NIA instructor and award-winning journalist helps bridge gap between media, law enforcement

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

For the past 15 years, investigative journalist Steve Gregory – intentionally or not – has been bridging the gap between media and law enforcement. Gregory is among several renowned guest lecturers at the National Public Safety Innovation Academy (NIA) at Polk State College’s Center for Public Safety.

For more than four decades, Gregory has worked as a journalist. Employed by iHeartMEDIA since 1993, he’s covered the O.J. Simpson armed robbery trial in Las Vegas, Hurricane Katrina, and riots in Ferguson, Mo. following the shooting death of Michael Brown. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago, however, that Gregory started working hand in hand with law enforcement.

During a large march for immigrants’ rights in downtown Los Angeles in May 2006, 11 of Gregory’s colleagues were injured by Los Angeles Police Department officers after the protests escalated. Gregory was part of a task force and worked with LAPD to form the agency’s first collaborative media relations curriculum between media and law enforcement. The first training session for the curriculum was held in the fall of 2007.

“For me, it was important to reach the people in the field,” Gregory recalled. “I was less worried about working with the command staff. The important part was that we had repetition. Within a year and a half or two years, we saw an incredible transition in how we interacted out in the field.”

Since then, Gregory has given lectures on a wide variety of topics to law enforcement officers across the country. He’s an adjunct instructor at the Los Angeles Police Academy.

“Transparency and honesty are important,” he said. “For law enforcement, working with the media and meeting them halfway is important. Media and law enforcement aren’t always trusted or very trusting of each other. There has to be a better way to bring those two entities together.”

An eight-time winner of the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, Gregory lectured at NIA during the week of Oct. 10 on the topic of media relations. He’s set to be back for the next program that begins in January.

“Being able to give perspective is what I enjoy most,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, they come up to me after class and they tell me that they learned something or thought about something in a different way.”

While Gregory has enjoyed giving his perspective to participants, he’s also learned a bit over the years and been given new perspectives himself.

“The most important thing for me is that I’m dealing with real people,” Gregory said. “Sometimes people forget that about cops. They really care about their work and are dedicated to their profession. It takes a really special person to put on a gun and run into harm’s way.”

An Impressive NIA Kickoff

NIA, facilitated by Polk State College and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, held its first graduation on Nov. 18. NIA is an eight-week executive-level academy for law enforcement and corrections staff seeking to enter or enhance current or future command positions within their agencies. The goal is to give mid-level managers and future agency leaders the training to advance and become effective leaders in administrative positions.

“The potential is incredible,” Gregory said. “I really applaud Sheriff Grady Judd and the College. I think this could be a really good alternative to the National FBI Academy.”

Gregory noted that some lecturers are for just a day or short period of time. With NIA, he can go in-depth on the subject matter.

“To be able to do a 34-hour block is a huge opportunity for me,” he reflected. “Usually, my lectures are quick, and I have to get to everything I can in just a few hours. This gives me a chance to really dig deep.”

The first cohort consisted of participants from Florida, but the vision is for the course to have reach across the country, beginning in January. When it comes to the first NIA group, Gregory said it was no surprise they were selected by their agencies.

“I was so impressed with the quality of participants,” he said. “Sometimes, you get participants who are just going through the motions, but these participants were just so engaged. There was a 100% engagement with this group.”

One participant, Gregory said, explained that he had a newfound confidence in public speaking following Gregory’s NIA lecture. Despite speaking all throughout the country, Gregory said that was a first.

“That had never happened before and that meant so much to me,” he said. “I’m really excited about this program. The faculty and the facility are top notch. It’s a cool idea, a great idea, and I hope lots of people get to go to this.”