The public needs to hear from a human with a badge



I do not wish to take sides in Brockville's ongoing policing debate. Let the OPP costing process continue, and let the hard numbers land where they may.

I will, however, take sides in any debate about the two different media communications models I have to deal with on a daily basis as a reporter.

In fact, I wish there would be such a debate.

On the matter of assisting the news media in getting access to the facts, the Brockville Police Service wins, hands-down, with its old-fashioned model of reporters getting ready access to humans much of the time.

Should the city eventually opt for an OPP service contract, I would hope the OPP would take a serious look at this.

I would hope they look at it regardless.

In today's Recorder and Times, you may read about a tragedy in Rideau Lakes, another possible tragedy on the roads and the quick-thinking arrest of a would-be burglar by city police.

I am sure both the city police and the OPP displayed the same level of competence and professionalism in each of their respective incidents.

Letting the public know about those matters, however, was a different story.

On the matter of the arrest, the city police duty sergeant called us to let us know about it.

Had the incident in question not been a display of good city police work, of course, said sergeant would not have called us, but I am reasonably confident that, after a few phone calls and some prodding and cajoling of the best Fourth Estate kind, we would have found someone to talk to about any incident.

Under the city police model, there is always a human one ends up talking to. There are varying degrees of success, but a human nonetheless.

With the OPP, it was an entirely different story. You will get a human, but not on weekends – unless you are lucky.

For some time now, the OPP has adopted a new media communications format known as a “news portal.”

It's a restricted-access website where officers from the provincial force's many detachments post press releases, and journalists get them, in theory, quickly.

If this system works well, those press releases come with numbers to call, so a reporter can talk to a human.

If it does not work well, however, the releases don't get on to the portal in the first place, and we end up calling the regional communications centre, only to be told that “everything is already on the news portal.”

And so on. This is the norm on weekends, and in many cases during the week on business hours.

And such was the case with this weekend's incidents. A lightning-strike fatality and a serious-injury accident are terrible things, which the public has a right to know about.

Lucky we found out about them through means other than the portal.

News portals are a wonderful first step, so long as they are a portal to something other than written statements issued once a week. And so long as they are a first step to a follow-up interview.

Otherwise, they are nothing more than a PR machine.

Many things are changing rapidly in the news industry, and they are exciting changes.

But if it is to be the only police force in this region, the OPP needs to remember that, for the public to be informed, newspeople will still need to talk to humans.

Humans with badges