(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 5, 1999)

 

One for the police spin cycle

By Leo Knight

AS 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.  

 

Being critical of any establishment, especially ones like the judiciary or a police organization, invites inevitable public feedback.  

 

Normally, 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.  

 

One 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.  

 

Now, 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.  

 

But 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.  

 

Sorry, 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.  

 

The 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.  

 

Hardie 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.  

 

The 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?"  

 

With that as the background, Hardie suggests there is something wrong with not calling him on an issue prior to publishing a column.  

 

Why would I want to do that?  

 

Who 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 spin.  

 

It's 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.  

 

But 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.  

 

What arrogance!  

 

Somehow 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.  

 

Evidently the one million daily commuters who go into the city from surrounding municipalities shouldn't care about their protectors.  

 

What 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?  

 

What 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?  

 

Considering the North Shore is home to many of the business leaders who pay the freight in Vancouver, it seems to me they should be concerned.  

 

It 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.  

 

It's 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.  

 

In 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 met.  

 

The message was simple: "Keep writing the truth. Someone has to."  

 

And that, dear reader, is what I intend to do despite any attempt at deflection from a professional spin doctor.  

 

  -30-

 

 

 

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