Comment

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

February 2, 2011

Apart from the odd Crime Stoppers' article, some of our readers might have noticed that police briefs from the OPP haven't been part of the news lately. The reason is that we haven't been receiving any.

Other local papers have printed information pertaining to alleged drunk drivers, car thieves, accidents and break-and-enters in this area. I've attempted to contact the OPP on numerous occasions to find out why we haven't been getting the same information, but alas, to no avail.

I don't think it's a rhetorical inquiry.

Since I started working here nearly eight years ago, up until last summer, all local newspapers were on the same mailing list pertaining to local news from the OPP. When I got here, Sgt. Alex McCulloch served as the media liaison. Then it was Cst. Paula Wright. Lastly, Cst. Mark Foster came over from Norfolk and assumed the role.

Until this past year we were sent crime briefs on a weekly basis via e-mail. When that stopped, we were referred to the OPP's Crime Alerts website which local detachments across Ontario used to post news briefs on the world wide web.

The practice of copying and pasting from the web took some time to get accustomed to because, after receiving the information via e-mail for more than six years, such communication stopped all-of-a-sudden, with no warning. Following numerous attempts to contact members of the local OPP and writing a column much similar to this one, Insp. John Periversoff asked me to go with him for a coffee. I didn't go because I, presumably like so many others with full-time jobs, was busy at the time. I didn't feel there was a need for chitchat over a double-double. I simply wanted the press releases and cooperative communication pertaining to local matters involving the OPP.

More recently, after attempting to contact Foster at the local detachment to no avail, I decided to phone OPP headquarters in Orillia.

I learned that the Crime Alerts website was shut down and that a similar website is now in the works. However, according to one OPP spokesperson, there are issues pertaining to the French Language Services Act that are delaying the process. Because news releases on the OPP's main website are somewhat generic and don't have much to do with local issues, he advised me to contact the officer responsible for media with the local detachment. I thanked him for his time. (After all, at least he returned my call within 48 hours).

When I again contacted the local detachment a couple of weeks ago I spoke to a woman on the switchboard who told me that Foster was away on vacation. Periversoff wasn't in the office and I asked if I could leave a voicemail message. After asking for my name, she said that I could leave a message with her instead. To this day I still haven't heard anything back from anyone in Cayuga.

This woman also suggested that I contact Cst. Larry Plummer with the Brant OPP who was filling in for Foster at the time. He never responded. I also attempted to call OPP Sgt. Dave Rektor who takes care of media for the southwest region and haven't heard back from him yet either.

Becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation and relying on other daily media sources outside our jurisdiction for information regarding local police matters, I spoke with local Police Services Board members Lorne Boyko and Tom Patterson.

Boyko informed me that my request should be documented in writing, because in his words: Paper trails are always a good thing to have. He was supposed to bring the mtter up at a recent Police Services Board meeting,, so we'll see what happens from this point forward. Me e-mail message dated Jan. 25 reads:

Hi Lorne,

As per our discussion at county council, I am looking to receive correspondence from the Cayuga OPP pertaining to crime alerts and news updates.

While our paper used to receive such information on a regular basis, we have not received any direct correspondence in quite some time. I had been using the OPP's Crime Alerts website before it was shut down, prior to the new year. As I understand, the OPP is looking to reestablish such a website for media purposes in the future, but in the meantime we have not been receiving any of the local news items via fax, telephone or e-mail.

Other media outlets seem to be receiving such information pertaining to local matters. We are simply asking to be added to the list [of] recipients.

I'm hoping you can bring this matter up at a future Police Services Board meeting.

Thanks.

Bill Jackson

The Regional News This Week

With that all said, I fully acknowledge the fact that our paper hasn't been the best PR machine for the OPP during the past five years. Yet in the past, included with our criticism of the organization in relation to Caledonia matters, we have reported on the appointment of several detachment commanders. Some of them, including Periversoff, have promised better communication and community relations. We've printed letters from Periversoff, former Commissioner Julian Fantino and new Commissioner Chris Lewis. I've done stories on the OPP;s local food drive and took pictures of Periversoff getting his head shaved for the cause. I once did an article pertaining to the OPP;s 'Remember Me' program whereby local elementary kids draw pictures that are handed to motorists facing charges, in order to deter future offences. I've also written about two officers who helped initiate a milk bag mat program for Haiti. Several years ago we even ran an article pertaining to the OPP's aboriginal recruitment program.

Most importantly, my editor usually included the OPP briefs in the weekly news. Most of them, especially the ones pertaining to things like stolen ATVs and power tools, were never published by larger newspapers outside the area that are much more likely to publish headline grabbers only.

I for one believe that it's critical to keep people up to date on what's going on in their own backyard, Personally, I couldn't care less about John Doe's missing skill saw, but to the victims of crime, such news and information getting out to the public is of utmost importance.

It's too bad that the OPP seem to be letting personal pique get in the way of that. And if there was any doubt as to whether that's the case, I also question why Foster declined to comment regarding a home invasion in Dunnville after one of our freelancers contacted him last Friday afternoon. I was actually impressed that she got through to him on a pager. But then again, he probably didn't recognize her number. Funny too that another newspaper in the area had an article posted online, complete with Foster's comments and various details about the home invasion.

We believe that our readers deserve an apology from the OPP due to this ongoing oversight at best, or deliberate transgression at worst.