Can the individual save the organization? What makes a good police media relations person? A pleasing on-camera appearance, honesty, sound delivery, obviously, but sincerity is key. It is absolutely paramount to project competence, transparency and to appear as though the organization represented reflects those same qualities. Good intentions and good faith are not enough in this age where viewers are politically savvy and no longer take the word of the police as gospel – far from it, many viewers have an inherent mistrust of the police based on past screw-ups and they demand an accounting of police action from economic, social and emotional viewpoints.

Residents of BC’s Lower Mainland have both enjoyed and endured a long list of police media relations officers. The VPD has had more success in this area than the RCMP. Sgt. Anne Drennan attained an almost cult-like following for her ease and sincerity in front of the camera and down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach, but too many years in that job rendered her impatient and snappish near the end of her tenure.

Cst. Tim Fanning and Sgt. Howard Chow salvaged the office after the departure of Cpl. Scott Driemel, the media man – who channeled used car salesman – forced to transfer after allegations he told a sexist joke at a conference. Driemel notwithstanding, the VPD seems to follow a plan and give careful consideration to their media strategy, largely due to their hiring of BC media veteran Paul Patterson as their Public Affairs Section’s Senior Director.

Municipal member Sgt. Shinder Kirk, who speaks for BC’s Integrated Gang Task Force, does a fantastic job in this role, as he did when he spoke for the Abbotsford Police. He is articulate and forthright and as an Indo-Canadian man, can speak to issues of violence in that community without saying the wrong thing. New Westminster’s Sgt. Ivan Chu is another notable municipal mouthpiece.

The RCMP appears to lack a strategy, both in terms of what is said and who they chose to say it. Historically, they seem to vacillate between very attractive female talking heads such as Cpl. Catherine Galliford and hard-headed old boys like the aforementioned Pierre Lemaitre. Shields (see previous post) and Cpl. Dale Carr of the Integrated Homicide Unit are the exceptions, but Carr – who oozes confidence and competence – has been notably absent from the airwaves since the Robert Dziekanski tragedy.

Scott Driemel and Catherine Galliford

Individuals can only do so much. The RCMP’s mishandling of the Air India investigation illuminated their hubris in a way not previously seen. An inability to work with CSIS is at the heart of both this and the Mahar Arar affair and much of it stems from the RCMP perception that they are in charge, they are the smartest kid in school and everyone else should bow down in gratitude for their presence. Unfortunately, their record over the past several years doesn’t warrant this reception and let’s be honest – those CSIS kids probably all captained their Reach for the Top teams before going on to the likes of Dartmouth and Yale while the Mounties were playing beer league softball and taking junior college criminology classes.

The problem lies in a rush to some sort of judgment, a desire to tell Canadians what great thing they did today. It seems they can’t stop themselves: in the Robert Pickton investigation and subsequent convictions, the RCMP represent their involvement in the file as a rescue, a life preserver tossed to the beleaguered and under-manned Vancouver Police Department when their own investigation into Pickton stalled. This is another instance where the RCMP spoke too much and too soon, despite evidence that will make their words appear false or disingenuous. There will be a public inquiry and, once again, the public will lose confidence in the nation’s police force.

What makes their mouths write cheques their investigations can’t cash? Organizational flaws and a history of arrogance leaves these spokespeople twisting in the wind every time they step in front of the camera. If they want to right the Good Ship RCMP, they need to plan what they say and start saying the right things.