Closer Look: Jonathan Link, the face of the Greenwood Police Department
By DAMIAN DOMINGUEZ
April 9, 2018
A man ran from police, tripped and split his surgery stitches open on the day Jonathan Link started working public relations for the Greenwood Police Department.
It was an ominous start to the job he’s been doing for a year, but he said he loves the work he does.
“This is the first time in my adult life I’ve done an 8-5 job,” he said. “But I’m always on call. Now fortunately, the majority of the calls I get I can take at home.”
At a moment’s notice, he can be called on to be the voice for the police department. For Link, a husband and father of two, that can mean missing out on bedtime with his children to get news to the public about a recent shooting or major investigation.
“Daddy is supposed to do dinner and bedtime — all the fun things a big, bad police officer is supposed to do,” he said. “We live in an information age, and it’s not just a good idea to put out information online. People want to have information quickly.”
People feel unsafe when they don’t know what’s going on. Seeing five patrol cars speed through town with lights and sirens blaring can be alarming, and Link said his job is to inform and reassure people when he can. Through the department’s Facebook page and contact with media outlets, Link is able to explain what police are doing.
“The community wants to know, they’re paying us a bunch of money out of the city budget, what are we doing,” he said.
He wants to strike a balance, though, between informing and uplifting. Using the page only to post about arrests and crime could be demoralizing, so he uses Facebook to also post historical anniversaries and public service announcements, sometimes with a sprinkle of personality in the form of a video of him directly delivering the advice.
“I want them to know we’re not robots over here,” he said.
Having someone to serve as the face of the police department has been a boon, said Police Chief Gerald Brooks. Link has done no less than 10 on-camera interviews with news outlets in his first year, which Brooks said is a huge leap forward for the department.
“This has significantly increased our exposure to the public,” he said, “which leads to the citizens being more cooperative when things happen.”
Posts seeking information in their investigations get results, Link said said. People message the department online with tips, and call investigators when they see posts online. Even when tips don’t pan out, Link said having that direct line of communication is important.
Brooks said the decision to have a dedicated position for media relations came from a desire for more transparency and to add a personal touch to things. At the scene of a crime, for instance, most officers are busy collecting evidence, securing the scene or otherwise investigating.
“Those officers cannot give their time and attention to speaking with a reporter without taking time away from other critical duties,” Brooks said. “It is best for an officer to be on scene who has no other responsibility than to stick by the incident commander’s side, gather information and formulate usable releases for journalists to then distribute to the public.”
Before taking the job as public information officer, Link served as a patrolman for about 8 1/2 years, split amongst the Greenwood Police Department, Charleston Police Department and Lander University Police Department.
“Every place has its own flavor,” he said. “Wherever you go, you learn very quickly that everyone has your back.”
He was born in Piedmont and grew up in Greenwood, and found himself attracted to a career in law enforcement after seeing police on the news closing cases and investigations.
“My mom says when I was three I told her I was going to be a cop,” he said.
With his dream-job in hand, Link seeks to use the position of public information officer to make the department more visible in the community. Building a strong relationship with Greenwood’s residents, even online, is key to good police work, he said.
“I like doing a job where at the end of the day, you feel like you did something good,” he said.