May 22, 2020


PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at


For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, we asked public information officers to tell us how their communications with the public, and with their agency employees, have changed because of the pandemic.


Key Takeaways

-- The pandemic has forced the news media to operate differently. Fewer reporters and camera crews are being sent to crime scenes or news conferences. This creates opportunities for agencies to shape stories by collecting and disseminating video and audio footage.

-- Many police agencies are adopting a “social media first” strategy. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, department blogs, and other social media platforms are effective for communicating directly with the public. In addition, many reporters pick up stories directly from police and sheriffs’ departments’ social media channels.

-- Now is a good time for generating “good news” stories. With so many news stories focused on grim COVID-19 news, media personnel and the community are hungry for positive stories not related to the pandemic. Stories about the heroic or community-minded actions by police officers can fill that void, but the stories must be authentic.

-- Technology is providing additional opportunities to reach the news media and the community. Chiefs, sheriffs, and other police leaders are using Zoom and other video platforms to conduct community town halls, media briefings, and one-on-one interviews with reporters.

-- With newsrooms working remotely and largely focused on COVID-19, some police PIOs are finding additional time to focus on internal communications. Messages often focus on changes in policies, safety precautions, and other pertinent information, and chiefs and sheriffs are delivering those messages to their personnel.

-- Getting the chief or sheriff out in front of the media and community can offer reassurance. Law enforcement agencies are working to send the message that the police are still out in the community answering calls, taking reports, and working to prevent crime. Having the chief or sheriff deliver that message can increase the impact.


Anthony Guglielmi, Director of Public Affairs, Fairfax County Police Department:

Reporters Are Less Interested in Attending Events

My job here in Fairfax is probably 60% internal communications and 40% external communications, and that’s because the media in greater Washington, DC have changed how they’re covering things. When I came to Fairfax [from the Chicago Police Department] in April, one of the first things I did was have a virtual meeting with the DC press corps to introduce myself. They told me that, in light of COVID, they’re not covering things the same way, because they also are teleworking.

For a lot of the routine police activities they would normally cover, I’ve noticed they’re sending a helicopter over scenes to get B-roll, then asking us for information. And when they are covering events like press conferences, they’re using pool reporters and pool cameras, then sharing the material among stations. Print reporters seem to like Zoom and Microsoft Teams video chats.

In Chicago we had field-based PIOs on two shifts per day who would go out and look for positive stories happening in the city and the department. We’re going to build that here in Fairfax County as well. The chief has stressed the importance of social distancing, and we’re doing everything we can to limit officers’ physical interaction with the public as much as possible. But the officers are still doing great things, and the chief wants to find a way to profile it.

Chuck Wexler: Do you change your communication strategy because everyone is shut in their houses?

Anthony Guglielmi: Overall, I think communication has shifted from traditional television to social media and mobile devices. But with many people inside their homes all day, I’m willing to bet that TVs are on in the background.

Fairfax County puts all our public safety and crime information on a public-facing blog. It’s a direct-to-consumer approach to delivering information, and the media subscribes to the blog too. The vast majority of subscribers have an alert, so whenever the police department posts something, they get an email or text message.

So our approach is to choose “all of the above.” We have a social media team of two people, and we’re also doing traditional media relations to make sure that what we push out socially goes to mainstream media as well. 


Lt. Christopher Cook, Arlington, TX Police Department:

People Want to Hear Positive Stories That Aren’t About COVID-19

We’ve noticed that people are really longing for positive stories that are not COVID-19 related. I’ve noticed that when we use our social media accounts to highlight good police work, it does phenomenally well on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The traditional media isn’t covering traditional crime stories unless they have a COVID-19 component. You’ll see some one-off stories here and there, but for the most part, they just don’t have the staff or resources to cover those right now. That presents a good opportunity for PIOs to shop positive stories. For example, on social media we highlighted a story about a seven-year-old who notified his dad when his little sister swallowed a battery, then they brought her to the hospital and she was okay. It played on all the local affiliates in our media market. It has nothing to do with COVID, but I think it does well because people are optimistically hoping that we’re going to get through this. 

We have to be careful that, as a law enforcement agency, we stay in our lane. Most of the pandemic information here has been managed by fire departments, public health, or hospitals. We’re certainly posting support for the community and frontline heroes. But we have to make sure the correct agencies are putting out health information, and we’re not overstepping our boundaries.

Through out this pandemic, when we’ve highlighted what’s going on in the community, we’ve made sure that has come through our chief’s account and was retweeted by our departmental accounts. When you put your leaders out front, people feel reassured both internally and externally.


