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Tips From The Field: Public Information Officer

A day in the professional life of public information officer Rebecca Hover

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Public Information Officer Rebecca Hover

Public Information Officer Rebecca Hover of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office

Photo by Guy Bergstrom

Rebecca Hover does what most people only see on shows like CSI: for years, she's been listening to the police scanner and dashing off to crime scenes, first as a reporter for The Everett Herald and now as the public information officer for the Snohomish County Sheriff in Washington state.

How did you get into this line of work?

I spent five years as a breaking news/crime reporter and another five years as an editorial writer at The Daily Herald in Everett, Wash. I worked a lot with Elliott Woodall, the spokesman for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and later the Everett Police Department. He was probably far more generous to me than I ever deserved. I admired how he conducted himself and presented information to the media and public.

After leaving The Herald and spending more than a year freelancing, I learned of the opening at the Sheriff’s Office and pursued it, determined to do everything I could for the opportunity to experience what life is like on the other side of the notepad.

What’s a typical day like?

Just when I think I might be able to answer that question breaking news strikes and everything turns upside down! Sometimes people will say to me, “I haven’t seen you in the news lately, things must be quiet.”  Hardly! Things are never quiet. In fact, we don’t use that word in this line of work. I talk with reporters every day - whether it’s about breaking news, feature stories or something else – I’m constantly researching and gathering information.

But that’s only part of my job. I oversee our agency’s awards system and annual ceremony. I work on internal communications, speechwriting and some of our marketing efforts. I also co-chair our county government employees’ giving campaign, and represent our agency in certain community projects.

Are there any cases that stick in your mind?

When I was college, the serial arsonist Paul Keller was still out there, setting res right where I lived, where my lived. So I worried about my family until they caught him.

A case that haunts me is one of our oldest, unsolved cases from 1977. It’s a case with a twist: we don’t know who the victim is. We know who killed her and how he killed her. We arrested him and he did his time and is out of prison. He has even worked with detectives to try to raise public awareness about the case so we can identify her. Right now, she’s still Jane Doe – a 15 to 21-year- old female, 5 feet 10 inches tall and 155 pounds.

In all these years no one has come forward to claim her. One of our cold case detectives has devoted so much time and energy into this case. He really wants to see it solved so her family members can finally have some answers, whoever they are. He’s also discovered a lot of problems regarding how law enforcement agencies across the country used to track – or not track – missing people.

What are you trying to communicate to the citizens?

As an office, we want the community to get involved. We want every neighborhood to have a community watch, every family to know crime prevention and gang prevention. Crime happens in every area of every community. I still hear, "This never happens in my neighborhood." And sometimes, those are the catalysts for a community watch.

People should know how to prevent opportunities for crime. There are still people who warm up their cars in the morning, keys in the ignition, door unlocked. We want them to know how to make -- and keep -- their communities safe.

People worry about the speed of response time. We always say it's what we do when we get there that's important. They're going to remember any kind of negative reaction, even if it's a small thing.

It's the same thing with law enforcement as in anything else in public service: people want to be treated respectfully and listened to.

In Part 2, Rebecca gives practical tips about dealing with the media, writing projects and breaking into the business.

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