Sheriff’s office PIO Cannon works to keep Utah County citizens informed
Last week, two motorcyclists were spotted driving 115 miles per hour, putting their own lives and lives of others at risk. Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office immediately took to social media to talk about the recklessness in an effort to educate and inform the public. That’s just part of the job for the UCSO public information officer.
Cannon began working at the Utah County Jail in September 1990. Since then, he has worked in a host of positions with the agency including as a detective, search and rescue member and for over 14 years, in patrol.
“Then, they made me a full-time public information officer in 2019,” Cannon said. Before that, he worked as the PIO part time while handling his other duties.
As PIO, Cannon has the unique opportunity to work closely with the sheriff’s office, the public and the media. Some of his responsibilities include responding to media inquiries, letting the public know when a major incident has occurred, sharing critical information and running the UCSO social media accounts.
“One advantage of having a full-time position is that I have more time to find stories that are interesting and push them out to media,” Cannon said. The public is then able to learn more about local safety issues as well as resources.
“We also have a little more time to reach out to the public,” Cannon said. For example, a new series will soon begin, titled “Where in Utah County is Sheriff Smith?” According to Cannon, Sheriff Mike Smith will go to an area in the county and the photo will be shared on social media. He said that whoever correctly guesses where Smith is will receive a prize. He said winners will, “get something, like a challenge coin or sheriff’s coin.”
“I do what I can to give the sheriff’s office a positive image, but the most important thing is to get a lot of followers. If we do things that are interesting and people follow us on social media, then when things really go bad and we need to get them critical information, they’re already there,” Cannon said. “As a law enforcement agency, we have the duty to let people know about things that are impacting their lives.”
He cited evacuations during fires and flooding as some of the critical information that the sheriff’s office gives out. While Cannon serves as the mouthpiece for the office, he also, on occasion, acts as a listening ear.
With the speeding motorcyclists, Cannon not only warned of the dangers, but asked the public for information. “We did get a call with a matching description,” he said.
Some of what Cannon posts on social media is lighthearted — photos of good food prepared by inmates or award-winning goat at the Utah County Fair. But those parts are significantly outnumbered by the serious information people need to know about.
Earlier this year, Cannon posted about an alarming increase in suicide calls that the sheriff’s office responded to in 2020. The purpose of the post was to let people know how and where they can get help. “We talk about those types of things that we deal with and put messages out there letting people know that there is help,” he said.
As a public information officer, Cannon has been involved in a variety of different situations, leaving him with memories both positive and negative. One stands out as the most difficult. He’s never forgotten when John Jones died after being stuck in Nutty Putty Cave for 27 hours back in 2009.
“It was by far the hardest press briefing I ever had to do — to tell them that this man who was a young father, a medical student, who was perfectly healthy and strong, couldn’t get out and the experts couldn’t find a solution. That was hard to do,” Cannon said.
During his three decades in law enforcement, Cannon has seen a lot. His most rewarding experiences occur when he is able to help others. “In our job, when we help somebody, it’s not always fun for them. Maybe they’ve been in a crash or are addicted to drugs or alcohol,” he said.
“But, I’m a firm believer that if people won’t seek help for themselves, when we interact with them, it is another chance to get help. We give them an opportunity to take steps to work through and get over their addictions,” he said. “We can provide medical resources for accident victims. We can help abuse victims have justice. Being in a position to help people who can’t help themselves, is very satisfying.”