By Debbie Siegelbaum - 12/11/12 11:59 PM EST
If there’s one thing newly appointed U.S. Capitol Police Public Information Officer Shennell Antrobus knows, it’s public relations.
Antrobus spent seven years in the private sector spearheading campaigns for major corporate clients including GlaxoSmithKline and Verizon before joining the Capitol Police. In November he was promoted to the PIO position, and now he’s hoping his experiences in the private sector have prepared him for the media onslaught associated with his new job.
“It is very challenging,” Antrobus told The Hill. “Even in the infancy of this role right now, I can see it isn’t an easy [one], but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
At age 13, he applied to A Better Chance, an organization that matches minority students with opportunities at elite schools across the country. He was accepted to a boarding school in Madison, Conn., and left his family behind to pursue his high school studies.
“I just wanted to go outside of my comfort zone and do something different,” Antrobus said of the experience, which required that he do his own laundry and monitor his study habits.
“It taught me a lot about myself and what I was capable of doing,” he added. “It helped me become more of an independent person.”
After boarding school, Antrobus returned to New York, attending Union College in Schenectady and earning a bachelor of arts degree in sociology. During his time there, he also discovered a deep affinity for travel, journeying to Japan three times and basing his senior thesis on the country.
After graduation, Antrobus hoped to continue on with his two passions of travel and academia, and applied to graduate school at the University of Sydney in Australia. There he earned a master of arts in international studies.
Following his return to the U.S., he basically “fell into PR,” Antrobus jokes. “Interacting with the public was something I thought I did well.”
Over the next seven years, Antrobus rose through the public-relations ranks, joining several firms and working on marketing campaigns for wine and spirits, consumer goods and healthcare.
But, after a while, it just wasn’t enough.
“I reached the point where I did a little bit of internal searching,” he said. “I liked the public-relations realm when I was in it; I think I did it pretty well as far as advancing myself career-wise and my clients getting their product or service out there in a positive manner.
“But deep down inside, I think I wanted to be in law enforcement as well,” he added. “Trying to help others in their time of need, that was the main thing that appealed to me.”
Antrobus’s aunt, a Baltimore City Police officer, also encouraged his interest with tales of her day-to-day work on the force.
To help bolster his chances of being accepted to a police force, Antrobus decided to return to school and earn a master of arts from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. While there, he interned with the New York City Police Department’s Midtown South Detective Squad.
In 2008, Antrobus was accepted into the Capitol Police department and was assigned to the Capitol Visitor Center’s first shift. Later he transferred to the House Chamber Section, where he participated in special protective assignments for events including the State of the Union and the 2012 Republican National Convention, according to a department statement.
But Antrobus hoped to someday bring his skills, honed in public relations, to his new work environment.
“I figured during my time that one day I would try to get into the Public Information Office just so that I can use what I developed in the PR realm and bring it to Capitol Police, to hopefully be a face to the department and apply what I learned in my previous life,” he said.
After former Capitol Police PIO Sgt. Kimberly Schneider was promoted to lieutenant in March 2012, Antrobus seized the opportunity and applied for the position. For Schneider, who served as PIO since November 2005, it was a natural fit.
“There isn’t anything about having a background in PR that’s going to hurt you in being a public information officer, quite frankly,” she said.
“I think [Antrobus is] going to represent the department really well,” she added. “We wanted to make sure that we continued to represent the Capitol Police as best we can, because we know it’s a very critical position and it’s also a high-profile environment … You’ve got to deal with people globally.”
Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Jim Konczos echoed Schneider’s approval of the new PIO pick.
“I think he was a good choice,” Konczos said of Antrobus. “He’s a good guy, he comes across as very professional … He’s a very respectable person.”
As Antrobus continues to settle into his new position, he concedes that liaising with the public and the media as a Capitol Police officer is not quite as comparable to the private sector as he would have thought.
“It’s almost a different sort of animal,” he said, describing his years spent doggedly reaching out to the media to drum up interest in his corporate clients’ endeavors.
“Now it’s different because the tables are turned, in a sense,” Antrobus said. “Writers and producers are coming to me for information on the Capitol Police, and I now have to disseminate that information.”
“I’m learning that right now,” he said, noting that Schneider has been advising him as he gets up to speed.
“I’ve shared my secrets with him,” Schneider said with a laugh. “He’s really sharp; I know he can handle this position … I am happy to pass the torch on to him.”
As he continues to master his new role, Antrobus doesn’t regret leaving his old life behind. He joined the Capitol Police to help people, and that’s just what he’s getting to do.
“I’ve done my previous career in public relations, which was great, but at the end of the day, I love law enforcement,” he said.
“With my previous background in public relations married with my law enforcement experience, being in this role as PIO, I’d say it’s a good thing,” Antrobus said. “It’s a great fit.”