10 Tips for Building Strong Post-Event Press Releases

July 31, 2020

After an officer-involved shooting or other major police event, one of the most critical elements of departmental response is a press release from the agency. Some departments have the budget and manpower to assign specially trained personnel to handle this kind of thing exclusively. However, given the fact that the majority of agencies are small, it’s more likely that’s not the case.

It’s important for key players in your agency who may be assigned to handle media and community inquiries or be involved in the drafting and review process to understand what’s involved. You might be that person…or after an event, you might become that person.

In his excellent book, Blue News, attorney, trainer and law enforcement media consultant Lance LoRusso shares expert advice that can help you and your agency.

Press releases must be direct, pithy, grammatically correct, and well written, he points out. “Well-written press releases take three things: a list of facts, more than one person to review and edit the draft, and time,” he says. “The last ingredient is nonnegotiable. No one can write their best work in the first draft. No one can edit their own work to reach a professional quality.” Effectively self-editing under intense time and accuracy pressure, LoRusso points out,  is virtually impossible.

“This is usually not a problem in the law enforcement agency because press releases typically must be drafted, reviewed by the chain of command, reviewed by the department’s legal advisor or government attorney, and in some cases reviewed by the prosecutor’s office,” he says.

Given the gravity of these releases and the fact that they will be “in the public realm forever,” here are 10 recommendations LoRusso shares to make sure they’re well-crafted, on target and effective:

1. Start the process early.

2. Determine who must approve the press release and put them on notice that it is coming.

3. Consider a meeting of the involved parties and get their input before the first draft is started.

4. Give clear deadlines as to when the press release must be edited and returned to the person responsible for releasing it.

5. Designate the task of circulating and editing the draft press release to one person.

6. Use the “track changes” feature in Word or some other method to have a record of who added or deleted information from the draft press release.

7. Remember that your drafts are likely subject to release as public records. Therefore, you may choose to meet in person to review drafts.

8. Verify every fact in the press release and be prepared to “show your work” in the event of a challenge or follow-up interview.

9. Explain any legalese or law enforcement jargon and provide references to statutes and case law when possible. Consider directing readers to your agency website, blogs, or specific statutes to avoid making the press release too long or cumbersome.

10. Provide references to sources outside the law enforcement agency when appropriate, such as case numbers and files in a clerk’s office, reports of other law enforcement agencies, or public documents such as property records or warrants.

“Every press release should inform journalists and the public,” says LoRusso. “It should also build credibility for the law enforcement agency. Be honest, be objective when necessary, and admit when information is not available, cannot be released, or will be released at a later time.”

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