It might not be issued to officers with their badges, but it seems that with the duty to serve and protect also comes an inherent distrust of the press.

It's a feeling that often permeates entire departments from the street cop to the chief."Most cops run when they see a microphone or a TV camera," said West Valley Police Lt. Charles Illsley. "But I think the media is probably one of the most powerful resources for law enforcement and the community."

Illsley's perception of the media might differ from most police officers' because of his background - he has a bachelor's degree in communications. Then again, it might be because of his newest assignment as the department's public information officer.

The 21-year veteran of police work is part of a growing trend in public safety. From the smallest fire departments to the largest police agencies, administrators are seeing the need to designate an officer to work with the media on a regular basis.

It's a trend that mabe driven by a difference in police work. "Policing has been in a state of change," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Potter, who's dealt with the press for more than a decade. "That state of change has worked to dissolve that thin blue line concept where it's us and them."

He says departments can't effectively run programs like neighborhood watch, mobile watch and community oriented policing without good media relations.

"The news media . . . is one of the best tools we have," he said.

Adds his counterpart with Salt Lake City's police department, Lt. Phil Kirk, "Unless (the public) knows what the problems are, they won't know how to help us."

That help, police say, has resulted in declining crime rates in the past few years despite growing populations.

For decades, the state's third largest city relied on individual officers to juggle police work with media interviews. There was no organized or uniformity to the way information was released to the public, and many times, it just didn't get released.

"I have seen a need for 20 years or so," said West Valley Police Chief Dennis Nordfelt. "I don't know of any public service that the public is more interested in and has a greater need for being informed about, than in public safety. It greatly facilitates the accomplishment of our mission to be able to communicate well with the public."

So he designated Illsley to work with the media. As for his counterparts in other agencies, dealing with the media is only part of the job. Most still balance police work, but they do so with training and the support of administration.

For most public information officers, being a police officer still supersedes dealing with the press. Potter was recently honored for abandoning the press and rescuing a fellow officer who'd been shot in the head during a standoff in Magna.

That loyalty to the job extends to what information officers give the press.

"It's our responsibility to give the news accurate information in a timely fashion, at the same time not divulge information that's going to compromise the case," said Salt Lake Police Sgt. Kyle Jones, who's new to press relations but not to police work.

For 13 years he worked as a detective, and if there's a question about what should be released, Jones defers to his counterparts.

"I understand the sanctity of certain details," he said.

While public safety feels a growing need to communicate with the public through the press, there is still an inherent distrust of the media among most officers. The job of debunking myths about the press also lies with public information officers.

"Law enforcement by its very nature is secretive," Illsley said. "The media by its very nature is open. Different departments deal with that clash differently."

The love-hate, sort-of co-dependent relationship between the media and police agencies is a drama that plays out every time cars collide or bullets fly. Many officers feel the pressure of a big case and shy from the glare of media scrutiny.

"Cops generally have a hard time trusting people," Potter said. "They're very protective of their work and their investigations. have to convince them (solving cases) is team work."

Many are afraid to talk with the press for fear they'll jeopardize a case or release the wrong information.

"Any kind of mistake you make when the media is involved is a huge mistake," Kirk said. That's why having police officers who have some training in how to deal with the media seems to be the balance most departments are striving for.

Kirk and Potter have formed an association of public information officers statewide. They plan to meet this summer for the first time and share information and training ideas. The problem for many, they say, is that sometimes they have a harder time getting information from their own officers than the press does.

"Some of that conflict arises because they see me as part of the media, not part of them," Potter said.

And some agencies only want to share good news with the public and the media.

The Department of Public Safety's public information officer, Lt. Verdi White II, has a simple philosophy regarding what information to release: "the more information the better."

And while talking about some things is uncomfortable, inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing, he said, once a department decides to share information it has to share all information.

"People need to be comfortable with those people who are charged with enforcing the law," White said.

The alternative is being perceived as covering something up - even when you're not, they said.

"If you don't release accurate information in a timely fashion, you can project the image of trying to hide something," Jones said.

Adds Potter, "Bad news doesn't get much better with age. But it certainly can get more damaging. . . . The public has a right to know both (the good and the bad)."

Even fire departments have seen the value and convenience of having a designated press liaison. Both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have firefighters who work with the press to educate the public about safety issues as well as the minute-by-minute updates at the scene of a fire.

Salt Lake County Fire Capt. Bill Brass said dealing with the press is difficult during a crisis because the media want information immediately and firefighters are trying to save lives and property and aren't always willing to stop and talk about what's happening.

But the opportunity to educate the public about fire issues is something firefighters need to do more, he said.

For public safety information officers, the job isn't as much about image making as it is about education.

"If I take care of the issues every day, then the image will take care of itself," Potter said.

Media liaisons for both fire and police agencies say their job doesn't resemble that of any other government information employee because they deal with life and death situations.

By their just doing their jobs, they said, the public has a more positive image of police. Nordfelt said it's worked for West Valley City.

"I do think (Illsley's) efforts have resulted in a better public image but only because our story is being told more and better."