Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why Thames Valley Police should identify the 'Babies on the Beat'

If you are spending enough time online to find this blog then you cannot have failed to notice the media uproar over the recruitment by Thames Valley Police of two 16-year-olds as Police Community Support Officers.

A legitimate debate over whether fresh faced youngsters should be pounding the beat (Babies on the Beat was how the Daily Mail described it.) has been hijacked by the media frenzy to try and discover the names and to secure photographs of these two teenagers in the face of stubborn refusal to co-operate by Thames Valley Police.

Hands up those spent a little more time in education than the new recruits who can see why this particular media strategy is doomed to fail? Anyone? Oh everyone!

I should declare more interest than some at this point and as a former police press officer - actually a former Thames Valley Police press officer - I do feel more than a little entitled to comment on this story. Through Morgan PR I often advise people on what they should or should not tell the media and once upon a time such sage advice was issued within Thames Valley Police.

Oh how differently I would have played this one!

Even without medialand being gripped by the Season of Silly this was always going to be a page one story and one that an approach should have been worked out long before the newspapers caught the scent of the teenagers being recruited. Perhaps getting away with 17-year-olds at Oxford tempted them into complacency? The Oxford Mail were swiftly upon that one!

I would suggest what they should have done from the moment this story emerged is released the (preferably pre-prepared as someone surely spotted this monster coming over the hill) statement and photos of the young Police Community Support Officers. No need to actually put them on parade, but just give the media something to publish to ease the pressure demanding this information, which is going to emerge sooner or later - either pitifully late from the police themselves, or merrily leaked by one of the multitude that must know - or perhaps the media might just find out for themselves. Neighbours must know, the new recruit's friends, their old school - all must be realising the bounty that the names are worth?

And unless released by Thames Valley Police they will lose what little control they can retain on this story and let's not forget they are making a spirited, if limited defence of their position. So whilst senior staff stroll out to defend the position that Thames Valley Police finds itself in, no press release is published - presumably in the hope some media might not pick up the story through this conventional route. Let's hope they don't read the papers then.

Oh and if you know who they are and want to pay off your holiday... do get in touch!

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