In order to better understand the needs of law enforcement agencies regarding the functions of an agency’s Public Information Officer (PIO), this report reviews the proceedings of a workshop sponsored by the RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum for the purpose of identifying and discussing the highest priority needs of law enforcement PIOs for improving law enforcement public communications.
The workshop produced four key findings. First, PIOs can provide a wide variety of benefits to an agency beyond just disseminating information to the public, such as improving internal communication, improving recruiting, engaging the community to guide policy and strategy, and gathering data in support of budgetary requests to municipal stakeholders. A second finding is that agencies should invest in their PIOs through regular training, networking opportunities, and guidance. A third finding is that agencies must maintain continuity in the PIO’S role, with staff treating public communications as a core part of their responsibilities. A third finding is that there are benefits and trade-offs when using either sworn or civilian staff in public communications roles, but it is key that an agency maintain continuity in the role and that staff treat public communications as a core part of their responsibilities. A fourth key finding of the workshop is that protests and civil unrest create a distinct and enduring challenge for police PIOs. These events carry the risk of adversarial interactions that can damage trust in law enforcement. They can also serve as opportunities to demonstrate that an agency is willing to listen to the community’s concerns and invite community leaders to provide input. Stemming from these key findings, the workshop developed six recommendations for specific agency actions related to the status and work of PIOs in an agency.