioned presentation.

However, reporters are highly unlikely to file a FOIA request to find stories of daring gallantry by law enforcement officers.

You have to tell them about it.

They'll look into it and decide if the story makes the cut for a two-minute segment at five o'clock or a couple column inches in the Metro section.

So when Fort Worth PD proactively invited their local media to a press conference to show the dash- and body-worn camera footage of the bridge incident — and allow their officers to answer questions and talk about their experiences on that day — I was very pleased indeed.

Telling Police Stories

With the advent of social media, police agencies really don't even need the mainstream media to show up at the PD for the presentation — it's a good idea to try, but if you get a room full of crickets, go directly to the people.

Camera footage — and we know that we have an abundance of body-worn and dash-camera video — can simply be posted on social media with a written explanation of the event.

Plenty of police agencies are now becoming expert at using social media.

Sidebar: Just about every department today has a Facebook page. However, not every department uses the medium to its fullest capacity. If you think you could use some help, just look around, find a PD that seems to have a good, vibrant social media presence, and reach out to them for tips on how they do things. It's really not rocket surgery, but there are some best practices out there.

Plenty of pro-police citizens follow your department on Facebook and Twitter — and these are precisely the people with whom you should be directly communicating. It's almost a happy accident when the local press — who also follow you on social media — sees your post and picks up the story. Bonus!

So when an officer saves a drowning boy, pulls two children from a hot car, stops a runaway crane truck, delivers a baby, or does some other heroic thing that's "just part of the job" departments should be shouting from the mountain tops, "See! This is what we're all about!"

I make no argument that the politicians, the press, and the people who are vehemently anti-police will suddenly have a change of opinion about you — a tidal wave of positive news coverage wouldn't do that — but those individuals are in the minority.

They are a very vocal minority.

The fact is, the overwhelming majority of American citizens respects and admires their police.

However, they are largely a silent majority.

They are your audience.

Give them a louder voice.

Give them your story.

They very much want to hear it — and they very much want to retell it.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Web Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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