How Much Info Should The Police Tell The Public?


It has been a depressing few weeks in Calgary.  The loss of young Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents has been on everyone minds.  I am not a police officer, a member of the media or a family member.  This leaves me wholly incapable of reporting on the facts, or perceived facts of this incident.  I don’t want to discuss the innuendo, theories or any other parts of the crime.  It saddens me deeply.  I do want to discuss a Calgary Herald article about this case, and that journalists belief of our right to information.

Chirstie Blatchford, of the Calgary Herald had an interesting article this morning (please take the time to read this article Here ).  In that article she passes an opinion, that the police owe us more information.  They owe the public, who worried and took interest in the story, as much information as possible.  I am not sure I agree with her.  In fact I know I don’t, I don’t need to live this families pain in its entirety.  I can empathize, with them, I certainly can understand they are in a great deal of pain. I do know I can’t experience that amount of pain.  Nor am I interested in it.  And most people’s initial reaction seems to be the same.  Ms. Blatchford is running  from a lynch mob on the internet.  And I will admit, pitch fork in hand, I had my torch in the communal fire.  However than I took the time to think about what she said.

While I am not in agreement with it, that is also my preference.  Certainly I would be the one skipping the gory details and just reading the news that they had someone in custody.  However I do see where Ms. Blatchford is coming from.  After all I live in a house, with a beautiful wife, who spends lots of free time reading  I don’t get the appeal of tabloid journalism, and for the most part I am not into spying or judging others.  But I realize there is a huge segment of the population that does read this stuff and follow it regularly.  I love some good trade talk when it comes to the NHL too.

So is there a segment of the population that is very interested in this sad information as well?  I would imagine the answer is yes.  I think a lot of our city has become very invested in this story.  A lot of people are interested in the outcome.  Most hoping for the improbable happy ending, that never came.

What did the police owe to the public?  Well the truth is nothing.  Their job description doesn’t include public information.  They owe us the effort to investigate and solve this crime, and others.  However we all know, job descriptions to text book and actual job requirements are different.  So a small part of me can see what this journalist is asking for.  Honesty from its police force.  The public having vested so many thoughts into this families hopes, seems to be needing some closure as well.   A lot of people want to know the reasons they finally decided to consider this a homicide and who is responsible.  Human nature craves a closed ending.  It is why hollywood wraps all their pop culture movies up in a tight little bow.  Maybe there is something to telling us the information.

While I may not agree, on a personal level, with this article, I also don’t think we should be hanging Christie Blatchford.  The wound of this discovery and information is fresh, and we are all a little on the righteous side right after.  Keep it private for the families sake rings so true.  But as time goes on the public will want the information released, will want to understand how this crime was solved.  So before we all burn this poor woman at the stake, maybe we should understand it is her job to present all sides of the story.  Agree or not, the tabloid culture of our society says she has some legitimate reasons to voice this concern.

2 thoughts on “How Much Info Should The Police Tell The Public?

  1. Brandon,

    I share your distaste for the gruesome details that so often captivate people. I do study some crimes not for the gory details but for the details how something was done or what stopped it.

    What did the police owe to the public? Well the truth is nothing

    I disagree with you about this. The police don’t ‘owe the public’ because the police are part of the public. They aren’t separate and apart, they aren’t above the people…they are part of it.
    Sir Robert Peel explained this way back:

    “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

    To allow the police to ‘hold back’ the identity of someone arrested is very troubling. This time it is ‘a legitimate’ reason (although I don’t see it); what happens if it is you who are arrested for bogus charges, or your wife? Wouldn’t you like people to know who has been arrested and why?

    See what if someone could provide an alibi for the person arrested “Brandon couldn’t have committed MOPERY on July 16th because he was with me at the lake all day” but because the police have established they don’t have to identify you or your crime, no one ever is aware you are even in jail.

    Don’t think about the single case, think about the principle of the Public (police) being allowed to decide what information the Public (non-police) are allowed to know in order to protect the ability to convict the person.

    There is a reason for privacy, there is a time for not revealing details; that is why there are sealed indictments and warrants — but once a person has been arrested; isn’t the time for secrecy past?

    Bob S.


    • Bob,

      Disclosure to public does not affect conviction potential. Because disclosure is a part of the judicial system, they aren’t able to withhold. The information to the public at large is not important. It still serves only one purpose; for us to judge from couches. However there is not the ability to withhold info from prosecuting or defending attorneys.

      While in theory, police being part of the public is great, the truth is we don’t have that. While police act on behalf of the public, for the safer of the public. They need to hold themselves to a higher standard. I think the days of a beat cop walking the streets are gone. More likely the cop rolls down the street for intimidation, keeps the crowds calm. They are more containment force often. Fully aware they can’t respond to each and every misstep of joe citizen. Too much grey area if they are not holding themselves above the public.

      However many are interested in the info, regardless of case. They want to know. The appetite of the public generally wins out.


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