The grumpy newsman and the grumpier cop have tangled many times through the decades over what is news and what is interference.  While one was digging for news, the other often tried to avoid him.

Yet for the mainstream “old media,” the Internet, social media, instant communications and smart phone technologies, have changed the world dramatically over the last several years.  In fact, the change has been so fast, many are still reeling from the shock.

Meanwhile, most of law enforcement has watched the information age and rising knowledge worker age revolution as curious observers.  We should instead embrace the opportunities these innovations have brought to us, and communicate directly with the public.  After all, we work for them.

Where the media was

Since the first printing press, the news media has served our nation well, providing information in the greatest spirit of freedom of the press. This Constitutional right has helped our nation to be open and free, and ensure that those entrusted with authority serve the people who allow them to have that power, or face being removed when the truth is made public.

Yet there are few peace officers who are content with how the news media has often seemingly defined peace officers, our agencies and our actions.  Many a locker room gripe has been heard about the lack of balance of media coverage, and, fair or not, contempt and avoidance has been the officer’s routine approach to a reporter.

Where law enforcement and instant information are today

We are in an exciting new age.  It is an amazing era when police agencies can for the first time create their own content and share it directly with the public via websites, instant messaging (Nixle), and social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).  Yet few agencies are actively engaged.

It is time to define ourselves directly, instead of being defined by others.  Through proactive communications and Public Trust Policing, we can now openly share our core values, and tell of ways we care and try hard to earn and keep the public’s trust.

The public wants us to share.  They want to hear from us.  They have an insatiable appetite for escapist movie and TV cop dramas, but what they really want to hear is the truth from the people they trust, or want to trust even more, their local police.

Public Trust in the News Media is Dropping

While policing has professionalized and built trust through the years, the public’s perception of the news media has declined significantly.   A respected Pew Research study found that:

“ …In 2009…just 29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate… in 1985, 55% said news stories were accurate while 34% said they were inaccurate…”  (Pew Research Study: Press Accuracy Rating Hits Two Decade Low- Public Evaluations of the News Media: 1985-2009 (and also see this article:  Trust in News Media Falls to New Low in Pew Survey.)

The news media has changed, a lot.

As communications technologies have changed at a breathless pace, the news media industry is struggling to find its footing, including financially.  Even the mainstream media has become more infotainment and has laid off a dramatic number of journalists in order to compete in the new media market. Old media news sources have lost ground or shut down, as subscribers and consumers now share their time with the Internet and new media.  Ad revenue has followed the people as they migrate to the Internet for their news (and also see this article: “Economy Dominates Public’s Agenda, Dims Hopes for the Future”.)

The public has embraced these new ways to get and share information, while few are interested in paying for it any more. They don’t feel they need to.  Over half a billion people are on Facebook and Twitter globally, and that means they aren’t reading newspapers and watching TV with that time.

LASD’s Marketing strategy

The public wants us to be open and transparent, for us to tell them what we are doing, and how and why we are doing it.  They also want to know what they can do to make their lives safer, such as through confidential phone, text and email reporting of crime with LACrimestoppers.

The website of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department gets nearly 200,000 unique hits each month.  When the first phase of its re-design began in 2010, the site was modeled after news websites, not any policing sites.  Policing websites are often stale and have few graphics (like ours was), and talk to themselves by using terms like Field Operations Region III, which makes no sense to the public.  Meanwhile, news media websites are dynamic and designed for what is of interest to consumers. The fact is, if news websites aren’t good, they are out of business.  We learned from that lesson.

The Nixle instant messaging news and information feed of the LASD- Headquarters Newsroom (SHB), Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has the highest number of Nixle subscribers in the nation as of Jan. 2011, with over 28,000 unique recipients, including the news media.  Add to that another 10-15,000 more subscribers to local LASD station Nixle feeds and that is a lot of people getting emails and text messages right from their local cops.  It is designed for what the public wants in content, timing, and geo-specific areas.

The increased public use of confidential crime reporting through LACrimestoppers, the increasing use of Twitter (@LASD_News and @MPLASD), and soon Facebook, are all part of an overall LASD Marketing Plan. Strategies have been implemented in phases, especially since early 2009.  None of this is by accident, including the phases of implementation.

Part of the Marketing strategy is improved communications and efficiencies in providing the news media what they need to keep the public informed, by providing news releases that include a goal of: 1) Quality 2) Quantity 3) Timing.

The key difference now is that when content is prepared to give it to the news media, we design and deliver it in a way that the public can also directly receive it.  The news media is just as important as ever to work with, but by shaping the information differently, it has a far wider reach.  Most importantly, even if the news media doesn’t use it, our subscribers and website visitors still get it.

We are all proud of our respective policing agencies and the contributions our partners make in community safety.  Yet in today’s era of instant communications, the world has changed for police agencies too, not just the news media.

There is a huge segment of our communities who strongly believe that if we are not engaged in direct communications with them, then we are not helping them to keep safe and informed, or are outdated and therefore less effective at policing.  Now that these systems exist, the public expects us to use them.

The public has sent us a message.  It’s time to adapt and get busy.

Mike Parker

Captain Michael Parker is the unit commander of Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau (SHB), which leads the Marketing, media relations, and communications efforts of the LASD, the second largest policing agency in the U.S. SHB coordinates the 24-hour dissemination of news and information to the news media, general public, and employees, including executive notifications. SHB is responsible for the design and content of the LASD website at, Nixle messaging and social media, special events, publications, photography, graphic arts, intellectual property, and international liaison with nearly 100 foreign consulates. He is a 26-year veteran of the LASD, lectures regularly, and has published over 80 articles on policing. He has a B.S. in Finance and speaks fluent Spanish. He serves as 2nd Vice President of the Peace Officers Assn. of Los Angeles County, and 2008-2010 Chairman of the Communications Committee of the California Peace Officers Assn. | Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department | @LASD_News | @MPLASD | Facebook Page