Why Missouri law enforcement agencies should avoid 'cop jargon' on social media
Law enforcement agencies must be careful when they use social media. The public depends on the information from law enforcement to stay safe in violent situations such as active shooters, mass shootings and kidnappings.
Sarah Boyd, public relations manager for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, spent 14 years as a public relations specialist for the Kansas City Police Department. She says social media has benefits but it also creates challenges.
"We see now that you have to get information out almost immediately, because in the absence of that information from official sources, you'll get it from unofficial sources," Boyd said. "This results in information not being it reliable, or accurate."
Boyd said public information officers have a lot to process in a short time. For an example, if someone is in an area with an active shooter, Boyd has to decide whether the information she puts out will make the public safer or endanger people, and whether the information could affect the investigation.
Boyd said public information officers must be careful with language — people can get confused with "cop jargon," she said, but her former career in journalism helps her approach her job from a non-cop perspective.
"Police often think very tactically. They think about what is happening right in front of them because they have to, and they have to manage situations," Boyd said. "I can take a 10,000-foot view of how this information is going to be perceived if we use this language. What are people going to think about that? But ultimately, how can we make people feel safe right now."
Another component of a public information officer's job is to improve trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Since the 2020 killing of George Floyd, Boyd said, regaining the community's trust has been the most difficult challenge of her career.
- Sarah Boyd, public relations manager for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office