CHARLOTTE — Channel 9 is investigating the new way the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is providing answers to people who live and work in this community.
The department is now creating more of its own content for social media and has reduced its responses to some of the questions viewers ask Channel 9 when crimes occur in the community.
Anchor Allison Latos spoke with CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings on Monday to find out why he implemented this new strategy and what it means for people who live in this community and want answers about the crimes that happen here. With the CMPD facing a shortage of officers, the department says it wants uniformed officers on the streets and not answering questions.
>> Click here to watch Latos’ interview with Chef Jennings.
Government reporter Joe Bruno has received thousands of messages from followers on Twitter and other social media as things unfold in our community. Bruno conveys these concerns and questions to the CMPD. But he also saw how difficult it is to get answers, sometimes even when a crime is taking place in a busy place in the middle of the day.
Here are some of those incidents:
On May 30, Channel 9 heard of a kidnapped woman in the South End. We contacted the CMPD at 7:45 p.m., but the department said nothing until 2 p.m. the following day, when it confirmed the incident and then asked for public assistance.
On August 11, as tens of thousands of people flocked downtown for the Panthers Fan Fest, two people were shot dead in downtown Montford Point Street near the Skyhouse apartments. We contacted the CMPD at 6:30 p.m. that evening because the roads were blocked and covered in crime scene markers, and people wanted to know what was going on. The department said nothing until 2 p.m. the next day, when they posted information about the shooting on Twitter.
On the spot, it is generally forbidden for agents to give information. Now the CMPD is telling us not to email public information officers directly to get answers for you. They direct us to the archives division which only works during normal office hours.
Their response to a question about a recent stabbing: “Please allow at least 24 hours for a report to be processed and approved.”
(WATCH BELOW: ‘I say, give it two months’: Public Information Office expert chimes in)
‘I say, give it two months’: Public information office expert steps in
Channel 9 turned to an expert in the public information industry to ask him what the main responsibilities of a PIO department are.
Judy Pal has over 30 years of experience working and training with police departments across the country and around the world. She has worked with the NYPD, Baltimore Police Department, Milwaukee Police Department and others.
She now travels the country, training police departments in crisis communication and media relations. She is also a former journalist.
“It’s a police department’s job to get correct, timely and useful information out as quickly as possible,” Pal said. “Our job as Public Information Officers is to pass on information from the department that a community needs, is nice to have, and that will help them understand not only community safety, but also the how they can participate in creating a community a safer place.
She admits that it is a job as crucial as it is difficult. Pal said public information offices are often underfunded and often face pressure from inside and outside the department.
“Police departments have challenges with the media and I completely understand that because I understand both sides of the camera,” Pal said. “But it’s still the partnership with the news media, the mainstream news, that’s extraordinarily important.”
She said timely dissemination of information to the community can be helpful in investigations, especially during major crises. However, it also realizes when information must be retained to protect the integrity of an investigation.
Pal warns of delays in providing information about neighborhood crimes or other significant incidents. She notes that the community needs to know the details of what is going on.
“No comment has ever stopped a story. You always go as a reporter, you have to cover this,” she said. you, are we going to provide the correct information that needs to be released, because any void will be filled and it will be filled with guesswork.
She understands using a police department’s social media accounts to spread and promote good stories, but she doesn’t think everyone likes getting all the information that way.
“Sometimes community members want to get it from social media straight from the police department and that’s great. Other people want to run it through what they see as an independent, independent third party,” she said.
She does not believe that police departments can control the narrative, but rather that they can manage their message.
“The media has a role to play, sometimes not so independent, but an independent voice,” she said. “You add credibility to our voice. If someone doesn’t particularly like or trust their police department – if it comes from a trusted reporter [then] maybe our message goes through them.
In a recent research report conducted by RAND Corporation, an organization that helps address public policy challenges to make communities safer and healthier, researchers found that “the role of the PIO cannot simply be to tell and amplify the agency’s version of the story”.
The study also found that “agencies often don’t communicate quickly enough with the public during critical incidents” and that “agencies often have to shift from thinking about communication like ‘pleasing the media and meeting their deadlines’.” à” what does the public need to hear and when? »
>> To read the full report, including issues facing the industry and potential solutions, Click here.
(WATCH: Channel 9 speaks with PIO expert about new CMPD strategy)
Charlotte mayor on police transparency: ‘We can’t afford to ignore it’
Charlotte City Council members were surprised to learn of this change in how information is and isn’t shared. The city says council members were made aware of it on September 1, the day it went into effect.
Many have questioned this approach by the CMPD and its public affairs team. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles told Channel 9’s Joe Bruno that it may need to be revisited in the future.
Mayor Lyles told Bruno she had discussed the change with CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings and City Manager Marcus Jones. She says she wants to see how it works and then adjust it if necessary.
The CMPD receives 40% of the budget from the city’s general fund. For years, the city has worked to improve police-community relations.
Residents expect – and sometimes demand – transparency from their government. When something happens in their neighborhood, they want to know as much as possible in a timely manner. To that end, Lyles says police department transparency is key.
“Police transparency and government transparency has been one of the main calls from the community,” Lyles said. “We can’t afford to ignore it.”
Lyles said news outlets should be part of that conversation to find out if it works.
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