I want to be careful about this because I want you to know where I am coming from. I have a plan. It’s not to slander anyone, let alone a group of people I respect and admire, but there’s a risk it may sound like that.
I want to expand a little on what my reporter, Charlotte Helston, wrote about last week. Her rant about the two hands of B.C. Government communications — one to shake your hand at their non-news events and the other to slap you down when you ask for information you really need — touched a thread with a bunch of reporters.
But you understand too, right? Good reporters try hard to bring accountability to those who hold power and the public purse. We ask tough questions of politicians and government officials and we’ll scream until we get answers.
For the most part, politicians — local ones — understand the accountability. They hold meetings in public, vote in public and typically speak in public. Anyone can go and scrutinize what they do. If you ask for information, they have to have a good reason not to give it to you.
Same with the courts. Our judges understand the power they hold and they work almost entirely in the public eye. They know justice must be seen to be done, and they protect my right to observe and interpret what I see there, even if they despise the notion, which I suspect many do.
City Hall and the law courts are, for the most part, populated by good men and women trying their hardest to get it right. And still it’s our job to point out the failures, the mistakes and be critical because if we don’t, few others have the time, interest or inclination to.
Where the concept starts to go pear-shaped for some people is when it comes to scrutinizing police, who to some are infallible. No one has the power a police officer has, particularly RCMP. No one else can lay hands on you. No one else can, legally, physically deprive you of your liberties. Of course, no one else puts themselves in such peril and vows to stand in the way of those who would illegally do harm. That's why they deserve our support—but not blindly.
You must understand that police no longer do their business in public. There is no more scrutiny of police activities. They largely operate in secret now and only tell us what they want us to know.
As late as last year, we had access to the police scanner. It was never perfect, but it gave us the opportunity to see first-hand what happened on the street. Technology caught up with police needs and they have since moved to encrypted digital radios that can’t be broken. I can’t blame them for wanting it or doing it. They have real, serious considerations for officer safety and for their activities and investigations.
But it also means no one is watching them anymore. And that should be just as unsettling as politicians and judges working behind closed doors. Not because something is wrong, or will go wrong, but because no power should go unchecked. We just don’t know what is really going on. Ignorance breeds fear and that’s exactly how I have felt since the scanners went dark.
We hear of major investigations and police activity in press releases days — sometimes weeks — after they happen. Emergency Response Teams and bomb squads roll through town, and we don’t find out for hours, even days. And readers blame news media for being late to the story.
I need you to know why.
Journalists have complained about this for years as digital radios slowly rolled out across the country. Some city police forces across the country have recognized they need public and media trust and that comes from transparency. They have tried various workarounds to share more cold, hard information—not just what they think we want to know.
But not the RCMP. They refuse to budge and fail to recognize any need for transparency.
Now to my plan, such as it is. I have created a Facebook page called IN Okanagan Scanner and IN Kamloops Scanner. I am asking you to be eyes and ears for your communities and share what you see or hear about police activities. Anything you see from police, whether it’s a road-check, a speed-trap or a couple cop cars outside an apartment building, I’m asking you to share it there. If you were assaulted or your home or business was broken into and you called police, I invite you to share it there. If you see the bomb squad or the RCMP’s ERT team, I invite you to share it. Pictures are best.
And we will do our best to check up on it. It may not be the best plan and it certainly isn’t my only plan. But I am going to try this and see how it works.
It will be heavily edited and won’t be ground-zero for all the cop-haters out there. That’s simply not what this is about. This is just about using technology to catch up with the accountability we all expect.
— Marshall Jones is the editor of infonews.ca