Consistent, authentic, and transparent communication key to building true trust with the MSU Police and Public Safety community
Communications will be our topic in this episode. We are joined by Inspector Chris Rozman, who is a public information officer and Dana Whyte, who is a new communications officer at MSU Police and Public Safety.
“We officially launched our community engagement unit,” says Lynch. “That means we have officers who are now assigned full-time to community engagement. So when they work, they spend time with our students in residence halls, with our students at the Union, with fraternities and sororities at their events, and with registered student organizations and others. Their areas of responsibility are mainly based on residential and school accommodation services and residence districts.
“There is a sergeant assigned to each district. We also have a sergeant in the Union and a lieutenant with overall unit responsibility. They are actively engaged in meeting and working with students and integrating into professional housing staff and our student life staff. We have already seen very positive results. For our students who live in halls of residence, if you are on the go and want to know your Community Engagement Officer or Sergeant, they should be easy to find as they are there most days.
“Communication in general is extremely important. It’s the ability to communicate effectively and establish that two-way communication to tell our story. How do we prepare our community to understand what, why and how we operate? Most importantly, communication should be frequent. And knowing who within the department has that responsibility is key. Establishing a Public Information Officer allows us to operate at a higher level. And then having a communications manager allows us to communicate effectively, not just from a public information officer perspective, but from a written communications plan and overall strategic communications and through social media . This area needed to be enhanced. We were fortunate to find someone internally with the skills to be our Public Information Officer in Chris Rozman. And Dana Whyte brings us her professional experience in print and television media.
“Traditionally, public information was really more responsive and responded to daily requests from outside news sources,” says Rozman. “In my role, what I realized early on is that we need to be much better and more proactive in telling our story, because we do so many good things behind the scenes every day. Sometimes we fail to communicate this or to share this information with the community. This is very important as we move forward in telling our story in an authentic and authentic way with the aim of establishing real trust with the community, which is what we are committed to. Communication plays right into that. It’s just a key and crucial element.
“I just started on January 10, so I’m a few months away,” adds Whyte. “I noticed right away that there are a lot of things police departments do that I wasn’t aware of because I’ve never been inside a police department. And now that I am, I want people to know these things. Being able to tell our story and share it on our website and social media gives people a better perspective of what we do to better connect with the community.
“We need to be proactive and communicate regularly because we are part of the community,” continues Lynch. “We shouldn’t just be a tool used in a crisis or a problem. Being part of the community makes us more efficient and better able to serve our community. We know our community better, and our community knows us better. Having that level of transparency and regularly communicating and telling our story about how we’re adding to the community helps everything in that overall capacity.
Chris and Dana, what are both the challenges and opportunities in your MSU police and public safety communications roles?
“Some of the challenges are just the speed at which information travels these days,” continues Rozman. “If something happens, end the days of waiting until the next newspaper is printed. We recognize that we must communicate information immediately in any situation that arises. There is news in our messages. We recognize that we need to leverage many different communication platforms. We make ourselves available for in-person and telephone interviews. But at the same time, we leverage our social media pages and networks to amplify our message. And it can be a message about something that just happened, or it can tell our story about something very important that we want to share with the community. The communication mechanism is very important and it is constantly evolving. And that’s what’s so beneficial about having Dana here to tap into a lot more of these platforms and communicate more frequently and tell these stories.
“It’s important for our community to know that we’re taking action on the inside and trying to be better,” adds Whyte. “And we have such a large and diverse audience. We have seniors, we have parents and we have students. We work to find which platforms work for each different community and adapt accordingly.
“We don’t want the community to see us as an overbearing law enforcement agency, because that’s not our approach,” Rozman adds. “Our approach is to provide a very high level of service and many support services that some people may not associate with a law enforcement agency. We really want to let people know about all the services we provide and that we are here to help them, we are a resource for our community and we want to make sure that message is conveyed in a very authentic way.
“The most important thing from our perspective is just to really help people. And like Dana said, our community extends far from campus. We understand that our community is not only made up of students, faculty and staff, but also visitors who come here to see performances, who come here to attend events, and parents who may find themselves in different states or sometimes in different countries. We have an obligation to connect with that community member when they are in another part of the state or another part of the country. Our communication efforts really need to extend beyond campus boundaries.
“We are ambassadors for MSU,” adds Lynch. “And sometimes we are the first point of contact for something as simple as where can I park or how do I get to specific places? Then we can be a first point of contact when you have need assistance and you may be the victim of a crime. That’s a different set of responsibilities.
“I like being able to highlight some of the things that aren’t seen,” Rozman continues. “It is often difficult for our leaders and our employees to show what they have done. And what I mean by that is that some of our employees are so humble in what they do. We go to them to try to point that out, and they don’t want acknowledgment for it. We try to find those stories within our department that might otherwise go unnoticed and to showcase the genuine spirit and humility of most of our people who go unnoticed.
“The most rewarding thing for me is that community connection,” says Whyte. “Being able to make a difference in people’s lives is what initially attracted me to reporting, and police and public safety do it every day. And as Chris said, a lot of officers don’t want to be known for that. Working to spread these stories and connect with our community is a big thing for me.
“Saying what’s good is just as important as highlighting areas where we can improve,” concludes Lynch. “We want feedback from our community on how we can do this. The creation of the SafeMSU application came directly from our communication space. We have created an internal newsletter to better communicate internally and we use social media platforms to communicate externally. It is a very important element. We are lucky to have both Chris and Dana in this role with their abilities to do so.
MSU Today airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 5 a.m. on WKAR News/Talk and Sundays at 8 p.m. on 760 WJR. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and wherever you get your shows.