PIO Support Program: Webinar Notes

Webinar Focus (0:19)

  • Innovative PIO Support Program of the Aurora, Colorado Police Department

    • Why and how the program was created
    • How to implement it in your own department



Resource Speakers (00:39)

  • Sergeant Cassidee Carlson

    • Started at the Aurora Police Department in 2003 as the Public Information Officer from 2010 to 2014
    • Handled various challenging situations as:

      • Officer-involved shooting
      • Police misconduct
      • Kidnappings
      • Officer arrests
      • Homicides
      • Century 16 Theatre Shooting in Aurora Colorado
    • Recently assigned to the Major Investigations Unit for Internet Crimes Against Children.
    • Trained in media relations, leadership, victim assistance, police tactics, homeland security, and peer support.
    • A graduate of the 9-month Leadership Aurora Program.
    • Graduated from the University of Central Missouri, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice.
    • Earned Master’s Degree in Non-Profit Management from the Regis University, Denver.
    • Taught Law Enforcement Operations at the Community College of Aurora.


In the Press (04:03)

  • National Information Officers Association (NIOA) Newsletter
  • Feature article highlighting the PIO programs in mass tragedies


Timeline of Events (04:51)

  • In the Press

    • National Information Officers Association (NIOA) Newsletter
    • Feature article highlighting the PIO programs in mass tragedies
  • Brief timeline of the Shooting

    • The shooting occurred on Friday, July 20 at 0039 hours
    • Reunification is happening throughout the night
    • Trying to determine victim count and get victims that were in hospitals identified (Eleven out of the twelve deceased victims were still in the theater)
    • Friday, during the day, addressing media and getting out pertinent information
    • Still a very active crime scene
  • What the PIO was working on

    • Messaging
    • Reunification
    • Coordination and collaboration

      • FBI
      • Local government/leaders
      • Other/neighboring agencies/resources
      • Hospitals
      • Community
      • Other PIOs volunteered to help
    • Arrest
    • Victim identification

      • Slow and thorough process
      • Names of the deceased starting to get out

        • Friends who were with the deceased at the movies
        • Facebook posts/pages
    • Addressing and monitoring the media constantly
    • Meeting with the families of missing and victims

      • Day 1, Friday, 16:00
      • Victim Advocates (Vas) assigned to each family
      • Recovery of bodies
      • Death notifications
    • Dealing with the suspect’s residence which was booby-trapped with explosives

      • Day 2, Saturday
      • Waited for the bomb squad and national assets to deal with the situation


Family PIO Liaison Program (12:22)

  • Conceptualization

    • In a conversation with the Communications Director, they established that it is highly important to assist the victims’ families – something learned from the Columbine incident.
    • Discussed the idea of assigning a PIO to each family with my chain of command, Homicide Sergeant, Victim Advocate supervisor, and DA’s office.

      • Explained that this program was established to provide a buffer to the media for the grieving families.
      • It would be implemented by assigning a professional PIO (from neighboring agencies) to each family that chose to participate, to offer their expertise in dealing with the media.
    • Emergency Services Public Information Officers of Colorado (ESPIOC)

      • An organization of PIOs

        • Holds meetings and assemblies
        • Collaborates and brainstorms together
      • Reached out to ESPIOC to gather more PIO volunteers
  • Planning

    • Requested volunteers Saturday afternoon to attend a meeting Sunday morning at 8:00 AM
    • Initial Meeting, Day 3, Sunday

      • VA (already assigned to families), PIOs, and District Attorney present as well.
      • Discussed the purpose of the program.
      • Not family spokespeople
      • Provide a media contact to give family space to grieve.
      • Assist families with dealing with media however they wish
      • Not family spokesperson, but to provide media contact and allow the family to grieve
  • Logistics

    • Matched up PIOs with families (already assigned a victim advocate).
    • Set up Gmail accounts and Google Voice Numbers for each family.
    • Sent out assignments to VA and PIOs and told them to reach out to one another to introduce.
    • Placed full trust on the PIOs and VAs to take care and take charge of the families and ensure there wouldn't be any screw-ups in the investigation
  • Implementation

    • The families were told about the program by victim advocates and told it was COMPLETELY OPTIONAL.
    • Families met the PIOs when they returned from meeting with President Obama around 5 p.m. Sunday and prior to the vigil.
    • Confirmed which families wanted to participate then sent out the email to media establishing:

      • PIO is the first (and only) point of contact when trying to arrange interviews
      • Avoid asking questions about the facts of the criminal case
      • Media coverage of the memorial services
      • Managing expectations of the media when it comes to contact with the family
      • The email addresses of the family's PIOs
    • Use of Gmail email

      • Provide a cloak of cover for PIOs
      • Also can transfer easily to other PIOs
      • Easily shut down
      • Utilize daily out of office responses – makes it easier

        • Out of Office responses utilized to provide updated pertinent information without having to manually reply to each email.
    • PIO’s Role

      • BUFFER so families can grieve
      • PIOs not meant to be seen on TV, papers, etc.
      • Honored whatever the family’s media wishes were
      • PIO’s assisted in coordinating interviews with media, released family statements and pictures
      • Archive media for family and share with them when they are ready.
      • Simply sharing knowledge – educate families about media
      • Helpful for funerals/memorials media coverage
      • PIOs were removed from case so kept lines clear

        • Not connected to the case at all
      • Fundraising for victims

        • Centralized fundraising
      • Share feelings of the family not facts of the case


Success (34:59)

  • Program was huge success
  • Positive feedback from families
  • Media was very receptive to the program – they don't like contacting grieving families either
  • Alleviated lead agencies from calls about victims

    • Allowed them to deal with the actual case
    • Provided one point of contact to refer


Program Considerations (36:46)

  • When to end?

    • Case by case
  • Who to support? Varying family situations
  • Picking the right PIO

    • Big consideration
    • Trying to protect the families
    • Must be trustworthy and competent
  • Perhaps have PIOs identified in area before event

    • A list of potential volunteers to tap if an event occurs
  • Perhaps have Victim Advocate training for PIO

    • Include in the training:

      • Appropriate boundaries
      • Vicarious trauma
      • Relationship with families
  • Have someone else set up, not lead agency PIO
  • When decide to terminate close email and Google Voice

    • Perhaps leave out of office that the account has been closed
  • After the funeral, everything died down


How can you prepare now (41:41)

  • Have people identified beforehand that can step into this role?
  • Should be from outside the lead agency. This also means they will not have knowledge of the case. This ensures they will better serve the purpose of the program and not share confidential information about the case.

    • People outside your agency
    • People not involved in the case
    • People who can protect the case
  • Have training prior to include victim advocacy issues, define parameters of the program, etc.
  • Share the idea with stakeholders; command staff, District Attorneys, Victim Advocates, Investigators to ensure they are onboard prior to an event.
  • Develop MOU or SOPs
Additional Resources
7 months ago
Developing a PIO Support Program for Families During Mass Casualty Events
The recent shooting in Kentucky was the 11th of the year, and the worst so far. This statistic is […]
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