Josh Rubenstein, Public Information Director, Los Angeles Police Department:

Our Chief Does “Ask Me Anything” Sessions on Facebook

We’re very accessible. We normally do a large in-person media briefing every week. Now that we can’t do that, we’re accepting all the one-on-one interviews. We figured the only way we’re going to be able to connect with the news stations is to hold those one-on-ones. And those are easier on us when they’re virtual, because you don’t have to travel with the chief out to the TV stations. It’s direct access to the chief, which is really important right now. There hasn’t been much interest in talking to anyone in the department other than the chief of police.

We also did some AMAs (“ask me anything”) with the chief live on our Facebook page. Residents could ask the chief questions directly. 


We’re using social media outlets, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, to do direct communication with our residents. They ask us questions, and we reply back with answers or resources. It’s another way to connect.

We’ve held community forums where the chief would do a Zoom call with special stakeholder groups. We’re doing that one or more times per week.

We also put together a series of live events on Facebook for school-aged children who are stuck inside all day. The first was a virtual school assembly, with presentations on safety and stranger danger. The next week our training division did physical fitness. The we did a live tour of our mounted unit and met some of the horses.

We also have a pretty successful podcast, where we talk to people and get stories about having to work in this era.


Bryan Beyer, Director of Public Affairs, Seminole County, FL Sheriff’s Office:

Our Facebook Account Is More Popular Since COVID Began

I have a PIO who is a 25-year journalist and produces stories for us. We tell people what’s going on at the agency, because they want to know that everything is okay. We tell them that we’re still going to respond to their call for service, but it may look different. We may show up wearing a mask, or ask you to step outside. And we may call you to take a report over the phone. 

I’m looking at our Facebook Insights data from the first month of this pandemic, and our engagement and page “likes” were up significantly. We did that by sharing information that was relevant to our citizens, letting them know what we’d be doing, and not sharing anything that would add stress or anxiety unless absolutely necessary.

We don’t have a lot of homicides and violent crime, so we’ve been able to share positive stories. We’ve also been able to share stories about what’s going on in the agency, and our concerns about things like child abuse and domestic violence.


Howard Ludwig, Public Relations Coordinator, Chicago Police Department:

We’ve Received Inquiries from Amazon Prime Video

We’ve relied a lot on pool cameras. Normally we would get five or six cameras shoulder-to-shoulder for an announcement. Now there’s one and they all share the same footage.

We’re also finding new ways to connect with the community when you can’t shake hands or give high fives. The superintendent had the idea to do some NBA 2K tournaments on Xbox with kids from the neighborhood, as a way to reach out to them. We’re setting that up now.

We also did an internal video with a deputy chief who found out he had COVID the same day he attended the funeral of one of our officers who died of the virus. He opened up about going through that. We put that video out internally and gave a one-on-one interview to one of our local news stations. One of our officers who had COVID-19 saw the video, reached out to news affairs, and now we’re working with him to help him donate his plasma. We’ll do external communications about that, to show how CPD is helping others in the community.

In a shift in the media market, the person who first contacted us looking for these stories was a producer with Amazon Prime Video. That was the first time we’ve worked with them, but I doubt it will be the last. I anticipate we’ll be providing more material to those streaming networks in the future.


Sgt. Thelma Vega, Chicago Police Department:

We’ve Had 500 COVID Cases, So We’re Doing Internal Messaging about Mental Health

On the internal side, we have over 500 COVID cases, so we’ve been messaging about the mental health element of COVID. We’ve been putting out a lot of videos. We brought doctors from Rush University in to team up with our peer support groups and chaplain unit to go out into the districts and answer questions.

The new superintendent has been visiting districts and places like businesses and community groups that have donated equipment to the department.


Sgt. John Boyle, Boston Police Department:

We Balance Hard News with “Feel-Good” Stories

I’m finding the media is craving feel-good stories; our social media accounts blow up whenever we post them.  But we continue to balance the stories about gun arrests and violent crime, and not just put out happy stories. We use tributes to nurses, doctors, and all the frontline medical heroes, and both the traditional media and social media are eating it up.

Wexler: What’s the most effective way to reach the public in Boston?

Sergeant Boyle: We use all our social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and our BPD News blog. We have a lot of news stations with high viewership, and I think a lot of people are tuning into the news a lot more right now. We also utilize the newspapers. The Globe picks up on all our stories, mostly from BPD News. I also record any of the police commissioner’s public statements on the street and send them to the papers. A lot of the print reporters don’t want to come out on the street right now, so we provide them the sound bite immediately.



The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.

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