Poor Communications Remains TBPS Policy

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City Hall Thunder BayTHUNDER BAY – The speed at which the Thunder Bay Police Service shares information with the public remains seemingly stuck in the past. On January 3rd, as several schools were placed in lockdown to protect students, the communications from the TBPS would have received a failing grade from any teacher.

On January 4th, a full day after yesterday’s incident started, the TBPS Executive reported at 10:00AM:

“Thunder Bay Police responded at 10:02am, 3 January 2011 in the vicinity of North Selkirk Street and East Victoria Avenue in response to a male yelling and screaming carrying what appeared to be a knife. The male is described as Caucasian, approximately twenty years of age and wearing jeans, off white hoodie and black sneakers. Police contacted the Separate Schools and Public Schools in the area. 

“Schools in the area to implement a Hold and Secure procedure to ensure the safety of students and staff while an extensive search of the area was conducted to try and locate the male.

“Police personnel who included patrol officers, Emergency Task Unit officers, the K9 Unit and Supervisors were unable to locate the male. The Hold and Secure has now been lifted and officers will be conducting patrols for the remainder school day for schools affected by the Hold and Secure.

Police are asking that if anyone sees this individual to contact police immediately”

That kind of report should have been issued during the incident, not a full twenty-four hours later.

The actions taken by police were the right ones. The front-line officers, Staff Sergeants, and policies put in place by Polce Chief Herman for dealing with the incident were right. What fails however is the communications strategy that is the responsibility of the Chief and the Police Executive.

This approach remains constant without improvement over the past several years. It started with the incident in downtown Thunder Bay north when there was an assault on Jake Raynard. Complete silence from the TBPS executive in that instance ruled for days.

That incident rallied Thunder Bay residents against the growing violence in our city. The official police response which should have been that ‘Violence in Thunder Bay is unacceptable and the TBPS is determined to make our community safer’, was to stay silent.

People in Thunder Bay are stakeholders in the move to a safer community. Most of City Council and the Mayor’s office along with the head of the newly created Crime Prevention Council understand that fact. It continues to appear that the Police Chief, and the Police Executive prefer to maintain what has been for the past several years a very unacceptable status quo.

The same pattern of silence continued in late 2010 when an incident with an individual with a knife and a shotgun caused up to 30 police officers to lockdown an area of the North Ward near downtown for almost a day.

There were no efforts to inform residents told to stay indoors, or local businesses to update them on what was happening and how it could impact them.

2011 starts with the same kind of poor communications from the Police Executive.

Frankly put, the only way that any citizen in our community knew what happened on New Year’s Eve on a timely basis was not from the TBPS but because a Chronicle Journal reporter did a ride-along and reported on January 2nd in the newspaper.

The TBPS didn’t bother updating their website on their plans for New Year’s Eve until January 3rd 2001.

In a community where over 70,000 people are on the Internet using Social Media, that the Police Executive seem determined to leave the public in the dark is simply inexcusable.

The message to City Council, Mayor Hobbs, and the Police Services Board is a very simple one. Improve the communications from the TBPS, or make the needed moves to replace those who are uninterested in engaging the public with needed information.

One must note that there is a responsibility in communciations as well. No one should expect the TBPS to distribute information that would compromise public safety. However as in Monday’s incident parents were left uninformed, and that is not acceptable.

A cost effective solution might be to make the Staff Sergeant for each shift responsible for communications of important information to the public. The savings immediately would be enough money to put another needed officer on the streets protecting our community and preventing crime.

James Murray

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