OPP know the law when it comes to photography

Finally a good news story about cops and photographers. Way back when in another life in a galaxy far, far away I worked for the Ontario Provincial Police as a media relations officer. It was my good fortune to help train cops on how to handle the media during crisis situations. And, I do mean manage. I was being paid to help cops who often alone, hundreds of miles away from help from headquarters, had to deal with the media on a local and sometimes national basis.

Remember this was before the days of cell phones (We had one but it was the size of lunch pail and our chief inspector kept it hidden away. It cost a fortune.). It was also a time when cops around the world were finding reporters were getting increasingly more aggressive and sure of themselves when confronting authority. It no longer worked to tell a reporter to go home or stop taking photos (which happened to me a lot when I was a press photographer. Of course, I didn’t listen and in fact got….well arrested is too strong a term…let’s say I got detained a couple of times until a sergeant arrived and sorted out the “misunderstanding” and there were apologies all around).

Anyway I used to ask the cops in my classes two questions: One do you know the law? And second: Are you carrying out your duties correctly in respect of those laws?

The correct answers were, of course, “Yes I know the law and yes I am carrying out my duties accordingly.”

Then I would ask: So what is your objection to having your photograph taken while you are doing your job for which you are being paid by the public and, for the most part, you are carrying out in public places in front of the public you serve?

Well that would stop them and a great discussion would follow.

I loved the “stories” about how the media had “burned” them or “misquoted” them. And my answer was nobody burned you but you walked into a firestorm of your own making. And if you’d handed out printed statements (called press releases) or had the press conference taped then you’d much less likely to be “misquoted”. And, in fact, what I discovered was usually nobody was misquoted but what had happened was whoever was being quoted didn’t like (or worse their boss didn’t like) what they had actually said after the fact and then blamed the media for “getting it wrong.”

By the time I finished training these officers they were bullet-proof as far as working with the media was concerned.

I told them if they spoke about what they knew to the extent that the law would allow (In other words I told them they could talk about what they were doing or investigating so long as they didn’t speculate, criticize or characterize or in other ways threaten the prosecution that would follow) and didn’t talk about force policy (that was up to their boss), then it was extremely unlikely that they would get into trouble speaking with the media. In fact, if they didn’t speak to the media (or worse refused to speak) then they created a suspicion of a cover up or mishandling of the situation.

So to the point of my little tale: There’s a story on page 24 of The Toronto Sun where longtime reporter Peter Worthington was at the scene of an inspection of an exotic animal farm by two inspectors from the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals accompanied by an OPP officer. The SPCA inspectors were very unhappy to have Peter ask them some questions and according to the story told him “It was none of his business” what they were doing. They asked the OPP officer to prevent Peter’s granddaughter from taking pictures and “blessed be” the officer told the inspectors that she had no authority to stop anyone from taking photos (usually photographers are charged with obstruction and most often the charges are thrown out in court).

One of SPCA inspectors said that in an previous article about the exotic farm Worthington had referred to the inspectors as men. They weren’t but since Worthington had not met them how was he to know their gender? Considering their attitude I doubt they made it clear to the reporters that they were women. And quite frankly it’s got nothing to do with the issue at hand and would have been self-evident if they had taken the time to work with the media instead of trying to avoid them. And then this inspector has the nerve to complain. Stupid. Sorry but that’s what it is.

It’s great news that the OPP is still training its officers to understand the law they uphold. Too bad about the SPCA inspectors.


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