After the Webinar: When Your Investigation Becomes an International Crisis. Q&A with Nelly Miles

Webinar presenter Nelly Miles answered a number of your questions after her presentation When Your Investigation Becomes an International Crisis: The PIO’s Role during Major Events.  Here are just a few of her responses.



Audience Question: How do you strike a balance between answering questions from the media and the reality that you can’t impact an ongoing investigation? 

Nelly Miles: Oh, that is a really great question. I think that striking that balance really sometimes comes from me picking up the phone depending on who it is. Especially if it’s the local media, I want to make sure that I’m really serving the locals. I pick up the phone and talk to them. Because sometimes, when you’re speaking through e-mail, it’s like, “Okay, no further information.” One should pick up the phone, and say, “Look, this is where we’re at. This is why we can’t give out any information and really make that clear.” When you have a lot happening, and things are moving really fast pace,that’s not always ideal to do. But if I’m making sure that I’m clear with the media, and I’m also making sure that I’m clear with the investigator, sometimes I’ll call the investigators and say, “Listen, I understand that it’s an ongoing case, but is there a little nugget that we can give them?” With a case like the Ahmaud Arbery case, I just could not say anything after a while. I’m sure there are probably a few prosecutors that might cringe at some information that had been stated. But I think that there are some cases where you have to give a little bit more and you have to figure out what you can pull. And even if it’s going out there and doing like a patience plea, and just saying, “Listen, this is where we’re at, but I need you all to trust us and bear with us.” I think that you can do it.


Audience Question: What policy does GBI follow in terms of releasing body-worn camera footage related to an ongoing investigation, and how did that impact you? 

Nelly Miles: That’s a really, really great question because I know that is different in every state. But for us, we decided after Ferguson that our policy was going to be that we would release the video provided that the prosecutor’s office didn’t have any issues. So, what we’ll do is we get a request, talk to the investigator, see where they’re at, call the DA’s office and say, “Hey, we’ve gotten this request, depending on where we are in the investigation, we intend to release a video. Do you have any issue with it?” And they’ll kind of guide us, there are some prosecutors that will say, “No, we don’t have any issue, it can be released,” and then we actually have a lot of prosecutors, because it is an active investigation, it is evidence and they’ll say, “Don’t release it.” And for us, we’re working in concert with the DA’s office. So, we’re not going to say, “Well, we’re going to release it anyway.” That’s not what we’re going to do. One thing I will say that I have found is more recently, especially in police-involved shootings, a lot of local agencies, even though we’re the independent folks investigating it, they’ll go ahead and release the video. And for us, we are not going to tell another agency what they can and can’t do. But for us, we just are dictated by the fact that we’re working with the DA’s office and if they’re okay, and they don’t have any objections. We will release it. But, again, oftentimes, they don’t want us to release it. So, that’s our procedure.


Audience Question: What is the best way to convince command staff that our PIO should report directly to the chief? 

Nelly Miles: I think that the best way to do it is to find a close agency that’s nearby and have their chief talk to your chief.  I can see that being difficult, you as the PIO, trying to explain it but if you find agencies that, have been through some storms and have different Chiefs Association and Sheriffs Associations, get their chiefs and sheriffs to talk to each other  I bet you, they can show them some light. It’s also a good idea for chiefs and agency directors and command staff folks to go to media training. And I tell you all the media training that’s out there, and because we are kind of working through Justice Clearinghouse, there are so many different trainings that I would recommend but won’t do it now. In every one of those classes, I know that they’re saying that same thing.  I hear them say that they need to have direct access to the PIO.  That’s where I would start off. Have this chief and sheriff that’s already set up that way talk to them. They’ll get it to see the light.


Audience Question: We recognize it’s important to have a PIO. We don’t have the budget or staffing for a dedicated PIO. So, how do we establish a person to communicate with the public, when we’re ready, stretched thin with under-staffing, and is a part-time PIO enough? 

Nelly Miles: I think that that’s such a brilliant question. It definitely depends on, I would say the size of your community, how many media inquiries and media outlets you have in the area, and what’s the volume looking like? But, even if you don’t have a full-time person, I would say that have your person, whoever is going to be in that role. They need to be connecting with the local area communications folks, so they can establish some sort of mutual aid so that they can be ready when something happens.  The biggest thing you don’t want is, I don’t want to name other agencies, but we know what’s happening in the news, we know the folks that are getting ridiculed for not just a response from law enforcement, but also communications response. We just want to make sure that these agencies that are out there, that may not have that person, they have someone that they can rely on. So, get with your local area, public information officers, and your local agencies. You guys need to have your own network to say, “Listen, if something happens, this is what we’re going to do, and come up with that plan. I think a part-time PIO can work. Because if that’s what you have, and you’re stretched thin, I get it. I’m just suggesting that a PIO for me, in 2022, is just as important as the folks that you have out there on your front lines responding. It is so crucial. I cannot tell you how many times our agents say, “Oh my gosh,” we appreciate you being out here.  We’re out there in the trenches with them. Now obviously, there’s nothing like a law enforcement officer that’s running toward danger. You cannot top that when it comes to the level of what’s most important, and we’re talking life or death. But that communicator, it needs to be part of your plan. It needs to be something you’re thinking about long-term and how to incorporate that into your mix.


Audience Question: Is it possible to share a PIO between several small agencies? 

Nelly Miles:  I’ve seen that happen when I first started in this role, when I left the lab and came over here in 2016, we had two police officers that were killed in the line of duty down in south Georgia. And the GBI was called to investigate it, there was a manhunt. I remember deploying down South of the state for a few days. And the agency that was involved did not have a PIO, but they had a couple of PIOs that would come and help them. We all worked together. And I will tell you that incident was one of the first really big incidents that I dealt with. And the PIOs, those local PIOs, we are, best friends today, and keep in touch because we have that relationship just from having endured that together. And for small a community, when they experience something like that, it never goes away. I can come back to Metro Atlanta and move on to my next thing, but that never goes away, but because they’ve established those relationships within their local areas, they have those PIOs that can lean on one another and help them out during those times.


Audience Question: Is there a Georgia state-level PIO network that PIOs can join?

Nelly Miles: Yes, we have one, and I oversee it. We have about 400 people on there and so my contact information is here, and I’m assuming Nathan’s in Georgia because it’s for Georgia. H me up, and we’ll add you to it. We’ve got some really neat training that’s coming up that’s going to be planned for August.

I’m excited about it.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of When Your Investigation Becomes an International Crisis: The PIO’s Role during Major Events.  



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