Constable Brian Montague is Media Relations Officer of Community & Public Affairs with the Vancouver Police Department.
1. What is a typical day like in your job? How many emails do you answer in a day?
I have been with the VPD Public Affairs Section for about eight months now. I am one of two spokespeople / media officers for the department. I have to keep informed about everything that is happening within the VPD. That includes the hundreds of calls for service that our officers attend each and every day. My job is to represent the Vancouver Police and its 1300 sworn police officers.
My colleague, Sergeant Randy Fincham, and I hold regular press conferences for our local media to discuss what has happened in the city overnight; as well as, give updates for ongoing investigations. We also announce any public advisories or suspect descriptions, asking for the public's assistance.
In the event of a major, or particularly newsworthy event such as a homicide or hostage-taking, I will scrum for the media at the location to provide the public with accurate and current information.
I do have regular office hours, but either Randy or I are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We field hundreds of calls every week from local, national and international media for information and interviews. I answer about 1700 emails per month.
2. What is your background? Did you pursue communications training for your current position?
It may surprise you that I have no formal training in communications. While I lack the formal training you might expect or may typically see in someone working in a communications position, I have 19 years of experience as a police officer with the VPD. I have worked at the Vancouver Jail, as a patrol officer downtown and in East Vancouver, walked the beat in the Downtown East Side, spent several years in covert sections as an undercover operator and in a surveillance capacity, and then years with investigative units within the VPD.
My time with the VPD allows me to draw from personal experience to answer questions and discuss investigations without compromising those investigations. My background gives me a level of credibility when speaking to the media about matters involving the VPD. The training I receive specific to my current job as the VPD spokesperson / media relations officer is conducted, for the most part, in-house.
3. What is the biggest challenge in your job? What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
It is extremely difficult to describe what I do as the VPD spokesperson and media relations officer. I often tell people that my work is like being in a job interview all day, every day. The most rewarding aspect of the job is that I am given the opportunity to see and be involved in process and decisions that affect the public’s opinion of the VPD and its officers. I understand and appreciate a facet of policing that most don’t, and have been given an opportunity that very few people in this organization get, and that is to represent the Vancouver Police.
4. What would people be surprised to learn about your job?
Most people think that I spend a few minutes talking and answering a few questions on TV about the odd event that happened in Vancouver. They would be surprised to know just how much time I spend preparing and researching before going in front of the camera and that the 15 or 20 seconds seen on television is a result of being questioned heavily about one or more topics for 15 or 20 minutes. The media expects me to be an expert in all aspects of policing. I want to be prepared for not only what I know will be asked of me, but what may be asked about unrelated events or topics. People would also be surprised at the volume of requests we get from media on a daily basis. As I mentioned, I field hundreds of phone calls each week and about 1700 emails each month. Each one of those calls and emails requires a response and many involve additional research.
5. What is the most high-profile media relations project that you have worked on?
In my short time in this position (eight months), I have had the opportunity to work on many projects. When it comes to working in media relations for the police, most events that are high-profile are not the projects that the department does to prevent crime and arrest offenders, but are short-term incidents that are dramatic or have conflict. Unfortunately those are the things that get media attention. Two incidents in particular that I was involved in come to mind. The first is a 10-hour armed standoff at the Vancouver Pacific Rim Hotel in downtown Vancouver last October. This made national news and my job was to provide the public with regular updates while the media closely monitored and scrutinized everything done and said by police. The other was the case of Luka Magnotta where body parts were shipped to two schools in Vancouver. His alleged offences garnered international media attention.
The previous media relations officers had the privilege to work during the Olympics, an opportunity that I wish I could have been part of.
6. What role do you think communications plays in policing?
Communication is extremely important when it comes to policing. It affects the public’s perception of the Department and its officers. If I can effectively communicate to the media and the public, I can build trust, appear credible and honest and relay the fact that the VPD cares about what is happening and the community. Communicating well with the public, increases public support and makes the job of our officers easier and safer.
7. What three tips would you offer to someone just starting out in their communications career? To someone midway through their career?
- Confirm the obvious
- Never lie, guess, speculate, get angry or say “no comment”
- Create one or two “key messages” and bridge back to those messages to stay on focus when reporters try to take your story in another direction
8. Where do you see police media relations practices going in the next ten years? What impact do you think social media plays/will play?
Social Media has created an entirely different way many people obtain information about what concerns them. I feel that social media plays a significant role in media relations and that its role will grow in the next ten years.
The VPD does have a full time social media officer that assists the two spokespeople. Social media has allowed us to interact directly with more people than ever before. It allows us to provide unedited information to the public so they can hear about crime and events without having to depend on mainstream media. It also gives citizens the ability to contact us directly if they have questions or concerns about what is happening in their community and in the police department.