PIO People: Samantha Karges, Public Information Specialist, Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, CA
After going it alone as the Public Information Specialist for Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, Samantha Karges is excited to be able to welcome a new PIO to the department. Here, she talks about what they are looking for with this new vacancy and gives great insight into what it's like working the communications for this uniquely positioned department.
Give us a rundown of your day to day communication activities
No two days are alike as a PIO with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office. For a rural county, we have a lot going on, enough to keep you busy and never bored. Every day when I get to the office, I catch up on what happened the night (or weekend) before, digging through cases to find interesting stories to present to our community.
After issuing the latest press releases, I monitor and create social media content for our various social channels. Then I answer media questions and connect them with subject experts for interviews. Some days, there will be an ongoing incident that I have to respond to and do on scene PIO activities. Other days, I may be responding to Public Records Requests, designing graphics, editing a new video, or building new pages of our website.
Tell us about your background and how you came to be at HCSO.
I majored in Journalism at Concordia University Chicago and came to Humboldt County as a reporter for one of our local television stations. I came to find out that while I loved telling the stories of the community, I didn’t like the instability and lack of benefits that came with working in TV news.
I was given the opportunity to grow my graphic design, videography, and web design skills as a communications director at a local church and I left the news behind to expand my creative tool belt. However, the journalist in me never left and when the opportunity to work with the HCSO came about, I took it! Working at the Sheriff’s Office as a PIO, to me, has been the perfect blend of what I like to do. I get to tell the community what is happening and be part of the action, while still being able to use my creative skills on special projects.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
The hardest thing about this job is doing it alone. That’s why I’m really excited we have opened this second PIO position up. It will be amazing to finally have a team, another PIO to share ideas with and create awesome content. It’s important that you know the pulse of the community, what they stand behind and the issues we face.
What do you love about your job?
I love the people I work with and the creative freedom I’ve been given by the leadership. Often times journalists that become PIOs in a law enforcement field have trouble getting information from their law enforcement officers due to their former employment and a general lack of trust. I have never found this to be an issue here at the HCSO. All of our employees understand that we have a common goal, to get the right information to the right people at the right time so they can make the right decisions. So the cooperation and kindness of my coworkers has helped immensely. As for the creative freedom, our leadership really values the role of the PIO and through my time here I’ve earned trust and a voice at the table. I’m given the opportunity to have ideas and make them into reality.
You work in a very unique area in terms of geography and demographics. How would you say this has impacted the way you do your work as a comms professional?
It’s true, Humboldt County can be a bit of a bubble. Because of where we are located, our population doesn’t have the same influences, or number of media personnel, as a suburb of a big city. This has made it much easier to get to know our local media and community members, and form professional relationships.
However, it does require a shift in thinking. What is important to residents near big cities or issues that they face is not always so relevant here in rural Humboldt. Our community has strong beliefs and are very passionate about a variety of topics. It’s important that you know the pulse of the community, what they stand behind and the issues we face.
How would you describe the kind of work you would do in the public information team at HCSO?
As currently the only PIO, I wear many hats. I write press releases, do interviews with the media, collect records and respond to Public Records Act requests. I design logos, posters, t-shirts, billboards and even graphics for vehicles. I am the resident photographer and videographer, taking department photos and producing, filming and editing special videos. I am the social media manager and oversee a team of volunteer social media contributors. I also organize community outreach events and facilitate department fundraisers like No Shave November and the Pink Patch Project.
You’re looking for a Public Information Specialist to work with you. What would you consider to be unique attributes for this position?
This position will be integral in launching our Body Worn Camera program, so the person filling this role must have some type of video editing experience. We would prefer someone who is familiar with the California Public Records Act, or can quickly learn the requirements outlined by the law. This position will also be helping with social media and community outreach. We are looking for someone outgoing, who likes being involved in the community and knows the ins and outs of social media.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to be a PIO?
Build up your creative toolkit. It’s great to be good at writing, but can you take photos, edit video, do you know how to use social media to connect with your community? PIOs wear many hats and you need to have many tools to get the job done. It’s okay if you don’t know it all or those tools are not quite refined, that comes with time and experience. But be willing to grow.
Also, my biggest piece of advice- do your research. If you are interviewing for a PIO position, make sure you are looking at that organization’s website and social media. If you are out of touch with what they are doing and how they connect with their community, then you likely won’t get the job. This position requires you to be in the know. If you don’t do your research, then you are showing that organization that you aren’t going to take the time and do the research on the job either. If you want to build transparency and trust with your community, you need a PIO helping to make that connection.
What are some of the more memorable events you’ve had to deal with in your time at HCSO?
Oh man, for a small population Humboldt has a lot going on. The most memorable events for me have been my time working with our Office of Emergency Services. Our OES is under the Sheriff’s Office and I am the lead PIO for emergency response. A few years back we had two young girls go missing in the woods for several days and were found alive. That was an incredible response to be a part of. I’ve also had the opportunity to be part of the county’s COVID Joint Information Center and have responded to multiple fire and flood incidents.
Are there any books, podcasts, websites or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?
Take advantage of the freebies offered by sites like motion array and vecteezy and consider investing in Adobe Creative Cloud.
What would you say to anyone in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?
In this day and age, it is essential for law enforcement agencies to have a dedicated PIO. Not only are there so many requirements now under California law for the release of public records, but we live in a time where the community expects accurate information that is accessible and timely. If you want to build transparency and trust with your community, you need a PIO helping to make that connection. And consider hiring a civilian PIO. Law enforcement agencies across the country are hurting for peace officers. Why stretch your patrol staff even more thin by adding a duty to their already loaded plate? Unless you have someone dedicated to the PIO role, it will not be made a priority.