After the Webinar: Crisis Leadership and Communications in a Complex, Headline Driven World. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar panelists Sheriffs David Hutchinson, James Stuart, David Beth, Clifford Pinkney (ret), presenter Mark Pfeifle and NSA Executive Director Johnathan Thompson answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Crisis Leadership, and Communications in a Complex, Headline-Driven World. Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: Is there a guide of actions that you can recommend when developing rules of engagement? 

Mark Pfeifle: Which Sherriff would like to answer that?

David Beth: I’ll do the best I can. We didn’t have any. I would love to have the NSA and maybe it exists. But, if it does, I love for someone to put together a little sheet that each Sheriff can go through when something like this happens with suggestions. That’s the one thing that I’ve got our emergency government working on is trying to put together a book for us for future events. But we’re not aware of one. It all came down to the training that we’ve all been going through, how we work together, the resources that we have, and the great neighbors that we have that came to help. It worked out really.  We took commanders from other agencies to our north and to our west. We took them and brought them into our mix, to get our people to sleep. We all know each other very, very well. And it worked out well for us. But we didn’t have a playbook.

James Stuart: Part of the challenge is each state has slightly different laws that apply to the use of force and each community is going to have different politics that are going to play into this. I know even when I crossed the river and got down into Minneapolis, I said, what about this? What about that, and what about this? Thinking, let’s roll these out, UAS being one of the first things. Minneapolis doesn’t like to have that in their city. Who cares? I mean that was kind of my response. This is about officer safety at this point. We needed to get aerial support. So, it just kind of I think to have the one size fits all on a national scale might be very difficult because each community is different. Each state has different rules of engagement. I would certainly encourage each of our listeners to work with your community partners and your law enforcement neighbors to establish your own protocols for that, of course, based on best practices. I don’t think it is a one size fits all.

David Hutchinson:  Sherriff Stuart said it right. Even in Minneapolis, which lies in Hennepin County, it is an 800-person department. We are a large sheriff’s office but we don’t have those numbers. So, the rules of engagement in my county and in the city were different. So that’s another thing, smaller sheriff’s offices with small cities can do line jump and take over control like in Kenosha it sounds like. I don’t have the resources to take over an 800-person agency so my rules of engagement are different than the city of Minneapolis because they have political issues. I didn’t have political issues as Sheriff Stuart said. I don’t answer to anybody except for the people every four years. We would do what we need to maintain order. The city has different rules. It’s confusing. Someone can come up with a plan for that. Maybe like a newly elected NSA official. We would have everything lined up.

Mark Pfeifle: That’s absolutely correct. Thank you, Sheriffs. What the NSA is working on and will continue to work on is a checklist of things that counties and municipalities can work on right now to prepare themselves whether it’s physical security, cybersecurity, control of your social media sites, body cams, everything that an office or agency or department should be thinking about beforehand in their planning strategy. Work that out on a scenario basis with all of your community members, all the local officials elected and beyond, and your community members, and make sure that you’re all on the same page. That’s the strongest thing that I’ve seen come back from this right now if we can be doing work today, planning for tomorrow and I think that all the sheriffs and the sheriffs that we’ve talked to over the last six months or more, they’ve said if there’s one thing I could do is go back in time and put that strategy together, tick off all those things that we’re talking about in the PowerPoint presentations now. It’s never going to be perfect. We don’t know exactly what we’re planning for but we do know that something will happen in the near future. We’ve got to have our game plan together



Audience Question: Next question is specifically for Sheriff Pinkney. How are you able to recruit college students to work with your office and provide social media intelligence? 

Clifford Pinkney: That is a great question. Thank you for that question. It started out when we had a program where he had high school students that would like to, you know, did ride-along and things like that. Anybody can come in and volunteer certain hours for credit. So that’s how I started. So, when folks went to college, they wanted to come back and just volunteer time to get college credit which we’re happy to do because before this happened, they would come in and do a lot of ministerial duties for us. So, without any law enforcement-sensitive stuff, they would purge or they would do certain other duties. It was actually the college students who suggested that they look into and kind of surf the social media for us. I’ll be honest. I had no idea what they were talking about with social media surfing and all that kind of stuff but it was actually their idea to do that for us. So, we kind of worked with the Fusion Center to make sure that happens. They were very, very helpful. Again, like going into the chat rooms. I think Sheriff Beth mentioned that they were able to communicate with some of these organizers and find out where somebody’s packets of uprising might take place and then they would share that information with us. We were able to deploy, you know, bodies into that area and kind of squelch, if not outright, do away with any uprising. So that’s how that took place.



