“Journalists are society’s watchdogs.” The phrase seems so clichéd … and yet powerful investigative journalism is so important (and maybe even on the up and up!).
Given that it’s so expensive, time-consuming, and — frankly — quite risky, I am always happy to see in-depth and critical reporting.
In case you haven’t heard, the Star is currently publishing a series that is taking a closer look at a rather sacred cow: the Special Investigations Unit. The SIU is a law enforcement agency, independent of the police, that investigates instances of serious injury, sexual assault, and/or death that involve police and civilians.
Michele Henry and David Bruser have highlighted some troubling cases (see list below) in which allegations against police have not been satisfactorily investigated. Predictably, this critical series has raised the ire of the Toronto Police Association and that of many readers.
But, aren’t we supposed to be holding power to account and asking these uncomfortable questions? Isn’t the opposing idiom (journalists as lapdogs) much more disconcerting?
I think so, despite my many pleasant encounters with both police officers and representatives from the SIU. Kathy English, the Star’s Public Editor, also thinks so.
English makes a compelling argument for exploring this inflammatory issue.
Her reflection is an absolute must-read for those interested in public service journalism, and all the turbulence it entails.
By Kathy English, Public Editor
…Is the Toronto Star “anti-police”? Is this hard-hitting investigative series “a cop-bashing vendetta” and “junk journalism” as the Toronto Police Association charged in a press release responding to the Star’s investigation?
As I told readers this week, the Star has long been “pro-justice,” not “anti-police.” In reporting such strong evidence of a lack of results and little accountability from the SIU, the Star’s series exposes and holds to further account some officers who were investigated by the SIU. It is not an indictment of all police…
As one of the most powerful institutions in our midst, police should face scrutiny by the media acting as surrogates for citizens. Probing the SIU, which was created in 1990 after a series of police shootings of black civilians, is well in line with the media’s watchdog mandate.
“A review after 20 years of an organization like the SIU is completely appropriate and exactly the sort of thing newspapers need to do, should do and in the case of the Star, do all the time,” Kevin Donovan the Star’s Investigations editor said. “Sadly, many police have taken the position that we do not have the right to review their actions or the actions of the SIU.
More from the series:
SIU missed key questions after man shot five times
OPP Constable Jeff Seguin shot Douglas Minty, an intellectually challenged 59-year-old, five times. Shortly after the constable arrived, Minty moved toward him holding a small pocketknife. Was the knife blade extended, or folded into its metallic casing?
Police notes questioned after man fatally shot
Two Ontario Provincial Police officers were given two days to write up their notes after fatally shooting a man who was making his lunch while camping.
Conviction tossed out over ‘police brutality’
Ontario appeal judge rips SIU’s probe of assault complaint after suspect’s jaw was broken in two places.
Officer breaks ‘little’ accountant’s arm, but no charges laid
An expired licence sticker leads to a confrontation — and an angry driver who says the subsequent SIU probe was “a waste of time.”
Police officers and the SIU
Are these cops above the law? Oct. 28
Officer who ran over teens was cleared by SIU probe
Caitlin Hiller was lying in the grass of a public park, chatting with her friend, when a one-and-a-half-ton police car drove over them.
Suspect had a lawn chair, police officer had a gun
David Beldman clutched a plastic lawn chair and when he threw it near Constable Lynne Rusk, she aimed her gun, hesitated, then shot him.
SIU cases: Unequal justice for the police
SIU investigators have been remarkably quick to clear suspected officers.
No one will stand up to police
Are these cops above the law? Oct. 28
Are these cops above the law?
The Toronto Star investigated two decades of SIU cases and found that police officers across the province are treated far differently than civilians when accused of shooting, beating and running over and killing people, some of them innocent bystanders.
Officer who killed grandmother avoids charges, fined $500
Part two of an ongoing series on police conduct in Ontario tells how Mei Han Lee was on the way home from a morning stroll when she was struck by a Toronto police cruiser and killed.
A week’s pay for grandmother’s life
Part two of an ongoing series on police conduct in Ontario