We all know the line about PR people behind behind the camera and not in front of it, don't we? But as one person shows the act of volunteering for pictures and videos can build a better understanding of the challenges your organisation faces.
by Adam Oxley
Last week I was stopped and searched by a police officer, arrested and locked in a cell for carrying a knife.
I felt intimidated, embarrassed and isolated, I smashed my head on the police car while being put into the back seat, and the handcuffs hurt my wrists for days after.
I could now be facing a four-year prison sentence, the shame of my family and my job prospects in pieces...
This is all true but thankfully I was acting in a video for our current #DroptheKnife campaign so rather than awaiting a court date, I went back to the office, my life and my wife with my conscience and criminal record clear.
Being in front of the camera is fine
This isn't the first time I've taken part in photos, videos or campaigns in my 12 years working for South Yorkshire Police but it has definitely left the biggest impression on me.
Our video aims to highlight the casual nature of young men and teenagers carrying a knife as part of their daily possessions. It's obvious isn't it? You're getting ready for a night out, you check your hair, pick up your cash, phone and house keys, then put your knife in your coat pocket.
Of course a member of the public thinks they see you carrying a weapon, phones the police with a description, you get stopped in town, deny your crime, get caught and that's it, do not collect $200, straight to jail.
Knives are a real scenario
Now I'm not an actor, never have been, and probably never will be, but in trying to get into some kind of character, I really thought about the role I was playing, and I'm staggered that anyone can see carrying a knife, or any weapon, as normal behaviour. What good can possibly come from it? I couldn't believe that the scenario we were using is real and happens now.
In a way, getting caught for possession is a positive outcome compared to the frightening thought that you actually use the weapon, potentially killing someone and spending most of your life in prison.
My naivety when it comes to a life of crime was highlighted before my 'arrest' when I tried to tell PC Paul Briggs that the knife I was carrying was a serious piece of kit. To him, it was quite small compared to most of the knives they find in the course of their duties. And this is why our campaign is so important, helping to make the streets safer, and hopefully diverting people from a life-changing mistake that can have serious and deadly consequences.
The campaign results: 54 lives
As a communications professional, it's extremely rewarding to feel that your work can have a real influence on people's lives; in this case both the would-be offender and possible victims. As part of our 11-day knife surrender that’s just ended, we had 54 weapons handed in at police stations across the county. Think of that as 54 lives.
I would actively encourage you to get involved with your team's communications work and help bring it to life. We all know that getting volunteers can be a challenge, but where it's appropriate and relevant to a campaign, event or stunt, it's well worth doing to understand your subject matter, feel part of your organisation, and to know that you're helping to make a difference.
Adam Oxley is senior internal engagement officer at South Yorkshire Police.
Picture credit: SDASM Archives