Backstory – Part 1

“Don’t watch the news after a major police call,” a senior officer once told me when I was new to the job, “because they always get it wrong.”

Years later, I’m not sure media outlets intentionally getting it wrong.  Yes, sometimes media coverage of a significant police-involved event is either inaccurate, unfair or biased (depending on the source – there are a few nay-sayers who take advantage of every situation to cry foul), but other times the media is forced to run with what little they have because the police have released little to no information.

When police say “No comment” or “We’re unable to answer your questions at this point” it means police cannot talk about what has happened – usually for several reasons, the most important of which is the integrity of the investigation.

I’ve been involved in an incident or two that has ended up with media coverage – what officer hasn’t?  Being the person I am, I then watched the news and read the papers.  Most of the time news coverage is a basic report on facts released by the VPD Media Section, but a few times I’ve gotten really upset/angry when coverage is not accurate or because one of the nay-sayers is able hold court while police have to refrain from commenting.

Take, for instance, news coverage when there has been a homicide involving the high risk arrest of the suspect.  For the sake of this post we’ll use the example of a fictional homicide.  Newspaper coverage might read something like this:

Vancouver police arrested a man late last night after responding to a shots fired call in the Kitsilano area.  A 35 year old man was taken into custody after the body of a 33 year old woman was found inside a home on W. 7th Ave.  A two year old child was also located inside the home, uninjured, and is currently in the care of the Ministry.  Police are not releasing the names of the parties involved, but according to neighbours the man and woman were in a common-law relationship.

If on television the story might be accompanied by video of the street and/or house and an interview with a neighbour.  Once the clip is finished or the newspaper folded and placed in the recycling bin the story is most often not even thought about until the next news clip is broadcast or the next paper is delivered.

But for those involved in the case the incident becomes all-consuming.  Police, other emergency responders such as EHS and the Fire Department, witnesses, family members, friends and loved ones – everyone has an invested interest in the case.  When I say loved ones I’m not only talking about the loved ones of the victims and suspects, but those of first responders as well.

If you read the above ‘news release’ you might spend a few moments wondering about the people involved and placate yourself with the notion that something similar would not happen in your neighbourhood.  And I’m willing to bet that an hour later the incident would have slipped from your mind.

Now I want you to give it a second thought.  This time think about what the officers responding to the call had to go through.  Think about what they saw, what they said, what they had to do to uphold the law and ensure peace and security.  Think about the absolute worst thing a human could do to another human and then times that by ten.  We humans are a nasty bunch when we want to be, and the nature of police work brings officers into contact with monsters everyday.

It’s a reality.  There is so much story behind what is in the news, and it is the story that changes lives for those who respond to the call.

Tomorrow, I’m going to give you an inside look into the ‘homicide’ reported on above.  All I ask is you take note of what is mentioned in the news and what took place from the police officer’s point of view.  Similar in basic facts?  Yes.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

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