Saturday, July 20, 2024

Cambridge Police are reorganizing their public information office again, intern Emily Wright said Monday.

Alexa Manocchio, 19, a three-month intern made spokeswoman Oct. 16 after the promotion of longtime public information officer Frank Pasquarello, is no longer in that role, Wright said. Manocchio, a student in the co-op program at Northeastern University, would have been earning $29,263 per year, but her position was identified from the beginning as “temporary.” She is now at the department only a couple of times per week, said Wright, also in the Northeastern co-op program.

Jennifer Flagg, hired to work with the committee created after the summer arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., has been the name on most police press releases this month.

Flagg was not working Monday, Wright said.

Pasquarello was given a position in the Professional Standards Unit as a detective. Manocchio’s subsequent appointment was confusing to the department, with some officers identifying her as Pasquarello’s replacement, some saying there had been no replacement and some correctly saying she was a spokeswoman but not public information officer. Officially, the department would say only that she was “the new spokesperson … Any press/media inquiries that arise during normal business hours will be handled by her.”

After-hours requests were handled by a number of people, but not with the attention or knowledge given during Pasquarello’s three decades as public information officer.

When asked after the City Council inaugural Jan. 4, Police Commissioner Robert Haas said the department was looking for a permanent public information officer, but there has been no official press release to that effect. Nor has there been one updating the Oct. 16 release naming Manocchio as spokeswoman.

Leo Thurston, Secretary of the National Information Officers Association, was circumspect in assessing Cambridge’s approach after Pasquarello’s promotion.

“As far as experience, everyone in every profession had to start somewhere,” Thurston said when asked in October about Manocchio’s role leading police interaction with the public and media. “With the exception of a three-year stint with a local television station, I have been a police public information officer for 25 years, both as a sworn officer and now as a civilian, for two distinctly different local police agencies.”

Noting his lack of knowledge of decision-making in Cambridge, he continued:

In many cases, a police PIO does not necessarily need to be a sworn or former sworn officer. However, that person who is not will have a very tough time if they do not make every effort to learn all they can about every aspect of police work, take the time to meet as many members of the agency as possible and ask to be taught about what they do and why they do it. This is no easy task and, in some cases, will probably take quite some time. The PIO has to build and maintain that trust and integrity factor within the agency as well as with the media and the community. The PIO must maintain “transparency” and “openness” as two of the most important words to remember. If not, they will probably soon lose their integrity and become pretty much useless. This in no way means that they must tell all they know, simply be willing to tell all that they legally can without endangering a case or any person. At times they may have to defend this with their superiors and city officials. PIOs must be very careful not to fall into the trap of having ‘favorites” in the media. All media must be treated fairly and equally.

A new PIO has to be willing to become familiar with every policy, procedure and practice of the agency (and be able to quote or quickly find several of them). They must become totally familiar with the state’s open records law as it pertains to anything even loosely related to law enforcement. Anyone new to the PIO function needs to develop a list of people they trust and can go to for advice. Even after 25 years, I still use my list regularly; one never stops learning. The PIO must develop a relationship with other PIOs from other city agencies as well as outside agencies they may be working with at some point.

As far as education, that will depend on the agencies’ requirements. When I began my PIO career, I had a bachelor’s degree in criminology and associate degrees in administration of justice and the arts, not a bit of formal education in public relations or journalism. After 25 years, I now teach PIO/Media Relations classes and answer questions from across the country.