There’s going to be a big white elephant in the room on Nov. 3 at 5:30 pm at the Millennium Library’s Carol Shields Auditorium. That big white elephant is me.
That’s because I’ve been attending a workshop for citizen journalists sponsored by the Community News Commons (CNC), an online news hub authored by Winnipeg storytellers.
My goal was to become a better writer. I never intended to be “el gran elefante blanco.”
Enter CNC reporter Doug Kretchmer.
Last Friday evening, Doug had a not so cordial encounter with uniform police officers at an assault call at the Windsor Hotel.
As he cruised by the scene Doug observed Fire, Ambulance, Police and Tactical Team officers in attendance. It was an opportune time for Doug to slip into the journalist mode.
As he started snapping photographs, Doug drew the ire of a police officer working the scene.
By the time the encounter was over, Doug reports he was on the receiving end of several expletives, was threatened with arrest, bound by handcuffs and stuffed in the back seat of a cruiser car. He also indicated his camera was seized and he was asked to delete the photographs.
Fortunately, the camera and photographs were eventually returned in tact.
So what did Doug do wrong? The short answer is nothing.
Be aware citizen journalists. If you plan on taking photographs of front line police officers know this: cops do not like having their photographs taken!
Winnipeg Police officers have legitimate concerns when it comes to concealing and protecting their identity. (There’s a reason police officers wear badge numbers on their epaulettes).
The need for police officers to protect their identity is inextricably connected to their desire to protect the lives and safety of their wives, children and members of their extended family.
Modern day members of organized crime go to great lengths to obtain photographs of police officers and have been known to stake out police stations and conduct surveillance on officers leaving the work place.
In February 2002, a WPS Officer’s personal vehicle was firebombed at her home. A few days later, her front window was smashed and police located a molotov cocktail on her front lawn.
In May of 2012, a police wire tap recorded a violent killer conveying death threats to a police detective:
“You don’t think I don’t know where he lives, where his family lives? I should go and put one in his f**king kids. I should go and grab his wife, or burn his house down. I have the resources to f**k with them. I’ll cause havoc. I’m not f**king playing games,” the gangster said.
The same detective received death threats from suspects arrested during a high profile case that netted the seizure of a large quantity of narcotics, machine guns, rifles and stolen goods.
Police routinely discover private information, photographs and newspaper clippings featuring their officers from drug dens, gang houses and locations associated with members of organized crime.
I doubt I could accurately recall how many times hardened criminals, street thugs and gang members have threatened to kill me, my wife and my children.
Police officers with aspirations to work in undercover operations may also suffer from extreme camera shyness.
I suspect new millennium police officers are more in tune with the use of smart phones and the increasing probability of having their images captured during the course of their duties.
Crime scene investigators (CSI) and experienced detectives are less likely to raise objections. That doesn’t necessarily mean any of them will embrace the idea of having their photograph taken.
Ultimately, journalists should respect police officer boundaries.
Conversely, police officers should respect the rights of journalists.
Respect is a two-way street.
TIPS FOR CITIZEN JOURNALISTS
- Stay outside of the yellow tape
- Maintain a reasonable distance
- Do not disturb or contaminate evidence
- When possible make your presence known and be prepared to show credentials
- If practical, ask permission to snap an officer’s photograph
- Be polite and non-confrontational
- Be professional
- Avoid wearing pirate costumes with live parrots on your shoulder as police may have a hard time taking you seriously