No comment not good enough

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - Paul Ber­ton is ed­i­tor-in-chief of The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor and thes­ You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­ton@thes­ PAUL BER­TON

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.

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