Often in our Newscast, we are forced to highlight the strained relationship that the media has with the Police Department. And that’s because we often work at cross purposes: On one side, the media requires full disclosure to properly inform the public, and on the other hand, police have to protect certain information to ensure a proper investigation results in a successful prosecution.
And that creates friction – leaving the media to speak to a designated police press officer – who often has not been updated by the officers commanding at various formations. And so, the information that reaches our newsroom is in such a form that if we were to present it to you, in the form it arrives, there would be more questions than answers.
Well that should change now – or at least, start to change. Police Commissioner Allen Whylie, who has been making bold administrative decisions since he was appointed he has extended a hand of friendship to the press.
In an unprecedented first step, members of the media were invited to make presentations to the senior police officers in the first ever police-media summit.
Today, Commissioner Whylie opened the workshop with a surprising move in which he changed the rules of media engagement for these commanders, allowing them to speak freely if they so choose, on matters in their jurisdiction.
Here’s what he said -
Allen Whylie - Police Commissioner
"I believe that us having the firsthand information is the right person to give that information to. I am empowering you today to feel free to speak to the media. If they call and you have the information - provide the information. But at some level we must also know which information we must provide - we need the balance the right of the public against the right of the newsmedia and the victims that may have that may have some concern. Again we have to careful in terms of information we do release but I would want to see the commander with more activity in terms of passing information directly to the media. Calling in the media and view them as our friends but the media can also be your foes and opponents. They have their own responsibility to play and they will play and we have our functions and responsibilities to execute and to be successful we must be able to communicate confidently, positively, freely and we must be able to work together because they are the channel that will sell the good work that we have been doing; of course they sell the bad work also because it is the public right to know. I do not believe in stifling information"
But, this represents an entire culture shift within the police department which normally does not embrace the media on a level that the Commissioner is suggesting that they now do.
Our colleague from KREM News put it directly to him today, that there are likely to be officers who will purposely stonewall the press, and ignore his orders.
He told the media today that he is hopeful and confident that this policy shift will be embraced:
"The participants in this training are the regional commanders, the formation commanders and the deputy formation commanders countrywide and I've already said that so that has already been given."
"So that will elminate the problem of having the commanders telling us 'listen we have already left the job/office site so we can't comment' or the people at the office telling us the commander is not there anymore and that we have to call back until tomorrow."
"Well you understand as Jules said there's a culture and paradigm shift. Old habits may be hard to put to rest but I'm certain that the commanders have received the instructions quite clearly from myself and will be cooperative and if they have additional information required then they will provide that information."
"Weekends as well?"
"Well we work 24-7"
"My final question - in the past I have noticed that when commanders were told that they could give interviews to the media, some did and when they got into 'hot water' they pulled from speaking with the media or they themselves would no longer want to speak with the media. Can we expect that this will change?"
"In my opening comments this morning I reminded the officers that the media will ask the questions and as professionals they have got to know which questions to answer and the information to provide. I am optimistic that the training today will sharpen the skills of some of those officers who may not be as confident to give the kind of information tha they should give. They will also be doing some role play today and I think after today they would be more open to speak with the media because they would have been empowered from this training."
Commissioner Whylie has also promised that the media policy will be revised, and that the press will be consulted on how best to do so.