Why a PIO Track? Communicating Law Enforcement’s Mission to Communities, and How There Is Something for Everyone in This Track

Guest Blogger: Lynn Hightower, Communications Director, Public Information Officer, Boise, Idaho, Police Department

Community-oriented policing.

Intelligence-led policing.

Technology-based policing.

Whatever the style, the size, or the location of a law enforcement agency, one common component critical to success is effective communication.

Since 9/11, interagency communication has been a renewed priority for public safety agencies. Governments are justifiably spending millions on equipment and training so emergency responders can talk to each other and coordinate response in a crisis. The great thing is that while many local agencies are better prepared today through training to respond to a terror attack or a natural disaster, this same training also is improving responses to everyday emergencies, from criminal investigations to multiagency task forces to fire, rescue, and emergency medical services response.

Law enforcement leaders readily admit that confronting the nature of the threats to public safety today is something they cannot do alone. “If You See Something, Say Something,” “iWatchLA,” and “iWatchDallas” are major campaigns designed to educate citizens on the value of being observant and reporting suspicious activity. From a humble public information officer’s (PIO’s) perspective, citizens will be more likely to report potential terrorist activity if they have confidence in their local police agencies’ day-to-day responses to reports of otherwise routine criminal activity.

Today more than ever, we in law enforcement need to take proactive steps to increase public confidence and trust in our local agencies. Our agencies do great work and enhance public safety and security every day. But here’s the trick: We have to tell people about it.

This is where an effective PIO comes in. Whether your agency has a professional PIO on staff, the PIO duties fall to the chief or the sheriff, or the “PIO” is a sergeant who drew the short straw, the PIO Section of the IACP is dedicated to training the law enforcement community in how to effectively educate and communicate with citizens so they understand that their home agency cares about their safety, cares enough to invest in training and hiring, and employs people who make a valuable difference in the community every day.

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • social media
  • weekly newspaper announcements
  • monthly radio interviews
  • written news releases
  • on-screen media interview
  • speaking engagements for local groups, such as the Rotary Club

This year in Chicago, the PIO Section Track has workshops that cover all of these issues. The IACP PIO Section is available to assist—at the conference and throughout the year—your agency to communicate the good work that you do. Effective communication skills are not solely for public relations; they translate to officer safety and public safety, because we are not in this alone.


IACP 2011, October 22-26, has special workshops covering social media issues for law enforcement. For information, to register, and to secure housing, visit http://www.theiacpconference.org.

The IACP Center for Social Media has a corresponding blog, The Social Media Beat. Bloggers include IACP staff and practitioners in the field who can provide a unique frontline perspective about law enforcement’s use of social media. For more on social media best practices, visit http://blog.iacpsocialmedia.org.

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