by Anna Lemmon
If you have been following the news this month, you know that Brimfield Police Department’s former chief, David Oliver, has been the talk of the town (and state, and beyond). Former Chief Oliver was an Internet sensation, claiming fame from a police department Facebook page with more than 177,000 followers, as well as a popular Twitter page. Through humor and daily rants, the pages gained national and international attention, but both are now gone.
Last spring, Oliver was even a featured speaker at the YouToo Social Media Conference, hosted by Kent State University. He was well liked by the attendees, being quoted on Twitter and having students rush forward to have photos taken with him. He spoke about his Internet fame, the book he published and his life as the chief. After a great session with Oliver, it came as a shock when he made news this month for completely different reasons.
It started when Oliver was suspended from his department for two weeks January 12, based on “gender inequality” claims. Oliver made one of his famous Facebook statuses as a response, reading:
“My elected folks are some of the best I have ever worked with. Had they not enforced the policy and disciplined me, the system would be worthless. No one is above the rules. I am a big believer in taking responsibility and punishment; I expect it from my subordinates and will certainly adhere to my own expectations.”
However, a few days later, he announced his resignation, citing medical issues. The post said:
“I need some peace and quiet, in order to heal mentally and physically. I have battled this disorder [PTSD] for now for nine years.”
The next day, the Akron Beacon Journal’s cover story featured a policewoman who made the gender inequality claims against Oliver.
The article went into detail of claims made against Oliver, ranging from sexual harassment to bullying the entire department. Anonymous officers came forward supporting witnesses of the reported incidents. Trustees and others involved with the department have come forward about the former chief—and not in his defense. More than a week later, Oliver remains silent.
Now, as an aspiring public relations professional, imagine that this is the type of situation you have to deal with on the job. In just weeks, a local celebrity’s entire image has been destroyed. What could he have done differently? What could he be doing now? Is there anything he could say to try to save his reputation? Is silence working, or does it imply some level of guilt? These are the things you must consider as a PR pro.
Rule number one in public relations is transparency. Oliver needs to be honest about the situation and, just as importantly, sincere. If an apology is needed, he needs to make it sooner rather than later. If there is anything he would like to clear up, he needs to avoid his usual comedic tone and instead show compassion for the victim[s] and remorse for the issues at hand.
At this point, there’s no saying how much loyalty is left for Oliver and what he could do to gain it back. However, transparency and addressing the situation sincerely have historically worked better than silence or denial. Taking responsibility and not being a “mope,” as Oliver fondly coined, has the chance to leave people with a better impression—take it from the PR pros.