THUNDER BAY – CRIMEBEAT – The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police are concerned that some media outlets have used police scanners and the information gathered on those tools to commercialize police reporting in the news. At the centre of the issue is an incident where a police officer who was badly injured and dying, was on his radio calling for help. That call was transcribed, and re-broadcast by several media in Toronto. The speed of the reporting was faster than the police were able to get information out to the family of the officer.
There is a responsibility in the media in terms of what is reported, and when. Some of that depends on the simple common sense that should be present on all sides. From the media, a question to ask might be does this really benefit the public, or is it more of a tabloid type effort to attract readers/viewers or listeners. From the police side, having solid relationships with all media outlets is a key to not ending up in similar situations in the future.
There is also a responsibility from police services to get information out to the public, and the media as fast as possible. Often information gets to media outlets faster than the police have officially distributed that information. That leaves the decision making to the media rather than to the police.
One of the steps coming forward in many police services is a growing use of social media as a tool for communications. The long-term impact of this will likely see growing numbers of individuals getting their information directly, on Twitter and Facebook or by email, from their local police. In many cases the media will follow along too, reporting what is happening.
Canada has not seen the kind of media frenzy as in California for example where police chases are broadcast live on the news. Police experts have often suggested that move simply encourages more copy-cats to want to get their moment of fame on television.
The idea of using police resources, like the scanners in live or almost live broadcasts is one that not only could put police officers at risk, but could also put the public at risk too. In our society, we trust our police. We rely on them to uphold law and order. There are times when the work that police officers are doing is risky enough. Drug raids, and other undercover operations do not need to be live online or on the televisions.
There is going to be the development of a needed balance over coming years. Likely for many police services, the concept of taking their information directly to the public and by-passing traditional media is going to be seen as a benefit.
In some communities, the police services are yet to engage with the people they serve via social media. Lagging behind is going to result in a steeper learning curve and likely have many in the public concerned that they are not getting all the information possible.
A prediction, the growth of social media and its use by police services is only going to increase. There will be many departments and services across North America who have lagged behind who will be sprinting to catch up in the coming months and years.