By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
The report unveiled yesterday hit Chicago and the Chicago Police Department with the virtual force of a sledgehammer to the collective forehead of the city and those changed with maintaining law and order.
Findings from two federal agencies revealed a police department “broken by systems that have allowed CPD officers who violate the law to escape accountability.” And, there’s more: Some police, according to the report, have violated civil rights and used excessive force against blacks and Latinos. Plus, the department’s training program doesn’t properly prepare officers for the job.
The title of the report, “Investigation of the Chicago Police Department,” is somewhat innocuous. Yet, the conclusions made by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Office are incredibly powerful and poignant, and will have lasting ramifications.
In short, the reputation of the Chicago Police Department — and in turn the reputation of the City of Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — has been battered at a time when the city is facing a crisis in neighborhoods plagued by a record homicide rate and incessant violence that appears to show no signs of abating.
What to do?
I’ll offer this general advice from a public relations perspective: Open, honest disclosure of how the Department will address the charges identified in the federal report is needed, and it’s needed right now.
Trying to put a “spin” (and I cringe when this term is used) or other efforts to diffuse this situation is foolhardy and counterproductive.
CPD is now facing a sustained crisis, meaning the ramifications from the federal report can last for years. Without question, gaining the trust and respect of the people of Chicago will take a long time and will be full of challenges.
A clear road map of how the Department will move forward is the best first step it can take to rebuild that trust and respect.