HCSO Public Relations Office
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Public Relations Office is tasked with promoting the daily operations and activities of the men and women of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. Formally known in prior years as the Public Information Office, the Public Relations Office’s primary objective is to work directly with the Sheriff and the individual divisions to accurately disseminate information relating to the operation and activities of the HCSO to the media and public in a professional and courteous manner. All information released to the public must be vetted and distributed in a way that will inform, without jeopardizing, the integrity of the HCSO, its employees, or any ongoing investigation.
Each day, Public Relations Office staff interact with the public in a variety of ways, from serving as media liaisons with the local press and broadcast media, to organizing press conferences and press statements, to creating meaningful partnerships with local businesses and community stakeholders.
The Public Relations Office is also responsible for marketing the HCSO and its employees both internally and externally. This includes providing positive information about the HCSO to the media and citizen groups, supporting public safety related programs and initiatives, managing the release of information regarding critical incidents, working with local elected officials and community stakeholders, and managing the agency’s social media platforms.
Internally, Public Relations Office personnel serve as advisors to the Sheriff and Command Staff on a variety of areas including message control and crisis communications. In addition, Public Relations Office personnel assist with special projects, provide employee communications training, issue internal communications to employees, draft speeches, photographically document HCSO activities, assist with employment and recruitment fairs, and participate in community events like the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Service, Hamilton County Fair, and Community Shred-It Days. Each year, the Public Relations Office issues over 100 internal communications in an effort to keep personnel up-to-date on issues and events that affect the agency as a whole.
The Public Relations Office issues approximately 200 press releases and fields over 800 media requests annually, which directly results in over 1,000 media stories and newspaper articles each year.
History of Public Information
Historically, when members of the media requested information pertaining to the operation of a law enforcement agency, the sheriff, police chief, or a high ranking official from within the agency would be tasked with offering information to the media and the community. This reactionary model worked well for the 19th and 20th century. Even within the HCSO’s 200-year history, this was typically the most viable and effective way to communicate with the media.
With the advent of the internet, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, the late 20th century and 21st century have proven to be challenging for law enforcement agencies. Across the nation, law enforcement agencies have had to reconsider how they communicate not only with their local media, but the citizens they serve.
Long gone are the days where law enforcement agencies could remain solely reactionary when critical incidents occur. Local news reporters can now cover breaking news live, from the scene, 24 hours a day. This real-time use of modern technology to communicate has required law enforcement agencies to adapt and use social media platforms as a tool to communicate on a daily basis. Now, thanks to social media, easy access to cameras, and video software, law enforcement agencies are creating their own news, going straight to the public they serve, and challenging the historic status quo.
Unlike in previous generations where the news was only reported three times a day by local stations, by utilizing social media like Facebook and Twitter, Public Relations Office personnel are able to reach a broader audience more efficiently and, most importantly, control their own message.
Other than technological advances in media and news, one of the main reasons the HCSO instituted a Public Relations Office was to ensure a unified voice in the delivery of information about critical incidents, investigations, and the daily operations of HCSO. During the last four decades, the HCSO has been involved in several notable investigations that have resulted in a tremendous amount of local, state, and national media attention. Each of these cases resulted in the need to have one person designated to speak in order to keep the message consistent and controlled.
The importance of remaining transparent and being proactive remains at the forefront of the Public Relations Office’s mission. The HCSO Public Relations Office is led by Matt Lea, who serves as the Public Relations Manager and Brad Hartman who serves as the public information officer.