Po­lice train­ing in spot­light af­ter lo­cal jour­nal­ists’ ar­rests

Chief Girt to re­view events at Wa­ter­down fa­tal crash scene

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NICOLE O’REILLY nor­eilly@thes­pec.com 905-526-3199 | @Ni­coleatTheSpec

The ar­rest of two jour­nal­ists at a fa­tal crash in Wa­ter­down on Tues­day night is rais­ing ques­tions about Hamil­ton po­lice poli­cies and train­ing over deal­ings with me­dia.

Freelance photographer David Ritchie was ar­rested at the crash scene and charged with ob­struct­ing po­lice and re­sist­ing ar­rest.

Global News videog­ra­pher Jeremy Cohn was ar­rested but re­leased un­con­di­tion­ally.

Both were among the first at the scene of a crash that killed a 10year-old girl — a scene de­scribed as emo­tional and chaotic with only two of­fi­cers scram­bling to deal with peo­ple all over the road.

Po­lice tape had not yet been put up. Wit­nesses, fam­ily and neigh­bours were stand­ing all over the road and on front lawns.

Ritchie’s cam­era was al­legedly seized be­fore he was ar­rested.

Video shows Cohn be­ing ar­rested while work­ing far­ther back, stand­ing on a gas sta­tion prop­erty at the end of the road.

Hamil­ton po­lice Chief Eric Girt has promised to “re­view” the sit­u­a­tion.

In a state­ment is­sued Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, Girt said he takes the ar­rest of any mem­ber of the me­dia se­ri­ously. He said the ser­vice can’t com­ment fur­ther be­cause the mat­ter is be­fore the courts.

Others have spo­ken out about the ar­rests, how­ever.

This type of in­ci­dent hap­pens “when po­lice ser­vices don’t have a clear me­dia pol­icy and ad­e­quate train­ing with of­fi­cers about the role of me­dia in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety,” said James Turk, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre of Free Ex­pres­sion and vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Ry­er­son Univer­sity.

Un­less there is clear ev­i­dence Ritchie did some­thing il­le­gal, the charges should be im­me­di­ately dropped, said Turk, not­ing he doesn’t know the ex­act de­tails of what hap­pened.

“Jour­nal­ists shouldn’t get in the way of po­lice do­ing their jobs, but po­lice also shouldn’t get in the way of jour­nal­ists do­ing their jobs,” he said, adding some of the most im­por­tant work done by jour­nal­ists is in chaotic and dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions.

“Jour­nal­ists are there to pro­vide a fac­tual, de­tailed re­port of what hap­pened.”

Po­lice board chair Lloyd Fer­gu­son ex­pressed frus­tra­tion over me­dia cov­er­age of the jour­nal­ists’ ar­rests, ar­gu­ing that it’s the death of the 10-year-old girl that re­ally mat­ters. He of­fered con­do­lences on the death.

(The Spec­ta­tor has de­voted sep­a­rate cov­er­age to the girl’s death, con­cerns the com­mu­nity has raised about traf­fic safety and on­go­ing ef­forts by the Wa­ter­down com­mu­nity to sup­port the fam­ily.)

Fer­gu­son said he could not com­ment on mat­ters un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but noted po­lice were very busy with “two tragedies” that evening on High­way 403 and in Wa­ter­down.

There weren’t enough of­fi­cers avail­able and the first on scene had to deal with a “volatile sit­u­a­tion.”

“Clearly, those of­fi­cers’ first job was to take charge of a volatile sit­u­a­tion.”

It is not the po­lice board’s job to in­ves­ti­gate of­fi­cer con­duct, Fer­gu­son noted, adding any­one con­cerned about an of­fi­cer’s con­duct can com­plain to the Of­fice of the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Re­view Di­rec­tor (OIPRD).

Ritchie, who is sched­uled to ap­pear in court June 15, has not com­mented pub­licly on his ar­rest, other than to post on Twit­ter that he has “great re­la­tion­ships” with first re­spon­ders. “This was an iso­lated is­sue and I will be seek­ing res­o­lu­tion.”

Many jour­nal­ists, me­dia watch­ers and first re­spon­ders posted mes­sages of sup­port on Twit­ter. Brad Pat­ton, Cen­tre Welling­ton fire chief, of­fered to pro­vide a “char­ac­ter ref­er­ence” for Ritchie.

This is not the first time jour­nal­ists, and par­tic­u­larly pho­to­jour­nal­ists, have been ar­rested while work­ing in Canada; how­ever, it is rare in Hamil­ton.

Me­dia rights group Cana­dian Jour­nal­ists for Free Ex­pres­sion has called for the dis­missal of charges and a “full and pub­lic in­quiry.”

CJFE also urged Hamil­ton po­lice to in­sti­tute a me­dia re­la­tions pol­icy and train of­fi­cers on how to “in­ter­act con­struc­tively” with the me­dia to “give clar­ity of the cru­cial role jour­nal­ists have in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety.”

Mayor Fred Eisen­berger de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day.

On Tues­day, he would only say: “This in­ci­dent is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion with the Hamil­ton Po­lice Ser­vice ... My thoughts and prayers are with the fam­ily (in) this tragedy, wit­nesses and the first re­spon­ders on scene.”

Jour­nal­ists are there to pro­vide a fac­tual, de­tailed re­port of what hap­pened. JAMES TURK

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.