It seems that everyone is media savvy these days. Corporations are jumping on the social-networking phenomenon in attempts to leverage the latest trends. The Internet teems with sites featuring amateur music and video producers, and even grade-school kids have at least a passing knowledge of the power of media and advertising.
Now, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has joined the parade of media manipulators, and in their case, the parade is a literal one. Civil liberties advocates have dubbed it the Con-Air parade, and they want Vancouver police to stop the practice.
The process began earlier this year, and involves Vancouver police sending suspects back to other provinces where they have outstanding warrants. A CBC article reports that Jim Chu, Vancouver’s police chief, wants ?suspects from other provinces sent back regardless of the cost.?
All well and good, but It’s the way they’re doing it that has civil liberties advocates protesting: when the suspect is returned to face charges, the VPD contacts the media, setting up a photo op where the individual is captured on camera as they’re escorted to their flight.
In the latest incident, a 29-year-old man was returned to Nova Scotia for an outstanding assault warrant. A few hours before his flight, Vancouver police alerted reporters. Not quite the paparazzi frenzy generated by Britney or Lindsay, but the VPD’s actions still create an atmosphere where media are encouraged to splash a suspect’s face across news pages and TV screens.
Besides the troubling aspects of real-life law enforcement on display as infotainment (Cops and its ilk plumbed those depths years ago), That’s a problem, because the suspects involved are just that: suspects. Not convicted, not sentenced, just suspected. They may, indeed, be guilty, but then again they may not.
It’s true that suspects? names and photos appear in the news all the time, usually at the time of arrest and usually in high-profile cases. And it makes sense to alert the public when a dangerous offender is apprehended and arrested.
But to manufacture a media photo op for suspect transfers seems somehow gratuitous. The question it raises is, to what benefit is such a practice? Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, has a theory. He believes that law enforcement agencies are using the media as a way to justify bigger budgets. The logic is that by keeping crime in the public eye and drawing attention to their work, police forces may attempt to manipulate perceptions of crime levels and justify the need for more funding.
?Here we quite simply have individuals who are accused but not convicted of crimes, paraded before the public eye for political purposes that are extraneous to their investigations,? Gratl told the CBC.
I’d hate to believe That’s true, but if it is, does that mean It’s a bad thing? Yes. In the case of suspects who are already in custody, staged photo ops do nothing to protect the public and nothing for the integrity of the case. The police, the men and women who walk into volatile situations and put their lives on the line every day, should be well paid and well trained. Police forces should have enough funds to do the job right, period. And It’s a sad day for all of us to think they might have to resort to media calls to do it.