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April 18, 2022

Podcast: Building trust between police and community

Marlon Lynch, MSU vice president for public safety and chief of police, hosts “Chopping It Up with the Chief.”

We're joined by Inspector Chris Rozman, who's public information officer and Dana Whyte, who's a new communications manager at MSU Police and Public Safety.

“We have officially launched our community engagement unit,” says Lynch. “What that means is we have officers who are now assigned full time to community engagement. So, when they work, they are spending times 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 primarily based in residential and education housing services and the residence hall neighborhoods.

“There is a sergeant assigned to each neighborhood. We also have a sergeant in the Union and a lieutenant with overall responsibility for the unit. They are actively engaged meeting and working with students and integrating themselves within the housing professional staff and our student life staff. And so coming up on a first full month, we've already seen some very positive results. For our students who live in residence halls, if you're out and about and you want to get to know your community engagement officer or sergeant, they should be easy to find because they're there just about every day.

“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 and why and how we operate? Most importantly, the communication should be frequent. And knowing who within the department has that responsibility is a key component. Establishing a public information officer allows us to operate at a higher level. And then by having a communications manager allows us to effectively communicate, not only just through a public information officer perspective, but from a written communication and overall strategic communications plan and through social media. We had to enhance that area. We've been fortunate enough to find internally someone with the skillset to be our public information officer in Chris Rozman. And Dana Whyte brings to us her professional experience in both print and TV media.”

“Traditionally public information has really been more reactive and about responding to daily requests from external news sources,” says Rozman. “In my role what I realized early on was that we need to be a lot better and more proactive in telling our story because we do so many good things behind the scenes every day. Sometimes we fail at communicating that or sharing that information with the community. It's very important as we move forward with telling our story in an authentic and genuine way for the purpose of building genuine trust with the community, which is something that we're focused on. Communication plays right into that. It's just a key and crucial component.”

“I just started January 10, so I'm a couple months in,” adds Whyte. “I noticed right away there is a lot that police departments do that I wasn’t aware of because I've never been inside of a police department. And now that I am, I want people to know these things. Being able to tell our story and put it out there on our website and social media gives people a better perspective on what we do to better connect with the community.”

“We have to be proactive and communicate regularly because we're part of the community,” Lynch continues. “We should not just be a tool that is utilized when there's a crisis or there's something wrong. Because we are part of the community, it makes us more effective and better able to serve our community. We’re more familiar with our community, and our community is more familiar with us. Having that level of transparency and communicating regularly and telling our story of how we add to the community helps everything in that overall capacity.”

Chris and Dana, what are some of both the challenges and opportunities in your roles communicating about MSU Police and Public Safety?

“Some of the challenges are just the speed at which information moves these days,” Rozman continues. “If something does happen, gone are the days of waiting until the next newspaper is printed. We recognize that we must be communicating information immediately in any situation that occurs. There's a timeliness to our messaging. We recognize that we need to leverage a lot of different communication platforms. We make ourselves available for in-person and phone interviews. But at the same time, we leverage our social media pages and networks to amplify our message. And that can be a message about something that just occurred, or that can be telling our story about something that's very important that we want to share with the community. The mechanism to communicate is very important, and it's ever changing. And that's what's so beneficial about having Dana here to tap into a lot more of those platforms and communicate more frequently and tell those stories.”

“It’s important for our community to know that we are taking steps inside and trying to be better,” Whyte adds. “And we have such a large and diverse audience. We have older people, we have parents, and we have students. We work to find which platforms work for each different community and adapt towards that.”

“We don’t want the community to look at us just as a heavy-handed law enforcement agency because that's not our approach,” Rozman adds. “Our approach is to provide a very high level of service and a lot of supportive services as well that some people may not associate with a law enforcement agency. We really want to let people know all the services that we offer and that we are here to help. We are a resource for our community, and we want to make sure that message gets conveyed in a very genuine way.

“The biggest thing from our perspective is just to really help people. And like Dana said, our community reaches far off campus. We understand that our community is not just students and faculty and staff but visitors who come here to see performances, who come here to attend events, and parents who may be in different states or sometimes in different countries. We have an obligation to connect with that community member where they may be in a different region of the state or a different area of the country. Our communication efforts really need to stretch beyond just the borders of campus.”

“We're ambassadors for MSU,” adds Lynch. “And sometimes we are the first point of contact for something as simple as where do I park or how do I get to the specific locations? Then we can be a first point of contact when you need assistance and maybe you're the victim of a crime. That's a different set of responsibilities.”

“I love being able to highlight some of the things that go unseen,” continues Rozman. “It's often hard for our officers and our employees to showcase what they've done. And what I mean by that is some of our employees are so humble in what they do. We go to them to try to highlight that, and they don't want recognition for it. We try to find those stories within our department that may go untold otherwise and showcase some of the genuine spirit and humility that most of our employees have that 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 originally drew me to reporting, and Police and Public Safety does that every day. And like Chris said, a lot of the officers don't want recognition for it. Working to get those stories out there and connect with our community is a big thing for me.”

“Telling the good is just as important as highlighting areas where we can improve,” concludes Lynch. “We want the feedback from our community on how we can do that. Creating the SafeMSU app came directly from our communications area. We’ve created an internal newsletter so that we communicate better internally and we’re using social media platforms so that we are communicating externally. It's a very important component. We're fortunate to have both Chris and Dana in that role with their abilities to do that.”

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.

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