column was published in the
May 5, 1999)
One for the
police spin cycle
By Leo Knight
a columnist on justice issues, it's a large part of the job
description to be critical of publicly perceived problems within
the legislative, enforcement and judicial parts of the system.
critical of any establishment, especially ones like the
judiciary or a police organization, invites inevitable public
a columnist's response to that feedback is not warranted.
Raising the questions and provoking debate is the main aim.
However, certain communications demand a reply; perhaps an
explanation or a response to a challenge.
such letter was published in these pages on April 25 (Police
department criticism countered) written by Ken Hardie, the
Communications Director of the Vancouver Police Department.
if Hardie chooses to rebut anything said in this space, he is
more than welcome. Indeed, if he can provide any information
that suggests the information discussed is, in any way, wrong or
inaccurate, then he should write to correct the record.
the letter in question does none of this. He starts off by
suggesting I harbour a grudge and somehow, that's why I have
been critical of senior police management in Vancouver.
but what Hardie surmises couldn't be further from the truth.
Having served in both the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department,
I feel well qualified to say I have the utmost respect for the
serving men and women of the Vancouver police force.
They routinely go beyond the limitations of duty to provide the best possible service to the public often in the most trying of circumstances.
problem, you see, is not the force itself which invites the
criticism, but that of a chief who could not be more out of
touch with the people who are at the sharp end of things. Or the
small cadre of officers, marginalized by a lack of respect from
the majority of the department, who have aligned themselves with
an unpopular regime for the most self-serving of reasons.
complains about being referred to by "the pejorative, spin
doctor." Yet in the letter itself he tries to put a
positive "spin" on a survey of officers taken at the
end of the year which is rife with problem areas. When
management released the survey results, Hardie used transparent
"spin" tricks in associated graphs.
answers on the survey had the multiple choice, 1 to 5 options.
Yet in the accompanying bar graphs, the number started at 0,
thereby elongating the bar, making it appear more positive than
it actually was. A cheap illusion and nothing else. What is that
if not "spin?"
that as the background, Hardie suggests there is something wrong
with not calling him on an issue prior to publishing a column.
would I want to do that?
really cares for a polished response designed to minimize the
intended criticism? It's not the position of a columnist, paid
to provide analysis and opinion on an issue, to seek the counter
more important to talk to the rank and file, middle management
and senior people involved, to get at the heart of the issue.
Too much of today's media is controlled by the spin doctors
instead of the basic tenets of journalism.
the biggest problem I have with Hardie's missive is the final
paragraph in which he suggests that, you, the reader, need not
concern yourself with my "esoteric musings" because
you live on the North Shore and not the City of Vancouver.
Hardie thinks that it is only the roughly half a million city
citizens who should care what is happening with the province's
largest police department.
the one million daily commuters who go into the city from
surrounding municipalities shouldn't care about their
about those who use the city to attend sporting events,
concerts, Stanley Park, the PNE, the courts, shopping centres,
restaurants, nightclubs and a host of other events and
attractions that make Vancouver one of the best cities in the
world in which to live? Do those people not have a stake in the
organization responsible for their safety?
about the North Shore's business leaders, movers and shakers? If
they own or manage a business in Vancouver or travel to the city
to conduct business and pay the high taxes associated with
commerce in the city, are they not entitled to know what is
happening with their policing service?
the North Shore is home to many of the business leaders who pay
the freight in Vancouver, it seems to me they should be
would serve the interests of Hardie and beleaguered Chief
Constable Bruce Chambers well if attention were not focused on
the mismanagement of this proud organization which serves the
population of the whole Lower Mainland, not just those who live
within the city boundaries.
to the credit of the publisher of these pages that the spotlight
of concern is allowed to be placed upon issues important to all
of us, not just a parochial few.
the past week, I attended two police functions: a retirement
dinner for one of the most respected inspectors in the
department and a funeral for a long-serving homicide detective.
At both events I was inundated with a similar request from
officers I know and served with and from individuals I had never
message was simple: "Keep writing the truth. Someone has
that, dear reader, is what I intend to do despite any attempt at
deflection from a professional spin doctor.