A quick search of Google News reveals the images of the South Yorkshire police officer hitting a young woman have, unsurprisingly, been picked up by media around the world.
This is a classic modern crisis where a local incident can become global news. And, as with the Motorcycle News journalist (see earlier blog post), the press office at South Yorkshire police doesn’t appear to be handling it well.
The Yorkshire Post quotes a press statement: “We are satisfied with the way this incident was handled and happy with the conduct of the officer, but we will investigate the circumstances of the complaint.”
After the CCTV footage received wider coverage yesterday, the paper reports a slight change in tone: “The force is outraged at the nature of the report itself, and the possible suggestion that this may be linked to any kind of racist incident. Until we have had further consideration of this, there will be absolutely no further comment.”
Looking on the South Yorkshire Police website there is no mention of this incident – indeed the focus is very “press agentry” with happy stories about “Your Safer Neighbourhood Team”.
From the outside, South Yorkshire police appears to be defensive in its press relations and possibly unable to provide strategic counsel on a better way of managing reputation. Police forces in the UK deal with some very difficult issues and many of their PR functions have demonstrated best practice in media and community relations. I hope South Yorkshire could learn from these more open and responsive PR colleagues – on present form, it needs to.