Friday, May 28, 2010

Media Not Welcome in Peel Region

I had a run in with Peel Police tonight. I showed up at a house fire / grow op on Canvey Crescent at the same time as two other shooters from City and CP24. I could tell right away by the look on the Constables face that it was not going to go well. We all parked and as I approached his cruiser, which was blocking the road, I tried to warm him up by asking how his night was going. He was obviously a man of few words. I setup my tripod and asked him to call his Sergeant and let him know we were requesting access. As I started shooting down the road I noticed that all the neighbours were out on the street and a large group of about a dozen had gathered near the fire trucks.

I pointed this out to the cop and asked if we could go up. It was clear to me that no danger existed and no crime scene tape had been put up. He again refused access and I told him I was going up and that he better call his Sergeant. You might be asking yourself why I would be so confrontational with an officer. You have to realize that this is common practice in Peel Region. I could easily gather a large crowd of camera operators who have had disagreements with Peel Police. Almost always these are precipitated by lack of access to streets in the area of crime scenes and fires. It often seems containment is a higher priority than investigation. It would appear that the containment has more to do with keeping media out rather than preservation of evidence or investigation.

Standard practice for media responding to calls in Peel is to find access as quickly as possible without contact with officers at road blocks in the area. We know from years of experience that once inside the traffic perimeter we are generally allowed to do our job and leave, often very quickly as was the case tonight at the fire. If you approach a road block you may as well come back in a few hours, as you will inevitably sit and wait a long time. So we are forced to immediately look for lane ways, alleys or fields that we can cut through to get to the scene and join the handful of gawkers that usually are already on scene. This was the case tonight as it was clear that all the neighbours were out watching, but the only people not allowed down to the scene were, at least in the mind of the Constable, the arriving media. People had kids and dogs for God sake. It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the fire is now out and it may be safe to let media closer. The firefighters were rolling up the hoses!

A quick survey of GTA media that asks them to rate each Police Department on a scale of one to ten may be eye opener for PRP. If media field personnel were asked to rate based on ease of access and ability to document events, PRP would surely find that they are clearly lowest on the list. I can show up at a serious car accident in Halton Region and be immediately escorted right down to the area of the accident, before the occupants are even in ambulances. They rank among the best to deal with in Ontario. OPP dealing with fatal highway accidents on 400 series highways have clear policies in place. A media officer is immediately called to the scene and escorts cameras so they do not interfere with evidence gathering. In fact as overnight camera operators we all have the cell phone number for OPP Media Sgt. Dave Woodford, and yes we can call him in the middle of the night. In Toronto we can attend murders and get what we need and seldom have any issues with officers. In York Region we can at least feel confident that they will do what they can to allow reasonable access. A York PD Duty Inspector is always on scene quickly, willing to tell us what he can and assure we have some information to work with. All of these things seem foreign to PRP and the only thing I can be assured of in Peel is that I will have no information and will have to fend for myself and sneak in to get video.

Further evidence of how hard it can be to cover news in Peel Region can be found on my blog in a post from last year. (  It was June 2009 when I attended a murder and had a similar experience. My colleagues from City, CTV and Global TV all share the same frustration that I do.  I feel it’s time for PRP to take a look at how they handle the media and how they are perceived by the media. Otherwise we will continue to show up already on guard and assuming the worst possible reception.

1 comment:

  1. Tony, I just read your Peel blogs. Right on.

    I could visualize everything you were talking about as if they were my own memories. In fact, that might be because they are.

    Its amazing that everything you said in there, from the "gawkers" in the scene to the overuse of police tape has happened to me as well.

    Actually, I laughed for a good five minutes when you proposed that comparison of police tape usage between regions as I think I've proposed the same experiment myself!

    I swear some of the scenes I've been to in Peel look like bloody spider webs. One particular scene I recall was in actuality, three perimeters in one. I mean, it was so incredibly overdone and ludicrously intricate that I had flashes of the bank-robbery training scene in the movie Entrapment.

    The real kicker is that the area they were so vigorously protecting was in fact a non-fatal shooting involving some gang-bangers. A scene in which, in Toronto, we would've been given nearly full access to and a clip, or at the very least an update, to boot.

    However, in Peel region? 2x extender, 24db gain and plenty of dirty looks from the 22 year old constable in the road block car that you're told to stand by 20 feet away from the third ring of crime tape who will only say to call their media desk through his slightly cracked window while he pretends to do paperwork (breathe). Did I mention this was a Sunday morning and their desk wasn't in? ?

    Now, their media relation's desk is usually pretty helpful on the day-side, especially when you're dealing with Cst. Valade but Christ, if it occurs outside of normal business hours, good luck getting anything.

    Sadly, situations like the aforementioned one aren't isolated as I could roll off many more examples of how ridiculous Peel Region can be regarding transparency and media access.

    The fact is, myself and many other cameramen like me groan whenever something happens in Peel because we don't want to deal with the constant bullshit that is present unilaterally at every scene in that region. Of course, that might be what they're going for...

    However, the PRP should keep in mind that, like themselves, we're just doing our jobs. I'm not sure if they think that making our lives difficult will deter us from showing up but at the end of the day, we need that shot - and were going to get it. Not because were vultures and get-off on seeing that kind of stuff but because the people they are sworn to protect deserve to know what's going on in their own backyard's.

    Stonewalling us at crime scenes is tantamount to denying anything bad ever happens out there which we all know is completely untrue.

    Hopefully they will get it through their heads, like every other region in the GTA, that the more information they provide and the better access they give us means the quicker we're on our merry way.

    And let's face it, the more action shots we get of them saving lives and nabbing bad guys, the better they look to the community serve anyway so what's the big deal?

    It is beyond me why these guys continually treat us with such disrespect and frighteningly enough, things seem to be getting worse.

    Thanks for saying what you did, and from what I hear, forwarding it to the subjects in question.

    Good show.

    - Jmc