Photo by Jerrold Litwineko, http://photosapience.com

Reading Between the Lines: Local Media and High-Speed Police Chases


It irks me whenever I see local media fall into cheap rhetoric and sensationalism to move a story--especially at a grieving family's expense. Case in point: Saturday morning's deadly car crash that claimed the lives of 3 Toronto teens during a high-speed police pursuit. Let's have a look at how the different news outlets (mis)handled the story for their own agendas.

The Good:
CityNews.ca had relatively reserved coverage (news briefs from June 2, 3, and 4) that stuck to the facts. One article had a direct link to the Special Investigation Unit's homepage. Note that in the SIU news releases, they specifically state that some media reports were wrong in citing the speeds involved in the collision. CityNews did not use the opportunity to question the effectiveness of police pursuits, instead opting to use Premier Dalton McGuinty's flat response: "Every time something like this happens, it is an opportunity for police protocols to be reviewed to ensure that a chase doesn't compromise public safety." Later in the afternoon, they updated the latest article with a statement from Police Chief Bill Blair, including this: "We have a duty to investigate and apprehend those who are suspected of breaking the law. We cannot always control their dangerous conduct, but we will do everything we can to ensure that such tragedies can be avoided where possible."

The Bad:
The Toronto Sun's coverage started off balanced until they got into the gory and unnecessary details of the accident. Then they decided to run a quote from one the victim's brother: "I'm angry that the (15-year-old boy) decided to put himself in that predicament, which involved my sister, but I believe (the crash) wouldn't have happened if the police hadn't followed him." The second half of the quote is completely baseless. It is absurd to claim that the crash wouldn't have happened if the police were not involved. The bottom line is that a kid without a driver's license in a stolen car, driving at high speeds at 2:00 AM in the morning, is a danger to himself and the public. An accident was a possibility regardless of police involvement.

The Ugly:
The Star's coverage was by far the worst. Their news article was comparable to the Sun's in terms of angry and baseless quotes from (understandably) emotional family members, but Rosie DiManno's editorial this morning merits a closer look.

She used a combination of choice quotes from a grieving mother: "How many innocent young lives are going to be taken, over and over again, because of police chases?'', and "Why is it that police have to chase in the middle of traffic, causing this boy to kill himself and kill my child?" I don't understand how the blame is shifted away from the irresponsible underage driver who was driving a stolen car in a dangerous way, and onto the police officers who were just doing their jobs as their training dictated. Cars are one of the things in life that can kill on a daily basis. No one should expect to flee from police without consequences. The kid had choices to make, and he made them. He could have pulled over and accepted his fate. Instead he chose to keep driving and this is the result.

DiManno then ended with a selection of stats that highlight the ineffectiveness of police chases. I don't have a legion of fact-checkers to look into this like she does, but I am certain that they could also come up with some statistics that demonstrate the exact opposite. According to DiManno, these police "...chases claim scores of lives, both the drivers and innocent bystanders. For God's sake, stop it." I'm not usually one to stand up for the police (my policy is to avoid them at all costs, especially when in a car), but The Star went a little too far with the story. Besides, DiManno's article proposes no real solutions... that's the kicker. She can hype it all she wants, but where's the alternative?

We need police on the ground to enforce the law. The police helicopter project never even got off the ground, for better or for worse, so we can't resort to choppers to chase suspects. Aside from putting cameras all over the place, what else can we do to replace police chases? We certainly can't have criminals driving around doing whatever they want.

For The Star's sake, I will point out that they just posted a new article offering a different viewpoint from Toronto Police Board chairman Alok Mukerjee: "He noted numerous pursuits take place every year. Many of them don't last very long and injuries or fatalities are rare. 'We do need to keep that context in mind.' Last year, for example there were 245 chases 'and how many went wrong? None, to my knowledge.'"

So, that's the story according to three major news sources in Toronto. What are we to make of this mess?

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Photo by Jerrold Litwineko, http://photosapience.com


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