No comment not good enough
It was around 4:30 p.m. The information came via what journalists still call the “police radio,” even though Hamilton police blocked their radio communications from the media more than five years ago.
But other first responders still use the radio, and we listen.
Paramedics called to a home in Waterdown.
Reports of a dead man. Shots fired.
For the next several hours, though police descended on the area in droves, that was all we had.
It sounded, at first, like a drive-by shooting, which some media outlets reported, but police wouldn’t clarify that until much later.
At The Spectator, we couldn’t even write a reliable sentence that police were investigating a shooting.
Multiple phone calls to the station went unanswered. Officers on the scene dismissed or ignored Spectator reporters, refusing to either confirm or deny anything. Others said, quite rightly, they couldn’t comment because homicide detectives were investigating. One officer even expressed incredulity that a media officer hadn’t been dispatched.
Despite intense media interest, and widespread concern from Hamilton residents in general and those in Waterdown in particular, no official statement came from the police until about 10:30 that evening, when an officer at the scene addressed journalists. Media were never alerted a news conference was scheduled, either that night or the following day.
By then, of course, much of the media had already reported it was a shocking gangland-style hit in broad daylight on a quiet suburban street in Hamilton, and that the dead man was notorious mobster Angelo Musitano.
He was killed at close range in his driveway while his wife and three children were inside the house.
By 7 p.m., The Spectator, after searching property records, had a good idea it was Musitano’s residence.
Shortly thereafter, we received a tip: The slain man was Musitano.
We then confirmed that tip anonymously, and asked police to verify it, which they refused.
It was not until 10:30 p.m. that police officially confirmed the news.
To be fair, the police are understaffed and overworked, and investigators would have been particularly busy that day. As well, there must be the usual efforts to “protect the integrity of the investigation” and “get the best evidence possible.”
Besides, police have no obligation to help journalists. It is our job to get the facts in any way we can.
But police do have a duty to keep the public informed. There was obviously huge interest in this case, especially from terrified neighbours.
Officers surely would have known within minutes of arriving that the dead man was Musitano, and that it was not a drive-by shooting, but a targeted hit, and that the neighbourhood was relatively safe despite the violence.
Could that have not been transmitted to the public more quickly?
From my observations of similar big events in the United States, it would have been.
News travels at light speed in a digital age, but police here are increasingly less immediately forthcoming with information that could help everyone.
Perhaps the two are related. Or perhaps it’s time for a review.