Critical incidents, particularly officer use of force and officer-involved shootings, create challenges for law enforcement agencies. But more than the details of the event or the people involved in it, the public backlash or snippets of the incident going viral are what agencies’ worst nightmares are made of. With this in mind, the importance of the PIO’s job is highlighted more than ever. In this webinar, Nelly Miles walks us through an event she and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) had to deal with and what she did to minimize the social media outrage that resulted from it.
Nelly Miles has been with the GBI for the last 22 years and is the GBI’s Public & Governmental Affairs Director. The GBI Public and Governmental Affairs Office was awarded the Dr. Curtis McClung Motorola Award for Excellence by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police in 2021 under her leadership. Nelly is also the Southeast Regional Vice-Chair for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Nelly framed her discussion of PIO best practices when faced with a highly publicized investigation based on the events that transpired, the steps the GBI has taken, and lessons that have been learned from the Ahmaud Arbery case. Specifics include:
- An overview of the GBI, its history, organizational structure, authority, and jurisdiction.
- The Ahmaud Arbery case: Case timeline and details, conflicts and challenges encountered, decisions taken, lessons learned, and solutions implemented.
- Why it is crucial that a PIO have direct access to the agency leader.
- The value of adequate training and networking for PIOs especially for big cases.
- Building rapport, trust, and relationships with followers and constituents to establish the organization’s purpose and mission, as well as authority and credibility as the source of accurate information.
- The importance of having a dedicated person in charge of agency communications with all the desired qualities, knowledge, and skills required for the role.
- Establishing strong internal communications across all levels in the agency.
- The Core Think Tank: Its composition and how it ensures everyone involved remains updated and determines details that may be released and how they will be released to the public.
- Developing a thick skin and maintaining professionalism when responding to public feedback and scrutiny.
- Investing in basic communication tools and equipment that can be used in the absence of an official photography and videography team.
- The key qualities that an agency spokesperson must possess.
- The value in having the agency maintain constant communication with the public and remain engaged with critical updates so that the public learns to rely on the agency for timely information.
- Running proper tests of equipment to be used to communicate with the public.
- Social listening to keep up to speed with what’s happening, and the narrative being spun that the public is consuming on social media.
- Constant communication with all agencies, organizations, and partners involved to remain aligned and prevent conflicts with public statements.
- Having the discernment to not respond to every issue being thrown and to not “feed the trolls”.
- Keeping up to date on all media coverage of information and developments tangential to the case.
- The importance of not letting public opinion sway any decision and sticking to the facts and telling it as it is, no matter how unpopular the truth may be.
Questions from the webinar participants are about:
- Answering media queries while ensuring the integrity of an ongoing investigation.
- GBI policy and protocol with releasing body-worn camera footage.
- Convincing the leadership on the importance of having a PIO reporting directly to the chief.
- Workarounds for agencies that are smaller, understaffed, or budget-challenged to maintain a dedicated PIO.
- Georgia’s state-level PIO network.
- “Ms. Nelly Miles delivered a PHENOMENAL PRESENTATION AND HER EXPERTISE AND KNOWLEDGE SHE SHARED IS SO VALUABLE, THANK YOU SO MUCH! I truly enjoyed the “Lessons Learned” tips, video, and her experiences in her profession of public affairs. She has a radiant personality also, and her delivery keeps us glued to this webinar. Also, the case she spoke about is relevant and important. I rate her a 20 out of 10! and a million stars!” — Nicole
- “I thought it was well planned and contained great content!!” — Phillip
- “Having actionable steps that actually apply to the topic of the webinar was amazing. …This was fantastic, on topic, and very helpful.” — Samantha
- “Very detailed with case studies to increase our BODY OF KNOWLEDGE” — RAGHAVENDER
- “It was absolutely thrilling to see a real-life example of correcting misinformation and staying on the PIO case. I recall this investigation very well. All who were involved did a great professional job of resolving what had been an entirely botched local investigation. Yet, there was no evidence of finger-pointing, just sticking with the facts. Great Job, Nelly and team.” — Mary
- “This presentation was clear, well-organized, and full of useful information. I’ll definitely be re-watching and referring to the course materials. Excellent job and thank you, Nelly!” — Kristen
- “Leading with humanity and the awareness of how others are shaping the narrative in real-time cannot be underestimated. I liked the direct approach to dealing with trolls. It was amazing to see how much ground was covered by GBI’s relatively small team of PIOs. Kudos! Thank you!” — Karen
- “Extremely relevant information, fantastic delivery, and very easy to implement suggestions!” — Kim