Insights From Police Response to Super Bowl Parade Shooting

Thom Weidlich 04.04.24


On Feb. 14, one woman was killed and 22 people were injured from gunshots fired just after the conclusion of the parade celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win. A recent and fascinating interview with the police officer who oversees the department’s communications provides insight and sage advice.

In the interview with Police1, a news and information site, Captain Jake Becchina of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department offers some counsel particular to public information officers in police departments. This includes having instructions at the ready for perimeter officers dealing with massive news trucks barreling in to cover such a major event. But a lot of what Becchina said is helpful to crisis communicators in general.

Here are four points he makes:

Create a good reputation before the crisis comes.

We’re big believers that one way to prevent a crisis from spiraling out of control is to have deposits in the “Credibility Bank” — to do the work to have good relations with, and high regard from, your stakeholders.

Interestingly, Becchina said he was well aware of the opportunity the Super Bowl parade (pictured) presented for the police department to do just that. He encouraged officers working the parade to use it to promote goodwill with the public.

“Our message that morning as we made roll calls is this is something to soak up,” he said. “Everybody’s here for a positive reason. Everybody’s here to celebrate. And we don’t often get those interactions or those opportunities to have those interactions in a universally positive environment. So our message to the officers as they headed out there was soak this up, use this to charge your batteries, use this to gain energy as a community interaction.”

When a crisis hits abruptly, confusion reigns and sorting out information is hard.

We often say that the information that comes at the start of a crisis is usually wrong. That’s especially true during an abrupt crisis. In this case, add in the contrast of the elation of the parade with the sudden tragedy of the shooting.

Or as Becchina put it, “That convergence of those two things — coming to the end of a celebration and then hearing ‘multiple shots fired,’ and knowing in your head that it’s literally at the same location, your brain’s got a lot of things to process all at once there.”

Sorting out information in this case was especially hard because it was coming from so many sources: officers at the scene, 911 calls, broadcasts airing the horror live. “That all goes into that sensory input about what’s taking place,” Becchina said.

Social media can be extremely helpful.

Becchina said that within about seven minutes of hearing “shots fired,” his team got out an email to its local media list and a tweet. After that, the focus was mostly on social media because he could barely keep up with the press inquiries flooding his email inbox. His solution was to point people to the social-media posts.

“The quicker you can drive everybody to that Twitter page … that’s your best and most efficient way of communicating in a timeline-type format information that is easily digestible and easily able to be gathered from anywhere in the world,” he said.

Have buy-in from the boss.

Finally, it’s crucial for the boss and others at the top to understand the importance of media relations in a crisis, Becchina said. He’s fortunate in that his boss, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves, used to have his job.

“If your chief is not somebody who speaks that [media] language, it’s on you to educate them,” he said. “Let them know what a situation like this is going to look like. Take half a day and do a table-top exercise. Bring in a media professional if you don’t have one on your staff.”

He added that the buy-in is needed because the time when the crisis hits isn’t the time to start deciding how you’ll respond. For one thing, if you wait until you experience a crisis, too many voices will be in the room offering too many conflicting opinions about how to proceed. It will hamper acting decisively.

Photo Credit: Findaview/Shutterstock

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