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MEDIA BOOT CAMP


February 28, 2013
By Nancy Colagiacomo

One week of media training aimed at police spokespersons seemed like a great idea. After briefly reading through the course description I opted to go – after all, how difficult could it be? The six day training week was set to start early Sunday morning at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, roughly 45 km south of Montreal.

Public relations officers from the four corners of the province arrived eager to learn new skills and tools to better handle a media storm. Nervousness and excitement resonated on our faces as we shuffled to our quarters. We had been instructed the previous week to complete four assignments and bring along our usual working gear.

After the welcome session we were divided into groups of four – our public relations team for the week. The class – 14 police officers, one firefighter and one paramedic – would undergo an intense and compressed training session. The key to getting through it would be teamwork.

Classes ran from 7 am to 8 pm, with a 45 minute lunch and team work assignments afterwards. The great idea seemed less fantastic two days into the demanding schedule.

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The RCU, (Regroupement des communicateurs d’Urgence), formerly known as the SRPQ – which dispensed the training – was founded in 1992 by police media relations officers who understood the power of the media as a tool for emergency organizations. These highly trained and dedicated individuals recognized the need for high quality standards and the necessity of sharing their experience and skills.

Instruction includes information on different communication methods, the photo as a means of communication and media monitoring. An ethical view and the legal issues surrounding disclosure of certain information is also discussed in detail throughout the week by specialists in the field.

Several tools are used to assist the learning process, including simulations of interviews with journalists, in class discussions and videos. During our stopover at the press rooms at the Montreal Police and Quebec Provincial Police headquarters students engaged in a live press conference, complete with cameras and microphones.

Guided visits to television studios such as news channels TVA, the CBC and ADR Avis de recherché (its programming is entirely devoted to prevention and public safety) were well received; it allowed everyone an opportunity to see behind the scenes.

“Today’s officer has to be aware of a new challenge, the speed at which information travels,” said Ian Lafreniare, one of the RCU founders. “Means such as twitter, YouTube and Facebook only reinforce the need for police organizations to get accurate information out fast. Often the social media is how police spokespersons become aware of an incident in their jurisdiction in the first place.”

Ninety two per cent of a survey of 600 law enforcement agencies in 48 states used social media, a 2012 IACP study found. More than half those that didn’t were considering it in the near future.

“A bad news story will play out all day on more media sources today than just your local paper; a major challenge facing departments, thus creating the need to better prepare media officers to respond professionally and accurately,” said media relations trainer Michel Soutiere.

“If we do not take our place up front during a crisis someone else will do it for us. We need to get our message across first hand. Relations can get tense sometimes between police and reporters. What we are teaching here is how to handle the situation by providing tools for the spokespersons upfront on camera.”

Made up of 120 active members, including police officers, fire fighters, paramedics and highway controllers, the RCU is a non profit organisation. Its mission is to pass on knowledge and experience to media relations officers and spokespersons across the province, helping them develop into quality communicators.

The RCU created the TUM (teleavertisseur d’urgence mediatique), an emergency paging system which allows police to send out all alerts bulletins and simultaneously contact the media with short messages when an event is taking place (something like a tweet).

Law enforcement agencies no longer have a choice about dealing with the media; it’s now a matter of how well they can do it. We acquired valuable knowledge, expertise and know how to do just that during the somewhat grueling boot camp week.

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For more on the RCU contact info@lasrpq.org, Ian.Lafreniere@spvm or msoutiere@videotron.ca .