Saturday, September 1, 2012

Police Chief / Newspapers Editor / TV News Director

Police Chief / Newspaper Editor / TV News Director
These are the new job duties of Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire
After reading two articles published in today's Hamilton Spectator, I wanted to speak out on how I see things. The comments section of the newspaper was my first choice. My remarks were too long winded to publish. Thus I turn to Blogger.
Police in Hamilton and nearby Halton Region have recently decided to encrypt all radio transmissions. This has left local media clueless as to what is going on, especially in the evening and overnight, after police media relations officers go home for the day.
Hamilton Police Cheif Glenn De Caire says it's his duty to control crime and people's fear of crime. I say he only wants to control the flow of information in the hopes of making everyone see the world the way he wants us to see it.
The Hamilton Police Chief wants to "manage the fear of crime". This translates into "Out of site out of mind."

Think about this .... a man gets shot on Barton St. Under the old system a journalist or camera person may show up within minutes. It would be all laid out for everyone to see. Not just the people standing nearby that would talk about it with friends. Thousands would see on TV and in newspaper photos, how the man lay there bleeding, as paramedics pumped rhythmically on his chest, trying to bring a dying man back to life.

They would look on as he was lifted onto a stretcher and wheeled by with his lifeless arms hanging over the side of the stretcher, as the firefighter who is assisting, now rides the rails of the stretcher pumping his chest like he's beating a drum, trying to bring the man back from the dead.

That is the reality of what a shooting looks like. The Chief may think it's better if less people get to see this. He may cringe when he looks on as the video runs over and over again throughout the day on TV and streams on demand across the newspaper's website. This doesn't change a damn thing. Reality is still reality. That is what a murder looks like. Many would say they don't need the Chief of Police to also be the Editor of the local newspaper or the control valve for what gets seen on TV.

Now let's move forward. The new radio system protects officer safety. What else does it do? It guarantees the cameras will almost never be there to document reality. From now on it will be video and pictures taken hours or days after the fact. The stretcher is gone, the victim is already cooling in the morgue, his friends and relatives have been taken back to the station. Witnesses are gone. The bullet casings have been taken into evidence and nothing remains but an empty street. This is the new reality. Especially if the event happens in the evening or overnight. The media will only know about it the next day, if and when Hamilton Police choose to tell them.
Now take Joe public and ask him how bad crime is in his city. Under the old system he might say it's horrific, totally out of control. "I saw that story last week where they were doing CPR on that poor guy! It was terrible." Then wait until a year after the new world order where police strictly control the flow of information and thus control what images, words and descriptions are published in the local media. Ask Joe public the same question and you may get a different answer.

I've been covering crime stories for 25 years. I've seen it all. Hundreds of deaths. Hundreds of shooting victims. I've watched as brave men and women of our EMS and Fire Services try to bring the dead back to life. I know where the bodies lay. I can describe Toronto geography by crime scenes I've attended. I've been listening to scanners for decades. I know how they work and I know how to program them. I listen to 9 while I work overnight covering breaking news in Toronto for CBC. I've been first to arrive on scene as officers struggled with suspects. I've even helped officers who said yes when I asked if they needed a hand. I'm sure many tow truck driver have also done the same thing. We are all on the same team. We are the good guys.
Nothing prevents police from allowing media to listen even under the new encrypted system. In fact it's even easier to control access as the radios are all numbers in the system, they cannot be copied and they can be wiped clean at the stroke of a keyboard if lost. They could easily provide "receive only" radios that would allow media access while making sure criminals cannot listen. I doubt it will ever happen.
Police don't want media around when they are attending to breaking news stories and violent crimes. They only want them there when they need them. When some elderly person or kid is missing and they need everyone in the city to be looking for them. When they are looking for witnesses on a cold case. When they need us, not when we need them. Especially not when an officer needs to get a little heavy handed in order to bring a bad guy around to his way of thinking.

Does the public even want to watch as all the real life drama flashes across the TV screen? If they don't they will change channels. I for one want to know what is really going on in my city not just what some cop thinks I should know. I don't need a cop to make me wear his particular brand of rose coloured glasses.
That's reality from where I sit.