Managing the police image – a then add now account (1997-2020)
The allegation of assault levelled against the Central Response Unit (CRU) of the RSIPF, which was published in the Island Sun newspaper on 15 June 2020, was quickly investigated by the Acting Commissioner, as I had expected, and refuted in a police statement.
In an earlier comment I wrote about the allegation, I set out how the police must carry out their multifarious responsibilities and duties in accordance with a Code of Conduct and regulated by the Police Act and its subsidiary regulations to be seen as efficient, fair, competent and professional.
Since my time in office, now over 20 yrs ago, I have witnessed the police service move towards an utilisation of what I perceive to be commercial marketing practices to promote the desired police image.
An effective Police Public Relations Unit, together with a Police Media arm, is now very evident and supported by seconded police personnel from outside the Solomon Islands.
In my time I thought it vital to do what the RSIPF has today in terms of image management and effective media relations.
The contrast to what it is today and what it was in 1997 could not be more different and I would like to share with your readers what I wrote in my book, ‘Policing a Clash of Cultures’ which will illustrate the differences.
The Media Relations Consideration.
“Something of a ‘first’ for police – media relations in the Solomon Islands – deciding to make forming a Police Public Relations Office (PPRO) a priority.
“The relationship between the police and the public is a tricky one –yet the objectives are the same – to inform the populace of events in an unbiased manner.
“The media is in the business of selling news and the police are in the business of protecting the public who get some of their knowledge about events which concern them, by reading the news. Reports are not interesting reading –sensationalism is interesting reading. Therefore the media do tend to play with words.
“In 1997/98 certain members of the international news media seemed to have their own agenda and produced false and misleading stories – stories indeed! Frankly, the local media were much more honest in my opinion.
“I defined my position to local media representatives by telling them that my broad aims were to assist in providing information on police policies and procedures, in order to promote good public relations with all sections of the community.
“I explained that unnecessary secrecy about police work could be damaging and that the police must display oppresses and frankness in their dealings with the press. I also added that I considered the admission of a mistake could often evoke sympathetic understanding, but any defensive evasion could only heighten suspicion.
“I further explained that it was my intention to eventually, have trained police officers handle press enquiries and to issue releases. However, our situation, as they well knew, would make physical progress in this area somewhat slow.
“While one had the determination to see a PPRO eventuate, one was handicapped from the start by not having even the basic equipment to get the project off the ground.
“One felt it important to make a start and here I began issuing regular press releases which I typed out myself on an old portable typewriter I bought.
“Finally, a computer was acquired, office equipment repaired, such as the copying machine, fax and printer. One was now able to work more effectively and efficiently.
“It was always my desire to ensure the PPRO fulfilled the aims and objectives of police policy, including guidance to police officers, but also to ensure the public would see that our ‘image’ was backed up, acted out and enhanced by the workforce.
“It was regrettable to me that by informing the public of what was happening in the police, I was said to be attention grabbing. One wonders why people failed to see the wider picture, or were they somewhat perturbed by this new openness?”