Amanda Coleman, Head of Corporate Communications for Greater Manchester Police and Chair of the Association of Police Communicators (APComm) responds to recent criticism of investment in police communications, calling for public sector public relations professionals to raise their profiles, and be more confident about demonstrating their value for money.
In challenging financial times everything that happens has a price and it is a price that will be subject to review. For anyone working in public sector communication we know that we have to justify our existence on a daily basis. Recent media coverage about the cost of police public relations has failed to understand what the role actually involves.
It is easy for tabloid journalists to claim it as ‘spin doctors’ but there could not be anything further from the truth. The role is all about increasing access to information, supporting frontline officers and encouraging behavioural change.
When the Taxpayers Alliance says “very few criminals have been apprehended by a well-targeted press release” there are a number of inaccuracies. First, there are countless examples of where communication has led to an arrest, charge and conviction. By being able to get information out quickly in a way that the media can use we have directly supported investigation teams. But it also fails to recognise what is actually involved in modern day PR and communication.
Today we spend a lot of time training and working with officers who are sharing more and more information through social media. It is the communication team who provided this training and support to ensure more information than ever before is being shared. Through social media we have had missing children found, wanted people located, and are receiving more and more information. This has actually saved officer time and resources.
In recent months in Greater Manchester Police, as in other forces, we have been raising awareness of the problem of child sexual exploitation. This is cutting edge PR, not about spin or selling but all about bringing the attention of the public and in particular parents to a significant problem that has been swept under the carpet. We know that victims come forward to report their stories because of the work that has been done. Others may avoid becoming victims of crime as they are more alert to the issues.
The role of police communicator is all about ensuring that police officers can remain on the frontline. Without these hardworking teams who provide a 24/7 service every day of the year officers would have to be taken off the streets to carry out the work. Police forces have specialist financial staff to carry out accountancy, they have mechanics to fix the cars and keep them on the roads, so there are specialist communicators to support investigations and operations.
The important thing is for communication and PR professionals to explain more about what they do so people see beyond the label ‘spin doctor’. Public sector communicators need to raise their heads and be proud of the work they do. Demonstrating its benefits and showing the value for money that sits behind the cheap newspaper headlines has to be a top priority.