Vancouver police likely will continue to clash with media photographers shooting crime scenes, but a senior newspaper editor says passage yesterday of police-board guidelines on the matter will make resolving such conflicts much smoother.
"It is a good day because it gives us something to work with," said Wayne Moriarty, editor-in-chief of The Province. "And gives us a point of reference should we actually have to escalate the discussion or a dispute over how we were treated, or if we are ... in a position of having to fight for the rights of a reader or a citizen in the city." Mr. Moriarty was commenting after the board endorsed amendments on police procedures for media filming in public places .
Mr. Moriarty said protection for the public was especially important, recalling the case of the bystander who shot amateur video of the fatal confrontation between four Mounties and Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport in October, 2007. The footage has been crucial in an ongoing debate about police conduct in that incident.
The board passed amendments to the police manual on regulations and procedures, recommended by Chief Constable Jim Chu, "to provide clearer guidelines" to officers in cases that highlight the media's right to film in public places. They also note the rights of the public to film or photograph in a public place.
Mr. Chu issued a written apology in April after a Province photographer, dressed informally in shorts and flip-flops because he had dashed from his home, was manhandled by an officer as he went to photograph the aftermath of a police shooting.
The officer, who did not believe the casually attired Jason Payne was a newspaper photographer, put him in an arm lock, confiscated his camera and kept it for an hour.
Mr. Moriarty said he was pleased that Mr. Chu apologized promptly, but said he thinks future conflicts inevitable.
"I think [the police]are going to try their best. I do not have a lot of faith that these situations will not crop up again, and crop up often, not only with the media, but crop up more often with the public," he said.
"I just don't see somebody in the public taking pictures of a police officer doing his job and that police officer not wanting those pictures taken. I don't see a police officer saying, 'Oh yeah. We have that memo. I've got to do this, this and this.' He will probably say something along the lines of 'Shut the damn camera down.' "
Mr. Chu was more optimistic.
"I think these are fairly isolated incidents considering the number of times our officers encounter the media," he told reporters after the police-board meeting.
"It's a good guideline," Mr. Chu said, noting it is based on current laws in terms of search and seizure. "We want to work co-operatively with the news media and that's the purpose of this."
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association had suggested police department policy on this issue was inadequate.
But David Eby, the association's executive director, said he was pleased with yesterday's outcome.
"We're glad to see the VPD putting this policy on paper. It will make life easier for police officers, the media and members of the public to know their rights and obligations," he said.