Leicestershire police ‘ignore attempted burglaries at odd-numbered houses: BBC
Force says it will only attend break-ins at EVEN number houses: Daily Mail
Police force slammed for only investigating burglaries at even numbered houses: Mirror
Headlines have one big job. They have to grab the attention of the reader. Compel them to read on. Fail to do this and they’re pointless.
There’s no question; these headlines are compelling. “What! The police are only investigating burglaries at even numbered houses!”
But what’s the real story?
I’m a huge fane of Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’. They get behind the statistics in the news and they got behind this headline.
It’s the forensic investigators, not the police who are not attending. The forensic team looked at their statistics and found that in the previous year they had detected only 9 of the 1,172 offences they attended; routinely attending wasn’t effective.
The trial behind this story was about finding out if the attendance of a crime scene investigator affected the satisfaction of the victim.
The police officer attending would decide if the victim was vulnerable and make a judgment about whether or not there was forensic evidence to recover. If the answer to either was yes, the officer would call in forensics. If the answer was no the offence would go in the trial. To randomize the trial they decided to select on odd or even numbers.
So how could they have handled the story better?
- Think it through. Is this something that could be misinterpreted? If yes, you need a plan of action.
- It’s a complex story that lends itself to sensationalism so get your ducks in a row.
- Think about your messaging. Who are you talking to? What do you want them to think about your organisation? What do you want them to think about this initiative?
- Prepare your own news story, with a great but accurate headline.
- Prepare a succinct background briefing paper with the crucial information; it’s got to be easy for the lay person to follow.
- Brief key people, like the Police Commissioner, in advance and get them onside.
- Be proactive. Identify the media you want to talk to and set up telephone or face to face briefings; take the time to make sure they understand what you’re doing and why.
- Monitor and respond. See what gets published and broadcast. See how the story runs. Then step back in as and when you need.