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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



First Advisor

Carol Ann Hackley

First Committee Member

Qingwen Dong

Second Committee Member

Alan Ray


Headlines of the sniper attacks were relentless for almost an entire month. During 22 days in October 2002, the snipers' killing spree injured three and killed ten people. The media converged on the story at a non-stop pace, and the public understandably was entitled to be alarmed. High-profile cases such as the sniper attacks draw a large amount of attention and, therefore, can become cases through which professionals and scholars alike can learn. The sniper incident is one such case that provides exceptional research possibilities.

The style and unique dialogue used in news conferences grabbed the attention of the media, the public, and the criminal community. How did law enforcement use public relations to help in its case? What crisis plan did Montgomery County, Maryland, the lead investigating department, implement? The goal of this research was to examine the crisis management plan of law enforcement when tragic situations such as the sniper attacks occur, and further to investigate agenda-setting within law enforcement's media services departments. This research was conducted as a case study, using interviews with public information officers of law enforcement agencies and numerous media reports including newspapers, news magazines, and television news.

Results from this case study revealed that communicating accurate information to both the media and the community in a crisis was a top priority. Additionally, it was shared that the public information officer's role is to be ready and on the scene of crises in order to disseminate precise information. In the sniper attack incident, law enforcement controlled the flow of information and, therefore, set the agenda for the media. Moreover, the Chief of Police, when he realized the enormity of the case, took on the role of spokesperson, because he did not want the PIO to bear the burden of responsibility.



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