It’s before the courts

(cbc)

The Winnipeg Police Service, and its chief, Keith McCaskill, are to be congratulated for their handling of Evan Maud’s ‘Starlight Tour’ [or is it ‘drive?’] debacle on Friday.

As a member of the local media, I echo another reporter’s sentiment about the whole affair:

Truth be told, I blame us for fanning flames where there is no fire. We should all be ashamed.

The criminal mischief case against Maud can now proceed. Judging from his family’s comments, there may be more presented at trial about what happened and why.

But — and I understand totally why it had to happen — I wanted to point out that the WPS did something truly exceptional in explaining why Maud was being charged; why they believe his story is bogus.

They showed the public — or at least told them from the force’s most credible source — the evidence they had uncovered.

I believe Mike Sutherland of the WPA called McCaskill’s Friday afternoon explanation of what investigators found “unprecedented.”

There was no obfuscation or lack of clarity — police investigated ‘X’ and this is what they found after looking into it.

A refreshing change indeed from simply saying — as they do in so many other cases:

“It’s before the courts and we will have no comment.”

Menno Zacharias writes in a blog post that popped up Saturday:

During my many years as a police officer I found that when police explain what they are doing and why they are doing it, all but a few members of the public (and the media) ‘get it’. They may not always agree but they recognize and understand the rationale.

What is required from police is a willingness to be open and transparent. Police departments have been and continue to be secretive about almost everything they are involved in. Unless, of course, they are looking for media coverage of positive stories or they need media assistance in getting out a message about a particular case where they need information from the public to solve the case.

Greater openness and transparency on the part of police departments would go a long way to improve the police image in the eyes of the public. It would also provide a greater measure of accountability.

It strikes me that the problem with this, in Winnipeg especially, is that policing and crime are so politicized and over-publicized that there’s often zero incentive to share or “explain” why things happened the way they did.

Unfortunately what that leads to over time is a sense of mistrust in the process and how police operate.

Menno writes:

There are several approaches that can be taken to address  issues like this in a proactive way. One is to create greater transparency in terms of police policies and procedures. If, for example, both the public and the media are fully aware of the police department’s use of force policy, and the policy is a public document, a lot of speculation and misinformation could be avoided.

This I can agree with. Show the public the framework by which the local PD gets things done and it would lead to more accuracy in what gets in the media, less speculation. This is an area where the WPS sometimes falls short, in my view.

The former deputy chief also writes that other cities have begun releasing their operations manuals to the public, a show of openness that will — unless you’re a geeky law-enforcement nut, a cop reporter or really lonely — bore people to tears.

But it’s a step in the right direction.

Menno also writes that other cities hold information sessions for the public and media on various policing topics such as the use of force.

He wasn’t around at the time, but the WPS held a use of force seminar for the media in 2008. A full day of many officers’ time was devoted to sharing  with reporters the rules behind what many consider to be the ugly side of policing.

It was fascinating — and, for me personally, somewhat embarrassing.

A few months after that they held a similar seminar on organized crime, equally as interesting. Thankfully, it was less interactive.

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