Updated: Sep 8, 2020
A veteran & new dad is detained by cops for a crime he didn’t commit, and goes live on Facebook. It doesn't end the way you think it does. It's a strange time we live in where a video of a young man being detained can turn into a positive and even heartwarming moment.
Joseph Griffin, a veteran, registered nurse and father to a newborn was out for a jog when he was approached by deputies from the Volusia County Sheriff's Office in Deltona, Florida. They inform him that he matches a description of a burglary suspect (down to the clothes and facial hair) and detain him as he livestreams the encounter to Facebook. What happens next is a lesson to all of us in compassion, professionalism and mutual respect. The tense yet respectful interaction ends with a sincere job offer from the Sheriff, and an invitation to participate in future training.
It can also teach us an incredible lesson on the power of information to turn a negative into a positive. By shedding light on this situation and being forthcoming and understanding, Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood and his PIO Andrew Gant “accidentally” provided a master class in social media and crisis management. What did we learn?
1. Awareness: perhaps the most important thing during a crisis is a quick reaction. In this case, the Volusia Sheriff PIO became aware of the video posted by Mr. Griffin by routinely monitoring social media to see what the community is interested in. Keeping your ear to the ground and learning about the “watercooler” chatter in your jurisdiction will allow you to get ahead of on any relevant incidents.
2. Transparency: Following some media traction, Volusia Sheriff's Office decided to release all 18 minutes of the body camera footage on their social media accounts. They trusted their audience to see the good and the bad, and judge for themselves. Releasing the footage is important for public trust, as is posting it to your own page as opposed to relying on the media to request it and then edit accordingly. The Sheriff was clear in his statement that he has nothing to hide, and that people are welcome to watch and make up their own mind. In other words, he stood behind his deputies while also allowing the public to draw their own conclusions.
3. Explanation: Though information is not always what sways public opinion, it’s crucial that agencies use these moments as an opportunity to explain the behavior of the police, which can seem questionable to the uninformed public. The Deputy took the time to explain the situation to Mr. Griffin, and the Sheriff reiterated it to the public in the Facebook post. Detaining someone is never pleasant, and more often than not descriptions are flawed, but it is our responsibility as public safety agencies to help people understand this aspect of police work.
4. Authenticity: I often speak of the “bull$hit filter” which is the ability of people on social media to collectively sense when something is manipulative or opportunistic. It’s what happens when your message comes off as insincere, and though it’s tough to explain, you know it when you see it. In this case the tone of the messaging is authentic and respectful, and doesn’t reek of self-promotion. There is a genuine attempt to explain what happened and to turn a negative encounter into a positive learning moment, as opposed to just using it to pat yourself on the back.