Northeast Tarrant

How Southlake won ‘Oscar of the PR world’ for police communication with public

Sometimes it’s not about how much money you have, but how much ingenuity.

And sometimes it’s just about plain speech, said Southlake Police Department Public Relations Officer Brad Uptmore.

It was Uptmore’s idea last year that led to the City of Southlake recently winning the prestigious Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America. The award was presented in New York City, and it was for Most Effective Campaign $5,000 or less.

Last year, at Uptmore’s urging, the Southlake PD began a “Humanize the Badge” campaign. The goal was to eliminate “cop talk” and replace it with a less formal, more relaxing approach to communication.

The new approach was driven by a social media and pop culture strategy designed to solidify public trust. It worked wonderfully, Uptmore said.

“Most of the police departments I follow have a lot of police talk, and that’s not how people communicate,” he said.

“I am so proud of Southlake DPS and the city for their amazing efforts,” said Southlake Mayor Laura Hill in a release on the city’s website. “They have taken a humorous yet effective approach to ensure the safety and security of the people who live, work, and drive in Southlake. I love how they went about it.”

Uptmore admitted surprise upon winning despite the overwhelming positive response his changes have received. It was the first time Southlake has won the honor that has been handed out since 1994.

“They describe themselves as the Oscars of the PR world,” Uptmore said. “When they accepted our entry we were surprised. Then, when we made the finals, it was amazing. We were sitting there alongside a lot of big corporations.”

Police Chief James Brandon said that though the department already had a strong following on Facebook, they saw an increase of 285% in followers as a result of the change.

Uptmore said since the change around eight of the Facebook posts by him and the department have gone viral with more than 1 million hits. One in particular was what he called the “Hey Gurl Post.”

The post was written in the form of a letter to a woman who was suspected of identity theft. Instead of the traditional post of looking for a criminal, it contained lipstick emojis (because she had a lipstick tattoo on her neck) and girl talk, revealing information about the case, and the kind of trouble she was in. It ended with the phrase “Gurl CALL ME.” In less than a day, it reached more than 3 million people and drew almost 2 million engagements.

Another popular viral post was one he called “Officer O-Cone.” He said it resulted in feedback from all over the world.

“People from Great Britain were sending us videos of cones,” he said.

Another was of a police officer holding an umbrella over an arrested man in handcuffs.

“We need this in this police climate more than ever,” he said. “The more our message gets out, the more people realize we’re just human beings.”

City Manager Shana Yelverton called the approach innovative and unconventional, and added that it took a leap of faith. The reward has been worth the risk, however, she said.

Uptmore has a film and public relations degree from Baylor University, along with more than a dozen years in police work. He’s combined the two to become a phenomenon that has now earned national attention.

“It was a complete 180 from what we’d been doing,” Uptmore said. “And it’s been a lot of fun.”

Uptmore and other Southlake officials accepted the award at the Edison Ballroom. And, of course, he posted it all on Facebook.

“I was a patrol cop for 11 and a half years. Who would have thought I’d be in New York City accepting an award?” he said.

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