PIOs: Are You Prepared For Your Agency's 'Personal Brands'?

For the Philadelphia Police Department, “learning to prep” recently included asking a tweeting detective, Joe Murray (@TheFuzz9143), to stop what he was doing so that they could put policy and training in place.


Last month, Jim Garrow of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health tweeted me about an article he'd blogged. In it, he noted:

“(Toronto PD Deputy Chief Peter Sloly) implored public safety agencies to consider ways to protect their officers from, for lack of a better word, internet-infamy... recordings of police will continue, and because of the lack of context in those videos, even folks doing their jobs correctly can find themselves on the wrong side of viral pop culture. All of us, as PIOs, need to realize that one day, it will be our employees in front of those cameras, not just the police. Learning to prep now is simply the prudent thing to do."

Guiding Philadelphia police via one of their own

For the Philadelphia Police Department, “learning to prep” recently included asking a tweeting detective, Joe Murray (@TheFuzz9143), to stop what he was doing so that they could put policy and training in place.

Important: this was not a punishment, nor a way to control Murray's message. Rather, department administrators recognized the value in what he was doing, and used the two months he was offline to build a program around his activity. As a recent Daily Pennsylvanian article explained:

(Philadelphia Police Director of Communications Karima) Zedan commends Murray on his ability to connect with people. PPD hopes to use Murray as a model for other members of the department. Murray will be involved in a pilot program in which a small group of officers and detectives will be taught to effectively use Twitter. “We are very excited to see what Joe Murray can bring us,” Zedan said.

Previously, a Philly.com article had described what Murray was already bringing:

Mike Lyons, cofounder of the community website Westphillylocal.com, says Murray's online accessibility and conversational tone soften the department's image and break down barriers between cops and residents. 

"A lot of times you don't hear people talk positively about the police," Lyons said. "But in West Philly you do - and I think he's a big part of it. You almost feel like the guy has your back, the way he talks online."

For himself, Murray was quoted as saying, “It makes no sense to me to watch sitting ducks walk into a robbery pattern that I know about but they don't." However, his style is more than that. Both Philly.com and the Daily Pennsylvanian relayed how he's inspired his communities to “often relay crucial information to him for his cases” and organize more focused neighborhood watch efforts.

Also notably, PPD wasn't new to social media. As early as 2010 they had redesigned their website and included Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts; their social media work became important to how they monitored and responded to 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in their city. And so Murray's Twitter account simply added a new dimension to their existing efforts.

Was it necessary to take two months to deal with that dimension? In my view, absolutely (and agencies with no social media presence should expect to take much longer). Philadelphia's recent history includes the 2008 shooting of Officer Patrick McDonald, as well as violent flash mobs in 2010 and 2011, all of which inflamed existing racial tensions between police and public.

Thus as positive as Murray's efforts are—the opposite of what every police administrator fears—without policy and training, it would've been just as easy for him to undo all the strides PPD had already made.

How do you prep for officers being in the media spotlight?

Murray's Twitter work has garnered considerable media attention, so Jim Garrow's original point—“Learning to prep now is simply the prudent thing to do”—requires careful consideration. He was kind enough to share with me ideas on what to think about:

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