– Anne Buchanan
Last month, the Philadelphia Chapter of PRSA bestowed its Integrity Award on Lieutenant John Stanford, Public Information Officer for the Philadelphia Police Department. The award annually recognizes an individual or team whose efforts mirror the core value of PRSA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Standards, including advocacy, honesty, loyalty and transparency.
I had the pleasure of meeting Lt. Stanford at the ceremony. He kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about what it’s like serving as the PR representative and public face of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Q. What is the role of the Public Information Officer of the Philadelphia Police Department? What’s a typical day like for you?
My job is to facilitate the sharing of information to all media outlets as well as the general public.
A typical day starts with a meeting with the executive command staff of the department, discussing previous day and overnight incidents and events. I then have a briefing with my staff, including our social media guru, to discuss the day ahead of us.
Throughout the day, I will receive approximately 100 emails, speak with various media outlets, and address a multitude of issues in addition to responding to unforeseen incidents that may arise.
Q. You were a police officer before you moved into this role. How did you prepare to become the Public Information Officer?
I started my career with the PPD as a police officer, before being promoted to Sergeant and Lieutenant. My experience in various assignments throughout my career provided me with a variety of information and experience leading up to this position as the public information officer.
I had some experience in public speaking. I also worked as a public relations representative while in college at Penn State as a member of an organization called Legal Affairs. Upon stepping into this role, I participated in several training courses to enhance my development as a PIO. Those prior experiences certainly set a foundation for me to expand upon in this field.
Anne Buchanan with Lieutenant John Stanford at the 2016 Philadelphia PRSA Pepperpot Awards
Q. I imagine you deal regularly with the media in your role. What’s that like? What is the hardest situation you’ve ever faced?
Dealing with the media can be challenging at times. While they can definitely provide assistance in our daily operations, they can also be very challenging due to the need for speed without regard for accuracy. One of the toughest challenges is meeting the needs and wants of media who are competing with one another to report incidents quickly.
Real-life policing is not like television policing, where an entire investigation is wrapped up in 45 minutes. Getting some media to understand that concept can be very difficult; you spend a lot of time correcting misinformation or dispelling rumors or presumptive information.
The hardest situation I’ve experienced was responding to the death of Sgt. Robert Wilson III. I had the fortunate blessing of working in the same district and knowing him. His death was tough to experience.
Q. You have an active Twitter account. Do you do all your own tweeting? How has social media changed the way the Police Department communicates?
I have an active Twitter account (@PPDJohnStanford) from which I tweet myself. I will often attend events, take photos and tweet them, or tweet information about various incidents.
Social media has allowed us an opportunity to reach and connect with an additional audience whom we may have never connected with in the past. Social media certainly affords us the opportunity to get information out to more people much quicker than traditional means, and it allows us to be creative in doing so.
Q. Police officers see some of the worst of humanity. How do you keep a positive attitude?
In this profession, you certainly see your share of the worst of humanity. Most of the time, police officers are encountering people on their worst days – but it doesn’t necessarily mean the people are less than human.
You also see some of the best of humanity while performing this job. Some of it comes from people dressed in the same uniform that you are wearing. While keeping a positive attitude can be difficult at times, you have to remember why you selected this profession – to help others, one of the greatest components of humanity.
Humanity simply means treating people like the human beings they are, with compassion, dignity, and respect. It’s the way you want to be treated, and the way you want your family members treated, regardless of the incident or circumstances.
Being empathic with the mindset of a guardian but the heart of a warrior is key to this profession. Difficult at times, but definitely doable.
Q. At a time when many police departments have encountered much criticism, the Philadelphia Police Department, by contrast, enjoys a favorable reputation here in Philadelphia. To what do you attribute that?
We certainly receive our share of criticism, some of it warranted and some of it not, but either way, you have to take it for what it’s worth and keep pressing forward. If it’s legitimate criticism, then you must acknowledge it, assess it and make necessary corrections or adjustments.
We will never please everyone, nor will every situation be perfect. The goal must be to create standards that fall in line with the best practices of the industry and make decisions that are guided by integrity, that are fair and honest and meet the needs of communities throughout this city.
We have the support of many communities here in Philadelphia, and we greatly appreciate it. We will continue to strive for support from those individuals who don’t quite love us.
Q. What do you wish the public knew or better understood about the Police Department or police officers?
I wish the public knew and understood how truly difficult this job can be at times. This is one of those professions that a person will never really understand until you do it. Descriptions and explanations of the job, ride-a-longs, mock trainings, movies, books, television shows – they may give a slight idea of certain aspects of the job, but it’s still not the same.
There are many great things about this profession and many great people who suit up each day to fulfill their obligation in protecting and serving. While there are a small few who don’t belong in this profession, that same fact is true for every profession known to mankind. We can’t paint all with the same broad brush.
I often compare this profession to sports, particularly football. It’s easy to examine the results or outcome of a play or the game and determine what should have occurred. But unless you have played that sport, knowing what the training, preparation, and practice is like, as well as playing the game in real time speed, then you really never understand what it’s like to be a player on the field during game-time. And at the end of the day those players – our cops – are human; they feel, breathe, bleed, cry, live and die just like everyone else.
I long for the day that we as society stop seeing things from a police perspective versus a civilian perspective, black versus white, male versus female, rich versus poor, and start seeing things from a human perspective. That’s the day we become one as a society, and that’s what I want all people to know and understand.