Representatives from a number of Aiken County law enforcement agencies sat down with nearly a dozen news media organizations on Thursday for a helping of good food, as well as good feedback and collaboration.
The public information officer and media luncheon, put on by the Aiken Department of Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, featured representatives from both agencies as well as the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, Aiken County Coroner’s Office and the S.C. Highway Patrol. The officers spoke to members of print, broadcast and Internet media in the Aiken-Augusta area, who in turn got the chance to ask questions and discuss ways of providing and obtaining information to help establish a more effective relationship between law enforcement and the media.
“We were able to share our information about how we operate,” said Capt. Eric Abdullah of the Sheriff’s Office. “It’s always good to bring you all together so we can update the media on any changes.”
The event has been held annually for at least 10 years, according to Lt. Jake Mahoney of Aiken Public Safety. Additionally, it helps police agencies meet an accreditation standard for the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which said local law enforcement must provide media outlets with copies of their public information policy, continue seeking input from media organizations regarding public information functions and establish an effective working relationship with the organizations.
“Establishing an interpersonal relationship as opposed to just a voice on the phone or communication through email helps establish our credibility as public information officers,” Mahoney said. “We let you know who we are, and you get to know us a little bit more. It also helps us to recognize the folks we’re dealing with – especially at 2 o’clock in the morning. If I don’t know who you are, and I see you walking around my crime scene or on the scene of my structure fire, my first inclination is to remove you from that location.”
This is the first year a public affairs officer from the Aiken County Public School District was present for the event.
“It better enhances our ability to share information with the parents, with those that are concerned,” Mahoney said.
It also gives the chance for the various law enforcement spokespersons to collaborate and see what works and what doesn’t with regard to public information.
“Very few large-scale incidents that occur in Aiken County will be handled independently,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us as public affairs officers to interact with our peers at these other agencies and see how they work.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.