Audience Question: Can you elaborate on whether or not you have sworn or civilian public information officers? And if you didn’t have one, did you bring someone in from the outside to assist you with press conferences in the media and so on? 

David Beth: Kenosha have sworn PIOs. We worked with the City Police Department. They had one and we also had one. The mayor’s office hired an outside agency to come in and assist maybe about 4 or 5 days after it all started. So, most of us are sworn in.

Clifford Pinkney:  We had a civilian. Again, my situation is unique. We had a county executive and we had a civilian PIO that took lead from the county executive, which they didn’t always see eye to eye. I wanted a sworn PIO. So, a lot of times, I end up against the grain and did my own thing. Again, when I mentioned that I did a press conference, that was not welcomed by most. I can’t really off the top of my head think of anybody who wanted me to do it but I did it on my own. I think it was the right thing to do.

Mark Pfeifle: A sworn Officer PIO is very, very helpful. Whoever it is, make sure that they’re trained in the procedures of crisis communications and make sure that they have and there’s a lot of transition. Somebody as a PIO for a year or 2 or 3, and then they move on to the next job within the office or within the community. Then there’s a smooth transition of information and that new PIO they go and meet every media person in your market matters, all TV, radio, print, internet. They have it set up where your press conference is going to be if there’s an emergency. It might have to go to a different place and that they can reach out to those media people immediately. Also, they should have control of your social media. What we’ve seen in some instances is, there is an emergency and there are challenges determining who owns the Twitter account, how to access it or we have a Facebook account, but that was run by PIO a year and a half ago. Make sure all those assets are at your disposal immediately. So, when a crisis does happen, the PIO whether they’re civilian or sworn or a contractor from the mayor’s office or whoever it is. Then make sure all the PIOs in your communities know each other, work with each other can communicate simultaneously and you have a strong decision-making process for when your public information is going to be released. Did you do it quickly, factually, and effectively? So that media and the online community know exactly where you stand, what the facts are in real-time.

David Hutchinson: We had a communications director, who was the PIO who hired a local guy, who was a reporter for a number of years and actually, is part-time with me for a little while because he transitioned out of the Minnesota Chiefs Association. I brought him on right when this happened a little before. He was a godsend because he knows all the reporters. He knows how to coach me to act properly in camera. When I should go on camera, I shouldn’t go on camera. Because you know a lot of the narrative when the Sheriff should go on camera, you know when it’s positive stuff or if it’s an important message. Sometimes they shouldn’t go on it if it’s not super important or if it’s more damaging if you will. I think, that you to have someone who has experience in crisis management. They’ve been around the block locally as far as knows what reporters say what, and vice versa or coach the sheriff or the chief on what to say and what not to say, watch out for questions. His involvement, in my opinion, saved the day, he coached me through a lot of the stuff. The media didn’t get involved in there at that time because it was a Minneapolis thing and we were too busy trying to fix some issues. So, there’s an important aspect to know that, we as sheriff and chiefs and law enforcement were pretty good at the law enforcement stuff, but I think something about the pros teach us a thing or two. That’s worked to my benefit.

David Beth: Real quick, if all of us have to deal with the media, but this was different than any other time because we’re between Milwaukee and Chicago, we normally have a dozen cameras and reporters here but when we had the issue going on, we probably had 100 cameras here and reporters from all over the world. So, that part, that was the shocking part of the media for us, too.

Jonathan Thompson: Going back a couple of years in rural North Dakota, at one point, I think, Mark, there were 200 plus media from around the world there. Also, when you look at sworn versus unsworn, the answer is to get the right people to do the job. Don’t put somebody who can change tires in front of a writing software. Get the right people whether they’re inside the agency or outside the agency. I think all the sheriffs would say you got to have the right people helping you and make sure you know who they are beforehand because when that balloon goes up, it’s too late. It’s too late and too hard to start playing catch up. As Dave Beth said, one day, he looked at his desk and you said, we had over 250 pink slips of just call me back. That’s insurmountable. You’ve now lost the message. The narrative was gone. But you’ve lost the message way because you’re behind it.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Crisis Leadership and Communications in a Complex, Headline-Driven World.



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